Thursday, August 11, 2011

Four simple tips to improve your dog's behavior — #2 The Sit-Stay

When training a dog, everyone thinks of 'tricks' first — you know, sit, shake, speak.
But how much do those tricks really help you or your dog to live a better life together? They don't, really.
Instead of focusing on cutesy tricks, try working on these four things. I'll share one tip each day and give training instructions.
Yesterday's tip: Sit
Today's tip:

Sit-stay — it's all about teaching patience
You've done the work on sit. Don't stop there.
Teaching your dog a sit-stay is definitely one of the most valuable skills you can teach your dog. This is because a sit-stay teaches patience, and patience is a skill that pay dividends over the lifetime of your dog.
For example, you need to trim your dog's nails, but he has no idea that in life, he is expected to remain still for any period of time for anything. Makes nail trims pretty difficult, huh? If you'd had a sit-stay in place, you could use that command to help get your good-behavior-for-nail-trims routine in place.
Or, how about keeping a begging dog away from the kitchen table, or keeping your dog from crowding guests when they first walk in the door?
If yesterday's 'sit' training is the ultimate building block command, sit-stay is the next layer of blocks you need to lay down.
You've built sit, then you build sit-stay on top of it. Sit-stay is a versatile command because it is effectively all about teaching a dog patience. It's a command you'll be able to use to better your dog's behavior in a variety of situations that you won't even be able to envision until the time pops up, and when it does, you'll be glad you're able to express to your dog that he needs to stay still.

Teaching a sit-stay
1) Give dog sit command
2) Develop a hand signal, most people use the open-palm that most humans recognize as a 'stop' signal. Use the hand signal in conjunction with the word 'stay.'
3) Take a step back with one foot (so one foot remains unmoved, meaning the position of your body isn't moving backward. Just the one foot is). Once the heel of your moving foot touches the ground, immediately bring it back forward to its original position.
4) If the dog has not moved, immediately dispense treat upon your foot landing back in the same position.

You may need to do this a couple times. If your dog is staying during your one-foot-movement, then add your other foot into the equation — now you're taking one full step backward with both feet. Immediately go back to your original position. If the dog has not moved, dispense treat upon both feet being back to their original position.

Gradually build the number of steps you take backward. If the dog breaks his sit-stay at any time, put him back into a sit and go through the routine again, but with fewer backward steps.

If the dog cannot stay still for even your beginning one-foot-step, then take no steps at all. Simply give the hand signal and stay command, wait a second, dispense treat. Do this again, wait two seconds, dispense treat. Do this again, wait three seconds, dispense treat.

The important thing is to remember, if it's not working, decrease the challenge.

At some point, the dog will catch on that his task is simply to remain put until you return with a treat. Then you can begin moving far away, down the hallway, out of your dog's sight, etc. while keeping him in a sit-stay.

Next, practice the sit-stay outside and wherever you can to ensure the dog understands that regardless of where he is or what other people or dogs may be around, the sit-stay game still reaps rewards for him (treats).

Common mistake — making sit-stay into sit-stay-come
I've seen lots of dog owners start 'stay' training by putting the dog in a sit-stay, moving away and then asking the dog to come to you. This is an advanced sit-stay that incorporates a recall command. Many people mistakenly start with this method, but this should be an exercise done after a solid sit-stay has been trained. Remember, to begin, move away from your dog, then move back to your dog. This makes it clear to the dog that the game is not about staying until called, but simply staying. Feel free to move on to the sit-stay-come after you've built a strong sit-stay in the first place, and then switch up between the two. This keeps the dog on his toes, listening intently for your command to see whether he stays put, or comes when called.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Four simple tips to improve your dog's behavior — #1 Sit

Almost everyone teaches their dog to sit. That's great. It is the ultimate building block.
Many people almost intuitively know how to teach a sit.
But just as many people don't, and even those who do know may not understand why it is that what they're doing works.

How sit improves a dog behavior
As I said earlier, sit is the ultimate building block command.
Sit lays the groundwork for a sit-stay, and a sit-stay (tomorrow's tip) will come in handy in a variety of situations. Sit-stay also helps the dog learn patience, which is a valuable skill that transcends into almost all aspects of behavior.

How to teach a sit
This is an age-old method. People use it even when they don't know why it works. Teach it while your dog is a puppy and it is almost always a breeze for the puppy to pick up on.
I have met one adult shelter dog in my life who this doesn't work for. My guess is that somebody unknowingly used this method to teach a different behavior and now the dog doesn't associate it with sit.

