Dog Training vs. Obedience vs. Behavior

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There is a big difference between dog training, dog obedience, and dog behavior. You can have a dog that is well trained but still behaves poorly. Let me explain. To me, dog training is simply teaching certain commands such as sit, down, stay, come, etc to a dog. Most of the time the dog is conditioned to do those commands for a reward, they will comply when the act of listening to you directly benefits them. Dog obedience is when a dog will listen to their handler/owner no matter the scenario, circumstance, distraction level and most importantly whether or not there is a reward in it for the dog.

Dog behavior can by defined by how well or not your dog behaves when they are not in command. What choices do they make on their own? Does your dog jump up on people? Does your dog bark or bite? Does your dog get protective over food/toys/people? Things of that nature. So you can have a dog that will sit, down, stay, come when called, but what happens when you do not give them a command to do? What behaviors do they default to? Do they go crazy when guests enter your home? Or are they conditioned to be calm and well-behaved?

It’s important to have a well-rounded and balanced approach to teaching your dog what you want from them. Show them what behaviors you expect from them, teach them commands that are practical and that you can implement in their lives to make things easier for the both of you. And make sure those things are nonnegotiable, that they need to listen to you no matter what.

I think it’s extremely important that our dogs listen to us whether they want to or not because it always benefits them. Maybe not in the sense they would like (physical food or toy reward), but it’s always in their favor to listen to their handler/owner because it will allow them ultimately more freedom.

Let me give a simple example. You’ve got your dog off-leash, they see a squirrel, cat, or other dog across the street that has their interest. You see a car coming… you recall your dog… at that moment, trust me, I’m sure your dog would rather go chase or investigate what is across the street. It is in their best interest to listen to you, to come back to you, to not cross the street because of what could happen. Dogs need to learn to listen to their owner/handler no matter what. That is dog obedience, when your dog would rather do something else but will still listen to you.

There are lots of different training styles, techniques, methods out there today. It is your job as a dog owner to research the options available to you, and choose a trainer or training style that will help you reach the goals and expectations you have for your dog and that fit your lifestyle.

Advice for the struggling dog owner

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Due to seeing so many people re-homing their dogs recently I’ve decided to write something up to help those in need. Whether you are struggling with a dog you recently adopted from a shelter or a dog you have had for a while but are finally feeling overwhelmed and/or frustrated with their behaviors. I want to help people keep dogs in their home, this is my advice on what to when bringing home a dog or even what to start doing with your dog you’ve had, to set everyone up for long term success.

First of all, if you are adopting a dog or purchasing a dog from another individual that has already been in a home, chances are that dog is being re-homed for a reason due to behavior issues. Whether that person wants to admit it or not, there is a reason behind it. No dog is going to be perfect and even if the reason was “moving” or “too much responsibility” any dog that is being re-homed will have baggage coming with it. If you come to accept that fact and that there will be work ahead for you, you will be in a better mindset to work with the dog. If you are expecting a perfect dog (those don’t exist by the way) that won’t need any work put into it, you will be disappointed.

The main reason why people have so many issues with their dogs is because they are not giving the dog the proper guidance they need. Especially with “rescue” dogs, people get caught up in the story, in the history, start to feel sorry for the dog, and want to shower it with love, affection, toys, treats, from the second they come in contact with the dog and bring them home. I’m all for showing and giving dogs love and affection, but when the time is right. So many people give dogs too much freedom too soon, alas problems arise. Dogs need to feel safe, in order for that to happen, they need someone to follow, someone to teach them what is right from wrong. What is acceptable and not acceptable. Without that guidance the dog ends up making choices on their own which often times are the wrong choices which get them into trouble. People need to start being proactive instead of reactive when dealing with their dogs.

When I say be proactive instead of reactive… a good way to do that is to start basic obedience training with your dog. I’m not just saying that because I’m a dog trainer. When you teach a dog obedience, it becomes a way to communicate with your dog. Start teaching them behaviors that will actually help you in real world situations. I only teach 5 commands when I train dogs but they all have very practical use in everyday life. Those 5 commands are Sit, Down, Place, Heel, Recall. The one I use most in the house is “Place” I have a how to video on my website that explains what the command is and shows you how to teach it to your dog.

