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Yard Laziness Syndrome:
What is it, how to prevent it and how I still fall short of my goals, but what I have learned has allowed me to be able to see certain things with my dogs that really help guide what they need from me.
This is not just for dogs that need serious training...even your sweet family dog could suffer from this.
When you have a yard it is easy to fall into the trap of letting your dog run outside when they want, sneak in chasing a squirrel, barking the neighbor dog, etc. with no instruction.
You take more liberties by not walking your dog for constructive exercise because you are tired or have other things you need to do so you give your dog a bone, ‘free-time’ in the yard, encourage zoomies (running fun and frantic circles around the yard) or just play extra fetch.
Working with so many clients over the years in different situations AND myself having different living situations with my dogs as well as client dogs, I can PROMISE you that you will set yourself up training-wise with your dog in a better and more efficient way when you live in an apartment.
That is not because dogs don’t need space. In fact many issues (especially with multiple dog households) are greatly reduced when dogs have more space to breathe, BUT what about the basic rules of the house and accountability of the owner to take the dog out on a very regular basis?
2 Major basic rules for a dog to continue good listening skills should be...
Waiting at thresholds
Structured Walks where you connect with your dog
When you live in an apartment or condo, you are taking your dog out to potty numerous times a day. This gives you a chance to constantly re-enforce that good behavior of waiting for permission for something they want. Then, if you have multiple gates to go through, you are continually setting your dog up to pay attention to you and wait for permission. It’s a great set up where you end up doing anywhere between 4-6x a day going out and coming back in. Not to mention asking your dog to sit and wait while you grab the leash and leash them up calmly. All of this good practice happening daily with no choice because you have to take your dog out.
Also when you live in an apartment type environment, you should exercise your dog more because of the lack of space (for most dogs). This means taking multiple walks, often long ones because you can’t just do things inside to drain energy. If you want to go to a park you have to get in your car and go, so you end up doing MORE with your dog out in public environments.
Now switch to living in a home. You take your dog for a walk or two most days, hopefully, but the rest of the time you are just letting them run into the yard to sniff around, potty, no urgency, no waiting for permission, just doing their thing! Haha, the easy life :) Even if they make great choices, they are making them on their own, no influence from you, so the habit of looking to you for all the good stuff is greatly reduced.
And then the BIG problem is you have a tired day...a tired several days, or maybe just too busy, so you end up just playing fetch for a few days. Then you walk your dog and wonder why they are so jazzed up being outside in the world when you are trying to get them to walk decently on a leash. You are taking away so many small moments to practice permission then reward and impulse control. I have certainly been in this predicament myself and can tell you that those seemingly small changes end up having a HUGE impact.
This is not just for dogs that don’t behave. If you are active with your dog or want to be, you’ll find relying on your yard too much for exercise might simply result in your dog just not having the best listening skills, isn’t as attentive and thinks for a second before listening. It’s a slow and slippery slope of bad habits that both the owner and dog fall into. Now do ALL dogs need this much effort? Of course not, but this post is for the many pups that do or for owners that aren't sure why they are struggling, this might help.
We want to prevent that as much as possible...so how?
I have a set amount of walks each week that I take my dogs on. Not a dog walker or family member...myself. This is to keep my relationship with my dogs sharp when it comes to the structured walk. My dogs associate me mostly with being off leash in parks and on trails, so you would be surprised how much they struggle on leash in the neighborhood listening without regular practice.
As well as minimum walks, I have maximum amounts of fetch in the yard and maximum amounts of play time. If I don’t put a cap on it the dogs learn to exhaust themselves through high drive exercise more often then slower, low key exercise. This is not ideal for the brain and helping them be calm dogs.
Then with the few thresholds I have I make them count! One of my dogs even waits at the bedroom door because she is young and a little wild. You can find other ways to make sure you are practicing impulse control with your dog. Waiting for their food to be prepared and releasing them to eat is one way. Make sure you don’t always indulge them when they are cute and come to you for pets. Then one of the best ones is making sure they can lay down somewhere and stay while something else in the house is happening. This could be you cooking, kids playing, other dogs or cats in the house roaming around and playing, etc. They just learn to sit and watch on command.
Of course I fall short of my own rules, but I do try to follow them as much as possible and what that has done is allow me to see very subtle signs of my dogs needing more from me. That could be more exercise, enrichment or more leadership. Knowing this I’m able to be in tune with them and see what they need. I hope this helps someone else needing the same thing.
You can’t hide it...from your dog.
You think you are hiding it from your friends, colleagues, even family, but you aren’t from your dog.
You aren’t first challenged by your work, family or obligations. Your first challenge is how you treat yourself and how you talk to yourself and then handle yourself in those work, family and other obligations. In a world with big obligations, big goals, big expectations and a fast paced lifestyle, many of us feel we are falling short or drowning in this sea of expectations and potential. A BIG reason behind that is because of how we talk to ourselves. It is causing a great deal of depression in our society that manifests in many ways.
Think about the ups and downs in most of your days, your worst days and your best days. How do you handle them, carry them with you and emotionally dwell on them?
What do you say to yourself about yourself?
What emotions are you unable to face or deal with properly, efficiently and effectively?
Working on your inner dialogue with yourself about yourself can and should take daily work if you struggle with this, as I feel many do.
Now look at your dog. You love them dearly and you are putting all of that on them as well. They likely live with you, in your home, having access to everything you are. You come home and wear your emotions on your sleeve, be it disappointment, anger, stress, edginess, crying, AND how you treat yourself, in your head, where you think no one can hear...your dog hears you.
You can’t hide anything from your dog. They felt it all. It’s a blessing and a curse for your pup to have all of this access to you.
So the next time you are about to put yourself down, make excuses for your life through anger, tell yourself it’s not your fault OR tell yourself you’re not worth it, think of how that is affecting your dog, your relationship with your dog and the ability to have freedom and balance with your dog. I can tell you from experience that you may not even see the ramifications of it, but they are there.
Stop making excuses one day and putting yourself down the next. Work on you, your gratitude, your accountability, discipline in your life and loving yourself. You will be amazed at how your relationship with your animals, family and friends will improve and most importantly, improve your life and how you live it and how you think about yourself.
