The “New” Way versus The “Old” Way of Raising a Dog

There is little doubt that the world of dogs and dog ownership has changed drastically over the years. With the advent of online forums, blogs, training articles and television shows that focus on training Fido to do behave properly; the amount of information out there available to anyone who’s looking, at just a click of a mouse, can actually be quite overwhelming for many.

Whether you are looking for information on what to feed your dog, or how to potty train, the vast amount of opinions is enough to make anyone’s head spin. Many are left wondering, “Why does it have to be so complicated?”.” How can there be so many answers to one simple question?”, and “Which answer is the right one for my dog?” Each area of raising a dog is fraught with debate from so many experts and training guru’s, that it’s little wonder that the vast majority of average everyday pet owners just throw their hands up in the air and go with whatever they have seen work in the past. Even if those methods are not what we today call “the right way” of doing things.

For those of us who are active in the online dog world, who interact daily with hundreds of fellow dog owners, many who are highly experienced in anything from general dog behaviour to professional levels of training, it can be easy to forget that we are not the majority. No matter how large our numbers, we are still the minority when it comes to dog owners around the world. The vast majority of average pet owners are not spending hours reading up on training articles, nutritional studies, breed profiles and breeding practices. They are not spending hundreds of dollars on professional training classes, agility courses, and other dog sports. It would be safe to say I think, that the overall majority of dogs in this world know only the basics, IE: “sit”, “come”, “stay” and “paw”.

I would be willing to bet a good amount of money, that if I were to walk through the streets of my city, polling the general public to see how many know who people like Ian Dunbar, or Patricia McConnell are, they wouldn’t have the slightest clue. Yet go online, into any of the hundreds of dog forums out there, and you’ll see those names touted often in regards to the behaviour and training of our dogs.

I already know for a fact that most people I run into while walking Luke, haven’t a clue what Orijen is, or what breeding practices to look for when buying a puppy. Most have no clue as to what health issues are common to their breed of dog, or what a clicker is. Yet, if I ask them who Cesar Milan is, they can tell me in a heartbeat. And the vast majority of those who know of him think he is brilliant, and that his methods are THE way to train a dog. Go online into one of those forums however, and you will see a totally different story.

There is a good reason for this. Human nature plays a huge roll for one thing. We live in a society of “we want it all, and we want it NOW”. The easiest path and the method that gets us to our destination the fastest is generally the most popular choice. We also live in a society where the more something is advertised, the more bombarded we are with certain images and ideology; the more apt we will be to follow it. If it’s on TV, on commercials, if it has a cute little jingle or it makes the least bit of sense, and if the method is easy and works fast, you have a winner. Cesar’s methods seem to do just that. They make sense, and work fast with relatively little effort. So it SEEMS. There is little understanding among the general public on what negative effects can be seen from training dogs in the manner in which he does things on his show.

People are busy today. We have families who have to work long hours in order to make ends meet. Time is a luxury. Anything we can get to make that time more efficient, allow us to do more than one thing at once, is gold. All you have to do to realize this fact is take a look at the technology we have at our disposal now. We have Iphones and Ipads, gadgets that can do anything we want or could ever need them to do at just a push of a button, so we have more time to focus on other things. So, it makes total sense then, that so many people are going to take the path of least resistance when it comes to dog training doesn’t it?

If you can train a dog to walk on lead properly within a few minutes using the prong collar, why not use that? Why take time we don’t have, trying to train a dog that pulls and yanks us down the street, to walk properly using positive only methods, methods that may take weeks of repetitive and frustrating attempts when it can be done almost instantly? When you’re pressed for time and you have a family to raise, kids to get off to their various sports and school functions, a nine hour work day; most people just do not have the time to spend taking multiple baby steps when one big one will do. Even if those smaller, longer steps might lead to a happier, healthier and better behaved dog in the end, time and patience is always a big factor in our lives these days.

There is no doubt about it: the culture of dog ownership is changing every day. The amount of accessible information is staggering. Education is only a tv remote or mouse click away from our fingertips at any given moment. There are enough books on raising dogs on the market now that it would make your head spin. More and more obedience classes and other types of dog training and fun activities are being opened up in cities and towns across the globe. Yet…there still remains a vast amount of the population who see dog ownership in much the same way they did fifty years ago or more. Even my generation, when looking back at how our family dogs were raised, can see a dramatic shift in the thinking behind how we raise and train our dogs.

Dogs were not furry people. They didn’t require play dates and dog parks, nor did the owners go into emotional meltdown at the idea their pooch might not like every dog in the neighbourhood. Behaviorists and trainers weren’t called upon and paid fifty bucks an hour to evaluate whether the dog had fear issues or to fix social problems. They didn’t need to meet a dozen new furry friends a day in order to be happy, fulfilled dogs. Many slept on the floor of the home with no expensive dog bed or even a blanket in some cases. Many slept outside the home altogether. They weren’t fed organic, holistic blend kibble costing an arm and a leg. Owners didn’t spend hours online or at the pet food store reading labels and studying ingredients on the back of food bags. The dog ate scraps from the kitchen table if it was lucky; otherwise the cheapest bag of kibble, which could change weekly, was thrown into a bowl without a second thought as to the nutritional value. Nobody worried about allergies and cancer, whether Fido was getting too much or too little exercise or none at all. Building six foot privacy fences just to keep him secure was probably unheard of. Vets were for emergencies and maybe a few vaccines if that.