When you first bring a home dog, the best thing you can do create a structured routine for your dog. Dogs strive on routine, they look forward to it. Don’t let them free roam around your house exploring, they are probably SO overwhelmed because you just took them from the home or shelter they were used to. If they were at the shelter, they are used to being in confined area, crated, etc. That was their safe place, their personal space, a place no one bothered them. Regardless whether you agree or disagree with crating a dog, it’s the best thing to do when you first bring a home dog. Let them relax and decompress in their crate. Giving them the freedom to explore your entire house is just going to overwhelm them even more.

Definitely crate your dog at night when you go to bed and anytime you cannot directly supervise them. This does a couple of things… you are setting your dog up for success when you cannot watch them. When they are in the crate they are not getting into trouble around your house (chewing your furniture, getting into the trash, and things along those lines). The dog does not have the option to get into trouble, they are in their crate, their safe place, and dogs become conditioned to relax in there.

Doing simple exercises such as making your dog wait for their food and give you eye contact before they eat is so powerful to a dog. Another exercise you can work on is holding your dog accountable for thresholds such as the front door, car door, and crate door. They should not be allowed to pass through until you give them permission after you receive eye contact from them. It is all about showing the dog that you, the human, are relevant in their life.

Last but not least, if your dog is displaying dangerous behaviors (whether it’s to itself or others), it is your responsibility and obligation as a dog owner to show and teach that dog, those dangerous behaviors are not acceptable. You have to find a way to get your point across that the dog finds valuable enough to stop those dangerous behaviors. I understand most dog owners have a hard time “correcting’ or “punishing” a dog, but you are actually doing your dog a disservice by not teaching them right from wrong. Dogs get re-homed, sent to shelters, and even put down every day for behaviors such as jumping, counter surfing, nipping, play biting, destroying furniture, etc.

Daily Exercise Is Required!

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A big piece of the puzzle to having a well-behaved dog is giving them the right amount of daily exercise. That will be dependent on their age, breed, and health. While training them to be calm is one aspect, being able to give your dog the exercise they need on a daily basis is very important. This can be done a number of different ways, from structured walks, to playing fetch, to going on hikes, etc. It might sound obvious that this is required but often overlooked. If you expect your dog to do the things you want, you need to set aside time specifically to meet their needs as well.

Turning on and off your dogs energy

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I’m a big fan of conditioning dogs to be calm in the house because that’s the way I like to live with dogs indoors. To me, outdoors is for exercise, playtime, and socialization. That being said, there will be times I will allow some play indoors… BUT! I only allow it because I know I stop it. At any given time, I know I can take that high energy down and get them to relax.

If you want your dog to behave indoors and be calm you must teach that. It doesn’t come natural for most dogs. This can be done by teaching a solid “place” or “down” command (there are how to videos on my website). If you are going to allow your dog to get excited and playful in the house, make sure you have a way to stop that if/when it gets out of hand or when you simply want them to stop and calm down. If you’re going to turn it on, make sure you have an off switch as well.

Be Proactive. Not Reactive.

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If you’re struggling with canine chaos in your household it’s because you are allowing it. Learn to control your dogs energy. Giving them the proper exercise both physical and mental is a great start but you can also condition your dog to relax inside your house. Show your dog what is acceptable behavior while indoors. Establish rules and boundaries for your dog, whatever you decide is acceptable in your house. Without them, your dog won’t know what causes chaos is wrong until you are stressed and frustrated which is no good for anyone. Be proactive not reactive.

The Power of ‘No’

