Dog Food As Enrichment

I often talk about the benefits of feeding at least a portion of your dog’s food, through training and activities including dog food puzzle and chew toys.  When we bring animals into our homes, we need to remember that enrichment is such an important piece of setting ourselves, our pets, and our relationship up for success. Providing our pets with opportunities to problem solve, exercise their minds and bodies, and use their senses allows them to expend energy they need to use in positive ways and also adds to their quality of life. If you don’t believe me, read my blog post about scientific research that demonstrated it.

(Although, just look at your dog when he/she is working to get food out of a toy or engaged in learning and you will see for yourself the value in having your pet work for food.)

Below are just a few of my favorite dog food activity toys.

The Kong chew toy is a great enrichment activity for puppies and dogs.

Kong Classic Toy

Kong Gyro

Kong Gyro

 

Kong Blue Satellite

Kong Blue Satellite

Buster food cube for dogs

Buster food cube

 

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What If Your Dog Will Not Budge On A Walk?

When you share your home and your life with a dog, there are so many activities your will be doing together. One of those that is pretty much universal is walking together joined by a leash.

And one of the most common issues people have with their puppy and dog is walking with their dog or puppy on a leash, a loose leash that is.

dog training tips for a stubborn dog or puppy that will not budge on leashI’ve addressed some of the reasons why that activity may break down.  I thought I’d specifically write about tips for solving an issue of a dog or puppy who plants his feet (or rear end) down on the ground and will not budge, as I have seen this happen time and again. I will refer to this as ‘no-budge behavior’.

Before talking about the behavioral modifications, you may first want to consider if there is an underlying medical issue that is giving your dog reason to stop in his tracks – especially if this is a sudden behavior change. Watch your dog or puppy carefully to see if he is favoring one leg over another; or if he seems uncomfortable in any way. If you touch a spot on his body, including his legs, does he wince or growl? If so, you should talk to your veterinarian to see if there is a physical or medical issue going on.

Additionally, take into consideration the outside temperature and the walking surface. Black surfaces can be extremely hot to a dog’s sensitive paws. Also keep in mind, dogs don’t sweat as humans do (much of their heat is released through their paws and panting). Certain dogs – especially those with short noses, thick coats and heavy muscle mass may be more sensitive to heat. And, some dog are more sensitive to the cold as well. Therefore, weather could be a reason for your dog’s unwillingness to walk with you. If weather may be the culprit, you may want to choose a different time a day, a different surface, give your dog more rest time (and bring plenty of water); or choose to find another activity that can give your dog an outlet for his mental and physical exercise needs. (which is a great idea even with walks)

And also, listen to your dog by watching his body language and paying attention to the surrounding environment. It could be that you are walking toward something that is aversive to your dog in some way (maybe he had a negative encounter with another dog or person in the past, in that area before – or a similar area, as an example). If that could be what is going on, then you may want to either avoid that situation or work with your dog to build a positive association with that environment instead.

These are some ways that I have worked through this issue with dogs and puppies.

Keep in mind, my focus is on using the most positive strategies for modifying behavior; and so, I focus on teaching wanted behaviors and building value for those behaviors while trying to avoid situations where my student will practice unwanted behaviors.

So begin by taking account of those situations when your dog or puppy is likely to stop cold in his tracks and not budge. What is the environment, the time of day, your dog or puppy’s previous activity been (maybe he is tired, for example)? Keep a record of this. Sometimes the most simple solution is modifying the environment (called antecedent arrangement) so as to not set that unwanted behavior into motion to begin with. And you definitely do not want your student to be practicing that no-budging behavior.

Practice building value for your dog or puppy walking next to you, following you, and paying attention to you off leash. Here is a link to a game for building value at being by your side. Watch for the criteria you are looking for, mark it with a click or verbal marker, and then give your student a reinforcer (I have used any combination of food, games, or the opportunity to chase me as reinforcers.)

Now, practice this with a leash attached to your student’s flat collar. If needed, you can begin this in a space free of danger of the leash snagging on something and let the leash drag on the ground – or you can hold the leash. If you are holding the leash, ensure that the leash is loose and there is not pressure on your student’s neck.

Practice walking and marking (with a verbal marker or clicker) when your student is walking with you where you want him to be (with a loose leash). Do this first in an environment that DOES NOT have the history associated with your dog or puppy’s no-budge behavior. You may want to begin by standing stationary and building value for your student being at your side, and then take a single step and continuing the process.