Pedigrees and researching breeders was something only a very few worried about. If you wanted a dog, you got one for free at the neighbour’s house when they’re dog happened to have pups. Or you came across a sign on the side of a road somewhere, saying “free pups”, and stopped to pick one. There was no waiting two to three years and signing contracts more complicated than getting a mortgage for a home, to get a pup. There was no worrying about back yard breeders or puppy mills or genetic health testing. Today to not do all of these things is to be considered an unworthy owner. If your dog isn’t involved in some sort of activity, exercised at least an hour or two a day, trained to do a dozen tricks, and socially adept with all other dogs and people, you are considered a failure to Fido.

There is little doubt that with all the new information out there, positive changes are taking place in the dog owners’ community. We now have a much greater understanding of a wide spectrum of issues; like the topic of breeding for instance. We have more insight into how health issues are perpetuated in the lines of breeding stock, how temperaments are genetically passed on. We now understand why some dogs behave in ways that prior to these past few years when behavioralism started to become popular, were just passed off as the actions of a “bad dog”.

Yet….as with so many other areas of our world where we are in possession of so much more knowledge, we still make so many mistakes. There are still so many problems that you would think, knowing what we now know, we wouldn’t have. It seems though that nowadays every second dog we see or hear about, has some sort of behavioural issue. Excessive barking, biting, chewing, digging, separation anxiety or severe fear issues, are just a few of those issues. It would appear, that now more than ever before, dogs in general are having more problems, despite all the hundreds of methods we can use to train them, all the scientific research to explain why they behave the way they do; the more understanding we have, the worse the dogs behaviour gets.

Perhaps this is why it is so difficult at times, to convince people that the new ways are the best ways. Scientific research and results are great, but they have little value when set against anecdotal evidence or previous experience the person we’re trying to educate may have. If Jane has raised a dozen dogs before, none of whom had any of the behavioural problems she is now seeing in all her neighbour’s dogs, dogs who are being trained with the “new ways”, it’s going to be pretty hard to convince her that her ways are wrong isn’t it? It’s like going to a person who’s never been sick a day in their life, telling them that the lifestyle they lead is unhealthy; all the while the person preaching is running to the doctor’s office every week.

It’s hard to convince people who have owned and raised the farm bred mutt their entire lives, dogs who happened to live long, healthy lives, that spending thousands of dollars on pure bred, health tested dogs from “reputable” breeders is the best way to go. Especially when every pure bred dog from those top of the line breeders they’ve ever met or come across in their life has been dead by the age of 8 or 9, racked up thousands in vet bills; while their Heinz 57 lived to 15 while seeing the vet only for emergencies or vaccines. It looks good on paper, or online in dog forums, but harder to convince those who’ve lived long enough to see years of anecdotal evidence to the contrary. This is why education can only go so far. Experience counts a lot more to most people than words on a page in a magazine or in a forum online. Even if those words happen to be actually true.
To be continued……………………………….

The Stigma attached to muzzles and dogs who wear them




If you have ever worn a muzzle on your dog, you have probably noticed the looks you can receive from passerby as you walk along, or have heard the snide remarks hidden behind the hands of the person walking an out of control beast or rather, being drug by the dog, or noticed how they glare at you like you’re some cruel monster abusing your dog.

It amazes me how the human brain can work sometimes. For instance, logically, you would think a person would feel much safer approaching a dog with a muzzle on, than a strange dog that does not. I mean think about it, at least the dog with the muzzle CANNOT bite you..where as the other dog, who knows?

It saddens me to think that there are truly responsible dog owners out there, who would be much better served by having a muzzle on their dog, who refuse to do so, and thereby may be putting society as well as their beloved friend at risk, out of fear of being judged for it. I myself have been guilty of this. Often times over the past few months I’ve found myself thinking it might be a good idea to get a muzzle for Luke, but kept turning away from the idea because of the stigma, almost buying into it myself. “Oh I can’’s cruel. It looks barbaric, people will think he’s nasty”, etc.

I have since woken up. And realized that there is nothing more loving or responsible, than knowing your dog, their limitations, their quirks, understanding the public and their inability at times to make rational say, ASKING before running up to your dog to manhandle them? Somehow that seems like such a foreign idea to some people these days 🙂 I realized, that my dog is telling me, he is not comfortable with strangers man handling him. He doesn’t like children, and he doesn’t want them rushing at his face, hurling themselves on his back and body like he’s a wooden horse. And as such, that someday, he might not just stand there and growl, he may actually snap and bite. I know that about him, so it is only right and responsible for me knowing that, to make outings with him as safe as can be. So I will be getting a muzzle for Luke.

Is he vicious? NO. This dog has been socialized to the point of insanity since the day I got him at nine weeks. He’s like me I guess. I can take you or leave you, if you’re human lol. I don’t want strangers mauling all over me either. And you know, if you keep disrespecting me and my space? I just might bite you too. Rather than keep going on the way I am now, always hoping I’ll have time to tell people BEFORE they rush us not to do so, praying he won’t snap this time…I will make sure that nothing CAN happen.

It seems as if the general public has this idea in their head that we Great Dane owners are somehow obligated to let them maul our dogs. Yes, we get it. He’s huge. You haven’t seen them often or at all before. But at least have the common courtesy to respect me when I say “please don’t do that”, and to respect HIM by not rushing at him like a crack head. Because you can damn well bet that if he did snap, he’d pay the price for it, and that I won’t stand for.

We dane owners do not owe the public our dogs. They are not circus freaks. They are not toys for your children. Many people out there walking Great Danes are owners of new rescues, or fearful danes who really aren’t comfortable around new humans yet. Some never are comfortable. Just because they’re huge, and Scooby Doo was a cute and snuggly, does not mean all danes are, and you might just be setting up an innocent animal for failure by not respecting that fact.