I am not saying we don’t all have moments or that you aren’t allowed to have moments, but a repetition of levels of self doubt mixed with blaming and being highly emotional makes it near impossible to enjoy your life with your dog who does not rationalize or understand. They simply feed off of it in some way.
This might sound silly to some of you, but I personally struggled with some extreme teenager and early 20’s identity angst and it affected my dog severely. When I started to see that, I made a daily effort to control myself when working with her. That absolutely helped me in other areas of my life and I will always be grateful to her for that. I couldn’t do it for me, but I could put effort in it for her. It was the tiniest little beginner baby step that led me to where I am now 12 years later. I was actually making her mess of genetics worse and destroying any coping skills she could have had at the time.
This isn’t to say some very level headed dogs can’t deal with anything and not care and be fine...but dogs are VERY emotionally diverse. So I ask you...how might you be affecting your dog, because you can’t hide the truth.
The potential new wave of adopting dogs from rescues with training is upon us! Let me clarify training. I don’t just mean sit, down, stay, place and come (although very valuable). Most of the dogs that I work with know all of their basic obedience, just not when it matters. They don’t know what sit means when that neighborhood dog walks by and barks or when a squirrel taunts them from a tree. That stay goes out the window in a hurry when company comes or the mail carrier rings the doorbell to have you sign for a package.
This is a regular problem with rescues and because they can not offer help with the behavioral side of the coin, dogs often come in and go out like a revolving door, over and over. Often the adopters are blamed, shamed and made to feel less because of it and that is such a sad and narrow view of the real problem. So how do we offer more?
1. Group obedience classes? That’s often being done and because it is optional it is rarely used. Even if it is used it is usually basic obedience with food and maybe some leash guidance.
2. A packet of information on how to start your journey at home with your dog? That’s often being done and is rarely read or taken seriously. Even if it is read and gives you a great jumping off point, that packet doesn’t tell you how to keep your dog from fence fighting with the neighbor dogs.
3. A trainer’s business card because you know they will need help? Often done! The problem is people wait until their dog has attacked their cat to even consider it.
So what to do...
Enter in a new type of rescue that offers training and advice on not only basic obedience, but behavioral issues. Most importantly preventing behavioral issues and setting up families to be better prepared. A rescue that works with outside clients on dog training as well as spending every spare moment of their time saving lives, specifically pitties, was a blessing for me to find. I met one of their trainers at a seminar and what they are doing is a direction all rescues need to start to head. This rescue just opened up a new location and is crushing it in the dog and potential adopter relationship world. If anyone would like to learn more about them they are Reversed Rescue in downtown Los Angeles. They are very active on instagram @reversedrescue. I can only hope other rescues learn from them and follow suit.
Are you sheltering your dog?
I was recently reading an article in psychology today on over-parenting. That can be a hot button issue in and of itself, but stay with me here. The woman used several examples of kids being sheltered and things done for them, resulting in them being resentful or spoiled to the point they cannot take care of themselves or cope with the most basic of challenges in life. You are probably wondering what this has to do with dogs…quite a bit actually.
As a dog trainer and educator, I am seeing this trend in dogs more and more. Owners with good intentions want their dog to just be ‘happy’. As a result, anything that makes their dog uncomfortable, seemingly sad or stressed is avoided as much as possible.
Just to give you an idea, here are some examples:
Now just a disclaimer, we absolutely come across owners who won’t walk their dog anymore because of their bad behavior, or can’t have people over because of their bad behavior, but they want to resolve it, they just don’t know how. That is not what I’m talking about. I am referring to the situations you might avoid with your dog because you don’t want your dog to be unhappy or stressed, and that is what I address below. If you feel that could be you, hopefully this might help you seek additional advice on how to work with your dog.
“When we assume our children need more than they do, we are undermining their abilities and hurting their confidence.” -psychology today
This is a common pattern we see with dogs as well. It could be something simple, like when a dog barks to demand attention, playtime or a treat and you give in to their ‘needs’. You wouldn’t think that it could affect their confidence in other situations where they might be unsure, but it does. If a dog feels in control for much of the day and then is challenged by something, like a scary truck or dog barking, they don’t feel like you could possibly be in charge of a scary situation and they will react accordingly. That could be by being nervous and fearful or reactive and bark at what they do not like. That often makes owners avoid those situations as much as possible instead of work through them. So what that scenario looks like for the dog is they remain feeling a certain way in stressful situations and they never get to work through that stress and build confidence to overcome it and develop better coping skills. Dogs will often notice when owners avoid those situations and the insecurity becomes more deeply rooted, all the while they are controlling their environment at home and getting what they want. One is greatly connected to the other. You can’t influence your dogs emotions or help them work through anything if they are able to control situations that seem harmless in the home.
Another more obvious, but very common example is when dogs are held or pet (comforted) when they are scared instead of shown how to work through that fear. It’s common for us to think that they need it and we might see it help in the moment, but we are crippling their confidence or potential to gain confidence in those moments of angst. That is when dogs often become so reliable on our interaction with them that they will exhibit those fears more and more often in order to get that attention. It shows them they need more human interaction than they actually do so they will become heavily dependent on it, needy and can develop severe anxieties in other situations because of it.
When we actively avoid stress it actually creates additional stress. In dog training we call it a snowball effect and it’s interesting that it happens similarly in people. As people we want to manage stress and teach our kids to manage stress rather than avoid it due of a host of issues it causes if we do not learn those coping skills. This is no different with dogs.
Dogs need to be taught basic skills for how to deal with life. How to do that is another series of several blogs, haha, but knowing the importance of the time it takes to teach your dog how to fit into your life is very valuable. Don’t run from things that stress your dog out. Work with your dog with multiple techniques to overcome these difficulties. Every time your dog doesn’t want to do something or is stressed out, ask yourself how you might help your dog over come this challenge or improve upon how he feels about a stressful situation. That is what really grows and bonds a relationship in people as well as animals. It builds oodles of trust and confidence. Be aware of when you are doing something to potentially fill your own needs rather than your dog’s needs. Love, encouragement and support is so important in dog training or working with animals, but just like with raising kids it needs to be well timed while providing them skills to also feel competent and able to problem solve. So, ask yourself this question, is there anything you might be doing with your pup that you are mistaking for nurturing and accidentally crippling your ability to confidently lead your dog through tough situations to help them grow and be happy? If so, start seeking out new things to do with your pup while recognizing the areas where you need to pull back on the attention you are giving or the areas where your dog tells you what to do. Some examples might be bringing you toys to play with, barking to go outside to potty every single time, barking to be let out of crate, jumping on your guests for attention, etc.