Gradually you can add more steps, continuing to mark and reinforce your student for walking on a loose leash. Since you will have kept a record of where and when the no-budge behaviors are likely to occur, you can pay special attention to practicing with a high rate of reinforcement BEFORE you get to that spot; and then walk away from the spot and continue to get closer and closer with each repetition. NOTE that you also should be watchful for any body language your student is using to indicate uneasiness and do not push your student beyond that comfort zone. If there is a fear or other reactivity issue, you may want to work with a trainer who uses positive strategies.

While I work to try to avoid the leash/neck pressure, there are times where it may happen and so teaching your student positive association with that – and to move toward the source of pressure instead of away is also a good idea. Similar to the collar grab game, practice a slight tug on the leash (not so much pressure as to cause discomfort) and follow that with a treat. Then practice waiting for your dog to shift his body weight toward the pressure, then making a small movement toward it, and more movement toward it. (This is called shaping.) Practice this numerous times through the day and you can gradually add a little more pressure.

What you do not want to do is continue to pull on your dog or puppy’s leash while he is practicing that no-budge behavior. When you are both pulling against each other, neither one of you is going to win; and there is the potential to inflict harm.

I can tell you that recently several puppies who had a history of the no-budge behavior, eagerly walked by my side after my spending time working through these steps.

And always remember – to have fun!

 

Core Exercise For Dogs

I am a pretty consistent exerciser, working out about 5 to 6 times a week. There is such an emphasis with people to strengthen our core – the muscles of our abs, spine and supporting limbs. That strength decreases lower back pain and stress on the rest of our body, and helps us to have more upright posture and prevent injuries.

Core strength in dogs is also a good thing, decreasing the incidence of injuries associated with osteoarthritis or other soft tissue issues, of iliopsoas strains, and spinal pain. I spoke with Ginger Jones, CCRP, canine physical therapist at the Care Center about core strength exercises the other day. “Core work,” she told me, “is integrated into everything I do.”

It is that important whether you have a very active, a young, an old, a big or small dog.

Ginger explained how you may notice signs of a weak core in everyday activities. There may be excessive sway in the hind end in movement. You may see your pet have difficulty making the transition from positions such as going from sitting to standing. Sometimes, depending on the situation, a dog’s inability to hold a sit stay could be due to weak core muscles.

Please note: Before you begin new exercises, clear them with your veterinarian/health care professional. You can mix these exercises up, doing several consistently at least every other day. They can also be considered a warm up before other activities.

Exercises to strengthen your dog’s core

Ginger said even simply walking your dog over uneven surfaces causes your dog to shift its body weight, engaging core muscles. When you take that leash out, keep an eye out for things in the environment you can encourage your dog to step on or move over. Walking up and down inclines and stairs involves trunk muscles too.  In your home, you can encourage your dog to walk on pillows or folded towels for example as another surface.

Exercises while standing. Holding a stand can be more difficult than you think in the beginning (think of the plank exercise for humans). Encourage your dog to stand and hold that position for up to ten seconds or longer. You may need to begin with just a few seconds of holding position. These are some of the ways Ginger engages the muscles more during the stand (for all of these, use a non-slip surface)

With a lure, encourage the dog to turn its head in different directions to follow the food.

Gently sway your dog from left to right while supporting it. Note: you are not rocking your dog so hard that it will need to move its legs to regain balance. As your dog becomes stronger, your dog will need less support from you.

Again, while you are supporting your dog, lift one leg for a few seconds and then replace it on the ground. Do this with each of your dog’s legs. For difficulty as your more forward with this, you can increase the time for each leg lift and decrease the amount of support you provide.

Sit to stand. Changing positions is great for strengthening your dog’s core. Encourage your dog to go from stand to sit and sit to stand (and you can incorporate laying down too). You can increase repetitions up to 5 or 10 times on a variety of surfaces.

Walking backwards and in a figure eight. This exercise, while fairly simple, helps a lot with balance and hindlimb strength.

Cavalettis.  A cavaletti is basically walking your dog over a series of raised surfaces. You can make your own or purchase them online. You can even use a ladder. This exercise requires your dog to lifts its hind legs over each surface improving strength, range of motion, balance and flexibility. Ginger said you can begin with a series of two-by-four boards. You can also use PVC pipes or broomsticks, or other poles. Begin with the hurdles laying on the ground and gradually increase the height. You can be creative in hurdle holders. I have seen people use crushed soda pop cans (placing the hurdle end over the crook in the can), laying the hurdle on blocks, ect. The hurdles should be placed one body length of your dog apart, and begin with about a four inch height (depending on the height of your dog). You can have four to seven hurdles. Walk your dog through the course four or five times initially and then increase the repetitions as your dog gains strength.