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While I was out of town recently, I was playing off-leash fetch with my very ball driven German Shepherd Sage one morning. We’ve played fetch hundreds of times before this and never really had any issues or scares. This particular morning we were playing in an area we haven’t played before. At the top of a very steep hill in a residential neighborhood with a road at the bottom of the hill.
I’m throwing the ball into a grassy field opposite the steep hill and road, my dog goes to retrieve the ball and brought it back. She ends up dropping it at just the right spot, it takes the perfect bounce and starts to roll very quickly down the hill. Being the very ball driven dog she is and not knowing the consequences of what could happen to her, she starts to head down the hill in pursuit of the ball. Now this all happened so quickly, a million thoughts raced through my mind, my heart dropped and the first word that came out of my mouth was a loud “NO”. She immediately stopped in her tracks, looked at me approaching her and came back to me.
Why did she stop? Because she knew it was dangerous and potentially fatal to continue to chase the ball into a street with passing cars? No. She stopped because I made that word have meaning and lots of it.
When I train dogs, I use the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’. I understand not everyone has the same views as me so I’m speaking solely on my opinion. To me, the way I train dogs is built strongly on common sense. What I do is not rocket science but it does take time, effort, consistency, and a ton of patience.
Dogs are not perfect nor will they ever be. Dogs will make mistakes no matter how well they are trained. Dogs will also do things we do not agree with, whether you want to accept that statement or not is up to you. When your dog does something you do not agree with, what are you going to do? What mindset and approach are you going to have? Better yet, what training and communication is in place between you and your dog?
Some people have a hard time telling their dogs no, this post isn’t for you. It is for the people who have either told their dogs no in the past or plan to in the future. It’s for the people who understand that we owe it to our dogs to hold them accountable for their actions, teach them right from wrong, in order to provide them with a more fulfilling life.
Dogs do not understand the English language, or whatever language you communicate to your dog. They just don’t. What they do understand from a verbal aspect is sound. They do not understand what the word “no” means and that as humans we use it to communicate that we disagree or are declining something. To dogs it’s just another noise. Just another sound.
In order for your dog to understand the meaning and intent in which you use the word ‘no’ it must be paired with something negative for your dog. Your dog must learn that when it hears the sound “no” that a correction or consequence follows. In short, you must make the word “no” have meaning. That word needs to be relevant to your dog. Without pairing something negative for your dog to associate the word “no” with, it just becomes white noise. It becomes meaningless. If you do a good enough job pairing the two together, eventually you can fade out the correction/consequence and just the verbal “no” will actually mean something to your dog.
Now, don’t get me wrong you also want to teach your dog what to do as well. Doing that will certainly cut down on the amount of no’s you tell your dog, but there will be a time where you will want or will have to say no to your dog. When you do, do you want it to mean anything? Who knows, it might actually save their life one day.

Don’t feel sorry. Work through it.

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Like most people, I hate to see dogs struggle. Whether they struggle with fear, anxiety, aggression, it really doesn’t matter what the issue is, its a shame to see a dog struggle. That brings me to something that just happened to me tonight. I’m currently training an 8 month old Golden Retriever named Mason. He’s your typical happy go lucky pup who just wants to play and be loved. Its possible not to love a dog like this. He’s in for training for the typical crazy pup behadog working through fearvior, jumping, counter surfing, pulling on the leash, too hyper in the house, you name it.

During a training session, I had on my agenda to start working on his obedience outdoors in a more distracting environment. As we are walking around my house, he sees about a 4 foot tall black garbage can. He immediately puts on the brakes, becomes a bucking bronco and would not get any closer.

Okay, so Mason is clearly afraid of this garbage can. Did he have a bad experience with one before? Is this the first time he’s ever seeing one? To be honest, it doesn’t matter why he’s afraid of it. The only thing that matters is overcoming the fear of it. Simple as that.

As a dog trainer, I don’t put too much thought into why a dog is afraid of something. If I know that “something” cannot harm the dog, I work them through it. Right then and there. I put whatever plans I had on hold and we work through the issue. There is no reason for a dog to be left stuck in a mental state of fear. If I were to coddle him, get down on his level and feel sorry for him saying “Aw, Mason, it’s okay little guy… the garbage can won’t hurt you” He doesn’t understand what I’m saying. At that point, all I am doing is reinforcing his fear, essentially rewarding it by comforting him. From that point on, he would always be afraid of garbage cans.

Instead I work dogs through that fear. I know there is nothing to be afraid of, but they don’t. So I show them that. So we kept walking past the garbage can, little by little making progress. Not even 5 minutes later, Mason was laying down eating his kibble right next to it, eventually sniffing and touching the garbage can. All it took was 5 minutes of my time and a mindset of “Mason, we’re working you through with whether you like it or not because its in your best interest and you’ll thank me later”

So please, next time you notice your dog afraid of something work them through it. Don’t feel sorry and leave them stuck in fear. I know feeling sorry and wanting to comfort them might seem like the right thing to do, or the natural thing to do, but it does more harm than good, especially in the long run.

 

 

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late

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So while I am on my trip in Ticonderoga, NY visiting Joshua Hurlburt from Calm and Connected K9 I ran into a lady and I would like to share my experience with the hopes of shedding some light on dog training and how much it is relationship based.