Just a small tidbit of where to start working your dog that will help in stressful situations, you must start at home.
Go on youtube and find a fun obedience drill. Some examples of an obedience drill are Come, Sit, Break. Another easy fun one is Come, Place, Come, Place. These obedience drills can be done with food rewards and create muscle memory for when you need to use these commands to help your dog in a stressful situation. Let’s say someone knocks on the door and you ask your dog to go to their bed. If you don’t practice it regularly throughout the week over and over, and practice with people in the house, your dog will not be able to do it when an actual new guest comes over and they are over excited or stressed out. Start with the easy stuff and have some fun actively working with your dog on repetition with basic commands to create that great muscle memory associated with you.
The working dog brain vs the family dog brain.
We get so many different personalities of dogs at Ruff Beginnings Rehab. It’s really a joy for us to see how diverse dogs are with personality and breed traits. What we seem to see the most, as far as clients struggling with their dogs, are those strong breed characteristics overwhelming the dogs state of mind and as a result, damaging the owner’s quality of life with their dog. The main differences I’m talking about is the pet dog brain vs the working dog brain. Now their is a lot of cross over of course, but just to keep it simple, here are a few examples.
Border Collies-They have high levels of sensitivity to movement and sound and have energy for days.
Pit bulls-They have high prey drive and are often very lazy or very energetic.
German Shepherds-They have protection instincts mixed with sensitivity to
movement and sound (herding qualities) with a strong sense of pack mentality.
Vizslas-They have endless energy their entire lives with a need to constantly sniff and investigate everything.
Labradors-They have an affinity for getting into things with a fearless mindset.
Jack Russel Terriers-These dogs tend to guard resources from other animals and
are very intense in every part of their lives.
Cattle dogs-They love to control their environment and any movement with their teeth.
These may be qualities you like or don’t like, but they are breed instincts and show up strongly in many dogs or even mixed breeds. Many people get a specific breed or breed mix of dog and luckily get these qualities on a low, work-able level where basic training is enough and they are quite happy. Then many people get a dog with a high level of these instincts, what they are bred for and cannot control many aspects of their dogs behavior. This is a reality so many people face even without dealing with serious genetic behavior issues like fearfulness or aggression.
We often want these amazing breeds with these amazing capabilities without knowing what we could possibly get ourselves into since we often don’t run a farm, go hunting, have herds of cattle or need a dog to keep critters out of the barn, jump into freezing cold waters to grab fishnets or have a large property for a dog to monitor. That is what these animals were bred for, so helping them fit into a different lifestyle can be very difficult, even for skilled handlers.
I love these two pictures because both of these dogs are very well trained and are trained to be calm on command.
We have the crazy German Shepherd brain, Ginger and she was still staring at me off and on for an hour before going to sleep, whereas Pepper was happy to curl up and go to sleep within five minutes. Two German Shepherds with pet dog vs working dog brain.
Now don’t get me wrong, Ginger will sleep in place, even during the day, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing our job right, but it is more difficult for her to settle on her own and go to sleep without being told to go to a spot and lay down for a long period of time and after proper constructive exercise that drains her physically and mentally.
Then there is Pepper, who is very eager to learn new things, and is very good at it and follows instructions well just like you would expect of any GSD, but she definitely has a different mindset and temperament than crazy driven working dog Ginger! That doesn’t mean that one is desirable over the other, however I can honestly say that if Ginger’s family wasn’t so active, and so dedicated to structure that they would really struggle with Ginger, whereas with Pepper, of course they might have some issues, but it wouldn’t be on a scale where it would make them miserable. While they both need training and structure to maintain this awesome state of mind, when you do get a dog and you’re looking at breeds, you do have to take into account their temperament, breeding, their state of mind, where they come from, all in comparison to your lifestyle.
Now if you rescue, you should always foster to adopt so you can learn about that dogs temperament to see if it is a good fit for the family energy and state of mind-wise. It’s not just about loving the dog, because honestly, we can fall in love with most all pups, but we have to be responsible in our decision to see if that dog’s quality of life will be great as well as our family’s quality of life.
If you already have a driven dog driving you mad, don’t fret, but start saving your pennies to get professional guidance and training. You are not alone, but you definitely would want to seek some guidance before things get out of hand. No one expects you to be able to handle anything on your own, but before you get your next dog, maybe just remember this article and do extensive online research for breed history as well as youtube some awesome dogs doing what they were bred to do so you are prepared for potential outcomes. We all start by learning from mistakes, or dare I say failure. It’s how we all learn and grow, so hopefully this article can help someone out there looking for a dog or puppy, or to better prepare them for their next canine companion.
You get what you pet…
Reward calm behavior…
Reward the mindset you want with praise in the form of food or pets.
These are things we say often, including myself, and they are true and important, but what can get lost is the context of affection when training. For the dogs we see with behavioral issues, they need less affection in general, especially when their dog is calm.
Haven’t we all heard that you should only reward a calm dog if a calm dog is what you want? That alone is difficult for most owners, but it isn’t even the whole truth and if taken literally without context, it can actually make things much worse.
Victoria Smith from Take the Lead says it best by creating a new saying “leave relaxed dogs alone”. Now she doesn’t mean ALL the time of course, but dogs have so much access to our personal space most of the time that we are giving affection constantly without even realizing it. This creates a dog that associates us with excitement and stimulation in some form as well as constant free handouts without working for it. The dog’s response may be something minor. They are laying down and you go over and pet them or call them over and they respond with a wagging tail, to something more intense like mouthing or whining. Then you try to settle your dog down and they struggle to listen to you when you have created that scenario for the dog, and you represent too much excitement. For many of you, this may not be a big deal, but for the owners I talk with, it is! They deal with over excitement, disrespect, dog can’t listen, to escalating issues like fear, protectiveness, insecurity, aggression, etc. All of those things must be tackled in the most basic way first, and that is to leave relaxed dogs alone.