Elevated paw touch. Practice having your dog stand with its front paws on an elevated surface such as a chair to increase the weight bearing load of the back legs. You can increase the time in small increments as they increase their rear leg strength. When your dog can hold that position for at least 15 seconds, you can practice adding some gentle hand pressure to its body as was practiced with the stand. You can also practice this with your dog’s rear legs on the elevated surface.

Using a wobble board or balance ball.  Practice having your dog sit or stand on a BOSU or balance ball (you will need to support your dog in the beginning, and also just to desensitize your dog to being on it, you may want to wedge the ball so that it does not move when getting started).

Additionally you can teach your dog to put its front or rear paws onto a ball or wobble board. To do this, I first taught our dog to paw target (stand with his front paws on a surface) on a variety of surfaces and rotate his back legs so the behavior itself was not new. Below is a video of me demonstrating clicker training using shaping to teach a Vizsla to paw target, and then a video of me teaching our Sam to put his paws on a balance ball.

Teaching beginner paw targeting

Teaching our Sam to keep his front paws on the balance ball

All of these exercises are not that difficult to practice and teach, but they are so important to the wellness of our pets. A dog that does agility needs this strength to minimize injury risk. A dog that does confirmation will need good core strength to hold positions. For that matter, working dogs, older dogs, and puppies will all benefit. And you will have fun in the process!

 

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Dog On Leash Greetings: Good or Bad?

I was at a park the other day when I saw a mother and her two children walking their goldendoodle puppy, a 40 to 50 pound teddy bear who very clearly found interest in everything going on around them. I knew that by seeing his alertness in looking around, his tail held high or wagging, and his sniffing everything in site. The only thing holding him back was a couple of young humans pulling back on the other end of a leash.

A man with another small dog happened to walk by and the puppy’s strength won out against the will of the children as they moved forward, a very taught long piece of nylon fabric keeping them together. As the puppy got closer, the small dog began looking away, lip licking, then taking a step away with taught body muscles and a tail tucked between his back legs. I could tell this was not going to be a very pleasant greeting, at least for the small dog. Still, the goldendoodle persisted in moving his humans forward.

When I mentioned to the mother that the small dog wanted space, she told me her puppy was just being friendly and wanted to say hello. I pointed out the body language on the other dog and this time more strongly suggested they move away before the two dogs made contact. They did. And they each went on their way. I am not sure if what I said to them will have an impact on their future outings, but I hope it will.

I thought I would write about this in hope that it may at least help others in understanding how to help their dogs have pleasant on leash experiences.

The fact is that when unfamiliar dogs are on leash – or dDoes your dog pull on leash to greet another dog? Or is your dog reactive to dogs on leash? A discussion about on leash greetings, and dog training solutions.ogs who are familiar but who have very different greeting skills and behaviors – things have the potential to go downhill very quickly.

Dog greetings on leash – what can happen:

Think about how dogs typically greet each other in a calm situation when they are off leash. A positive greeting is one in which the dogs would approach each other with loose body muscles, moving to each other’s side with head down slightly as they sniff the rear end of the other dog.

But when a dog walks toward the other with a taught leash around his neck holding him back while his tail is held high, his arousal is heightening as he gets closer. Both dogs may be restricted by taught leashes, and as they move to each other their muscles tighten more.  (The leash restriction also does not allow them to get distance from each other.) They may either greet face on fixated on each other, which is a sign of impending danger and tension. Or they may lean or look away with lip licks, ears down, tense mouths, or other body language indicating discomfort and stress.  One or both could also become overly excited jumping on the other, which is very rude behavior among dogs, and if the other is indicating stress signals that are ignored that could mean trouble. What all of these greetings have in common is the fact that close proximity in that moment could easily erupt into a negative confrontation such as barking, lunging, snarling, or worse in a split second. Human may react by jerking on leashes, yelling, forcing their dog into a sit or down position or worse. If an eruption does not occur, dogs still may be showing body language of stress that may go missed by their humans. And dogs will ultimately learn from their experience that negative consequences occur when on leash around other dogs (and/or even humans). Or another consequence could be that the dog (s) is getting reinforced for inappropriate behavior, and we know that reinforced behavior continues and even strengthens.

