Archive for the ‘Preventative Training’ Tag

Clicks for Eye Contact   Leave a comment

One basic trick your dog can learn is not really a trick at all, but a behavior that can change your entire relationship with your dog.

That trick? Eye contact.

One of the most common complaints I hear is that a dog just doesn’t pay attention to his owners.

But why would he? Think about how much your dog ignores you (and other human voices and behaviors) every day, at your desire. He ignores you talking to your spouse, your kids, on the phone, to yourself. He ignores the TV and radio. He ignores the heating system, kitchen sink running, dishwasher, washer/dryer, shower. He ignores you walking around the house, preparing food, helping the kids with homework, doing housework. And we want him to ignore all these things, because if he were to pay attention and go on alert every time one occurred, we would never get a break from reassuring him all was well!

But then, in the tiny percentage of time that you want your dog’s attention, you expect him to know that, this time, this voice, this sound, this word, is directed at him. Maybe you call his name. But how many times do our dogs hear their names throughout the day? Maybe you talk to them as you get ready, but don’t expect a response. Maybe you’re telling a spouse about their antics. Maybe you’re explaining to a friend that you have to feed the dog. Or maybe you are saying his name to him, but it’s to tell him to stop doing something, or ignore something, or that he’s doing wrong. With all of those mixed messages, how can your dog know that this time, when you call his name, you want his attention?

Then take your dog outside, into a world of distractions, and you and your voice, which he has learned to ignore through long exposure, are the last thing on his mind.

To many, this seems like a helpless prospect. But it’s not.

One simple step you can take to improve your bond with your dog and help him stay attuned to you is to teach him that looking at you is rewarding.

Not when you call. Not when you get down to his level. Not when you jerk on the leash.

All the time. Any time. When nothing’s going on. When a squirrel runs by. When a new person approaches. When he’s out on a walk. Teach him that voluntarily checking in with you is a rewarding behavior!

This is really very simple. Carry your clicker (or have a vocal reward marker, like “Yes!,” to tell the dog when he does the right thing) and treats. And sometimes, start clicking for eye contact. Don’t make a sound. Don’t give a hint. Don’t try to pull his nose up to you with a treat. Just stand there (or sit there, or lie there), and wait. And when your dog looks your way, preferably when she makes eye contact, click and give a treat.

You can do this randomly throughout the day, but it helps to occaisionally have sessions of just rewarding a dog for eye contact, over and over. Many people notice that when they teach their dog to sit, their dog starts coming up to them and sitting all the time! The dog has learned that sitting is rewarding, and now will offer it on her own to see if it pays off. The same can happen with eye contact if you teach that it is a rewarding behavior by having sessions of clicking and treating it.

Start, like with any trick, in a non-distracting environment. Maybe your living room, where nothing that exciting goes on. Get your dog, go in the room, and wait. When she looks at you, click and treat. It’s that simple! As she gets better at it, and starts to stare at you, take a treat in your hand and hold it off to the side. Now your dog has to stop staring at the treat and look at you to get rewarded. It’s an easy-to-introduce distraction. Try changing other things. Turn sideways. Change position between sitting, standing, kneeling, or whatever else you can think of. Vary the distance between you and your dog. Once they’re a champ in your living room, try other locations. Remember, start easy. Go in your yard and practice before you head to the dog park and expect your dog to stare lovingly into your eyes!

As your dog gets the idea, you can stop the training sessions if you want, but keep randomly rewarding eye contact. This will give you a dog who is far more likely to check-in on his own, even when on a walk or at a park, because he knows that looking to you is rewarding. It also helps to strengthen the bond between you and your dog, because he has learned to stay aware of where you are and look to you for guidance. Obviously, there will always be times we want our dogs ignoring us. But if they learn to offer eye contact on their own, they learn that while they may ignore many of your actions and words, they shouldn’t ignore you.


Using a Muzzle   2 comments

Muzzles can be a necessity for any dog at some point in their life. As Katalin over at Special Paws Blog recently illustrated, even the most well-trained, lovable dog can run into a situation where a muzzle is needed! In her case, her dog had surgery, and she had been warned that the physical therapy can be painful, causing some dogs to snap or bite to let you know you’re hurting them. Because of this, the therapist requested that dogs wear muzzles while undergoing therapy. For a dog not used to wearing a muzzle, having one on can be a cause for a lot of anxiety, and would make the physical therapy scary when it didn’t need to be. The same is true for an injured dog who is terrified and in pain. If he is not used to it, putting a muzzle on him can amplify that fear a large amount. Training your dog to wear a muzzle, even if you see no immediate need, will help prevent stress in your dog if he ends up in a situation like these and needs to.