As I walked out of my hotel room one morning with Sage my 14 month old GSD I see an employee vacuuming the hallway. The vacuum stopped and I hear a faint voice saying “Your dog is so well behaved, my GSD isn’t like that” so I walk closer to her and say thank you. We stop and chat for a bit and she continues to go on about how badly behaved her 125lb 2 year old GSD is.

When I say badly behaved this lady blatantly stated her dog recently bit her arm. She admits he runs the house, does what he wants, when he wants. Her and her husband are scared of the dog at times. This is absolutely no way for an owner to be living with their dog.

After hearing how serious of a situation she was in, I let her know that I am actually a dog trainer from Florida but that I could refer her to a trainer in town. She immediately said “who, Josh?” If you’ve never been to Ticonderoga, NY it’s an extremely small town where everyone knows everyone. I’m not even sure why they have stop signs. But anyway for the next 20 minutes I told this lady the truth about her situation. I didn’t try to scare her but I was scared for her.

She admits she lets the dog do what he wants out of fear. When she puts the food down the dog growls at her. The dog sleeps in bed with her and her husband. Pulls on the leash and is reactive to other dogs. The dog has tried to attack a friends dog. The dog has free roam of the house at all times. In a nutshell, this dog is not in a healthy mental state of mind. She clearly isn’t setting any rules, boundaries, or giving the dog the structure and guidance it needs.

So I asked, “why haven’t you brought the dog to Josh yet?” And her answer was something along the lines of “I’ve had 5 other GSD in the past with no issues but this one is giving me a hard time, I thought as the dog got older it would get better but it hasn’t”

I very politely (as politely as I could in this situation) told her “you’ve got a different dog on your hands this time around, clearly what you’ve been doing for the past 2 years isn’t working with him, look at where it has gotten you. He already bit you once it’s only a matter of time until it happens again”

She agreed and knew she needed to make a change and bring her dog to a trainer. This lady has a daughter and granddaughter. For the safety of her and her family, lifestyle changes with that dog need to be made. I told her I knew she loved her dog but she’s been loving it the wrong way thus far.

She was a smart lady in the sense that she knew the best home for her dog was with her but her relationship with the dog had to change dramatically and quickly. A dog like that would end up dead in a shelter.

I really hope she decides to take action. The cool thing about this situation is, she created the problem but she also has the ability to fix it. That’s not to say it won’t be a long tough road to change that dogs association to her and her house but it’s possible. I just hope she doesn’t wait until it’s too late.

Dog Motivation and How To Find It

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Dog Motivation and How To Find It

Dog training is all about dog motivation in my opinion. How can I motivate a dog to do what I want and what I do not want? I feel that dog training is finding your dogs motivation and using it to your advantage. Dog motivation can be many different things and it is different for every dog. Just like humans, no two dogs are exactly alike. Fortunately, the majority of dogs are motivated by food, toys, praise, or a combination.

Finding your dogs motivation

Some people already know what motivates their dog. It is obvious. Others have no idea. Luckily it is not too hard to figure out. Most dogs with prey drive will do just about anything for a ball. If your dog wants to chase any fast moving object such as a lizard, squirrel, cat, etc… your dog is likely motivated with by a toy (ball/tug).
If you feel that you can put food down at any part of the day and your dog will gobble it up, guess what… Your dog is likely food motivated! Can your dog never have enough affection? When you stop petting your dog, they will nuzzle their head into your hand or lift up your paw as to say, “Keep petting me please, I didn’t tell you to stop”. If this sounds like familiar, affection will be your dog’s motivation.

Creating motivation

Now, when I train client dogs, I try to use their daily kibble as motivation. It works great for some dogs, and not so great for others. Using food is an awesome way to train IF it works for you! Its quick and you get a lot more repetition in as opposed to using a toy. You can build food drive up in a dog by cutting down their portion size until they are eager to train for their daily kibble. It takes dogs time to catch on and really buy into that program. Although, nothing beats using your dog’s natural motivation.

I found my dogs motivation, now what?

So you found what motivates your dog… it doesn’t do you any good until you put it to use! Use that motivation to your advantage. It doesn’t matter whether your dog is motivated by food, toys, or praise, what matters is how they get those things.

If your dog knows the food gets put down twice a day no matter what, why would they work for it when they can wait awhile and get it for free? If you are leaving toys around the house or just giving your dog a ball to play with as he pleases, why would he work any harder for it when you want him to? If you’re always petting, praising, and showing affection towards your dog; they are most likely taking it for granted. Use all of these things to your advantage by not giving it away for free.

