Thursday, July 30, 2009

Potty training the Dearborn dogs: part 2

A lot of ground was covered in yesterday’s blog on potty training the Chihuahuas that came from the home of the Dearborn hoarder.
We know the basics — don’t punish the dog for going potty in the wrong places until it fully understands what the right place is, thoroughly clean up any accidents, take your time introducing them to grass and make sure it’s a positive experience, and if they do go potty in the right place, treat them like they’ve won you the lottery.
But how do you teach the dog what the right place is?
If I were adopting one of these dogs, I’d invest in a lot of pee-pads. There’s a ton of “puppy pee-pads” on the market. To be quite honest, I’m not sure which brand is better than the next.
Puppy pee pads are like absorbent, disposable little blankets. The bottom side is usually waterproof to keep the urine from seeping into your floors, the top side soft like toilet paper.
Most companies state that the scent of these pee pads draw dogs to them and encourage them to potty there.
When I fostered a couple puppies for a weekend, I spread the pee pads out all over the place inside my house. While the two pups didn’t always make it to the pee pad, they did on more occasions than not.
Every time I caught them using a pee pad, I immediately gave vocal praise. It’s important to start giving the praise while the dog is peeing or pooping. As soon as I could make it to them, I brought treats and as soon as they were done, they got lots of cuddles and some play time too.
And every time we went through this routine, the puppies were more likely to return to their pee pad. By the end of the weekend, the number of accidents dropped dramatically.
During the night, when they were put in a large crate, I divided the crate into two areas. The back of the cage was covered with pee pads. The front of the cage had blankets and toys.
In the morning, I’d find the pee pads full with all that yucky stuff and the blankets impeccably clean.
Pee pads would be a good way to start training the Dearborn dogs because it moves their routine incrementally from anywhere-in-the-house to on-these-white-pads-in-the-house.
As long as you follow the rules — ignore the other messes, celebrate and praise messes on the pee pads — the dogs will gradually learn that messing on the pee pads yields the greatest reward.
Once the dogs are going 100 percent of the time on the pee pads, start putting them in strategic places.
Slowly move them from where you have put them in the past, maybe a foot or two at a time, toward the doors in a room. Over a period of weeks or perhaps even months, depending on how much work your dog needs, you want to narrow down the indoor pee pads to only being by the doors in your house that you will eventually use to let your dog outside to go potty.
During this same time period, you will also be making sure your dog has plenty of great experiences outside, where he will eventually go to the bathroom at.
When you feel your dog has the pee pad routine down pat, start moving the pee pads outside. If you can, catch him while he’s headed toward the pee pad and swoop him up, bringing both him and the pee pad outside.
Make a routine of doing that, and then one day, don’t put the pee pad down on the grass and wait. And be ready to wait, and wait, and wait some more.
But when that dog finally lifts a leg on the grass, put everything you have into celebrating the moment.
Then be ready to repeat, over and over again.
Is it a lot of work? Sure. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s a lot less work to spend several months properly potty training your dog than it is to spend the rest of that dog’s life cleaning up your house, several times a day, because you have not taught him properly.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Potty training the Dearborn dogs