Our affection towards our dogs can be associated with strong emotions that make it difficult for our dogs to cope. If you are doing something more then simple puppy training basics or trick training, keeping your dog aroused is doing more harm then good. The biggest challenge clients face after a board and train is the pattern of arousal that is associated with the owner and the home environment that led to over excitement issues or stress/aggression/fear/separation anxiety in the first place. Then there are often genetic challenges on top of that like protection breeds, etc.
What we want to achieve is a natural counter conditioning that creates good endorphins associated with different situations, but it takes time and lots of consistency, where the dog finally relaxes in the home, at the park, etc. The dog will find the positive aspect of this in the fact they are more relaxed in general and have a calmer state of mind associated with that situation. This makes everything easier, including being able to influence their behavior and see trouble spots. After all, you should be the one to crate them or put them in a down or place command (implied stay) in the first place, so you are associated with creating the ‘off’ switch, but you should not disturb it. Imagine if your dog is doing so well and then you or a member of you family goes over to say hello and the dog paws at you, wiggles, kisses you and now wants to do something, is alert, excited, etc. That is not progress, that is using positive reinforcement to hurt training rather than help. You are accidentally teaching your dog to stay alert, not be able to settle, by interacting too much. With MANY dogs we see, just staying in place command and the owners moving around or giving the dog eye contact creates whining, excitement, anxiety, which is all related to stress. All of that is related to any other issues you might be dealing with related to your dog.
This is therapy, it’s work, and the dog will learn the reward in it, but you have to let them. To be clear, this is not every dog, but it is all the dogs I see, hear about, help, etc. Dogs associate their humans with excitement through too much arousal, usually in the form of affection. If that is more then 50% of your relationship with your dog (and for most owners it is) it becomes a problem if your dog has behavioral issues of some sort, even if it’s just being disrespectful. You have to look at what you represent to your dog. Sharing so much softness makes it impossible to influence your dog’s behavior in a time of need, whether that time of need is an aggressive outburst or fleeing from fear.
The biggest question I get and an important one is how long! How long do I give little to no affection and just work on calm state of mind? That is different for every dog and for every human dog relationship. Many factors weigh in. The easiest answer is let your dog tell you. Are the other things going on with your dog greatly improved? Are you able to give your dog affection without them getting super excited? Are you able to pet your dog and they are able to still listen to instruction without fuss? You have to give your dog time to get to the point where they can relax and achieve a happy calmness. This is the natural counter conditioning that affects the brain. Disrupt it too soon or too often and it will disappear. Routine helps to instill guidelines and over time it will become second nature for you and your dog. That means when you are exhausted from work and already cranky from a bad day, you still enforce the stop and sit at the door and check the dogs mental state before heading out. For most of the dogs I see, it’s usually several months, occasionally a few weeks with the easier dogs, and then we gradually add back in affection to see how the dog does with it, but I can’t give you an exact time, only your dog can and how strong you are putting your dog’s needs ahead of your own. If you add aggression issues into the mix, you are looking at some level of permanent change. You have to find out what that means, but first you have to get to that point. I am not saying you can’t have fun, play, etc. My dogs have different levels of freedom based on there age and personalities, but all of them play, get cuddles, etc., but what I am saying is prioritize what you share with your dog depending on the issues you are working on. There is always time for play, but can you create that on and off switch with your dog in situations where they are worried, stressed, over excited, etc.
Let me just leave you with this.
I could seriously eat a delicious pizza, garlic knots, ice-cream and cake every day for a week. PERFECT MEAL! Now I know not everybody could do that, but we all have our vices…could be smoking, etc. BUT the reason I don’t (besides getting fat) is because it makes me feel like crap. By day three (and yes, I know this from trial and error) I feel terrible and my mental state suffers. I can rationalize and have the thought process to know what I did wrong, how to fix it and I just have to find the will power to do it.
Dogs can’t do that. They are responding to us, so if we are representing too much excitement or softness that keeps them aroused, they live in that state of mind and cannot get out on their own. You add in some serious behavioral issues with a long history of living with us in that state of mind, and you have some work to do in order to help them and it requires sacrifice on your part.
When is it a good time to reflect on things? Your past decisions, your current job, the life you have made with your kids and spouse, down to the history you and your dog have together. I don’t reflect a lot. I find that my friends and family do enough of that for me and honestly I’m too busy. For me reflection happens in two ways…an unhealthy way and a healthy way.
I try to reflect occasionally. I need quiet, and I need it to have been quiet for a while with nothing on my plate I have to do that day. This is almost never, which is why I don't get to it often enough. However I was recently in the mountains. My husband kept doing the girl thing of ‘what are you thinking’ because he said I was unusually quiet for the trip. This was hilarious to me and he was right. I told him I was turning into an adult and needed quiet, LOL, but the truth is I was doing a lot of reflecting. I tend to have the mindset of wanting to do a lot of things, big things, and because of that a lot of little things don’t always get done. I’m not the best house keeper and I’m not always the best person to have an easy chat with because I’d rather speak about something truly meaningful to me. Already sounds annoying, doesn’t it. Well, it’s exhausting too for me and those around me I imagine. I’m starting to realize how important it is to take more ‘time’ to reflect because I have learned a lot, cleared my mind, and have the same goals, but a clearer path to get there right now. BUT, if I wait 8-10 months of 12 hour days before I take another few days to reflect and relax, those paths will become muddy again.
Some people can run on empty for quite some time, can even be fueled by it, and though I admire that I don’t think that is most of us. I’m learning that when I do drag myself kicking and screaming into some quiet, I work much better and have a clearer head after. Being able to take enough time to not only reflect, but LEARN from it is incredibly valuable. It also seems to be an integral part of bettering yourself in life. The more you better yourself, the better your family and/or business will be and the more successful you will be (whatever success means to you). Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for loving yourself and learning who you are…but what if who you are sucks! LOL But no, really, there are parts of ourselves we SHOULD work on. Could be temper, procrastination, laziness, perfectionists, bad communicator, the flaws are endless! There is nothing wrong with flaws that we all have, but lets get real. If we don’t reflect and work on those flaws, we are limited in life and love.
