Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Holiday Safety Tips

Keeping the Holidays Fun and Safe for our Dogs

It’s here! The snow, the cold, and the festive time of year we’ve been waiting for. We attend parties, go shopping, have friends and family to our homes, and travel. It seems like we never have enough time to get everything done. But wait….our dogs are in the midst of all this!

To keep both humans and dogs happy and stress free, here are a few tips that you might find helpful.

1) Guests arriving mean open doors. Keep your dog safe by placing him in a crate, keeping him on leash, or make use of baby gates to prevent access to the front door.

2) Wrapping gifts equals scissors, tape, bows and ribbons, and paper. All can be enticing to a dog. Please keep all of these items out of reach. Plan on using one room for gifts and wrapping, the door can be closed and your dog will not be tempted.

3) Christmas trees with ornaments and lights are also very tempting for your dog. Consider the use of baby gates to prevent your dog’s access to the room.

4) Holidays mean an abundance of food. We humans might be able to handle the fancy appetizers, the eggnog, candy and desserts, but our dog’s digestive system is not made to handle such items. Although pleading eyes may tell you otherwise. Keep to your dog’s regular diet as much as possible; his digestive system will appreciate it.

5) Last year the grandchild may not have been walking. This year she is moving around and heading towards your dog! Not all dogs appreciate a toddler around their face or bothering them if they are lying down. Always supervise children and dogs.

6) Chocolate is poisonous to dogs, as are Poinsettias. If at any time that you suspect your dog has ingested a toxic item please call the ASPCA National Poison Hotline 888 426 4435.

7) Time is short this time of year; there is so much to do! Our dogs do not understand what all the commotion is about. Make time in your busy day for your dog, an extra walk, a longer grooming session, or a game of fetch, an extra special stuffed Kong. Anything your dog enjoys doing with you; make time for in your busy schedule. Your dog will appreciate the time spent with you…and the old saying is still true ‘A tired dog is a good dog’.

Have a wonderful and safe Holiday Season

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Puppy's Journey!

It's been awhile since I have posted. I've been busy training my own dogs, student's dogs and putting the final touches on A Puppy's Journey

Soon to be released:

A companion to Being Borzoi & Forever Borzoi. 200 pages, hardcover, color photos

$39.95+$5 s/h USA

To order:
OR: a check to ZOISTORY
2255 Strasburg Rd.
Coatesville, PA 19320

All profits benefit Borzoi Rescue.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Puppy Java goes to 4H camp

This morning a group of us helped at the annual 4H camp held on the grounds of Albany Obedience Club. The children rotate thru training sessions on agility and rally, and have different educational programs to learn more about dogs. I was there specifically to help teach the children on the needs of puppies, how we train them, how to approach them etc. It was also a wonderful opportunity to socialize our puppies with children. The puppies also had time to play with each other, another socialization opportunity.

We set up crates or x-pens for the pups to rest in between training sessions. It was a good opportunity for each puppy to practicing being confined in a different environment. We all had toys and chews to keep our pups occupied.

There were all sizes and shapes of puppies.

Each child had a puppy to work with . We practiced the name game...where the puppy learns how to respond to his name. Java thought it lots of fun, 'Java' and he got a treat, 'Java' and he got a treat. A wonderful venue for our pups to learn how to respond to someone else other then their owners. After many repetitions the pups were able to turn away from mild distraction and look immediately to their handlers when they heard their name.

We also practiced how our pups should greet politely. Puppies want to be near our face, think of how many times we pick them up and hold them close to us. The rules change when they get too big and we no longer pick them up. So we need to teach them that keeping four feet on the ground, with the final goal of sitting, is how to get attention from us.

The pups had lots of breaks to walk outdoors to for potty breaks and to cool off in the wading pools.

The children each took a puppy and practiced handling a dog different then there own. It made me smile to see these young handlers talking in soft voices, helping the puppies out with a cookie to move them thru the club grounds, and encouraging them to try the pools. Best of all was the laughing and giggling along with the puppies playing. Kids having fun with puppies, and puppies learning many new and different sights. A perfect day!

Java and Bryce, always seemed to find each other, they are becoming the best of friends.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Puppy Java learning to 'Target'

Targeting is a skill where Java will learn to touch a part of his body to an object, known as the 'target'. Usually we teach dogs to touch their nose or paw to an object. Targeting is helpful in teaching our dogs to go to a mat, lying on it and remaining in place; for service dogs to open and close doors; to move our animals from one place to another; to teach them to go on or under obstacles; or to facilitate teaching tricks. It also helps dogs to learn about their bodies, for Java I wanted him to begin learning about turning his body to the left and right in a circle. This helps with strengthening his hind end and learning about hind end awareness.