Don’t fool yourself — it’s not going to be easy.
But, I’ve got some solid advice, great resources and also suggestions from Nicole Pawlowski-Herr of Herr Pet Training, the couple that is featured in our K-9 Classroom video series.
Let’s think about potty training a new puppy. Have you ever done it? Probably. How successful were you? If it was anything like my experience, you probably weren’t.
Sure, years later your dog has it down pat. You can’t take that as a measure of success.
How long did it take to reach this point of potty perfection? How many rolled up newspapers, smacks on the butt, nose in the doo-doo and shouts of BAD DOG did it take?
A year? A little more than a year? A couple years?
That’s not success. I’ve seen puppies who were solidly potty trained at eight to ten weeks. That is success.
Before you even think about potty training one of the hoarder-kept Dearborn dogs, throw out everything you’ve ever been told about potty training.
First thing is first: before you can say nary a negative word toward a dog for going to the bathroom in the “wrong” place, you must put in some time teaching the dog what the “right” place is.
The challenge with the Dearborn dogs is that they have spent their entire lives going potty in what we consider the “wrong” places. You cannot simply start punishing the dog for doing what they’ve spent all their lives thinking is proper.
If you do begin punishing these dogs right away for going wee-wee on the carpet, couch or curtains, know that you are setting yourself up for certain failure.
The dog will only learn two things: 1) to be fearful of you, 2) that it is not OK to go to the bathroom while you are around and, in order to wee-wee on the carpet, couch and curtains, they must wait until you are out of sight.
Good luck trying to correct that. It’s a real doozy of a challenge to reverse that behavior.
This means you will have to accept some indoor accidents. Ignore them, give the dog no attention for them. Quietly and thoroughly clean up the mess.
The cleaning is important, and for some tips on how to truly clean a doggie mess, watch the video from our pet trainers at the bottom of the blog.
Here’s another need-to-remember statement from our trainers, who e-mailed me knowing I was working on this topic.
“Most of these dogs have probably never seen grass, much less understand that it’s supposed to be their bathroom,” Nicole Pawlowski-Herr wrote.
You’ll need to work gently getting dogs accustomed to grass. Take them out, let them explore and make it positive with lots of treats and toys and praise.
Certainly, if you catch them going potty, make it a huge celebration. But don’t expect it from them in the beginning. Just use everything in your power to make the feeling of grass under their feet become associated with wonderful-things-happen-to-dogs (toys, treats, praise).
One more thing — read this book: Way to Go: How to Housetrain a Dog of Any Age by Patricia McConnell, Ph.D. and Karen London, Ph.D.
Our trainers write that it is the BEST resource on potty raining available, and it’s only $5.95.
Order it online at Tully’s Toys.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dealing with the Dearborn dogs

Try to put yourself in the shoes (paws) of one the dogs born and raised in the hoarder’s Dearborn home.
What would life be?
You’re entire world, instead of being this large round Earth, would be just a little house. There’s a chance you never went outside of it. Perhaps you never even looked outside of it.
Inside your world were hundreds of your own kind. You enjoyed all the company, but not at feeding time. You had to compete with hundreds of other mouths to get the nutrition you needed to survive.
All of your doggie relatives had left their scent all over the place, pooping and peeing on top of older feces. You had no choice to do the same, and in time, you came to believe that it was proper conduct. In fact, the excrement became such a part of your habitat that it was inescapable.
Everywhere you went, there was doo-doo. And so, you had no choice but walk in, sit on and even lay down and sleep on the doo-doo. Again, it was acceptable and proper conduct in your small world.
I’ve heard these dogs should be available for adoption starting on Monday, and that their health varies from one dog to another.
Since they’ve been removed from their world, they’re probably pretty scared.
If you thought the entire world was a small home populated by hundreds of your own kind and suddenly, you get taken out of that world and exposed to things you had never seen or knew existed before, wouldn’t you be scared?
Fear is one issue these dogs are likely to deal with. The degree of fear — whether it can be overcome easily or whether it’s deeply ingrained and produces other issues, like aggression — will vary from one dog to the next.
Age, amount of handling, exposure to the outside world and the dog’s individual personality will affect how much or how little each dog is fearful. The same factors will also affect how easily the dog learns to “bounce back,” or accept new things.
Food aggression is another likely issue. I don’t know the specifics of the situation and I’m not saying that these dogs were malnourished, I’m just stating what seems obvious to me. Hundreds of dogs were roaming freely about a house. At feeding time, there had to have been competition. Dogs would’ve learned to be aggressive and protective of the tasty little morsels they managed to snag.
Potty training will be a big deal. Again, these dogs have lived in a world where it was not just acceptable but necessary for them to go to the bathroom inside a house, then walk on it, sit in it and even sleep on it.
They have no clue that most dogs go to the bathroom outside — they didn’t even know what outside was until just recently — and that most dogs avoid even stepping in their own doo-doo, nonetheless sleeping on it.
I’ll try to go through some basic ways of rehabilitating these issues in the next few days. Because Sensi is a fearful dog and it’s something I have a lot of experience with, I run the risk of over-doing it on the fear topic.
I’ll try to keep it simple, and perhaps I’ll start with rehabbing food aggression and potty training and leave the fearful stuff for last.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Adopting the Dearborn dogs