OK, here it is:
1) Cup treat in hand. Put hand close to dog's nose. Wait until you are sure dog knows a treat is in your hand. You might want to make the treat partially visible.
2) Move your hand backward over the dog's nose and backwards so you wind up over the dog's eyes. What you're going for here is having the dog follow your hand with its eyes. You should find that, when your hand moves back-and-over the head to the point that the dog is having a hard time seeing it, he will automatically sit his butt down so that he can remain in view of the treat. This is the 'why' of why this old training method works like a charm — it's all about positioning the treat so the dog feels he has to sit to remain in view of it.
3) Give reward as soon as butt touches ground.

Keep doing this, saying 'Sit' while putting your treat hand over the dog's head.

Most dogs pick up on this one really quickly. Remember to keep using the hand signal until it seems like second nature, then, you can begin taking the hand signal out of the equation. If the dog does not respond to the verbal command, bring back out the hand command.

It is important that the hand and verbal commands are simultaneous — so, your hand moves back at the exact moment you say 'Sit.'

The dog will learn, over time, to associate the hand command with the verbal command. This will make it easier to start dropping the hand command all together.

Personally, though, I like the hand commands. Dogs almost always learn physical cues before verbal cues. My dog is eight and a half years old now. I can give him almost all his commands silently — with physical cues only — as well as entirely verbally (not giving any physical cues).

If you're looking for something to impress guests with, that'll do it. People think the dog and I share brainwaves or something, but that's not it at all. Just physical cues vs. verbal cues ...

Monday, August 8, 2011

Bulldog cuddles up on pile of ice in hot weather

Some people hate email forwards, some people thoroughly enjoy them. Count me in as part of the "thoroughly enjoy" crowd.
This adorable photo was forwarded to me with the following caption:
"This is Elliot, a British (English?) Bulldog, and this is an un-posed picture (trust me, you couldn't actually make Elliot do anything) of said pooch trying to beat the Texas heat after his owners emptied their cooler in the driveway in Sachse, Texas."

Is that darling or what?
So, a couple things to note from this photo and caption ...

Keeping your dog cool in hot weather
While not every dog will be willing to lie down in a pile of ice, this picture makes a whole lot of good doggie sense.
I've written before that cooling a dog's paws and belly can have the biggest impact on cooling down your dog overall.
Aside from panting, dogs can regulate their overall body temperature through their paws and belly. Have you ever seen a dog dig down underneath a tree or bush on a hot summer day? He's digging to reach cooler earth, and simply lying down on top of a cooler surface will do wonders to help cool down the whole body.
When my dog gets really hot, I'll dip his paws in ice water or drape cold rags over his paws and belly. It works like a charm.

Read more about how to help your dog out in the hot weather by checking out these posts and articles: 
The caption is true: Bulldogs are notoriously stubborn
I thought it was cute that the email noted "Trust me, you couldn't actually make Elliot do anything."
I'm sure Bulldog owners would find no surprise in this.
English Bulldogs are often referred to as stubborn and difficult to train.
Personally, I've never worked with one before, but I don't doubt the rumors.
I'd argue, however, that as with training any dog, success comes in knowing what motivates your dog. If the dog is not motivated by treats or toys, training will be a challenge.
With Bulldogs, I'd guess that reading the dog's mood from one moment to the next is also imperative to successful training. Many Bulldogs are quite content with whatever they've got going on — say, chillin' on the sofa or stretched out on soft sod — and if the dog appears to be really enjoying his chill time, you're probably not going to have a whole lot of success starting a training session.

Wait until your dog is acting playful to engage in training, and most importantly, remember to shape behaviors by rewarding off the cuff for any behaviors you do like.
No dog is impossible to train, some are just more challenging than others. There's nothing wrong with that!

One last note: let's remember that dogs with smooshed-up faces (Bulldogs, Boxers, Pugs, etc.) have a difficult time breathing, period. Heat and humidity make it that much more difficult for them, so please remember to keep your smooshed-face dogs cool!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Big dog, small dog, shaggy dog and blue-eyed beauty

My friend Allison and I have been volunteering at K-9 Stray Rescue League in Oxford Township on Friday afternoons this summer.
Interacting with so many dogs, and seeing so many dogs interact with one another, has been a dream for me.
I can't make it this weekend — my sister and I are taking her two little boys on a camping trip — but during the past few Fridays, I've made quite a few dog friends at K-9.
Here are some of the dogs I've walked and befriended: (scroll to bottom to view video)

Big dog: Duchess
See Duchess' Adoption Profile
Duchess appears to be a purebred Rottweiler, about 6-years-old. She looooooves humans.
During our walk, she wasn't really that interested in walking. It was pretty hot. She went directly for every shady spot in our route and promptly plopped herself down. Soon after, you could bet she was on her back begging for a belly rub.
She was very affectionate with me and very much the alert watchdog you expect Rottweilers to be. You can see, in the video, as her eyes flick toward any sound or movement to make sure she's keeping abreast of all things taking place around her. She wasn't necessarily reacting to any of that stimuli — like, cars going by or leaves rustling on the trees — but she was aware of every last bit of it.
In the kennel, she can be dog aggressive. A note on her adoption profile said she has done well with other dogs in a foster environment, but careful introductions are necessary.
Duchess is an absolutely beautiful Rottweiler who would do best being an only dog. She is super affectionate and sweet and really needs a home where someone can lavish upon her lots of affection and creature comforts.