Then there are dogs who have bitten in the past in response to certain triggers. When working to counter condition your dog (teach her that the trigger is not stressful and thus no longer causes her to feel the need to bite) you may want her to wear a muzzle so that if you miss a warning sign she’s giving you no one is injured. This is especially important if you need to enlist the help of other people in counter-conditioning your dog. For example, if your dog will bite when her paws are handled, you will need to teach her to accept not only you handling her paws, but other people. While you may be willing to risk a bite, you don’t want to assume that your helpers will, as well.

In situations such as these, a muzzle can be a good tool. Read that again, because it is important. A muzzle is a tool. It is not a solution to a dog’s biting, it is a tool you can use while teaching her to not feel the need to bite, or that you can use in a short term situation when your dog is in pain and is likely to not have good control of herself. If you are working with a biting dog, it can help ensure everyone involved is safe. However, while this article is only about training your dog to accept a muzzle, recognize that it is only a useful tool either in short-term situations or when paired with appropriate training for the underlying biting behavior.

So you’ve decided that you want to teach your dog to accept a muzzle, either because you see an immediate need, or just for the possibility of needing it in the future. How do you ensure that your dog not only doesn’t find a muzzle stressful, but that he actually enjoys wearing it? I’ll go through the whole process, but be sure to break up your training in to 5 or 10 minute sessions, so the training stays fun and stress-free!

Introduce the muzzle to him slowly, and let him choose how quickly he will put it on. Get out the muzzle, and a bag of tasty treats. Now offer your dog a treat so that he has to stick his nose towards the muzzle to get it. Don’t go too quickly! How close your dog has to put his nose will be determined by his comfort level. Remember, the goal of this training is that your dog does not find the muzzle stressful. If you push him too quickly, even with food around, the muzzle will be associated with stress in his mind. Once your dog is eagerly looking to the muzzle, waiting for the next treat to appear, move the treat so it is a little further into the muzzle. Now your dog will have to put his nose either closer to or farther into the muzzle to get the treat (depending where you started). This may cause a little hesitation, but it shouldn’t cause him to balk. Ideally, your dog will be so happy with the game you’re playing that he won’t mind moving his nose an extra half-inch into the muzzle at all! If he balks or seems to get stressed, make the game easier. Put the treat back to where it was, or even further away, for a few repetitions, until he is having fun again. Slowly increase how far into the muzzle your dog has to put his nose to get the food.

If you move slowly enough, you should get to the point where your dog is happily jamming his nose all the way into the muzzle to get the offered treat. Once you hit this point, stop showing him the treat. Hold out the muzzle and see what he does. If he makes a move to put his nose in it at all, say “Yes!” in a happy tone, and offer him the treat inside the muzzle again. This way you are teaching him that you’re playing the same game, but that the muzzle itself is a cue to put his nose in and get rewarded, not the treat. This will allow you to muzzle him even if you don’t have any treats on you in an emergency. Repeat this game until you can offer the muzzle, and he will eagerly stick his nose all the way inside and wait for his treat.

At this point you can start to fasten the muzzle. Up until now you have simply been holding it out and letting him put his nose in, but if you were to let go it would either fall off or be easily pawed off. You are just going to add to the rules of the same game you have been playing all along that your dog loves. Offer the muzzle and let him eagerly stick his nose in, but don’t treat him yet. Instead reach out, grab the straps, fasten them, and give the treat. As soon as he takes the treat unfasten the strap and take off the muzzle. Once the muzzle is off ignore your dog for a few seconds, and repeat the procedure. Note: If you are using a cloth or mesh muzzle which holds your dog’s mouth closed, he may not be able to take a treat, or even lick some baby food off a spoon. If that is the case, put on the muzzle, and give him a different reward. Pet him, cuddle him, give praise, run with him (see the safety note below), do something that your dog loves that doesn’t involve opening his mouth. Once the muzzle is off ignore him for a few seconds, as above. This teaches your dog that having the muzzle fastened means that the good things are coming. Once it comes off life is not bad, but it’s a lot less exciting and fun! At first you may not be able to fasten the muzzle all the way. That’s fine. Remember: the goal is to keep your dog happy! If at any time his tail tucks or he acts upset, slow down and go back a few steps. This should be an enjoyable process! If he starts to get unhappy when you go to fasten the muzzle, start by just reaching out and touching the strap while his nose is in the muzzle and then rewarding him, slowly building up to fastening it. There is no step too small to take in your progress!