The top local news story lately has been the removal of hundreds of Chihuahuas from a Dearborn home owned by a man who was mentally ill.
The dogs lived in squalor, some were found dead and frozen in freezers and there’s been some talk that the house might not be salvageable.
That’s a serious mess.
Donations have been pouring into the Dearborn animal shelter that is caring for the dogs, and so have inquiries about adoptions.
The latest I heard on the TV news was that the dogs won’t be available for adoption for a while yet. They need some medical attention — I’d assume most need to be spayed or neutered and that all need to be updated on vaccinations.
For more than 100 dogs, the process will take a while.
The shelter also needs some time to evaluate the dogs. I’m sure they’ll find a host of behavioral challenges with these little dogs.
For those of you who have your mind set on rescuing one of these little Chihuahuas and are willing to wait until they’re available, I ask you to be prepared.
Animal hoarders, unfortunately, aren’t that uncommon. Watch an episode of Animal Cops on the Animal Planet and you’ll find that agencies are constantly dealing with hoarders.
Sometimes, animals owned by pet hoarders don’t have behavioral problems. It all depends on the degree to which the owner hoarding.
When a person collects too many animals, especially in the case of the Dearborn man where it appears the Chihuahuas were breeding and overran the entire home, the animals don’t get exposure to a normal life.
Oftentimes, cats found in the home of a hoarder are feral. It can be unusual to find even one cat that can be saved from those situations.
Dogs are much easier to rehabilitate and reintroduce to our society. Tomorrow, I’ll post about some of the behavioral problems these dogs are likely to have.
My goal is lend to some advice. These dogs can become our family members. It’s just going to take a little knowledge and some time and work from us.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Seeing in the dark

My apologies for not posting in a while.
Here's a neat little fact about dogs' vision.
Their sight is as bad as ours in the dark, with one big exception.
Dogs can see movement in the dark. What I've heard is that movement in the dark appears to them in a glowish, night-vision-like form. Think cats.
Not that I've done any scientific research on this, unless you count my experience with Sensi as scientific.
Here's what happens:
We have a long, dark hallway. At the end of the night, I turn the lights out and walk down the dark abyss to the bedroom (I figure, why turn a light on? I ought to learn how to navigate my own house in the dark).
Sensi always knows when it's time for bed. He hops down groggily from the couch and plods along behind me.
As long as he's made it to the hallway at the same time I have, he has no problem following me as I walk down the hallway. But then, when I reach the bedroom and open the door, it's another story.
I stand there with the door open, waiting for him to enter the room so I can close the door behind us.
Only, he stands there in the hallway, not moving. Why? Because my movement has stopped and he can't see anything.
Many times, I assume he's walked past me into the bedroom and close the door. Usually, I hear his nails on the wood floors backing up as the door (now moving toward him, so he can see something) swings shut.
Realizing this is what's happening, I now flick the hallway light on for a second so he can see to walk into the room.
Then it's my turn to bumble around in the darkness, trying to find my way to the bed.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The laundry basket fence