A properly fitted muzzle is neither cruel nor barbaric. It is not a sign that you have failed as a trainer of your dog. It is not a sign that your dog is nasty or a man eater. There are many reasons one might wish to use a muzzle. If only more people would do so, we might see a huge reduction of dog attacks on both other animals as well as humans. At the end of the day, it’s more cruel to set a dog up for possible failure, set them up to be labelled a vicious dog when they bite someone, than it is to prevent such a thing from ever happening.

Fearful dogs are the number one candidates in my opinion for a muzzle. Every one who knows anything about dog behavior will tell you, a fearful dog is an unpredictable dog. You never know what is going to trigger or when that trigger will occur.(You can only micro manage the world around you to prevent it so much before something at some time happens to set them off) Not only does having the muzzle on help YOU feel more confident and at ease, it helps the dog because they no longer have to deal with YOUR fear right along with their own. If you’re walking down the street and you know there is no POSSIBLE way your dog can harm another dog or person, even accidentally, then you are going to be walking with much more confidence and more relaxed at the other end of that leash. This transfers to your dog…making your outings that much more enjoyable for both of you.

Bottom line? If you feel that a muzzle is the right answer for your dog, let NO ONE tell you otherwise. Don’t be guilt tripped or criticized out of doing what you feel is safer for YOUR dog. Don’t feel as if you have to prove something to the world by forcing your dog into situations they cannot handle, just so you can say “I fixed him I’m the great dog trainer who turned my dog hating dog into a dog lover, or a dog who hates kids into a daycare stalker” Because when you do that, it’s not just the public you are risking to prove that point…it’s your best friend.






Socialization:The Importance of it and why it doesn’t always fix everything

One of the first commandments of dog ownership is to “socialize your pup/dog”. Its importance in raising a dog to be a well balanced, happy dog is even stated in the actual breed write ups aka breed standards of many different breeds. Some dog breeds of course, require much more extensive socialization than others, due to their genetic predispositions to things such as dog aggression, or trust of strangers.
What does it mean to socialize your puppy or dog? It means exposing them to as many new situations, places, people and animals as you possibly can,early on, so that the pup will grow to be confident and secure no matter where you may take them or whom they may meet later on in their life. It is extremely important that any socializing be monitored so that new experiences are made as positive as possible for your pup/dog. A bad experience can leave a dog that was once confident and secure, quivering in fear at even the sight of another dog, person or place. This is one of the reasons dog parks can be such a disaster, especially for a young pup who is still learning the ropes so to speak. They can learn to distrust and fear dogs in general after being bullied at a dog park….leading to the owners having to then bring in trainers or behaviorists in the attempt to reverse the problem. And sometimes, no matter how much they work to correct it, that dog may never be the same again. May never be totally stable around other dogs.
Many people suggest, myself included, that instead of putting your pup or older dog in situations that can be unpredictable and risky, it is safer to arrange smaller, more secure settings where you have a better idea of how things will go. For instance, instead of taking your pup into a large gathering of other dogs to socialize, pick a dog or two that you know and trust, who’s play style suits that of your pup/dog and go from there. Arranging play dates with your friend’s dog is a much safer bet than putting them in a fenced in area with strange dogs you’ve never met before, and have no way of knowing how they will behave…or if the owners are in control of the dog/s.
Try not to overwhelm your dog. Too much of anything at one time is never a good thing. While some dogs may cope just fine with an overload of stimulation, others can shut down completely, leaving you ten steps back rather than ten steps ahead.
It is true, that by socializing your dog as much as possible, you can make a dog much more likely to be confident and secure in new situations. That is a given. However…what I do not agree with, and never have, is the idea that socialization is the cure all to ALL behavioral issues, or that it completely erases a dog’s genetic predispositions. I’ve seen far too much evidence to the contrary to believe that. It is a preventative, it is a teaching tool,but it is not a one size fits all fix to everything.
I hear of or have seen, an awful lot of dog owners who have gone into the relationship with their new pup or dog, no matter the breed, thinking that as long as they socialize, that dog will never have dog aggression issues, never be afraid of or not like people, never chase rabbits or want to kill a cat. It simply isn’t always true. There are some dogs, who despite all the socialization in the world, still retain certain personality traits that while may be controlled or containable with proper care and consideration (being careful about what dogs they meet, where they are taken in public, never allowed to run off lead for instance) are never quite trustworthy in certain situations 100%. It is when these owners refuse to acknowledge that fact, that disasters can and do occur.
Some breeds are just naturally leery of strangers for instance. This is in their genetic makeup. Even when breeders have tried over the years to breed more stable, friendly dogs, many still retain those original traits.Some breeds have a natural desire to chase prey. Some need to herd. Take herding dogs. They may not all be living on farms nowadays, herding sheep…but they still retain that desire, that genetic NEED to do so. How many of these breeds end up in shelters when the owners live a lifestyle that isn’t conducive to fulfilling those needs, and can no longer cope with the consequences of choosing a dog that NEEDS to be stimulated?
It bothers me when I see people trying to fit dogs into their own cookie cutter ideals and personal needs, and when the dog doesn’t conform 100%, they suffer for it.
Here is the fact. While socializing your Great Dane will go a long way to helping them be more trusting and comfortable with strange people and other animals, it does NOT guarantee that your dane is going to end up loving all animals and people they meet on the street. At the end of the day, these are still dogs who have a genetic predisposition to be protective of their immediate families, to be a bit leery of strangers. While dog aggression is not a huge problem in general, it can and does happen, and just because your dane was great with dogs for the first year or two, does NOT mean that they will not later on with maturity, develop some sort of DA.(Irregardless of how well socialized they may be or have been) Not ALL Great Danes are going to “LOVE” children and want to be climbed all over and mauled. And I don’t think it’s fair to fault them for it if they just happen to have the personality that they were originally meant to have. Faithful and protective of their masters and immediate family, guardians of their home and territory and leery of those outside of that intimate circle.(as all mastiff’s are supposed to be) Nor is it fair to expect every single dog of any breed to share the exact same personality or traits. We are each individuals at the core, and so are our dogs.
I think it can be very dangerous in some ways, for people to tout socialization as the automatic fix of all issues. When we refuse to realize that there are some things that just cannot be completely removed, we put our beloved dogs in danger of reacting in ways that may cause them harm, other dogs or people harm, and ultimately end their lives. It happens a lot with bull dog breeds. People refuse to accept that their dog just may never like other dogs. Period. They continually try to “socialize” that out of them…putting their dog and the public in danger by forcing them into scenarios where they might react negatively. If you know your dog has a problem with male dogs for instance, you simply make sure you avoid letting that dog engage with other males. You don’t stick them in the face of every male dog you come across, hoping that by flooding them with the very thing they can’t handle or don’t like, they will magically become the friendly dog at the park who loves and wants to play with everyone. It’s irresponsible, and as far as I’m concerned, another great example of how we as humans continue to put our dogs in harms way just so we can show off how superior we are as trainers, as dog owners, as “alpha’s”, or what have you. And when you make a mistake, when you’re not watching for one instant, when your dog attacks and maims another dog, or a child, when you KNEW that it was a very good possibility, and that dog is forced to be euthanized, labeled a vicious dog, you have no one to blame but yourself. And maybe the people who spend so much time convincing the dog world that by bombarding your pooch with experiences they can’t handle or don’t enjoy, you’re going to cure them of that dislike.
There has to come a point when you realize that changing certain traits that could otherwise be managed and prevented, is not worth the risk. When the children you so desperately want your dog to be fine with, might prefer keeping their skin intact, rather than being a guinea pig so you can re program your dog. It’s fine to try and work with your dog to get over fears, to help build confidence, to eradicate certain negative associations. I’m not disputing that at all. What I am saying is, that when you get to the point where you just know in your heart that your dog is never going to be a lover of strangers, of certain people, of other dogs, of cats,etc…then accept those “flaws” if you see them as such,and manage them the very best that you can so both you, your dog and the public will remain safe. And so your dog can lead a happy life not having the very things they will never enjoy shoved in their face and down their throat all of the time.
Luke does not like children. I know that, I accept that, and I manage that by not constantly parading children in his face every day. I make the public very aware that he doesn’t want to be manhandled and to please respect his space…as you would want people to respect yours. And guess what? You could not ask for or probably find a more socialized dog than Luke. That poor guy has been literally bombarded with people of all ages, shapes, sizes and dogs of all shapes and sizes and breeds, since he was a pup. And yet he still does not like certain male dogs now. Nor does he want people man handling him anymore. Socialization didn’t affect that. What he put up with and seemed to even enjoy a year ago, is not what he prefers now. And I don’t see anything at all wrong with that.
The point? Know your dog. They’re strengths, their weaknesses. How far you can push them and when to just back off and let them be. Don’t let anyone else talk you into putting YOUR dog in dangerous positions that may harm you and the one you love, just so you can say you didn’t give up, you got the upper hand, or what have you. Sometimes we just need to let them be who they are. We don’t have them with us nearly long enough in the first place…let’s not let their short lives be full of turmoil as we try to force them to be something they are not.