The other is the unhealthy way. It usually happens through stress of some sort. Could be a build up of several fast paced weeks and then a bad day. It could just be a phone call with someone or a reminder of something that is upsetting. This starts as reflection briefly and ends up quickly turning to regret. I’ll admit, in my early to mid 20’s I let this get to me a lot. Everything seemed out of reach therefor sometimes why try. That turns into a big pity party which doesn’t help anyone. Kids, spouses and dogs feel it in the home. The more stress there is the more problems there are with everyone. Stress is only useful if dealt with and worked out, but I have found that most of us bottle it, store it, and it comes out in waves with no resolve. The amount of pressure this puts on families that I have worked with is tremendous. That is why even a badly behaved dog can be ripping families apart. Now some of you may laugh at that, but I’ve seen it. It comes from an unwillingness to accept certain things and call them out and work on them in order to move on. That is such a difficult thing to do sometimes, but that is the difference between happiness through reflection and regret through reflection. It’s the MESSY middle. We have that in dog training too. Sometimes it’s not pretty. You force a dog to deal with emotions they have been bottling up or exploding over for years. That’s not something that just goes away. It takes daily habits and change to make a lasting difference to create more freedom from stress.
I have been very fortunate in the last decade to REALLY work on this about myself and I rarely fall into that trap of regret. If I do I tend to move past it quickly without it affecting my work. We are all human of course and deal with it in different ways…but there is nothing wrong in looking at yourself and saying that the way you are 'dealing' with regret or reflection is toxic to you and those around you. My answers came in the same way I became the dog trainer I am today…through tons of regular research, putting myself out there, watching and reading tons of information and then putting myself into it. Getting to know people also trying to do the same thing and succeeding most of the time because of there dedication to not only making a lasting change in character, but making that effort daily. Making it a choice to be HAPPY is no joke and is a daily effort for many…are you putting in the effort? Like a healthy eating regiment and workout schedule are you putting in the daily time it takes, making the HARD choices to get what you deserve?
Not trying to ruffle any feathers…just asking ;-)
Correcting a Dog:
Today, I wanted to discuss with you guys the different types of corrections that all trainers use. I know, this can be a little controversial. Yes, ALL trainers use corrections, even the positive-only trainers. The nice thing about being a balanced trainer is that you can say both yes and no to your dog, depending on whether we choose to encourage or discourage a behavior. Keep in mind, that to your dog, if you don’t say no, that’s an automatic yes. The true art of dog leadership is pretty subtle, to the point where the dog and most people don’t even realize it. Maybe the first few times your dog has come and nudged your hand, you obliged him by giving him lots of pets an ear scratches, inadvertently rewarding the behavior while you were otherwise distracted while watching tv. Soon, you have a dog that is annoying you with how persistent they are about getting you to pet them or pay attention to them! Can’t you just watch your TV show without being pestered?! Yes, even I have felt this way, even with my own cats! I mean...just look at this loveable black mass sprawled out on my lap! We’ve had to set up some serious boundaries when it comes to lap time. So let’s get started here, and dive right into the thick of it.
The most important aspect to your corrections guys, is TIMING. I cannot emphasize that enough. You have about a 1-2 second window after the undesired behavior to give a correction. While most of you will already know this, if you’re new to dog training, you can’t correct a dog 10 seconds, 15 seconds, or 1 hour after the infraction. It only confuses the dog. A pretty common example of that is when your dog goes potty on the carpet, or when your dog gets into the trash and leaves the mess for you to come home and find. So just like you wouldn’t correct your dog once you get inside from a walk, for something they did inappropriately on the walk, you can’t correct your dog for something they did when you weren’t present. Sorry, guys! That’s an entirely different article I should probably tackle for you guys soon. But anyways, back on topic of timing, we here at Ruff Beginnings Rehab like to work with low-intensity training. Now, in order to do that, you’ve gotta be in tune with your dog and catch an outburst before it happens. The trick is that you have to match the energy of your dog. If your dog is at a 3, then you need to correct at a level 3 or 4. Anything less will underwhelm the dog, and will not discourage the behavior. If you have a dog that is reactive towards other dogs, and you think that the explosion of lunging after another dog happens out of nowhere, I implore you to study your dog a bit closer. Are you distracted while walking your dog? On the phone, or perhaps worrying about your environment, keeping a lookout for dogs? Then you might be missing the subtle signs your dog is giving you leading up to the explosion. It could be something as subtle as “going quiet”, when your dog stops panting and closes its’ mouth. Or even more subtle than that, a wrinkling of the forehead; A pause in their step. These are the moments which we try to catch, to give a low-intensity correction, because the dog is responding to outside stimulus in a minimal way. Catch ‘em before the explosion. Nip it in the bud! If you get them mid-explosion, the best thing to do is give distance. Get out of the current situation, until your dog no longer cares about the squirrel, or the other dog, and start again below your dog’s threshold, at a lower level intensity and try to keep an eye on your dog’s body language. You’ll learn the signs in due time.
There are different forms of corrections, too. What we primarily use here are leash pop, verbal, ecollar low cues or when needed corrections, and occasionally a physical touch or some combination of these. Remember when I said that the art of leadership with your dog is subtle? It’s sort of the same with cats. When my kitten, who is still learning boundaries, puts her paw up on the coffee table, all I have to do is give a verbal correction and most the time she’ll slowly remove her paw and sit back down while flicking her tail frustratedly. However, there are times where she will try to test her boundaries, and so I need to escalate if she doesn’t listen. Sometimes, that just involves leaning forward or standing up with authority. This usually relates to both cats and dogs in relatively the same manner. Sometimes, I’m forced to get up and walk around the coffee table, and wedge myself gently between my kitten and the table, giving her a bump with my shin to give me space. What you’re telling your furry friend is that the table is yours, not theirs, and gently reminding them that they aren’t allowed on the table, or counter. Side note: for those feline owners, if you want to keep your cat off a surface when you’re not present, I highly recommend a Scat cat from Amazon. They’re pet correctors with motion detectors. Just be advised, at some time or another you will startle yourself with it! I certainly have :) This is an example of body blocking, check out my last article on leash reactivity in dogs for some video links on body blocking. Verbal corrections are just as it sounds. Usually a “No” or “Tschht” will suffice as a verbal warning, if the dog has been taught what a no means. With pop corrections, it’s a quick, sudden interruption to the dog’s current behavior, a ‘pop’ of the leash to the side, or the quick press of a button on an e-collar to deliver the same type of interruption in a split second. With all of these, you can vary your impact through intensity. Sometimes you just want to barely cap the dogs intensity level, and other times you need to have a much stronger level of intensity to create an inhibition.
