Tuesday, August 1, 2017


by Your Canine Resource

Let’s bring leash walking into the conversation! 98% of my clients either;
   1.  Have a request to change leash-walking habits that are occurring with their dogs;
   2.  They have accepted the fate that walking with their dog on leash is a punishing event that they simply must endure;   OR
   3.  They cease walking altogether.

Which one are you?

You will know whether you are in management -or -manners with your dog on leash if one of the following sounds most familiar:

Leash Walking Management:  The act of bringing your dog back to the place you wish them to walk.  Oftentimes this is done while also saying ‘Heel’ with a strong pull on the leash, an act that may even obtain looser leash for a moment. This can make for a frustrating (and possibly painful) walk for all.  Many people have confused this act of bringing her back to the desired position as ‘training’, “she knows what I want, she just doesn’t do it”.

Leash Walking ‘Manners:  Your pup has been trained where you want her when you snap the leash on. Period. You have communicated consistently, what ‘walk nice’ or ‘heel’ means, and she has strong association with where you want her to be while you’re walking.  You have taken the time to train her. Thus she is not putting tension on the leash and it is a happy leash. The difference is clear, a more enjoyable walk for you both!

You are managing behavior if your dog does not have a clear understanding of the behavior YOU are looking for.  When your dog has a clear understanding, in all environments, then training is occurring.

With Stella sitting on the couch, she was able to describe in great detail pulling the bits of asphalt out of her street wounds and the sting of grass burn on the side of her face.  The deep red wounds on her elbows were still visible. Stella and Doug Miller invited me in to assess some behaviors that had become unbearable with their 2-year-old German Shorthair Pointer, Pepper.  They were truly at the end of their rope, I mean, leash.

The story, which may be familiar to some, is that Stella had recently been walking Pepper when an off leash neighbor dog ran out to them, surprising both, but eliciting lunge response from Pepper. She ran at such force toward this dog and traffic that Stella lost her balance, went down and was dragged across the lawn holding a death grip on the leash. She did however hold tight, and Pepper eventually wound down to a stop.  With fear that this had potential of happening again in the weeks that followed, strict angry wielding of the leash ensued.  She “must establish herself as leader from now on”.  [What does that even mean?  With brains only a fraction the size of ours, and no access to the human species sociology lesson, how would they even go about that? Have any of us asked how human that sounds?]   I digress. 

To them this was not a question of whether she was trained to walk on a leash, but a clear signal that she was bossing them around.  From ‘leader’ standpoint, it has as many holes as a sprinkler.  Rather, it is a clear indication that the behavior is reinforced on some level, and since reinforced behavior has a high probability of continuing to occur, then it makes perfect sense why Pepper continues to pull where she wants to go. Pepper simply has not adjusted her own behavior! They need a plan.

What did our walk with Pepper look like?  
As they removed her harness from the hook, they were able to chase her down, get it hooked up…we all sighed with relief that this first acrobatic maneuver was accomplished. Although there was a bit of frustration from Doug and Stella, it was nothing compared to what was to come.

They opened the door and she raced out ahead, reaching the end of the leash with pain recorded on Doug’s face.  Presumably from Peppers point of view, she is in her environment, with all those scent receptors she was putting into action, and was ready to gather as much information in as short a time as she could.  Doug and Stella did not exist any longer, except as an irritant of the other end of her leash.  These behaviors escalated, pulling them to and fro, and I knew I had seen all I needed to see for the following protocol to be put in place.

A condensed version of a similar leash training plan as follows:
·      Choose a new word for walking on leash with your dog. (They chose to use ‘walk nice’)
·      Choose a walking tool that is kind. A harness is a widely accepted tool. A ‘choke chain’, ‘prong collar’ or any other such options for hooking the leash is unacceptable. You will be apt to stay in management with these tools, as they are typically used for dogs that are coined ‘difficult to control’.  These types of tools that cause discomfort can be thrown way away when you have applied successful training protocol.  This will also be discussed at length in reactivity segment.
·      Your dog is calm when putting on harness and leash, with conditioning for her to walk into her own harness.  No more chasing around the room, that game’s over! At least as far as the leash and harness are concerned.
·      Reliable ‘wait’ command, and release through door
·      Orientation command in place going out the front door, so your dogs eyes are on you instead of fixated on what is happening in the ‘hood, outside the door. 
·      High value reinforcement, and high rate of reinforcement:
o   High value reinforcement: consider using something you only use when walking. High value may be bits of chicken, freeze dried animal parts, (beginning every 2 steps, and move up gradually from there).
o   High rate of reinforcement:  recognize your dog has been walking a certain way for period of time, and hasn’t gotten the memo that you are changing it up. It is fair, then, to give her as much information as you can while walking, and reinforce accordingly. It is important that your dog make the association of the new behavior often and with most yummy currency.
·      The first few minutes of walk is dedicated to sniffing. Sniffing is notoriously calming signal for our dogs, so you are ahead in offering your dog the opportunity to engage if that is a way that helps de-stress. Humans are often quite task oriented, we have certain amount of time, certain route, answer texts/emails to respond….watch your dog.
·      Leash walking manners in the house and back yard only until ‘walk nice’ has relevance, that it is trained, and loose leash has been accomplished. Begin walking in front of house only  AFTER success is guaranteed in the house and yard.