As your dog accepts the muzzle being fastened, leave it on for longer and longer periods of time. Keep the rule that while it is on, good things are happening, once it comes off, all the good things stop. No congratulating your dog for doing so well after you take it off! That will teach her that the muzzle coming off is desirable, and she will not like having it on. Instead, congratulate her while it is on. That’s the hard part, after all! Slowly build up the amount of time your dog will happily wear the muzzle, always taking it off before she gets stressed. Once she is happily wearing it for more time than you would need to work on desensitizing her to her trigger (having her paws handled in the above example) you can start counter-conditioning her trigger safely, with her muzzle on and adding no stress. If you’re training it for a rainy day, build up until she will happily wear it for at least 10 minutes. Remember to practice with the muzzle occasionally so your skills stay sharp, though once she likes it the rewards can go down in value and frequency.

Congratulations, you now have a dog who gets excited when he sees the muzzle come out, and can’t wait to get his nose into it! Whether you need it right now, or might in the future, you can add one more check to your list of mastered skills.

Safety Note
Never leave a dog unsupervised wearing a cloth or mesh muzzle which holds their mouth shut. Also never leave it on for longer than about 20 minutes, especially in warm weather. While wearing a cloth or mesh muzzle a dog cannot pant or drink, which can be dangerous for long periods of time, especially in warm weather. This is the main reason I typically prefer a basket muzzle of either wire or plastic, which completely encases your dog’s mouth but does not hold it shut. Another reason is that with a cloth or mesh muzzle while a dog cannot bite, he can pinch since there is typically some give in it. This can still be painful!

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Preparing Your Dog For Your New Baby   Leave a comment

Many people having children worry about how their dog will behave around their new baby. This is a fair concern – you don’t want any harm coming to your child! However, with some preparation, you can ensure that your dog will happily welcome your upcoming family member into the fold.

Before the Baby Arrives

The best way to help your dog acclimate to the newest member of the family is to do a lot of preparation before the baby comes. By getting your dog used to the changes in his life that are to come separate from the baby being there, he will not blame the baby for any changes he doesn’t like. Below are some steps you can take while you are still pregnant:

  • Play sounds of a baby crying, screaming, laughing, etc. so dog gets used sounds that will soon be a common part of life. While the sounds are playing give your dog a stuffed chew, a favorite bone, play with him, to make the sound a positive thing.
  • Be sure your dog has good knowledge of basic obedience cues such as sit, down, stay, and come. This will not only give you necessary control over your dog so she can safely be around your baby, it teaches her self-control so she can have the necessary control over herself!  Consider taking a group class with your dog, so she gets used to listening to you in a hectic environment.
  • Use a baby doll to play-act a lot of what will be going on in your household soon. This will make the shock of the baby coming home less, since your dog will be used to the new routine. Some things you can practice:
    • Walk around with the doll in your arms
    • Sit on the couch with the doll on your arms or in your lap
    • Change the doll’s diaper
    • Burp the doll
    • Sit in a rocking chair with the doll
  • You can also use a baby doll to set up new rules for your dog. For example, if your dog will be allowed on the couch in general, but not when the baby is on the couch with you, set up and teach your dog that rule with the doll before the baby comes. You’ll have the time and patience at this point to teach the new rules. Be sure to constantly reinforce them, so they are second nature by the time you substitute the baby for the doll.
  • Get your dog (and you!) used to having his nails clipped regularly, as you will probably want them short around your child.
  • Decide where your dog will sleep after the baby arrives. If it is different than where she is sleeping now, then make the transition before the baby comes.

  • Be sure to run any new equipment you will use after the baby comes early, so your dog gets a chance to investigate it while it’s appropriate. Allow him to investigate it, but not mouth or jump on it. Some things to run include an electric swing, a mobile, and a bouncy chair.
  • If your dog is currently the center of your world, spend some time not paying attention to your dog each day. Once the baby comes she won’t get your undivided attention, so get her used to it now.
  • If your dog is always or sometimes not going to be allowed in the baby’s room, get him used to that fact now. Spend some time in there with the door shut and him outside while you assemble furniture, put away clothes, or do other chores you need to to get ready. In this way he will become acclimated to action occurring in the baby’s room while he’s not allowed in.
  • Teach your dog good leash manners now. Consider using a head collar if your dog pulls. Once your dog has good loose-leash manners, take practice walks with your stroller.