When we talk about the different intensities of corrections, what we talk about are levels of intensity usually associated with pop corrections with a leash or ecollar corrections. This is a sudden tensing of the leash that is relaxed right away, hence the term “pop”. It happens that quickly. Now, we can whisper or we can yell with different dog tools like a prong, an e-collar, a choke chain, slip leads, martingales, what have you; It’s the intensity with which you give the correction that matters. If your dog is at a level 8 out of 10 and you give a correction at a level 3 energy, your dog isn’t gonna give a damn about whether or not you are there and disagreeing with a behavior. Alternatively, if you correct a dog at a 9 when they’re only at a level 5, you’re gonna get a bit of a fearful response. There is a time and a place for that when we talk about aggressive dogs, but for most of you, it isn’t warranted. Now if you happen to overcorrect your dog, they’re pretty resilient, and they’ll bounce back, but just fight the urge to baby them and sweet talk. They will be FINE. Just take a moment, take breath, and continue on. We also do pop cues to our dogs. These are super light little nothing corrections that are more about giving your dog feedback and communication. For instance, if your dog is heeling beautifully but they have a longer stride and they’re starting to pick up the pace, we might give a gentle pop cue to curtail the dog getting ahead of us and keeping them in their follower position. It’s just like a little reminder, a little tap on the shoulder that they don’t make the decisions. That’s for us to worry about.
It is a bit of a balancing act at first with making sure you’re matching your dog’s energy, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll find that you’re able to find that happy medium, and your dog won’t be so frustrated because you guys will have much better communication and understanding about what is expected of your four legged counterpart. Corrections are one-half of the equation. For every no, there are more yes behaviors we reward. We also don’t start off with just telling the dog no. We do lots of patterning and conditioning work to help the dog understand what it is we are asking. We’re not going to correct a dog at a higher level for a first time infraction. It may just be a verbal correction is enough, or perhaps your dog is being an idiot and you’ll need to dial up on the e-collar, or any area in between. Dogs are just as individualistic as we are. There is no formula that will work for every single dog. We are always fine-tuning ourselves with each dog to set them up for success, while still addressing bad behavior with a correction. Corrections are not a bad thing. They’re not emotional. It’s just a way of communicating to your furry friend that something was unacceptable or undesired by you. If you feel yourself getting frustrated or angry, don’t force yourself and the animal to try and muscle through a training session. End it on a positive note if you can, and try again later. There are so many nuances to corrections for each individual pet, so don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions you may have to how corrections might pertain to your situation. We are always here and happy to help.
Today I wanted to address an issue that we hear about a lot here at Ruff Beginnings Rehab; Leash Reactivity. Several clients have talked about how their dogs are fabulous with other dogs off-leash, such as at the dog park, but on-leash the behavior leaves much to be desired. From simple issues like pulling and barking, to what may seem like full-on leash aggression. There are quick ways to work with your dog on this, based on the tools used and your comfort level as the owner of your pooch. But first, let’s take a look at what Leash Reactivity is in the mind of your dog.
When dogs meet in a natural environment(I.E. not on leash or in an urban environment), they meet in a C-shape curve or side by side to be able to sniff each other’s rear ends in
greeting. They don’t go up to each other, face-to-face and stare. This is considered extremely rude and offensive in regards to dog etiquette. With dogs being on the leash during walks, they
can’t engage in this behavior. When a dog does see another dog from a distance, across the street, usually on a walk, it is normal for him to look over and see who it is. He can’t interact with
the dog normally (such as smelling to get to know him, etc.). On leash, he can only SEE the other dog. The other dog may look at you and your dog too. This can create some tension between the two
dogs from a distance. Couple that with the frustration of not being able to go where he wants or greet who he wants, and it can lead to pulling and barking and some other bad behaviors. This can
also happen with squirrels, people on bikes or skateboards, or any other number of triggers. What matters though, is how you react to it.
So now that we have some background let’s address the behavior of the walk. When we train dogs, everything becomes very structured, because every element(The walk, the crate, the door dashing, the aggression, etc.) are like pieces to a bigger puzzle. They all impact one another. When it comes to the walk, if I asked you to describe the walk from beginning to end, most often I hear from you guys that the walk begins when you leave the house. To your pooch, however, the walk begins the moment you go to pick up the leash. So if you have a dog that becomes SUPER EXCITED when you pick up the leash, plan ahead and follow our comprehensive tricks to desensitize your dog to the leash.
Pick up the leash at random points during the day, hold it for a few moments, then set it down and walk away. Ignore your dog.
When your dog has settled down, and stopped acting like an idiot whenever you even go near the leash, then we can move to the next phase. Simply pick up the leash, and take it with you into another room where you will be. Do whatever you need to do, whether it’s writing an e-mail, washing the dishes, watching tv, and once you’re done, pick up the leash and return it to where it normally lives.
Once your dog is comfortable with that, carry it around with you. Go touch the front door, leave for just a few beats and come right back inside. What we’re doing is teaching your dog that you touching the leash doesn’t mean it’s time for a walk. You’re going to repeat all of this, except instead of picking up the leash and setting it down, you’ll put the leash on your dog, and then take it off right away. Put the leash on your dog, go do a task, then take the leash off. Etc.
The reason this is so important is because the state of mind your dog starts at the beginning of the walk will dictate the behavior during the walk. How can you expect to control your dog’s pulling, barking, lunging, whatever, if you don’t have that calm state of mind to begin with?