Blue-eyed beauty: Ice 
Ice is a very unusual looking dog, between 2-3 years old and weighing in at about 60 pounds.
She has clear blue beautiful eyes, but is not blind.
K-9 volunteers have her listed as a Catahoula Leopard Dog mix.
See Ice's Adoption Profile
She reminds me a bit of my own dog because, like Sensi, she has a deep, broad chest leading back to a tiny little hiny. Cuteness.
Her adoption profile says she can be a little dominant when first meeting other dogs. I'm not sure about this, at least when it comes to males. I saw her play with an adult male dog last Friday and, upon first meeting, she was very submissive and appeasing to him. They made fast friends.
With female dogs, it could be a different story. Unfortunately, I can't say I know.
She is not good with cats, though.
Ice is recovering from a nasty gash on her back. She had her stitches out last Friday, July 29, and is doing quite well.

Shaggy dog: Kane
See Kane's Adoption Profile
Kane is an adorably shaggy medium-sized terrier full of spunk. He is energetic and true to his terrier self in terms of playfulness.
If you're looking for a dog who will never grow old — at least, not in terms of behavior — this is the guy. Terriers tend to be playful dogs for life, no matter their age, and I bet Kane will continue being laughably playful well into his senior citizen years (he is a young dog now, but not sure of his exact age).
He literally bounces around, his little body scrunching up with every big bouncy step he takes.
He's a small dog, about 35 pounds, so his tendency to pull a bit didn't wear on my arm. He's a featherweight on the other end of the leash.
They say he's mouthy and would be better suited for a family with older kids because of it.
I say that because he's a terrier, he's bound to be a quick learner. Use a mix of toys and treats to reinforce good behaviors, ignore the bad ones and don't give him opportunities to mess up, and in no time, you'll have yourself a wonderfully jovial and fun-loving companion.

Small dog: Shelly
Shelly's dream home is with people who can spend a lot of time with her and give her lots of affection.
See Shelly's Adoption Profile
She is between 1-2 years old, 30 pounds and could be a mix of shepherd, terrier or even beagle — she kind of has the shape and size of a beagle, but the coat of a shepherd.
Shelly recently had a litter, but will be or has been fixed since arriving at K-9.
You can hear her whine a bit in the video. She has some anxiety and I'm quite sure it's attachment anxiety — she wants to be with you. I noted absolutely no fear issues, so it's not that. In fact, she seems like a very affable, outgoing little girl. She is affectionate and a home where people have lots of time to spend with her will make her a very happy little dog.
Oh yeah, one last thing: She's a frog-dogger (see how she's laying? She's in motion, splaying her legs out directly behind her. That's a sign of a dog that is free of hip problems, good thing to note!)

Watch video of Duchess, Ice, Kane and Shelly

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cool new fundraising event this weekend: Animal House Party

There's a cool new fundraising event for the Michigan Humane Society taking place this Saturday, August 6, at The Whitney in Detroit.
It's being called the "Animal House Party" and is geared toward young professionals.
"The goal of AHP is to raise awareness beyond the usual animal-focused crowd and have a little fun along the way," said Hubert Sawyers III, who helped organize the event with Eliza Sawyers.
The event is for those ages 21 and older. DJ Kim Sorise of WDET will open for DJ Graffiti from Ann Arbor.
Tickets are $40 and include drinks, appetizers and valet parking. The event is from 8 p.m. to midnight and will be on the Garden Patio at the Whitney.
Tickets must be purchased in advance by going to

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Bathing your dog: It doesn't have to be such an ordeal

Sensi and I prepare for his bath
Long time readers of this blog are well aware of my dog's allergy issues.
This is pertinent because an allergic dog needs lots of medicated baths.
At one point in Sensi's life, we were bathing him twice a week per veterinarian instructions.
We don't have to do it so often anymore, but it is important this time of the year to make sure he stays clean.
In addition to food allergies, Sensi also has some seasonal allergies.
Mold, pollen and all those outdoor allergens build up on Sensi's skin. You could literally see how much better my dog felt after his bath Sunday, even if he hated the bath all the same.
Anyhow, all this bathing we've done over his lifetime has made us old pros at the bathing routine.