·      If your dog goes back to her pulling ways, stop and wait for her to move back toward you.  At which point, and this is very important part of the whole procedure, the reinforcement is not provided until Pepper is back in position and walking nicely again.  If it is provided earlier, Pepper may learn that pulling and coming back to you is what you are looking for. Be very clear that the only time she gets a treat from you is when she is in area by your side, with a happy leash, or a leash with no tension!
·      Begin working in lowest distractive environments, until you become more relevant partners with the leash.
·      Recognize that if the walking surface is so hot that you cannot hold your hand on it for 5 seconds, then do not consider expecting your dogs paws being able to handle it either. Not only will it be painful, it may also be why your dog is in a hurry, thus pulling on the leash.

·      Note;  Like many dogs, Pepper has exhibited leash reactivity toward several triggers in her environment, so they are staying very close to home where they can turn and get back home quickly in the event a mean ole’ trigger shows up. In this segment, I am addressing leash-walking, not reactivity-on-leash.  Although reactivity issues are addressed with reliable leash walking manners in place, much more protocol is put in place to modify this highly emotional response to your dog’s environment.  Well-trained leash walking manners is a must to modify reactivity, while on leash, but alone is not the fix. It will be fun to talk in the next blog about one of THE most popular calls that come into my call center with is reactivity while our dogs are on leash.

BTW, the Millers have been enjoying following their protocol to the letter, because it has improved Peppers relevance to walking on leash.  It’s not such a punishing experience, so she gets walked more often. Doug and Stella have quit the exhausting job of managing Pepper’s leash walking and adopted training her to the manners they want instead.  Win! 

Next blog we move on to reactivity work, and her dislike of large black and small white dogs, squirrels, bicycles and skateboards.  

Patti Howard, BS, CCS is behavior and training specialist, and owner of Your Canine Resource in Olympia WA.  Be on watch for her upcoming book, ‘Your Dog Can’t Do Anything Wrong’, due to be out in Spring 2018.

Monday, March 27, 2017

DOG FOOD AND ATTITUDE; what our dogs eat and how it may be affecting ability to change behavior

What our dogs eat and how it may be affecting ability to change behavior

I was excited to have an appointment with Craig and his dog Jake last week. Craig’s original complaints for me to address were counter surfing, excessive whining, barking at what appeared to be ‘nothing’ and leash pulling.  It quickly came to my attention how dull his coat looked and felt as I reached out to pet his German Shepherd frame. When I probed what Craig had been feeding, he responded, ‘I’m spending a lot of money on premium kibble! How would a change in his food affect his coat and behavior?’

So begins our discussion.

Jake is on a 95% kibble diet, and has been for 3.5 years. (treats making up the other 5%).  The kibble company spends a tremendous amount of money overriding our common sense approach that anyone eating the same anything for 3.5 years are at risk for experiencing potential problems.  Add to this that kibble is a highly processed, nutritionally devoid, carbohydrate-ridden food.

Craig has been feeling as though he was upgrading when he began feeding Jake ‘grain free’ and while this has been a positive direction for kibble companies to travel with their formula, there is still a HUGE carbohydrate load to these foods.

Awareness of human and canine nutrition and its affect on body/mind chemistry is a tap on my shoulder when I hear people tell stories of dog dilemmas.  For Jakes situation:
1. Can we blame a dog that is not getting his nutritional needs met when they forage on a counter?
2. Is it fair to punish the counter surfing behavior, and not a potentially strong physiological need behind it? 
3. Is it realistic to ask whether highly processed food could be manipulating his blood sugar, contributing to anxious displays (whining) of behavior?  If we were to consider the effects of nutrition on our human bodies, there has been much research to determine that what we eat can (and does) affect our behavior, so is not a huge leap to consider any other living form is affected as well.  