So now we’ve got a dog who doesn’t pay much attention to the leash. Next, you’ll need to do some threshold training. We have an amazing video with Bethany showing how to pattern your dog with the front door, front gate, car door, whatever it may be. Here’s a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDXVi27A0w8
Great! So now that we’ve gotten through the basics, and we have your dog in a calm state of mind, let’s get to the meat and potatoes of the problems during the walk. I want to start out by touching upon the importance of having a tool around your dog’s neck. We prefer prong collars because of their ethical design and even distribution of pressure around the neck. Guys, you’re gonna need that head control during the walks. The more bratty your dog, the more I want to stress to you having proper head control, especially if lunging, nipping, and biting are issues.
Usually when your dog gets to the point of physically lunging after something or someone, it can seem almost out of nowhere. Some dogs we’ve worked with have given little to no visible signs before they lunge. As their owner, keep an eye out for any of their possible triggers. Other dogs? Squirrels? Some guy zipping by on a bicycle? Whatever it may be, you need to be calm and cool first and foremost. Make sure you have a dog that’s walking properly at your side, and not pulling ahead of you. You’re gonna need to do some conversational leash training for that. Here’s another handy link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qw5EsUKhEkU
Now, once you come across those triggers, the way to curb and/or prevent this behavior is to reinforce a different behavior. You can’t un-learn a behavior, so instead, we’re gonna condition the dog to focus on something else instead of the dog over there. This can be a “sit” and “watch me” or you can also have your dog perform a down-stay and a look at you at the same time. If your dog isn’t paying you any attention, you could be over their threshold, and may need to just get out of dodge. Once they stop focusing on the trigger, you have a point at which you can begin working your dog with the listed commands. Continuing to walk with your dog and having him look at you while passing the trigger, even at a distance, is also very successful at keeping your dog from locking into a stare-down with another dog. Timing is key; don't even let your dog stare at the other dog, or the squirrel, or the bike, whatever it may be, at all. This eliminates the frustration before it can even begin. If you wait until he's already frustrated, lunging and pulling forward, he may not even hear you say, "look" or "watch me" at that point, and trying to use treats to redirect his attention becomes a very bad idea, because your dog can redirect that excitement towards the treat, and fingers can get bit in the process. If the object that triggers your dog’s bad behavior is coming closer towards you, move away from it, either across the street or further away, giving respective distance to stay beneath your dog’s threshold. Once it passes, resume your walk as usual.
If you find you’re still having trouble with this, be sure to check out our videos on proper leash etiquette, and leash reactivity for some more visual demonstrations and timing queues. As always, never hesitate to contact us, or a dog training professional to help you with any further questions you may have.
When it comes to potty training a dog, regardless of age, the first step is to not allow an opportunity for it to happen. You may be asking, how do I do that? I can’t be on top of my dog all the time. I’d like to relax, too! Not to worry, it’s quite simple, really. When you’re home, you can tether your dog to you by keeping them on a leash. Tether this leash to you. Either to your wrist, or to your belt. This prevents your dog from being able to sneak off somewhere to eliminate within the household.
Some common misconceptions with your dog and their accidents:
• The dog is acting out of spite
• The dog should be taken to the area of the accident and punished
• Getting another dog will help
Your dog does not act out of spite. They do not hold grudges. Punishing your dog for an accident can often make the situation worse, and often times when you get a new dog, they will learn each other’s bad habits.
Some basic things you might try:
• Take the dog out to potty right when you begin and end your day
• An hour before bed, withhold their water and/or food if necessary to prevent overnight accidents
• Ignore your dog when you first arrive home. Do not reward any whining or excited behavior with your attention. Be a statue, remain standing, and ignore your dog. The second your dog settles, time to go outside to potty.
• Give lots of praise and even a small treat when eliminating in the proper area.
• DO NOT PUNISH! Punishment after the fact will not help and can make the situation worse.
• Frequent bathroom trips to create a training pattern for them. That way they start to anticipate frequent outings and will learn to hold it.
Since most accidents tend to happen when you’re not home to let your dog out to potty, we will also be talking about the use of a crate for when you’re
away. This is one of the easiest methods to potty training your pooch, and has a wide array of benefits. It is the dog's bed and sanctuary. Its purpose is to provide confinement for reasons of
safety, security for the dog, house-training, prevention of destructive behavior, and/or travel.
Crate training your dog has many beneficial uses. If you haven’t crate trained a dog before, or if you need a refresher course, you can visit our YouTube Channel for excellent crate training videos. You want just enough room in the crate for your dog to be able to stand up and curl up comfortably. The reason this works so beautifully is because dogs are den creatures. They don’t like to eliminate where they sleep, and so this will help with patterning your dog to hold their bladders until it's time to go outside and potty. Here is the crate training video with our very own Bethany Wilson. Begin here to associate your pooch with the basics, as well as other issues that you may run across. Remember, these are all baby steps. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zff_pB8O4Xc
These are your basics for potty training. Now we’re gonna look at other areas that you may be struggling with. Some of those can include excited peeing for when you or guests greet your dog, medical issues, or territorial marking. These can be a little more complex because they are reliant on external or internal influences beyond just a need to potty.
Medical Causes of Canine House Soiling:
If your dog is normally good about going to the bathroom in appropriate areas, but you start to notice that they’re having accidents, it might be time for a vet visit to make sure your pooch has a clean bill of health. Here are some medical causes for improper elimination, usually due to increased thirst as a result of certain medical issues, and more frequent urination:
• Bladder infection or stones
• Cognitive dysfunction in older dogs
• Intestinal parasites
• Cushing’s Disease
• Pancreatic Problems
If your dog piddles when they get excited, there are a few key things to remember:
• Do not make eye contact with your dog. Instead, watch their ears, their nose, their shoulders, the top of their head. This is less overwhelming for your pooch than direct eye contact.
• Do Not Punish
• Talk in soft, neutral tones. No baby talk! Do not try to use a soothing tone. The more matter-of-fact you are, the easier it will be for your dog.