Common Mistakes New Dog/Puppy Owners Make:part 2

To continue on where we left off….

Another hugely common mistake new owners make when first bringing home their new pup, and for the first few months of their lives, is allowing behaviors that they won’t want continued into adulthood. There’s no doubt about it, it takes a pretty tough person to say no to a brand new pup. The little face looking up at you with such love, excitement and trust, melts your heart and steals a part of your soul, leaving you unwilling to say that big bad word..”NO!”.

What we dont’ take into account, is that much of, if not most of what our dogs learn about life, social behavior, how to interact with other people and animals, and proper behavior in the home, is learned in those first few months when the cute overrides our sense. It is imperative, that we realize that every single moment of the day from the minute we bring home our new pup, is a potential for learning. Be it positive behavior or negative.

I find many dog owners seem to think that training is a chore. We take out a certain amount of time per day to work on things like “sit”, “Come”, “Stay”,etc. We forget that each and every interaction we have with our dog during the day, is indeed a training session. A time of learning, shaping behavior, teaching our dog what behaviors we want, and preventing those we do not want. Looking at it in this manner, and living by it, makes training SO much easier! It means that you are steadily and constantly working with your dog, even when you’re simply sitting down watching a tv show, or putting food in their bowl, every time you go to let them out to potty. Everything, even the most seemingly unimportant, means a lot in the end.

It is MUCH easier to work with and train a dog when that dog knows exactly what behaviors we want from them, expect from them and behaviors that please us….rather than waiting until they do something we want to correct…and expecting them to understand what it is they’re being corrected for and why. A dog that isn’t taught how TO behave, won’t understand what it means to NOT behave. Make sense?