Training and helping your dog with dog greetings and socialization:

The safest solution is to avoid on-leash greetings among unfamiliar dogs because even if you have done everything right in terms of teaching your dog behaviors and knowing how your dog communicates, you can not predict what the other dog will do. Especially if you see the other dog pulling on a leash to get closer, you know that is a dog who is not focused on paying attention to his handler while his arousal is heightening.

Some foundational skills to teach your dog as incompatible behaviors to pulling on leashes toward any stimulus are attention, walking by your side, emergency u-turn, recall, leave it, or sitting (although be careful to ask your dog to sit in a situation that is scary and uncomfortable).

Learn dog body language to recognize when your dog is relaxed, excited, nervous, or stressed; and when to give your dog distance from whatever it is that is causing that reaction.

Have ‘safe’ off leash play sessions with dogs you know will play well with your dog, who can play together with breaks.

Practice walking on leash parallel to another dog while your dog can have loose body muscles, and walk near you.

Around your dog’s ‘friends’, practice ‘safe’ leash greetings and work in proximity to each other on leash, with those foundational skills. Teach your dogs to approach each other with a loose leash, to sit at your side when you are close to each other, and walk away after just a second or two.

And never forget to put play into every day!

Are You Teaching Your Pet Unwanted Behaviors?

The other day I was working with a client whose dog had a ‘bad’ habit of pulling really hard on a leash to greet oncoming people. It is actually not an uncommon behavior problem that I get called upon to help with.

On that appointment, over the course of one hour with numerous short sessions, that same dog learned to stay at his owner’s side with a loose leash while I walked up to pet him. Much more work will be needed with different people in different settings but the learning process was begun.

How did that change occur so quickly?

Really, it comes down to where the value is for the animal. Whenever I see a dog or parrot or other animal doing something that is unacceptable, the first question I ask myself is – what is reinforcing that behavior? In other words, what purpose does that behavior serve for that animal because if a behavior did not help an animal get something of value, then the behavior would weaken.reinforcement for pets

Often what that means is that people, as their caretakers, can often be the cause of unwanted behaviors without even realizing it.

Dogs are incredible observers. They spend their waking hours watching and learning and figuring out the best way to get what they need and want.

I thought I’d share a few of the ways you may be ‘teaching’ unwanted behaviors without realizing it.

Ignoring your dog UNTIL he does a behavior you do not like. (I see this with human kids too.) When I was assisting with a class I saw a student standing with his dog sitting at his side. However, while his dog was doing exactly what that man wanted his dog to do, it was only when his dog got up and barked at the dog next to him that the man looked down to talk to his dog, tell his dog to sit and say ‘good girl.’  Here, that dog was learning *if* I sit down calmly, I get no attention but *if* I get up and bark, my owner talks to me and tells me what a good girl I am.

Punishing GOOD behavior. If you call your dog to come when he is playing outside, and he promptly comes running but only to have you bring him inside so that you can leave, you will be teaching your dog *the fun stops* when I come when called.

Reinforcing unwanted behavior without realizing it. If you open the door when your dog is jumping on it, you are teaching your dog that jumping on the door gets it to open. If you put your dog’s leash on him while he is barking, jumping and whining, you have just taught him that barking, jumping and whining get the leash attached which then leads to an awesome walk.

I wanted to share this as another reminder that teaching occurs daily with every interaction. Training is not only about the formal sessions where you are teaching obedience or trick behaviors. It is about those every day moments where you catch those behaviors you want to see more of, and find a way to make those behaviors valuable to your pet; while making sure you do not give value to the unwanted behaviors – and even set the environment up so those unwanted behaviors do not occur in the first place.

 

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Using Antecedent Arrangement In Solving Pet Problems

solving dog and pet behavior problemWhen it comes to modifying a pet’s behavior, my focus is always on the most positive least intrusive solution. I look at what is happening in the environment to set that specific behavior into motion in the first place, what the consequences are to that specific behavior that are maintaining or even strengthening it, and what can be changed both in the environment and in terms of skills that can be taught to set that animal up for success.

In scientific terms, I use applied behavior analysis. Applied behavior analysis is a systematic approach to solving behavior antecedent arrangement to prevent parrot screamingproblems by changing the environment in which the behavior occurs. It involves looking at the very specific behavior (such as a bird biting or a dog barking) and the related environmental context that signals and reinforces it. We ask, “What happened *immediately* prior to the behavior (antecedent) to set the whole ball rolling?“ And, “What happened *immediately* after the behavior to reinforce it (consequence)?“

But for the purposes of this specific post, I want to focus on the problem behavior prevention piece – or antecedent arrangement. This is very important because practice with any behavior builds confidence and fluidity.