• The less direct you can be with your dog, the easier a time they’ll have. Ask guests to completely ignore your dog until everyone has gotten settled from the initial excitement of coming into the home. Even then, direct and over-excited energies should be avoided until you have worked with the dog enough to see a consistent improvement and then you can test them out with certain guests that may usually cause that excitement piddling.
• Crate training can be a big help here.
This can be the most annoying type of behavior to deal with when it comes to improper elimination because it can feel intentional. Remember, your dog is not acting out of spite. Much like we talk about in the previous article, this is a dog who craves rules and who has been allowed to make the choice to step into a leadership role. They can begin marking from new changes such as a new roommate or another pet. It could even be a frequent visitor. This is usually due to lack of a proper introduction. Check out our YouTube channel for more on how to properly introduce a guest, and claiming. These dogs are the ones who need the most structure and routine in order to feel calm and secure. You may have to structure your whole routine throughout the day when interacting with your dog to give clear boundaries and guidelines to help your dog understand what it is you expect from them. This is the only type of elimination behavior where a correction can be given. This isn’t punishment, this is simply communication to your dog to let them know the behavior is inappropriate. It has to be timed correctly, done in the prelude to the actual marking behavior rather than during the act itself. Let’s go over some key points to help you with helping to curb this behavior:
• Use an E-Collar. We here at Ruff Beginnings Rehab recommend the use of the Mini Educator. This is a wonderful communication tool for you and your dog that is less invasive. Whenever you see your pooch giving prelude behaviors to marking(sniffing, side-stepping to line up for the leg lift, the leg lift), you give a correction. Contact us for more information.
• Keep the dog tethered to you so that you can use some sort of communication tool(martingale, pinch collar, prong collar, etc.) that sits around the neck. This gives the dog zero opportunity to urinate without you being aware. If the dog manages to pee inappropriately while tethered to you, I hate to say it, but it means you need to be paying more attention or keeping a closer tether of your dog.
• After giving a correction, wait a couple beats, then calmly go outside and lead your dog into the grass or preferred substrate. Be as boring as possible and give them 5 to 10 minutes to eliminate before heading back inside.
• Introduce your pooch properly to whatever may be making them feel uncomfortable, be it a person, another animal, or perhaps even a new piece of furniture. So long as your dog is uncomfortable with these 'new' things, they should not be left unsupervised, especially around new furniture when they're more liable to mark.
As always, never hesitate to contact a professional. I hope you find these tips helpful. For more information, never hesitate to reach out to us. Simply follow the Contact tab at the top right of our page.
That word gets thrown around as much as motivation guru’s talk about positive thinking and how it improves quality of life over all. Both of those things are very important, except we tend to not really, really listen. We know we should do it, but life gets in the way.
Well, I am hear to tell you (though I know you know, but bear with me) that without leadership, you are likely to struggle with your dogs behavioral issues for life and if you have a new dog, without leadership that dog will develop behavioral issues.
Dogs without leadership and lots of spoiling tend to do two things (or do at least one thing)…they become nervous anxious balls of energy or fear, where they can start to lash out at life or retreat from it, OR they get pushy, moody, protective and seemingly dominant over everything. Of course there are many variations of the above, but that is it in a nutshell.
When you first went to school as a child they did two things. 1st everyone introduced themselves in their desks. No one went around and gave hugs or even handshakes. We all learned names and said something about ourselves if we were even brave enough to do that. In the dog world that is sniffing people and dogs respectfully from a distance, NOT being pushy with smelling and being pet like crazy. If a kids class room had to give hugs their would be so much excitement and running around and at least one fight most likely.
2nd the teacher went over the rules. By knowing boundaries that gave us confidence because we understood what we could and couldn’t do. When a child pushed that boundary they were reprimanded. If they weren’t reprimanded to a level where they cared or where it mattered to them then they were more and more likely to do it again and again (along with other things). This is the same with dogs, except with dogs you REALLY have to follow through because they don’t rationalize. You can’t have a conversation with them so a lack of consistent structure actually confuses them and causes more issues immediately or down the line.
If you have done your best, but are still having behavioral issues with your dog, you might be surprised HOW strict you must be with your dog and treat your dog like a student rather then a pal in order to help your dog over come those behavioral issues long term.
Now, what does ANY of this have to do with a kid version of yours truly on a horse at a show doing barrels? Plenty! This is Shannon and she taught me more then any other horse I had as a kid. She was stubborn, headstrong, pushy and most of the time didn’t act like she liked me very much. She also caused me to fall off and break my leg because I was trying to be as strong and stubborn as her, but ended up losing that battle and probably confusing her in the process. Some animals just have a stronger will. You have to counter act that with amazing consistency. Well, from 7-13 that was kind of difficult. She ALWAYS made me ask twice, she would do the wrong gate just to make me switch her back, she’d refuse to back up half the time if I asked and she regularly pushed through any reign control I tried to give. It was frustrating, tiring and challenging work with her. We had some of the BEST days and some of the worst (the broken leg definitely is one of the worst) The frustrating thing for me is my Aunt would hop on her and she’d perform BEAUTIFULLY! They were two peas in a pod and she might’ve won at the world’s with Shannon. So don’t get me wrong, Shannon worked beautifully, she just didn’t respect me and since she didn’t respect me, she didn’t trust me either, at least not to a deep and meaningful relationship. She trusted me to feed her, take care of her, pet her and treat her right, but that isn’t always enough. It is no different with dogs.
I never could match Shannon’s will and I never did gain a consistent respect with her, but I loved her with all my hear and still do because she taught me so much. If I knew then what I knew now we could have been a very successful pair, and by success I don’t mean trophies, I mean we could have reached that deep level of trust through respect and understanding that I desire for all of my clients.
So if you take anything away from this story let it be this…not being a consistent leader doesn’t just spoil your dog, it actually creates inconsistencies that cause stress. This can lead to a few little bad things or major behavioral issues because the dog is given the choice to lead. Find out what you want the rules to be and don’t be lax on them until the dog is SO confident that giving in a bit won’t confuse him and he can adapt and listen to you in many situations, because if you can achieve that, then you have achieved love and respect from your dog that grows into a deep trust. Yes, with dogs you have to often prove yourself a leader, sometimes over and over.