It is a wonderful idea, to establish what “house rules” you want your puppy,and later on, your adult dog, to live by. These rules should really be established before you even bring Fido home. If you live in a family setting, or with anyone other than yourself…these rules/guidelines should be clearly discussed and decided on. It is imperative that each member of the household understands the rules, and how you will go about teaching them. If every member of the house has a different set of guidelines, or allows different behaviors…and if they go about training differently, it is going to be MUCH harder for the pup to learn, and quite confusing for them. All guidelines should be simple, clear and easy to understand.
That means..if you’ve decided no dog on the furniture…NO ONE is allowed to let the pup on the furniture. Period. No excuses. No special occasions. Later on, when the dog is older, more reliably trained, and more mature…perhaps you can then start showing him/her different scenarios in which he’s allowed to go on the furniture. But allowing it one moment and not the next when first training, is not going to work well for most dogs and will indeed only make the dog not trust rules…since rules change so very often for no apparent reason in the dog’s mind. This is one of the hardest things for families to accomplish. Because we all see things differently, each member has a different bond with the pup, a higher or lower threshold for what behaviors they can ignore and what ones they can’t. But to successfully raise a well behaved pup who understands their place, it really is important to do our absolute best on this.

People don’t realize that you don’t have to be in “training mode” with clicker and treat handy at each moment…in order to teach your dog. Nor do you have to always give cues, or lure behaviors in order to reinforce them. A great example of this is the “sit” command. Go online and there are at least a dozen different methods given by various trainers on how to teach “sit”. When really, it’s quite simple. No luring necessary, BECAUSE…the sit, is a natural body movement that every single dog, cat, person and animal does. Every day, multiple times per day.

Rather than put a dog on lead, pull up on the lead, push down on the back-end, lure with a treat,etc….the easiest and most common sense way to accomplish this, is simply reward and praise each time you notice your pup doing the sit naturally. If you are supervising your pup properly, which every dog owner SHOULD be doing in the first place, it won’t take long to teach this, as they will be sitting multiple times throughout the day. Each time they do? BIG praise…and add the command “sit”. Not only is this easy, it also helps with dogs that are a bit more stubborn minded and like to think THEY make the decision to do the behavior 🙂 Same thing with the down command. A lot of dogs do not take well to being physically forced into  down. Especially those who have fear issues or who are reluctant to put themselves in a vulnerable position. Rather than force them, causing more anxiety…simply wait for the natural behavior to occur, and praise/treat accordingly. No fighting with the dog, and you get the results you want. Relatively quickly too! 

Again…rather than wait until your pup is exhibiting behavior you do not want….teach them what behaviors you DO want, by always supervising, being close by and noticing their movements and actions, so you can then tell them when they are doing the right thing. Pup is sitting calmly at your side? PRAISE. “Good sit”. Pup comes up to you and doesn’t jump? Praise..good puppy. Pup barks once or twice to alert you of something, then stops barking….BIG PRAISE…”Good quiet”. You are teaching the pup long before excessive barking becomes an issue…that it’s ok to alert you, but once you’ve been alerted and acknowledge the situation, pup must then quiet down.

REMEMBER::Consistency is EVERYTHING when working with dogs, old and young. Use the same command for the same behavior, praise every time you see the good behavior, even after they’ve already learned it. Luke is 2 years old, and I still thank him for telling me when he has to go outside to pee. I still thank him for heeling properly, for quieting down after alerting me to strangers near our house, for waiting patiently for his dinner.

So, pay attention to your pup. Sticking a pup in a crate for most of the day, may make potty training easier for you, but it doesn’t teach the pup how to properly interact and behave in the home and out. That is up to you. They don’t come to us already knowing everything. It is our job to teach. Patiently, fairly and with the understanding that each dog is different. Each one will learn at their own pace. Each dog may require different methods of training than others. Some may be food motivated, some toy motivated. Some may just want praise. Learn about your pup, what motivates them, what makes them tick. Observe them in all surroundings and see how they naturally react. Make all of your interactions with your pup positive and rewarding for both of you. Training a pup can be hard work yes, but it should never be a dreaded chore. It’s a part of everyday life, and should be, for the entire life of the dog. Make it fun, make it simple. Make it a bonding experience for you both. And make sure the entire family is on the same page. I will share some more in-depth methods in a later post….

Common Mistakes New Dog/Puppy Owners Make

This article written by me (Jenn Higgins) will be posted in parts, as it will be too long to put in just one blog. Stay tuned 😛

It is a fact, that a lot of, if not most of the huge number of dogs being re-homed, sent to shelters and rescued, or sold in the attempt to make a profit…are all the end result of common and all too frequent mistakes made by people getting a new pup or dog. despite the over abundance of information IE education out there, accessible by just a click of a button, we still see it over and over again. In this article I will try to outline each of the most common problems we see. Keep in mind that there are always exceptions to every rule…and that there are indeed some very understandable reasons why some dogs need to be re-homed. This post is in no way to degrade or look down upon those situations…but to instead, highlight some key points to think of before ever bringing that new cute puppy home.

– Not doing enough research on the breed of dog one is getting (if any is done at all) Not understanding or coming to terms with the reality of living with that breed…the specific requirements of the dog, as well as taking individual qualities and/or issues that may crop up. 
This is so rampant it’s not funny. Someone sees a cute puppy in a picture, on an ad site, out on a walk…and all of the sudden they just “have” to have that kind of dog. Or they see it on a tv show, movie, commercial and that’s the dog they want…RIGHT NOW. No thought whatsoever is put into the fact that although every puppy is cute, cuddly and adorable, not every puppy who will indeed GROW UP TO BE A DOG…is the right one for them. In fact, very few people have a huge list of suitable breeds that actually match their lifestyle. So we have Mr. & Mrs. Jones rushing out to get this cute puppy,not realizing, or considering that the pup they just picked up, is a very high energy breed…one that needs continual training, socialization, mental and physical excercise multiple times per day, may have a host of health issues that is common to that breed of dog, has specific feeding requirements,etc. Perhaps they didn’t take into account that this dog may not be great with children, of which the Jones’ have three. So what happens when reality sets in? The pooch gets dumped on the first willing rescue or person who will take him.