I started to teach Java how to target a bit differently then I have in the past with my other dogs. Instead of teaching Java to first touch his nose to the center of my palm, I started with a target stick. Target sticks can simply be a spatula, a spoon, a stick with taped wrapped around the edge for visibility. Or you could opt for a more formal click stick which has a clicker built in. or a target stick that has a red rubber end and also comes with a stand for distance work. Both can telescope to over 20 inches.

I wanted to give a target stick a try to see if it would facilitate his understanding of moving towards an object to touch his nose. I had already used my hands to do a lot of touching him all over his body, especially around his feet to accustom him to having his nails trimmed. Just for my own curiosity I wanted to see if teaching him with a target other then my hand would make a difference to the learning process.

I paced the target stick very close to his nose, he was interested in something different, he moved closer to take a sniff. The instant his nose touched the rubber ball, I clicked and gave him a treat.

Gradually I moved the target stick inches further from Java, he had to make the effort to move towards the target. I continued to click and treat each correct response.

I was late on clicking a few times, and clicked as Java was attempting to mouth the ball, no need to yell at him. He was just learning what this new game was all about. This is the beauty of clicker training, the only 'correction' the dog receives is the lost opportunity of receiving a reinforcement...his treat. Our relationship was intact, he still trusted me. I just withheld a click when his mouth touched the ball. The next rep I clicked a tiny bit early, just as his nose was about to touch the target, but before he opened his mouth. He quickly understood that it was his nose that needed to touch the red ball on the target stick in order to get a reinforcement

It wasn't long before Java was following the target stick.

I began moving it ever so slightly to the right, to get him to turn in that direction.

Java's first two lessons in targeting gave him a good foundation towards his first trick: 'spin'. Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Dogs just having fun the mud!

We have had a huge amount of rain the past two months. Last night the rains came again, and we had downpours thru out the day. Weather radar shows more rain coming, so I took advantage of a break in the rain to let the dogs get some exercise running thru the fenced wooded acre behind our barn. The ground is saturated and in some place we have a bit of standing water.

Java was the first to notice the puddle.

An invitation to play.

Lucy drops a toy in the water to entice Melissa and Java to play with her.

But Java finds the water more interesting, and the digging begins.

I am not sure if it was the texture of mud, the sound of the splashing water that gave Java the sillies or lack of exercise due to the rain earlier in the day.

But the muddy water went flying.

I could have stopped the dogs from playing in the mud, but they were having fun. It is an area of the yard that is theirs to play and run, it is not landscaped, grass will grow back. The water has already seeped into the ground and I filled the hole while the dogs were eating their dinner in another area of our yard. Cleaning their coats is a bit time consuming, but it is well worth it in exchange for having tired dogs as we get ready for another round of thunderstorms and rain. And I will let you in on a little secret.....a little bit of kid came out in me and I had fun watching them get the sillies.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

"Sit" Does your puppy really know what it means?

Somehow we all seem to teach our dogs to sit for their food bowls. Whether by luring: placing a morsel of food close to their nose and moving it a tiny bit so their nose goes up, their hind end goes down; or by capturing it: We see the dog moving into a sit and we mark the behavior and then reward with their dinner bowl. Every day, sometimes twice a day, our dogs are fed, we practice sitting, we add the word 'sit' and we assume they understand sit.

But do our dogs really know what sit means? What is their cue to sit? Positioning themselves in front of us? Seeing a food bowl in our hands? In the kitchen? Next to the counter? Dogs are very visual and may learn that sitting occurs only in these contexts. So do they really understand the verbal cue to 'sit'?

I have been focusing on teaching 15 wk old Java early on that correct responses to all cues should occur in all scenarios. I did help Java out by luring a few times. I also captured the action of sitting when he would randomly sit thru out the day. Click and treat each time he did and rather quickly he began to move into the sit position. I waited until Java was offering to sit for a click and treat before I added the verbal cue to 'sit'. The hand signal to sit comes built in if you lure the position. We practiced outside, we practiced inside in several different rooms. We practiced with the food bowl in my hand, and with my hands empty. We practiced with the lead on and the lead off. We even practiced at a farmers market this past weekend!

Every time I changed the place I was training at I lowered my expectations a bit. Sometimes I did lure him to help him out especially in a distracting situation . But I quickly moved away from the treat in my hand, to an empty hand, and then just the hand motion. When adding the verbal cue I would say the cue, pause, and follow it with the same movement of my hand that I had used to lure him into position. Sometimes I would see Java lowering himself into a sit, and I would add the word 'sit' as he was performing that action. Click and treat when he was in a sit. Using the clicker helped speed the learning process. Java has begun to offer behaviors in order to get a click which is then followed immediately with a treat.