Consider these facts and participate with me in a little exercise:
·      Begin with a piece of paper with 100% written at the top. 
·      Subtract the % of protein, % fat, and % moisture listed on the back of the kibble bag you feed,
·      The remainder you see is carbohydrate composition of the food!
·      Most will be surprised to witness this amount in excess of 40% (in other words, you are picking it up in the yard after your dog has spent time and energy processing it)
o   Now consider that your dog operates optimally at between 11 and 18% carbohydrate intake for his system to function optimally.

Now lets look at the first six ingredients in Jakes food:
Herring meal
Sweet potato
Canola oil
Pea protein

That is the bulk of the food right there, and the remainders of ingredients aren’t any more flattering.  How can a company have good conscience marketing this to us, who wish to do right by our dog. This particular formula rendered 52% carbs for Jake to digest, and there is no real substantive nutritional value in this at all. Dogs are carnivores, and the meat is missing!

When our dogs consume more carbs than their body can use, a list of problems can arise including (but certainly not limited to); blood sugar instability, digestive issues, obesity, imbalance with intestinal bacteria, allergies, arthritis, seizures, cancer, anxiety, and the list is growing with research.  Carbs can bind vitamins and minerals in the intestines, whisking them out of their bodies with no chance of absorption.  Now consider that one of the many duties of B vitamins, for instance, is as a calming influence, as well as capacity to improve brain function.  Behavior problems that are rooted in anxiety, which is of course the opposite of calm, may be affected by not getting enough B vitamins. 

Speaking to a dogs’ species appropriate diet and prior to when kibble came to be, Jake (this time of year for example) would be feeding on bunnies. He would be eating the innards of the bunny first to assist in digestion of the protein, bone, organs and fur they were about to consume. So this would consist of vegetation the bunny had eaten, packed with B vitamins, digestive enzymes, and probiotics that all help the body absorb food optimally. The enzymatic value of fresh food has been found to also help naturally remove plaque from teeth, and keep it off.  Kibble cannot replicate this process.  Maybe the ingredients that went into it at one time were nutritionally viable, but that was a very long time before your purchase. 

Kibble companies would also have you believe that there is ‘better kibble’ than another. This may be the case for the integrity of the ingredients they applied to the recipe; however,  beyond that, each and every kibble goes through the same nutrition degradation process in the highly processing procedure.

Below are some ideas for canine species appropriate (fresh, real food) commercial and convenient options to a highly processed kibble that are available:
·        Commercially prepared raw diets:
o   Darwin’s, is delivered to your door on auto ship basis
o   Northwest Naturals
o   Stella and Chewys
o   K9 Naturals
o   Tuckers
o   Answers
·       Commercially prepared dehydrated diets:
o   Stella and Chewys
o   K9 Naturals
o   Northwest Naturals
o   Addiction

And ideas for Movie Night!  Suggestions to bring ideas for further discussion:
·      ‘Pet Fooled’ Video:               http://www.truthaboutpetfood.com/petfooled
·      ‘Supersize Me’ Video:          http://documentary-movie.com/super-size-me/

Please note, I am NOT suggesting replacing nutrition advice for behavior advice! Although I have witnessed what I consider miracles with a shift in nutrition, I am addressing it here more from the perspective that unless you have as much information about your dog as possible, then a behavior modification plan may be compromised. If a behavior is not responding to protocol that has been revised appropriately, it makes sense to investigate our dog’s physiology – and how they are FEELING!

In terms of Jake’s behaviors, I’m thrilled to say Craig’s now looking to his food bowl as potentially part of the solution.  We are working diligently on Jake’s issues, as he has been reinforced in many ways, but we will save that for another chapter.  Furthermore, Jakes coat is shining, and he loves mealtime!

There is still much to learn in the area of dog nutrition, many scientific case studies to be performed; however, we can take the gift that research has given us to move in the right direction.  With all the good intentions of feeding what the kibble companies would have us believe is the highest quality food, we are picking up much of our money with a pooper-scooper. 

For references of dietary suggestions, to learn how to begin feeding a more natural diet, or to unlock the mystery of the ingredient list on your bag of kibble, please contact Patti Howard for a copy of nutritional recommendations, free, via www.yourcanineresource.com   Patti is Certified Specialist in Canine Training/Behavior, and holds Advanced Canine Nutritional Certification. Patti is convinced with 25 years experience in these areas that Your Dog Can’t Do Anything Wrong, as will be interpreted by her book of the same name, available this fall/winter.