Forget chainlinks, wrought iron, six-feet of a wood privacy fence.
Laundry baskets are enough to confine my dog.
It’s ironic how he behaves. He’s strong enough to pull a whole railing off our front porch by running while on the chain, but yet, he wouldn’t dare disturb a laundry basket.
No, I’m not setting up laundry baskets around the perimeter of my yard. Something tells me that if there was a squirrel on the other side of the basket, he’d get brave and attempt a jump over the basket.
But indoors, laundry baskets work like a peach.
During my week off, I stayed home and had a lot of cleaning projects planned. One was washing and waxing my floors.
The wood floors are in the kitchen, dining room and office area and hallway. Plus, the linoleum in the laundry room and tile in the bathrooms needed to be washed.
Sensi needed to be kept off the floors while I washed them and let them dry, so I blockaded him into the living.
The bulk of my blockade was made up of laundry baskets. Some kitchen table chairs and a garbage can rounded out the indoor dog-fence.
It worked like a charm.
Sensi doesn’t like it when he moves items that aren’t his. It scares him. Even if it’s just his tail that thumps up against something like a laundry basket, he nearly jumps out of his skin.
So believe it or not, my laundry basket blockade kept Sensi on the carpet for the duration of my floor cleaning. He looked longingly at me from underneath the chairs or standing behind the basket.
But at least he was in the living room. I didn’t have to lock him up in a bedroom or send him down to the basement. After a while of watching me mop the floors, he retired to the couch for a good nap.
And that’s my story of the laundry basket fence.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Fireworks and dogs: part 2

When we left off yesterday, I was standing at the counter with a bag of treats and Sensi had just run from barking at our front door to be by my side, hoping he would get a treat.
Do you think I gave him one? No. Not there.
I walked back over to the couch, asked him to get back into the same spot he was at prior to the first firework going off, and told him to lay down.
He got a small morsel for doing that. Then I told him to stay, and I waited.
I didn’t have to wait long. As soon as the next boom went off, my hand was in that bag grabbing a treat. The dog simultaneously saw my hand reaching for the treat while the firework boomed outside.
He couldn’t bark or be worried about the boom. He needed that treat!
He got one, and another and another with each firework that went off.
But there were rules. He had to stay on the couch, laying down. That was the behavior I was rewarding. And in just a few minutes, he learned that he got the treats whenever there was a big boom outside, as long as he was laying on the couch.
Hours later, we had all relaxed and the fireworks were going off with less intensity. But there was still a big boom or late show of fireworks being let off here and there.
By this time, though, Sensi knew that boom=treats. And whenever he heard a boom, he ran to me and laid down (“I heard a boom, so I need to find mom and lay down and then I get a treat!” Sensi thinks.)
We practiced this on Sunday too, as there were more fireworks Sunday night.
While I’m sure that Sensi would still have major issues if he were outside and watching the fireworks, this is one small step toward completely changing his behavior from “I want to kill fireworks” to “Fireworks are good because I get treats.”
Treat therapy. It’s so worthwhile.
In this case, Sensi’s behavior is not only irritating to us, but it’s also neurotic and unhealthy for him.
So, we’re using treats to modify his behavior into one that is healthy for him, and pleasing for us.
That’s three bonuses.
Dog likes treats, dog gets treats. Dog learns healthy behavior. People get a dog who behaves in a non-irritating manner.
Three good things, all thanks to treat therapy.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Fireworks and dogs