Sitting at my side, instead of in front of me seemed to be challenging for Java. So I broke the behavior into tiny increments until he got the idea. When he knew the verbal cue to sit from in front, I moved slightly (think inches) to the right and asked him to sit, click and treat when he did. He was now sitting slightly crooked in front of me, think of it like a slice of slice over from center. Several reps were repeated at this angle until he was fluent in his movement to a sitting position when cued to do so. I then moved a bit more to the right each successive training session until he was sitting at my left side. I repeated this sequence for him sitting at my right side. Things moved more quickly once he understood that sit happened in places other then in front of me.

We practice each step of this on different surfaces: grass, carpeting, asphalt etc. We practice in different rooms of the house and different venues. For instance, at the farmers market I lowered my expectations. So much was going on, so many things to look at. I helped him out by asking for a few sits with him in front of me. That was a skill he knew fairly well in several different venues. Click and treat for each sit. I then turned my body ever so slightly and cued him to 'sit'. He did and got a jackpot, several treats in a row. Java was taking tiny steps towards learning how to respond to the cue to 'sit' no matter where he was in relation to my body.

Can Java sit with my sitting in a chair, sitting on the ground? The first few times I helped him by luring him into a sit. When he was beginning to offer to sit with me in this new position, without me luring him, I added the verbal 'sit' as he was moving into position to sit. I gradually moved the verbal cue to slightly before he began to sit. He now can sit on verbal cue with me sitting on the ground, in a lawn chair and to my left and right sides.

Does he know the verbal cue to 'sit' in all contexts? Not yet, but we are building a solid foundation to our final goal. I will also repeat all these tiny steps with the cue to 'down'. As Java learns to respond to various cues in different scenarios the learning will go faster. He will learn to generalize much more quickly. Until then, I will take each step slowly, always making sure he enjoys the training process.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Appropriate Puppy Playmates

Java has been with us for almost a month, he is 12 weeks old. He has more then doubled in weight.

Who are appropriate playmates for puppy Java besides his best buddy Melissa?

First, I keep everyone safe. A dog park is not a place to bring a puppy. We never know who the players are at the dog park, I prefer to choose Java's playmates during this critical stage of his mental and physical development. I never force the issue. If your older dog prefers to move away from your new puppy the first few days, let him. Give him a place to get away from those needle sharp teeth. Lab Lucy did not appreciate Java's jaws when he first arrived, in fact she didn't care for him following her all over. She kept moving away. Before things escalated, we made sure Lucy was never cornered and had a place to get away from Java. In the past week, Lucy has made overtures to play with Java. Her first gesture was to bring her toys over to him. Lucy is now playing very gently with Java. They mouth each other, they run together. So far they have not gotten on the ground to wrestle, but I can see that coming very soon.

The opposite can also be true. Don't let another puppy or adult corner your puppy. Different play styles, size and age are important to consider. An out of state friend of mine attended a play social this week with her 3 month old puppy. He was knocked over by a 6 month old puppy. My friend's puppy didn't want to play any more and moved away. But an 18 month old adult with good play skills quickly engaged him in play and he quickly forgot about the boisterous 6 month old who was put in another area to play. If left unattended I am sure my friend's dog could have been seriously affected by the episode, but an observant instructor quickly remedied the situation.

Just yesterday at water's edge I picked Java up into my arms. I saw a medium size dog off lead trotting down the beach towards us. It was an unknown dog, I didn't know his play style or if he he liked puppies. The owner put the dog on lead, we then let the dogs walk near each other for a few steps.

The adult dog did a slow and easy play bow....Java returned the gesture and within a few seconds both were running and playing off lead. I may be a bit cautious but I do not want my puppy to have a bad experience at this age. Even the nicest dog with a pushy play style could frighten your young puppy and set him up for a lifetime of disliking other dogs. For more on puppy play see my blog on when Melissa was this age:

Other then our dogs at home, Java has met dogs of various sizes and shapes. He has played with some of his classmates at his weekly group training session. He has met not only other puppies but also adult dogs. A stable adult with appropriate communication skills can teach our puppies much about when they use their mouths too hard, or when a body slam is too rough. An appropriate adult will also invite a puppy to begin to play again after a reprimand. A puppy will also offer a play bow after he got to rough, as if to say 'sorry let's play again'.

Java jumped roughly on this 7 year old dog while playing on the beach. She gently told him that was not acceptable, she did not want to engage in body slamming games. It may look serious, but she never touched Java. He got the message and was much more gentle with her afterward.

On the other hand some dogs like to play rough and tumble games. If evenly matched and each dog comes back for more wrestling then the play is appropriate. Java met Maddox, a newly adopted dog my friend Barbara recently acquired.

Maddox is confident and outgoing, it took a few minutes for Java to figure out his play style. We watched carefully in case we needed to intervene.

Java lifting his front paw and did a few play barks, an indication he was getting ready to play. Maddox did the same, playbows followed and they were off and running.

Here are a few photos of their play session. Evenly matched they took turns chasing and mouthing each other. Those teeth look serious, but it was all appropriate play.