Monday, February 20, 2017

YOUR DOG CAN'T DO ANYTHING WRONG; as in the title of Patti's book!

Your Dog Can't Do Anything Wrong (just consider it a training opportunity)

What kind of feelings come up when you hear that your dog cannot do anything wrong? Does your primate kick in and defend its position in your relationship? If our dogs aren’t listening it must be because THEY are wrong! Right?

From my years in responding to requests for behavior modification, most people misunderstand (and therefore label) a lack of compliance from their dog as being ‘stubborn’ or ‘willful’.  We are assuming in that statement that the dogs brain is sophisticated to the degree that those labels are fair.  For the sake of conversation here, I have seen dogs hesitate complying with a command, (which may be more common in certain breeds, you know who you are) though by and large many more times they are simply not understanding what we are attempting to communicate.

What is apparent to me as a teacher is that in order to recognize a training opportunity, it will be helpful to recognize when you are feeling they are being stubborn or willful.  Let that be your information, not your frustration!  Take a step back to ask if you have trained them to the level you are asking.  Taking responsibility, as their humans, to help them learn what you are communicating IS the training opportunity.

In the simplest of terms, if our dogs don’t know what it is we are communicating, it falls on us.

Let’s look at the human experience of communication, for example. The way we communicate is if we do not get a response, or the one we’re expecting, we tend to repeat the same thing over and over, possibly louder and louder.  Whether we know they are hearing us or not, it’s apparent they aren’t listening.  Therefore, this is the way we tend to communicate with our dogs, and it is as ineffective, if not more so.  They can hear a potato chip drop in the next room, significant to ‘hearing’ not being the problem.  Since English is not their first language, I suggest slowing down a bit, training them to hear our first request, and not repeating as though we were in a burning building.  Sit, SIT, SIT, SIT, SIT!  This is a most INeffective way of communicating with a species that is adept at reading energy.

Here’s a training opportunity story:
Your dog, Pearl, slides out the front door and is on an all out, ears-flapping-in-the-wind run for a passer-by and their dog. You call out to her to come back, then again louder, all the while chasing after her full speed, in panic.  Game-On!  So, aside from feeling embarrassed, angry or frustrated, how are you going to react in this scenario?

According to Pearl, she’s not being stubborn to not come to you.  Rather she is in an exciting, low threshold environment for her.  So where is the training opportunity in this, and how is it she isn’t doing anything wrong? Simply put, you may have worked with Pearl’s recall in your home, or in the fenced yard, but have not taught her to come to you in a highly distractive environment.  She has likely not generalized that coming to you in the house is the same as when she is excitedly running after something. The training opportunity is training her when she’s running away from you, and this requires hours of practice with her on long line running after things, and coming back to you when called.  It requires that it works for her to whip around and run to you when called, and practicing the recall when she’s running toward different yummy things will accomplish this for you.

I will add that no amount of frustration or anger for not coming will teach your dog a thing, except possibly that if it wasn’t fun to come when called before, it certainly isn’t now.

Consider the association she has with how it feels to come to you. Have the times she has come to you ever been aversive? Have you called her out of the back yard (where she was having a blast) and then locked her in the house for 8 hours while you rushed off to work?  Have you called her numerous times (missing the training opportunity) and so frustrated when she finally got to you that you exhibited anger? That would explain the next time you call her to you and she hesitates, or that she possibly does NOT come at all.  Instead, in this scenario, make a game of running into the house with you, or having her wait while you leash her up and she walks nicely into the house with you. This will help you achieve your goal, with no breakdown to the recall command.

THESE are ideas of how you design the recall to ‘work for her’.

In order to fully train your dog to your communication, it is important for you to generalize the communication with her. There are ways to incrementally introduce levels of training to your dog that will help build confidence and levels of compliance, showing that taking advantage of a training opportunity is rich in rewards for you both.  In this series, we will explore many more training opportunities and how to recognize when they’re presenting themselves.

In conclusion, if your dog ‘blows off’ a command, pack your frustration and anger away, and look for your training opportunity, because they aren’t doing it wrong, they just don’t yet know how to do it RIGHT! 

Patti Howard BS, CCS is certified in Canine Behavior and Nutrition, and owner of Your Canine Resource in Olympia WA  www.yourcanineresource.com