Bathing tips: Part I — Make getting into the bath more comfortable!
At one point, Sensi started refusing to get into the bathtub. This is when I draped a towel over the ledge and voila! He was back in.
Nowadays, there's no picking him up and lifting him in, no pulling or prodding of any kind. Just a simple "Get in the tub, Sensi" and he does.
Don't believe me? Well, that's why I taped it.

Bathing tips: Part II — Areas to clean well, areas to avoid all together
Do you squirt water in your ears to get them clean? Didn't think so, so don't do it to your dog.
The face is another big no-no for us. I learned long ago that if you leave the dog's face alone, he's much less inclined to shake the water off before the appropriate time.
Toes, armpits and the butt, on the other hand? Just watch the video ...

Bathing tips: Part III — Shake on command and roll dry
You can hear my friend Allison, the one behind the camera, start cracking up after I shut off the water, pull the curtain closed and tell Sensi to shake.
Sounds unbelievable, I know. But it's not. It's all just part of the bathing routine we've worked on for more than 8 years now.
Then, watch as my big black dog dries himself off. He uses more towels than I do, but I suppose he has more hair than I do too ...

Monday, August 1, 2011

When is it too hot to take your dog with you?

Try Orion Oaks Dog Park on a hot day. It has a lake!
Reader Alayne Hansen emailed me this morning about an experience she had this weekend that angered and concerned her.
She wrote that, while attending an outdoor event this weekend — you know, one of those events hosted entirely on concrete, like so many fairs and festivals this time of year — she was "horrified to see pet owners walking their dogs on the blazing cement and nearly unbearable heat."
In particular, she told me about a long-haired dog struggling to walk, stumbling around and, I'm sure, alternately lifting his paws up.
Hansen told the dog's owner that it was unsafe to continue on with the dog in the extreme temperatures and scorching cement. He didn't care. Neither did the police.
So folks, let's talk about how to gauge when it is too hot out for your dog.

What is the surface of the ground and how hot is it? 
Taking your dog for a walk in the woods during yesterday's 90 degree temperatures would've been pretty safe. The Earth, especially dirt packed trails, stays much cooler than man-made surfaces, and the shade helps too.
Still, the extreme heat begs for extra caution — so perhaps you shorten that walk, come prepared with portable water dishes, etc.
If your walk or outing is planned for concrete or asphalt surfaces, though, it can be quite dangerous for your dog.
The easiest thing to do is to put the palm of your hand on the ground and hold it there for at least 30 seconds.
If you can't do that because it's too hot, then it's too hot for your dog to be walking on it.
Remember that paws are a primary temperature regulating tool for dogs, and their bellies aren't too far behind.
This means that while a dog might be able to handle the hot temperatures if, say, he was hanging out on the grass in the backyard or joining you for a walk down a wooded trail, the concrete/asphalt surface can increase the effects of the heat on your dog substantially, to the point that it is not safe for him to be outside.

Signs that your dog is struggling with the heat
Uncontrollable panting, bright red gums and an air of disorientation are signs that your dog may be only moments away from heat stroke, which can be deadly.
Also, if a dog is alternately lifting paws, you have a serious problem as well. This applies in both winter and summer.
Essentially, the dog is lifting it's paws because the ground is either burning them or freezing them.
Hot asphalt can burn paw pads.

What to do if your dog looks too hot
Get the dog cool as quick as possible. If you don't see a near-immediate improvement, rush to the emergency clinic.
Move your dog to an air conditioned environment or put a fan on him.
Dip his paws in cold water or put cold rags on the bottom of his paws, the top of his head and his belly.
Water, water, water.
Ice cubes are another idea. My dog thinks they're treats. On hot days, I put a whole tray of ice cubes in his water to help keep it cool too.
Read this story for more detailed information about preventing against heat stroke and the dangers associated with it, Veterinarians warn that with high temps, heat stroke can be fatal for dogs

The lesson
There's lots of great outdoor events taking place right now, as it is summer in Michigan.
When it is this hot outside, though, take a moment to evaluate whether it's really going to be a good environment for your dog.
If it's 90 degrees with blazing sun and sticky humidity and the event is on concrete or asphalt, please leave your dog at home.
And if you forgot to think about it, when you look down at your dog and he's panting and looking all together hot and uncomfortable, put your hand down to test the ground.
If it's too hot for your hand, it's too hot for your dog.
Whatever you do, just don't stick your dog in the car while you finish up at the event. Hot cars kill dogs, and it happens incredibly fast.