The basic rule for preparing your dog for your baby is to think of every change that will occur in your dog’s life after the baby is home, and slowly acclimate her to it before the baby arrives. If you do this, the baby’s arrival will be less of a shock, since there will not be as many changes when the baby comes home, and your dog will not associate any changes she doesn’t like with the baby.

Introducing Your Baby to Your Dog

  • After the new baby is born, have the new dad take home an item that smells like your baby, such as a blanket he was wrapped in, and allow the dog to smell it. Dogs rely heavily on their sense of smell, so this will make the baby seem more familiar when she arrives. Allow the dog to smell the blanket, but not mouth it or play with it.
  • When the family comes home from the hospital, have the new mom come into the house first and alone. Your dog won’t have seen her for several days, and so will be quite excited at her return! Let him get that excitement out on mom without baby there to worry about.
  • When you are ready to introduce your dog to your baby, put your dog on a leash. Have everyone stay very calm, if you are worried it will make your dog worried. Bring in the baby and allow the dog to sniff and even lick him (don’t worry, your baby will be exposed to many more germs from visitors over the next few weeks than from your dog’s tongue). The dog should have know appropriate manners for someone holding a baby from your practice sessions with a doll, but if she exhibits any unacceptable behavior the person with the leash should simply take her a few steps away to calm down, and then bring her back to continue the greeting. Do not under any circumstances yell at or punish the dog during this first meeting. Your dog is making her first impression of the new baby, and you don’t want her to associate punishment with your child.
  • After your dog has had a chance to greet the new baby, have a new toy or chew ready for him. This will help make your baby more positive to your dog, and keep him occupied while you settle in at home.

After You are Settled

  • Be sure your dog still gets lots of exercise every day. The number one way to reduce or solve problem behaviors is to exercise your dog! It is almost impossible to walk a dog too much; ideally your dog should be starting to slow down by the time you get home.
  • Make a conscious effort to give your dog attention while your baby is in the room, so he does not learn that the baby’s presence always means he is ignored. If he draws this conclusion he will surely be resentful!

Dogs can be a wonderful part of any child’s life, and with some simple preparation you can ensure that your dog will spend a long, happy life helping your child grow up!

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Puppy Classes Keep Dogs Out Of Shelters   Leave a comment

To keep your dog from becoming a statistic, start training early

Every year, millions of dogs in shelters are euthenized, most of whom are there due to behavior problems. To help stop this cycle, Companions Dog Training now offers Puppy Headstart classes, which teach families how to work with their puppies during their crucial first 16 weeks of life, so they can grow into confident, well-mannered dogs.

During this short window of time, puppies are deciding how they will view the world for the rest of their life. For them to learn it is a safe, fun place, they need to be positively exposed to a wide variety of objects, experiences, people, and other dogs. “Most aggressive dogs are really fearful and unconfident,” says Companions’ certified trainer Eileen Murphy. “And so often, that lack of confidence comes from a lack of proper socialization while the dog was very young.” A dog who is fearful can also exhibit many other common problem behaviors, including excessive barking, urinating in the house, chewing, and the inability to cope with any new situation, be it meeting a new person or a riding in a car. Most of the dogs in our overcrowded animal shelters ended up there because of behaviors like these.

In Companions’ Puppy Headstart classes, families practice successfully introducing new experiences to their puppies, and discuss safe ways to do so outside of class. For example, one common exercise involves students introducing brushing to their puppies, rewarding the dog for increased periods of contact until the puppy will happily allow extended periods of brushing. Students also talk about common puppy training challenges with Murphy, such as housebreaking, nipping, and jumping. Classes are weekly, with no start and end date, so students come when their puppy is ready to start and stay until their puppy is ready to move on.

“I was spending a lot of time working with dogs who had problems because they weren’t exposed to the world as puppies. While I love working with those dogs, I decided to start working to prevent the problems rather than only dealing with them after they had shown up!” says Murphy. More and more dog owners are taking this proactive approach, and are being rewarded with dogs who are a joy to have in the family

Companions Dog Training is located in Edmonds, WA and provides dog owners with a variety of group and private positive training options. Clients can learn more about their services and register for classes online at

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