I let the Fourth of July come and go without a single blog about fireworks and dogs? I apologize for dropping the ball on that one, and here’s an entry to try and make up for it.
Like many dogs out there, fireworks are one thing that drives Sensi into fits. It goes back to when he was a puppy, and while I won’t go into all the history, I will say that this holiday is definitely the worst for my dog.
Let me just put it this way: I would never worry about my dog breaking through a glass window, except when fireworks are going off outside.
Yes, that’s how bad it is. He goes completely nuts.
This was our first Fourth living so close to a lake — it’s literally across the street from us — and on Saturday, I realized the percussion of the fireworks would be steady and loud throughout the night.
For all of you who don’t live near a lake, let me explain that those riparian owners love fireworks. If you ever want to live in a place where you can let off fireworks without fear that your neighbors will call the cops and complain, buy a house on a lake. No one complains.
And we don’t either. But our dog certainly does.
When the first boom went off Saturday, Sensi jumped from the couch with his hair up and went barking to the door, jumping up on the window and beginning a total fit.
I also jumped up from the couch and went straight to the kitchen. I grabbed a plastic sandwich baggie and put a bunch of dog treats in it. Despite the fireworks, Sensi could still hear me digging around in the treat jar and came running, forgetting about trying to break through our front door for a moment.
I now had his full attention.
My plan: use treat therapy to totally change his perception of fireworks.
Of course, this can be a little tricky. If you don’t do it right, you could end up rewarding the behaviors you don’t want.
For instance, if I was to give Sensi a treat every time he got up and barked at the fireworks, he’d learn that I want him to bark at fireworks. So, it is very important that you use treat therapy appropriately.
Tomorrow, I’ll blog in detail about the great success we had on Saturday!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Step 4: Teaching a dog to play pool

Your dog is now playing pool. But pushing pool balls around isn’t exactly going to wow your friends.
That dog of yours has got to start actually making some shots, so here’s how you do it.
During the step 3 training week, I hope you had enough common sense to know that if your dog actually made a shot it was time for a major celebration.
You need a real doozy of a reward ready to go for this amazing feat.
Maybe some pieces of chicken hidden conveniently near the pool table or just something that is new and novel to the dog. Perhaps even a new toy (I stock up on dollar store dog toys for just for these types of occasions).
And remember, the reward is not the only part of a major celebration. Verbally and physically, you need to really whoop it up.
Of course, if you clicker train, you know what to do. But most of us out there haven’t ventured into the magical world of clicker training yet.
So if you’re going to do it the old fashioned way, be sure to get the important things right.
1) Timing. The second that ball makes the noise of dropping in the pocket, start celebrating like someone just told you that you’ve won $1 million bucks.
2) Reward. For expediency, give the dog a couple of the treats you’ve been holding and then hurry to get his other “special” reward — the hidden chicken or new toy.
3) Make it a total celebration. Verbally, you had best sound so happy that your dog can’t miss the fact that he just won you the friggin’ lottery. And give your dog all the pats and neck rubs that come along with it.
Timing is always the most important. Why? Because your dog needs to learn that the best reward comes when the ball goes into the pocket and makes that noise that balls make when they drop in the pocket.
So, keep playing the game with your dog. You can’t force him to make a shot, but through refinement, you can teach him the best rewards come when he does make a shot.
Once he understands that, start decreasing all treat rewards for when he simply pushes the ball. Reserve the reward for when he makes shots only.
You might try lining up shots as best you can for him to increase his odds.
At some point, the dog will begin actively trying to push the balls into the pockets.
And now, you’ve got a four-legged pool shark that all of your friends will enjoy playing a game of pool with.

To use the cue ball or not use the cue ball?
I began training Sensi with the idea in mind that he would use the cue ball.
If you’re interested in doing this, go back to step 1 and change the game a little bit.
Instead of having him push just any ball with his nose, make sure he only pushes the cue ball. Then add in the other pool balls, but again, have him push the cue ball at those balls. When they connect, mark the noise of the connection with the reward.
I found that Sensi had an easier time making shots by just pushing one ball into the pocket, so I dropped the cue ball idea.
Our friends have never minded that the dog gets to play a modified version of the game of pool.
They’re just happy to be playing pool with a dog, nevermind that he gets to cheat a little bit.