When I look at modifying an unwanted behavior with a pet in the most positive way, I look at what function that behavior served to the animal and what skills that animal needs to learn to solve the problem. While teaching a pet those skills (replacement behavior) that can give the pet equal to or more reinforcing value than the unwanted behavior, managing the environment so as to not give the pet opportunities for reinforcement of the unwanted behavior is going to help both of us succeed and succeed much quicker.

And, when I talk about changing behavior in the most positive, least intrusive way, there are many times where careful management of the environment so as to not set that behavior into motion in the first place is all that is needed.

For example, if I know that my using a hair dryer is an antecedent for my bird’s screaming, then I can give him something to occupy his attention before turning on my hair dryer, or I can simply use my hair dryer in another part of my house. If I know that my dog is going to be over the top with excitement when company comes over, I can take my dog for a long walk first to lessen the value of over the top behaviors.

My challenge to you is this – when you think about your pet’s annoying behaviors, think about what is occurring in the environment to set those behaviors into motion. Are there simple changes you can make to prevent that chain from occurring?

 

Can I be of further help to you and your pet? Please contact me!

Why You May Be Having Recall Problems With Your Dog

So often dog owners want to know why they can’t get their dog to come every time he is called no matter what he happens to be doing or where. “He can be stubborn.” “He has a mind of his own.” “His breed is like that.” These are all reasons I’ve heard people use.

The truth is if your dog is not behaving in a way you want him to behave, it is a clear indication that either he does not know what you want him to do (the criterion for reinforcement is unclear) and/or the reinforcer for the right behavior isn’t strong enough or delivered fast enough to compete with the reinforcers available for doing something other than coming to you. When given a choice, animals will generally choose the behavior that produces the most valued outcomes. For example, a dog may know a sit cue (he’s done it a million times in the past) but he may choose to ignore it sometimes because the outcome is of far less value to him than the competing reinforcers at those times.

Here are just some reasons why your dog may choose to do anything BUT come when called:

1)There is a weak history of reinforcement associated with you. Think about it. How totally awesome do you make the experience of being at your side? Does your dog see you as the giver of all good things?

2)There is a strong, established history with competing reinforcers from the environment, which are more valuable to the dog than what coming to you offers. It’s really tough to compete with the value of rabbit or squirrel. And if you call and call your dog in this situation, you will be further weakening the cue to come because a cue that doesn’t reliably predict reinforcement loses its value and thus its reliability to predict behavior. Very often the word ‘come’ takes on the meaning of ‘keep playing, go sniff the flowers, and only when there isn’t anything more reinforcing to do, then come to my side.’

3)If your dog doesn’t come to you reliably when called, why set both of you up for failure by calling him back to you at a time when you can predict he more than likely won’t come (like when he is in pursuit of a squirrel or playing in water).

Instead, let your dog play until he is good and tired and you can predict that the chances are high that he will come when called (and you can then have a party when he does choose to come to make that choice totally awesome). Of course the other suggestion is to work on teaching the ‘come’ cue reliably by starting in an environment without distractions and systematically building on the distractions.

4)Your dog can not reliably predict that every time he comes when called it will be worth his while. As an example, maybe you have a history of letting your dog outside just before you have to leave and call him inside to be locked up. Your recall cue may be associated with a loss – the loss of his freedom, the loss a toy, etc. Maybe you sometimes punish your dog when he comes back to you after taking chase. You may try to trick your dog into coming by luring him with a toy or something of value but after a couple of times, he has you figured out.

5)Not coming to you results in a bigger pay day. Maybe if he doesn’t come, it results in you chasing him – and what dog doesn’t like to be chased?

6)There is a strong dependency of confinement whether to a leash or to a space that teaches your dog he only needs to pay attention when under your tether. Think about the mischief children get into when their parents go out of town or when they go off to college. The solution is more work systematically generalizing the skills from one setting to another.

These are some of many reasons why your dog doesn’t come when called – and none of them have to do with being stubborn or headstrong. What they all have in common is the poor use of strategic strong, consistent reinforcement on your part to teach your dog that coming to you is absolutely the best choice for him.

For tips on teaching your dog to come or recall, please see my post.

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