There is a reason different breeds were created. They are all different in their own ways, while at the same time, sharing certain similarities. They each had their own job that they were bred to do. While many breeds no longer retain much of the original working purpose they were bred for, nor used in that way, many others still do. In fact there are quite a few breeds that to this day REQUIRE work, in order to be stable, happy and healthy. Dogs like Border Collies, GSD’s, Malinois…without a steady stream of activity, both mental and physical, can become a NIGHTMARE in the hands of uneducated, ill prepared novice pet owners whose lifestyle simply does not match the needs of the dogs.

This is where we see the “I don’t have enough time for him”, “He needs more room to run and someone who’s willing to give him all the time and attention he needs” comes in. Which is basically the nicer way of saying “Hey..I have this dog who is no longer a cute fuzz ball…I didn’t think anything through before bringing him home. I assumed he’d raise and train himself and that knowing how to sit and give paw was enough in the way of “training”. I thought walking them once or twice a month for a half hour while I’m being drug down the road behind a dog who has no manners whatsoever, because of course we thought he’d learn those on his own too…was enough excercise. I was wrong. Now I need you, I need ANYBODY to come take responsibility for this dog so I don’t have to do what I should have been doing from day one. Thank you.”

Although each dog is at its core, and individual…it cannot be denied that indeed the breed DOES matter in the grand scheme of things. There are some breeds that are simply not suitable for a certain type of home. A BC should never be with an elderly, disabled couple who cannot walk much or leave their retirement home. A Great Dane is not for someone who wants to run marathons and climb mountains everyday, someone who wants to be out in extreme weather or someone who requires a dog with a ton of endurance. There are general breed characteristics for a reason. So that each and every person can decide whether this is the kind of dog that will fit into their lifestyle smoothly and happily. Beware those who claim a lifestyle they do not yet have. It is very easy for someone to say “I’m going to change my life to start doing this, to accommodate my new dog”, but it’s very rare that the person will actually do it, and stick with it. Thus another dog being either trapped in a home that doesn’t suit, or re-homed. Every person MUST be 100% honest with themselves. ARE you truly an active person? Are you SURE that for the ENTIRE LIFE of the dog, you are going to be willing and/or able to get up and take your dog out for walks, runs, training sessions, etc? What other options do you have set in place should there come a time when you are ill, or can’t do these things for a while. It’s easy to say “Oh I can get my neighbor or my sister to come over and let the puppy/dog out, etc.” REALLY? Are you SURE?  In the end we all should know who we are as people and what we want in our lives. If we’re lazy couch potatoes and aren’t absolutely sure we can give a high energy breed 100% of us, then we have no business getting that dog. If we’re a super high energy marathon runner who wants to go go go all the time or someone who travels constantly, then we do not need a Great Dane or other moderate/low energy breed that NEEDS to be with their owners, not left alone or dumped in kennels every week while their people travel the world. So again, before ever bringing that puppy home…BE HONEST about who you are as a person, and what you are TRULY capable of giving, LONG TERM, to a dog. Any dog.

Simple Questions to ask one’s self before bringing home a new pup/dog:

-Do I have the time to train, socialize, walk, and otherwise spend quality time with a dog? Is fluffy going to spend more of her time in a crate alone, than being among family and her owners? Is she going to get enough excercise not just for this week, or the next few months, but long-term?

-Do I understand both the positives and negative aspects of this breed/ or mix of breeds? IE:Health issues, specific nutritional needs, training requirements (you may have chosen a stubborn, harder to work with dog, rather  than a super easy,brilliant and eager to please pooch) Can I handle things like possible dog aggression if I pick a breed that may be more prone to it? Do I understand that not all dogs learn at the same pace, that mine may be faster or slower than other and that it might be up to three years before I have a reliably trained dog in my home? Can I cope with that?

-Am I financially capable of caring for, feeding, vetting, this dog?

-What am I actually looking for from this dog? What am I expecting it to be like, act like, live like? Are my expectations realistic? Am I willing to put the time and effort, perhaps even money if I require a professional trainer, into making those expectations come to fruition?

-Does my entire household/family agree with getting this dog? Is everyone going to be involved in raising and the upkeep of the dog? Not just during the cute phase but for the entire life of the dog? Who will be the main caregiver? What will I do if I have to do it alone?

-If renting, am I absolutely positive that I’m allowed to have a pet, including a dog? Is there size or breed restrictions where I am living currently? What will I do in the event that I am forced to move for some reason. Do I realize how incredibly difficult it can be to find an apartment or condo that allows pets, let alone dogs?

-Do I have enough on my plate already with children in the home? Am I truly willing to supervise the children and the dog AT ALL TIMES…NO QUESTIONS ASKED? For the safety of both dog and child? Am I prepared to teach my children the proper way to interact with a dog and make sure that this dog is not going to be used as a jungle gym, tail and ears as tug of war toys?

-Do I already have pets in the home? Is one more going to upset the balance and cause issues? What will I do if they don’t get along? Am I willing to keep separate any animals and do a “Crate and rotate” type deal, if indeed they do not get along? Can I handle that stress and worry every single day for at least ten years?