The importance of the sit-stay
As soon as you begin alternating turns with your dog, make sure his sit-stays when it’s not his turn are perfect.
You absolutely do not want your dog to get the idea that he can be up at the pool table whenever.
If he does get away with jumping up on the pool table when it’s not his turn, he’ll ruin every game of pool you try to play.
The dog must understand that he plays when you tell him to, and he sits and waits patiently when you tell him to.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Step 3: Teaching a dog to play pool

OK, so now you’ve got your dog pushing around pool balls on the floor.
It’s time to move it up to the pool table.
Because Sensi is a big dog, he had no problem keeping his rear legs on the ground and holding himself up to the pool table by putting his front two paws on it.
For small dogs, you may want to just pick them up and put them on the table.
To transfer the game from the floor to the table, simply set things up the way you had it on the floor. It’s probably a good idea to do a quick few pushes on the floor and then move the balls.
It’s just a little reminder for the dog that you’re playing the push-it game. That will help him adjust more quickly to the game being transferred to the table.
I started by putting a bunch of the balls grouped together and very close to one specific spot on the pool table.
Then, I invited Sensi to jump up right in front of that spot. At this point, the game begins.
I point at a ball and tell him to push it, he pushes, I give him a treat.
For this beginner game, let him do a round of pushing and reward each time. Then move the clump of pool balls around the table so the dog gets used to the idea that he’ll be playing this game at all different spots.
As with the last two steps, practice this for 15 minutes each night for at least five nights.
Be sure that with each new session, you begin refining the behavior.
Start decreasing treats for weak pushes, and be sure to make a really big deal whenever there’s a really strong push. Also, give good rewards whenever a strong push causes the pool balls to knock into each other.
On about day three or four, I started playing pool with him. I would break the balls to scatter them and he had to be in a solid sit-stay while I did this.
Then, I invited him up to the table for his turn. Of course, you have decide his shot for him. Once you’ve located a ball near the table’s edge, invite him up and give him the command.
After he’s done, make sure he gets down from the table and does a nice sit-stay while you take your turn.
The key to turning your dog into an excellent pool player is all about your refinement technique. Check tomorrow’s blog to learn how to turn your dog into a pool shark.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Step 2: Teaching a dog to play pool

We left off yesterday with Sensi learning the command, “Push it” means to push the pool ball forward with his nose.
The next step, or laying of training, ups the ante just a tiny bit.
I started off with the normal training game, one pool ball on the floor in front of him.
But then I spread out the entire set of pool balls on the floor.
The game expanded to him having to push each pool ball as I pointed to it. After each one that he pushed, he got a treat and I picked up the ball and threw it in a bag — really smacking it against the other balls so he got used to the noise of pool balls colliding.
Because it was a small step, he caught on easily. I started with the game he knew and simply added more of the objects he played with.
The differences from step 1 to step 2 are this: more objects, and he had to move around to push them, and he had to follow my direction, aka, push the ball I pointed at.
This also gave me an opportunity to start decreasing his treat rewards.
Instead of getting a treat after each ball he pushed, I gradually decreased the reward to every other push, then every third push, eventually one in every five pushes, and then, just randomly.
Again, we played the “push it” game for 15 minutes each night for at least five days in a row.
Some of you out there may think it’s not worth the effort. We’re already at two weeks of training sessions.
But let’s think about it. Can you truly not spare a mere 15 minutes for a quick game with your dog?
The hardest part is week one, getting the dog to learn the command. But once that happens, it’s smooth sailing.
The 15 minutes pass so quickly. The dog knows the game and the training session just reinforces the command and gives you the opportunity to refine the behavior — perhaps no treat for a weak push and a really good treat for a strong push it.
It’s fantastic mental stimulation for your dog. The 15 minutes also helps your dog learn about you, how you communicate and respond. Inevitably, you also learn to refine your training skills — improving your reaction times to reward the dog and learning how to anticipate his moves by picking up on small body language communications.
All in all, positive reward training games — push it or other commands — help strengthen the bond between you and your dog by really improving the two-way communication going on between the two of you.
Tomorrow, we’ll really up the ante by introducing a whole new element of the “push it” game. And we’ll bring you very close to having a dog that can play pool with the best of ‘em.