If you are unsure if certain dogs are appropriate for your puppy contact a certified professional trainer, one who believes in using only humane methods and who has studied canine body language. Beware the trainer who says 'let dogs work it out'. Your puppy during his critical early months could be frightened or injured. No dog or puppy should have to 'work it out'. Keep it safe, keep it fun.

Two of my favorites on the subject are 1) Play With Your Dog by Pat Miller CPDT-KA, CDBC and 2) Dog Play- Understanding Play Between Dogs and Between Dogs and People DVD by Patricia McConnell PhD.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

New Puppy!!

17 days ago, I brought home a Borzoi puppy. Java is now nearly 11 weeks old, has nearly doubled in size and weighs 23 pounds. He has settled in nicely and even though our dogs accepted him I am still cautious when exercising him. Melissa at 83# can easily knock him over especially if she should play in the same manner as she plays with Lab Lucy. But I was pleasantly surprised that Melissa toned down her play style and gets on the ground to play with Java. She tugs ever so gently and goes for long walks thru the woods with Java, both dogs running off lead in the fenced area. The first few times I worried as she went speeding thru the paths, but she quickly put the brakes on when approaching Java. She has a sense of where her feet are at all times. This is not something I taught Melissa this is just part of her personality.

Lucy on the other hand is another story. She has no concept of where her feet are when she is outdoors. She is always on the move looking for something to do. It is not a bad thing, it is just part of Lucy's personality. She moves fast, is a solid mass of hard muscle at 50#s...she could do some damage if she ran into Java. When outside, Lucy is in one fenced area and Java in another. Java enjoys chasing Lucy back and forth from side of the fence while Lucy retrieves her toy on the other. After Lucy has had enough exercise and begins to move more slowly, I walk Java on lead around the property, Lucy, off lead is more then willing to walk with us. She just side steps when Java goes to jump up on her. In the last week I have noticed he is jumping on Lucy less. Just a simple principle of learning. His jumping did not get Lucy engaged in a game with him. In fact she moved away. Jumping on Lucy was not reinforced, so that behavior of his has diminished.

Looking at my notes from when Melissa was a very young puppy, it took Lucy several weeks before she felt comfortable to be around Melissa during this phase. Whether it is the sharp puppy teeth that Lucy feels uncomfortable with, not sure how to reprimand appropriately, or just not wanting to play young puppy games I do not know. We are not pushing the issue. Lucy does not have to engage in playing with the puppy. We do give Lucy the opportunity to move out of reach and behind a baby gate while in the house....or I should say it is Java who is behind the baby gate while Lucy has the run of the house. She does not have to put up with silly puppy games until Java is older.

I had been worried about Katie our senior dog who moved in with us in March. Having lost both her owners due to their deaths, her home of 7 years, and her housemates which consisted of 3 Borzoi and a Cavalier, she just seemed a bit subdued.

Katie has blossomed since Java arrived. She picks up toys and offers them to him. She gets the sillies with him. She is eating better and no longer seems to be searching the yard, the house, the barn, or my van for 'something'.

So what has Java been up to? As in my previous blogs which began the Fall of 2009 when I wrote about raising Melissa, we have been busy socializing. Java has been to a Freestyle seminar, an obedience/rally trial, he has been to class at Tails U Win, he has been to the lake.

He has met several pups to play with, and several adults who enjoy having puppies around.

He is learning how to touch his nose to an object, to wait politely when doors and gates open and to respond to his name,. It is never too early to learn the name game, the foundation skill for a solid recall.

I am doing a few things different with Java then I did with Melissa and Lucy as pups. Follow along as I share some new ideas I have learned at various workshops and seminars I have attended since Melissa was a puppy. Just because I am a dog trainer, doesn't mean my learning ever ends. There are always new ideas, and new skills to try and new ways to get to the final goal. As long as I can use gentle and humane methods, I am ready and willing.

Take one look at Java, why would any one want to do anything that causes him harm in the disguise of training. Using the most up to date gentle methods based on scientific learning is the way Java and all my dogs will be trained.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Kong toy for the lake

We took the dogs swimming at the lake today, the first for the year. They got to try out their new toy....the Kong Aqua. I was rather skeptical when I was told directly from the company that this Kong would float. But float it did!!

The rope attached to it is long enough to be able to throw it far. The rope material is made of a soft nylon that was gentle on the dogs' mouths.

The shape of the Kong makes it easy to hold in many different ways, whether by the Kong itself or by the rope.

They ran with it.

They tugged with it.

Melissa entertained herself by dropping it into the water
...and getting splashed.

She then would retrieve it from the bottom of the lake and start all over again.

She and Glory took turns dunking it and watching it resurface.

Glory had fun rolling on it.

After a morning at the lake with 3 dogs playing with the Kong Aqua there were no marks on the rubber, no fraying of the rope. So far this new toy gets an A+