These are just a few questions a person should ask themselves before bringing home a dog. The question should never be..what can a dog offer me. It should always be..what can I offer this dog. Only then, and only when all questions are answered truthfully and coincide with the dog you are getting, can you ensure a life long happy home with your new friend.

Sometimes I wonder why I bother….

You would think with all the information out there, with ease in which you can learn just about anything these days, that people getting a pup or a dog, of ANY breed, would at the very least, take a few minutes to learn what kind of dog they’re getting, what the basic ideas of training are, and try to use them. Not in this area! And certainly not on some of the sites I am on. Yahoo answers for one. Why I go on that site when all it does is aggravate me is beyond me. Apparently I’m a sucker for punishment. And facebook groups. The ones for Great Danes really upset me. Of course being the breed of my heart, it always upsets me when I see them in the hands of owners who are not even willing to learn more in order to better the health and welfare of their dane. Some of the things I read make me so frustrated it’s a good thing I’m sitting behind a computer screen miles away from the person lol. Once in a while though, I will come across someone who genuinely cares about their dog, who genuinely wants to learn more about the breed itself or how to improve on training, behavior or perhaps nutrition. The food issue seems to be one of the most common questions. On the occasions when the asker actually appreciates my advice or suggestion, and can better the life of their dog because of it, it makes all the aggravation before that worthwhile. MOST of the time lol.

The “I want to stud out my merle dane”, or “breed my ten month old obviously poorly bred, unstable female dane” ones just burn my butt though. Those people don’t WANT to learn. They don’t want to hear the truth, and sometimes I just have to ignore them all together. A facebook friend of mine tells me not to go on these sites…I think he might just be right lol.

Anyway….back to topic. So I’m walking home yesterday with Luke and we come across this lady and her boyfriend holding a sharpei pup. I’ve seen the pup before but every time I’ve walked by she scoops him up into her arms and snuggles him close as if the big bad people and dog are going to eat him. Now…I could see it if it were the drug dogs walking past, the ones that lunge and growl and foam at the mouth to get at othe dogs, but everyne around here knows tht Luke is well behaved and is great with small dogs, and pups especially. Anywho she goes on to say that this pup is terrified of other dogs, and babies him, totally reinforcing a fear which to be honest I don’t think is really as bad as she makes it out to be.Infact…if she would just let the pup get on his own feet and meet a nice dog or two, she just might find that he’sn not afraid at all. So I told her…you have a breed that needs to be socialized ALOT…NOW. He needs to be exposed to as many people, situations and dogs as you can find and soon, before the fear period kicks in and he becomes antisocial and ends up with fear aggression towards everyone and everything. I didn’t want to come right out and tell her that by her acting teh way she was, she was the one who was infact teaching him that dogs were bad and something to worry about. I’m sure we all dont need a lot of prodding to conjure up the picture of the little purse puppy who’s held way up in his Mommy’s safe and loving embrace, all the while yapping like a maniak, biting and snarling at everything t hat moves past? Well this is what is happening, only soon…this won’t be your little shih tzu or yorkie..this will be a medium/large breed with tendencies to be aggressive to other dogs and sometimes people. JUST WHAT WE NEED…another nasty dog in the neighborhood. And the worst part, is that in a year or two, after they’ve totally taught this dog all the wrong behaviors, it will be either locked up like a criminal because it can’t be trusted…or it will be sent ot the shelter or pawned off to some unsuspecting innocent on Kijiji, when the owners have “no clue why he’s like this but he’s just not safe, we just dont have the time, we cnat have a vicious dog around our kids”,etc. Hmmm…I wonder WHY he’s like this? Just remember I tried to tell ya!

Which brings me to the online dog forums, yahoo answers and facebook groups again. It never fails. People will wait until the dog is exhibiting behaviors they don’t want….before going online asking for anyone they can find to somehow fix it. None of them seem to comprehend the concept that you train a dog by showing them what you WANT them to do first…not by waiting until they do the wrong thing and correcting them, expecting the poor dog to understand why he’s being corrected and what in the heck he’s supposed to be doing instead. I don’t know….this just never seemed to be difficult concept for me to understand. Even when I was a young kid and Mom was bringing home a new dog, different breeds every other month, and I was the one who had to train them all, I always enforced the behaviors I did want by praising and or treating, before ever correcting. To me, it’s like sticking a kid in college without ever having gone to school before, and expecting them to start writing exams, doing speeches, and then smacking them when they don’t have a clue what to do.

I suppose if Luke were a human, he’d have one hell of a big head lol. An ego the size of North America. Because since the minute I brought him home, and literally every day since….he has been told a million times a day how good he is…ho proud I am of him…for the simplest of things. Things I never set out to teach him, he learned through watching me, through being praised for doing the right thing when I really didn’t even realize it. Looking back, I can see how certain behaviors were ingrained in him naturaly just by always acknowleging them and praising him for it.

