Friday, April 27, 2018

The Perfect Thing About Puppies

Puppies.  OMG.  Their breath is tantalizing.  Their fur is so soft.  They make THE cutest noises.  They are joyous about the simplest things: a toy, a treat, a piece of lint, your hand.  And regardless of breed, a puppy is the one time in your dog's life when you will be able to pick them up and squeeze them. I just love puppies.

Of late, I've had the pleasure of evaluating several puppies, of different breeds, for people looking for their next canine family member, or insuring that the puppy they brought home was a good choice. I have a 16-point test I conduct on the puppy to determine their temperament, personality, and style of learning.  Kind of sounds like one of those 16-point inspections they do on your car when you have it serviced, but trust me, this is even better!  Once I have determined how a puppy learns and the way he thinks, I can better advise the owner on everything from choosing classes, picking a collar/harness, to how to crate train, etc.

Puppy appointments are satisfying all the way around.  New puppy owners feel relief as I leave them with a game plan on how to proceed effectively. Puppies enjoy them because I am helping their owners better understand their needs. And me? Well, I get to play with puppies which is enjoyable any day of the week.

Consequently, I have discovered a new niche for myself. Many of the families I work with are too busy to really get what they need from puppy classes.  Many have kids with schedules that conflict with class times, so they end up missing classes and getting frustrated.  They still want to do the right thing for their puppies, they just need a different option.  That's where I come in.  Through a combination of in-home instruction, guided field trips, and supervised socialization experiences, I can help these new puppy owners and their pups get what they need outside of a traditional classroom setting. Don't get me wrong...I still LOVE puppy classes. I think they are THE best place for a puppy to socialize with other puppies, meet new people, and explore their world safely. However, I do think that there needs to be an alternative for people who can't attend those classes, and I am happy to provide that.

Adding these puppy appointments into my work schedule has become my new happy place.  Plus, seeing these puppies thrive is so gratifying. And the relief and appreciation from their families is immeasurably satisfying.  So, bring on the puppies. The doctor is in!

Monday, April 16, 2018

But How Long Will That Take?!

I get asked that question ALL the time. How long will it take to:

  • get a dog to calm down
  • train a new behavior
  • get rid of an old behavior
  • stop the barking/chewing/biting
  • get used to the baby/kids
In order to answer the question as to how long it will take, we have to look at several factors.  First and foremost, how long has the problem been going on? If it's a relatively new issue and you are addressing it right away, the hope is that you are "nipping the problem in the bud" and solving the issue will happen faster.  If, on the other hand, the behavior has been going on for a long time, whether in your home or the previous home, then it's definitely going to take longer to resolve.  Plus, you have to look at the problem from your dog's point of view.  For example, while YOU may hate the fact that your puppy is chewing on the furniture, chewing is indeed a normal puppy behavior and therefore it isn't about correction per se, but about redirection from the furniture and providing appropriate chewing outlets for the pup. And barking?  Dogs bark for lots of reasons. First figure out why they are barking, then you will have a better chance of modifying the barking. Your dog isn't going to stop barking altogether.  And, really, don't you want a dog who barks appropriately? I know I do! And if you are trying to introduce your dog to a new baby, or blend a family together, you need to have reasonable expectations for the kids AND the dog.  Not every dog likes kids and vice versa.  Most can coexist IF they are taught mutual respect and boundaries. And THAT, obviously takes time.

Second, changing behaviors takes patience and perseverance.  You can't just spend an hour one time teaching your dog not to jump on people.  That isn't going to work long term.  Rather, lots of little sessions where your dog has opportunities to jump up on people and where you teach your dog a different, more appropriate behavior, is key.

Third factor:  we don't all learn at the same pace.  Some people (and dogs!) take longer to learn.  As most of you know, I have two collies.  Their personalities are very different and their learning curves are as well.  I can teach Ozzie multiple new behaviors in one sitting and he will retain them.  With Desi, it takes longer to teach a new behavior and I have to teach each new behavior separately.  If I move too quickly between behaviors, he gets frustrated and shuts down.  If I don't go fast enough with Ozzie, he gets bored!  Take the time to figure out what your dog's learning style is and tailor your training sessions accordingly.

This is one of the reasons why I have always found hour-long training classes so counter-intuitive.  Most dogs and people can't focus for a whole hour!  And, yet, classes are traditionally that length. When I teach a class, I try to break it up into manageable parts: some lecture, some learning, some doing, some relaxing, with summaries and time for Q & A built in.

And, on that note, I just have to share a story with you.  A couple years back, I received a phone call from a potential client seeking help for his dog.  The dog jumped up on people, grabbed clothing, counter surfed, pulled on the leash, and barked at any strange noise in their house.  He was seeking help because his wife was pregnant and they were told by their vet that they needed to address these issues before the baby arrived.  Excellent so far, right?  That's when he told me he had time to work with the dog now as he took some leave from work because his wife was due...that week.  Sigh.  I had to tell him that while we could get started with the dog, there was no way we'd have it all wrapped up by the end of the week. And who knew when that baby would actually be born?? And his wife at 9 months pregnant sure as heck wasn't interested in dealing with the dog at that point. Moral of the story? Realistic expectations are key.

How does your dog learn?  How long does it take you to teach a new behavior or get rid of an old one?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Such A Drag!

I just got off the phone with a new client.  She called because her dog embarrassed her at the vet's office today by dragging her through the door so quickly that she ended up ramming her shoulder against the door frame and tripping over a potted plant! I tried to lighten the mood by suggesting that her dog might just be one of the very few who really can't wait to get into the vet's office!  She scoffed and said that no matter where she goes, good or bad, that dog is dragging her there.  Bummer. But it doesn't have to be that way, right?

I got a few more details about her dog and made a couple of suggestions on how she might go about fixing this completely fixable problem.  She was surprised to learn that even a class could help as she did puppy training when her dog was younger and they didn't do much leash work there.  I explained that classes aren't just about obedience skills, per se, that there are classes for pretty much any skill or issue she could possibly want to work on!  There are leash walking classes where you work on getting your dog's attention and teaching them to stay with you on a walk out in public.  Doing a class for this problem is actually quite beneficial as unlike at a private lesson, you can guarantee the presence of other dogs and lots of distractions if you take a class.  Plus, you get the added benefit of a group of other dogs owners having the same problem as you to sympathize, commiserate, and cheer you and your dog on!

I love teaching single issue classes and seminars because targeting one specific issue, like walking nicely on a leash, means everyone enrolled is truly there for the same reason, and it allows me as the instructor to dive into the "why" of the behavior we are correcting.  I truly feel that these single issue classes/seminars are the wave of the future as they allow dog owners to target specific problems they are having and deal with them faster and more effectively that just taking a basic manners class where leash walking is covered, but it is one of many issues examined so it isn't the primary focus. A huge benefit of these targeted classes is about time management. Because you are only dealing with one issue, the classes are shorter, usually 1-3 sessions, which means less stress on your own busy calendar.

I am really hoping this client signs up for my next leash walking seminar.  In the meantime, we are going to work out some of her dog's other issues in the comfort of her own home....while she ices that shoulder ;)