Once you begin to leverage your dog’s motivation in return for training, you will quickly begin to see your dog looking at you in a different light. You become the distributor of their resources.

Dog Leadership

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Dog Leadership

What is dog leadership and how should we display it to our dogs? There are many different ways to show a dog leadership. Most people tend to think dog leadership is loving them, providing materialistic things such as food and toys. As dog owners, I’m sure we can all agree we got ours for at least one common reason, companionship. We instantly fall in love with our new puppy or dog. We are so excited to care for them, buy them toys, food, bowls, collars, leashes, the list goes on and on. The affection, couch cuddles and praise, it all starts instantly and never really stops. Sure we might yell or say no when they chew up your favorite shoes, or leather couch, but what good did that do? Did they really learn from their mistake? How do we prevent unwanted behavior in the future?

IF LOVE TRAINED DOGS…

If love trained dogs, there would be no such thing as a dog trainer. Dogs would be all be well behaved if love and affection were the answer. Dog owners do not need to be taught how to love their dogs. Nobody is lacking in the amount of affection and praise they give their dog. Yes, dogs need affection but they also need more than that. Much more.

They need a leader, someone they can look to for guidance on how to navigate in this human world. Some of you might be saying “But I am a leader for my dog, I buy their food every month, I pay their vet bills, I buy them toys all the time”. Unfortunately while all of those things are required in dog ownership, dogs themselves to not see that as proper leadership. Yes they see you putting the food in a bowl every night, but you always put the food in the bowl every night, you are the food dispenser.

WHAT DOGS NEED EVEN THOUGH YOU MIGHT NOT THINK SO

It is a recurring theme. Dogs with unwanted behaviors (according to their owners) have never been held accountable for their actions or even told what to do instead. I see it all the time, dogs doing whatever they please, when they please, and why? Why not?? They are getting away with it! If I was a dog and didn’t have any consequences for my actions, I wouldn’t stop either.

People love to humanize dogs, so lets humanize a dog. Lets try this… As humans, we must abide by certain laws and limitations in life. There are rules in place that if broken, are followed by consequences. The reason WHY I don’t speed while driving is because I know there will be multiple consequences. A speeding ticket, my insurance can go up, more likely to get into an accident, injuring myself or worse, someone else. So why is it that we let our dogs get away with anything they want?

To put it simply, dogs need (and want) rules, structure, boundaries, and guidance. That is how to show true dog leadership. When a dog feels you have control of the situation, they start to feel safer, they are more trusting, they buy into the “program” because it feels good for them. Dog’s are pack animals, they want to feel included and more important they want someone to follow and look to for guidance.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying to not give your dog affection and praise. Please continue to do so, but make sure you are helping and not hurting your dog when you do. Start teaching your dog what is expected of them. Teach them the rules of the house and world around them. Create good habits and routines for your dog to look forward to. You will put your dogs mind at ease when you give them someone to look to for guidance.

START PROVIDING DOG LEADERSHIP

Obedience training is a wonderful gateway to the world of rules, structure, boundaries and guidance. The first thing is, you can’t setup rules and boundaries without a consequence for breaking the rules or crossing the boundaries. You’re going to have to be okay with telling your dog ‘no’ eventually. But first, you want to teach your dog what to do before you start telling them what not to do. I would start with the basic commands, I only teach a handful, which are Sit, Down, Place, Heel, Recall. To be honest that’s really all you need as far as commands go.

I would also teach them to honor thresholds. The car door. The house doors. The crate door. Those are all thresholds they should not be able to cross without your permission. Yes, I know… if your dog cannot talk, how are they going to ask your permission. With eye contact. They should be sitting, looking up at you as if to say “Can we go already?!”

Another way to create this leadership is to make them work for their food. I’m pretty sure you don’t eat for free so why does your dog? Get your dog into the habit of working for their daily kibble through obedience training. Eventually you can fade out the food once they have learned their commands. When that time comes, teach your dog they need to wait patiently while you prepare their food. And just because the food bowl is on the ground doesn’t mean they get to eat! Get that eye contact for them again. And then give them permission to eat.

Theres more to it then that, but by following those simple tips of advice, you will be off to a great start. You will start to see your dog look at you in a different light, a more positive one, I might add.