Example…when it was time to teach him “sit”…I didn’ set out to lure him into a sit. I didn’t push his bum down and then add the command. I didnt yank on the leash or pull up on it to force him into a sit. I simply praised him every single time he sat on his own, then taught the actual word/command sit by adding the word to my praise. He’s playing around the house with me, stops, and sit….I’d say “GOOD SIT!!!!!” big praise and a treat if I happened to have one on me.
lt took maybe two or three times before he had that command down flat. And all by me reinforcing a behavior that was totally natural to him and not trying to force it. Same thing with the “down” command. Every time he moved into a down on his own…big praise, add the command. Kiss…same thing. Heel, same thing.
But what I really got to thinking about the other night, was all the little things we dont set out to teach, things that aren’t tricks, or commands we want them to learn like stay or come or sit. Every time he waited for me to go down the stairs or walked beside me, I praised him and thanked him. I still praise him to this day, for things he has known how to do since day one. When we’re walking on leash and he’s doing it right…he gets praise. When we walk by lunging dogs and he is calm and behaved, he is told how good he is. When he chewed on his own toys and not my things, he was praised and rewarded. Little things that most people never notice their dogs doing RIGHT because they only focus on the dog when they are making mistakes, I have always reinforced and praised without thinking about it. It truly wasn’t a conscious thing on my part. Maybe that’s part of the reason some people see us together and think he’s spoiled. Because he is noticed and loved on for every good thing he does natural or otherwise. I don’t and never have, waited for him to make a mistake to correct him. And when he IS corrected, he knows why and what he SHOULD be doing, because he was shown the RIGHT way to behave. And all in a non training like way. That’s the best I can explain it really. I don’t stop praising him for doing things he knew how to do a year ago. He doesn’t get a treat everytime he sits, but he knows that I am still just as happy with him today as I was last year. He never has to go around with his head down, nervous and unsure what to expect from me. He never has to wonder…is this the right thing to do? Am I doing this wrong? Is she going to yell at me, smack me, yank on me? Once in a while he has his stubborn moments…and once in a while you have to convince him that he really wants to do the right thing lol….but he really is a good boy…and always was. I’m just glad that he KNOWS he’s a good boy.

My point in all of this I guess is….never take the good your dog does for granted. Let them know, every day, when they’ve done somthing right. Don’t wait until they mess up a bit to notice their behavior. Notice all the little things and make sure they know you’ve noticed. If you have a new pup, start out on the right foot by showing them from day one what IS expected of them, instead of always being there to correct to them for something they don’t understand. Try your best not to lose patience, because being frustrated with them teaches nothing and only upsets them further. Don’t expect too much too soon. Take the time….some dogs take longer than others to learn. Each dog will have a different motivator…things that make them want to work for you more than others. Find what works best with your individual dog and stick with it. Don’t give up when you don’t see results right away. And if you’re trying to rehabilitate, or change behaviors already ingrained in the dog, remember that in order for them to choose the RIGHT thing, they need to understand what the right thing IS first.
Not only will you get better results from it, but the bond and closeness you will share with your dog will be much stronger for it. Everyone wants to know they are valued….important, doing someting right. Just because you’re dealing with a dog doesn’t mean the same principal doesn’t apply 🙂

Trust…How much of it do we have?

We all like to say that we trust our dog…that we know without a shadow of a doubt, how they will behave in any given situation. And most of the time, if we’ve done extensive training, exposed our dogs to many different situations and scenerios, we may just be telling the truth. That being said however, there is a real danger in us putting 100% unconditional trust in our pets. The truth of the matter is, at the end of the day? They are all animals. Just as human beings, some we can live with, love and share the whole of our lives with, can sometimes act unpredictably, do something we never would have expected and totally surprise us, so can our dogs. Frankly, in my opinion, it is incredibly arrogant of us to assume that we can predict ANYONE or ANYTHING’s behavior 100% of the time. Unless we are truly psychic, it’s just not possible.

Of course hindsight is 20/20. It’s very easy for us to say, well I had this dog for ten plus years, and my kids could do this and that to him/her, and he never so much as blinked. Or, my dog was never on a leash from the time he was a pup and yet he never got hit by a car, never escaped, never….you fill in the blanks. Lucky you! Because if that is the case, you are very lucky. Now ask the people who have had dogs act out of character by bolting out of the driveway unexpectedly one day, who ended up getting hit and dying. Ask the people who had well trained, well socialized dogs who out of the blue bit someone without any forseeable reason or warning. It happens.

I think if we truly want to keep our dogs safe and happy, we have to always keep it in the back of our minds that while we may have incredible bonds with them, we may have trained them extremely well, and the dog may be totally reliable up to this point…at the end of the day, they are still animals first and foremost. We cannot read every thought, every feeling, every instinct in our dogs, no matter how much we may want to think we can. Forgetting this, can be fatal.

I do not put Luke in situations where I am setting him up for the possibility of failure. I don’t just assume that because he’s never done something before, that he will never do it. I know that there is always that tiny possibility that something might set him off the wrong way, and he might react differently than ever before. I don’t let him walk along on busy streets offleash…I don’t let him leave my house, even to go out to the car without a leash on. Those are just examples that I use. There are many.

How often do we see someone in the park with their dog, or out on a walk, and that person will say “oh fuzzy butt just LOVES other dogs, he LOVES people”, and then all of the sudden the dog just takes a dislike to a person or other dog and a fight breaks out? Well maybe fuzzy butt DID love all dogs and people up to that point..maybe he just got bad vibes off of the person or dog at that moment.
Or a dog who is usually perfect on leash, who all of the sudden takes a “I think I’ll pull you down the street” notion one day? I’ve seen it. Luke has been perfect on leash since nine weeks yet once in a while he’ll have those times when he’s less than perfect for whatever reason, Maybe he’s just in a pissy mood and doesn’t feel like being totally obedient, who knows? It doesn’t mean he wasn’t trained, it doesn’t mean he’s bad, just means for that moment he isn’t doing what he normally does.  For heaven sake..I myself do things to surprise myself sometimes, and I’m ME!

My point I guess is this. Far too often, we humans think we are sooo smart, so above every other species, so in control, when in reality, we have barely scratched the surface. Never assume that you know EVERYTHING about anyone, human or dog. Training does not rid any animal of every single instinct it possesses. Even if you personally never witness some of those instincts.