Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Here's Henley!

 As many of you already know, we welcomed a new addition to our family last week.  He is a 9.5 week old Smooth Collie, Romany's Best of My Love, call name Henley.  Yes, that's an Eagles reference and yes, I am a big fan of that band, and Don Henley, of course ;)

I always try to practice what I preach, so that means we are in the throes of sleep deprivation, house training, bite inhibition work, and basic training.  And that's just the work being put in by the adult dogs in our house!  All kidding aside, puppies are a lot of work.  Every time someone says they want a puppy, my response is always, "Are you sure you REALLY want a puppy?"  Puppies are a challenge.  Don't get me wrong, they are fun, but they are still a lot of work. Even if you are well prepared and you have well-socialized and helpful older dogs, there is a lot to do in order to come out the other side with a well-adjusted adult dog. 

So, it's taken a week to get him to take his naps in his crate.  While I will let him rest with the adult dogs on the dog beds scattered around our house, he needs to take those naps in his crate so that he will learn to be alone and not panic.  Even more importantly, my adult dogs need those breaks from the puppy to recharge their batteries. 

Surprisingly to me, it only took three days for him to learn to self-soothe following middle of the night bathroom breaks and not need to cuddle with me in bed to get settled enough to go back to sleep. Now, a week into our routine, he goes out and relieves himself in the middle of the night, and can be put right back into his crate to sleep again. 

He's an insanely fast eater, something we discovered during his first meal with us on the road and he finished his dinner and then tried to take Ozzie's and Westley's as well.  Being the good boys that they are, they backed away from their bowls to let him in, something my daughter and I stopped immediately.  The next day, I bought him a slow feeder/puzzle bowl and now it takes him an appropriate amount of time to consume his meals.  Even more importantly, he looks happy, moving around his bowl, nosing the moistened kibble.  He doesn't get frustrated and he doesn't walk away from the task.  This is a wonderful place for him to start on his journey to solving more complicated puzzles. For now, it'll be this puzzle feeder, a snuffle mat, some box work, and egg cartons. Next week, we'll start in with the beginner level puzzle toys from Nina Ottosson's puzzle line for Outward Hound. 

We started leash work right when we picked him up from the breeder's home.  I'm using a soft harness for him which I like to use with all the puppies I work with; this is more comfortable than a collar and safer as it doesn't pull on their necks when they slam on the breaks or charge forward.  Plus, it doesn't interfere with proper shoulder development like no-pull harnesses do.  He's too young to walk on walks with the big dogs, but he goes along anyway, being carried in a crossbody bag, and receiving treats for greeting neighbors and not struggling while being carried. It won't be long before he'll be too big to carry, but by that point, he'll have enough vaccines on board that he can do very short excursions with the big dogs. While the big dogs like to walk for 30-45 minutes, Henley's walks will be less than 10 minutes which is age-appropriate.

Because he is to be my next pet assisted therapy dog, filling the big shoes of his eldest brother and pet assisted therapy collie extraordinaire, Desi, I'm putting a lot of effort and focus on appropriate greetings with people (no jumping up, no mouthing, no barking) and getting out in public spaces frequented by people.  So far, he's probably met over 100 new people of all ages, which is good.  He's been to restaurants where he sits on my lap and people watches, learning not to climb on the table or dive onto my plate.  He's been to a farmer's market where he rode around in a sherpa bag, head out taking it all in, and being greeted by market patrons. He's been to gas stations where there were noises like trucks and motorcycles. He's even been through his first thunderstorm with lightning when we drove through Redding and had to stop for gas and food. Totally unfazed and absolutely what I was looking for from this puppy.  He was startled briefly when a train went by, rattling the building near where we were eating.  He was eating at the time, so he stopped eating, flattened himself to the ground, and listened for a minute.  He looked at the other dogs who were just fine, and he went back to eating, ignoring the train sounds. Perfect.

Like most puppies his age, Henley is mouthy.  He's really mouthy when he's tired, but he's pretty mouthy other times as well.  The older dogs do a significant amount of work on this front, letting him know when he's over the top with them and with us.  No one, however, is as good at this as my daughter's smooth collie, Westley.  Westley should get an award for his unflappable temperament with this puppy.  He plays with Henley, redirecting him to toys when needed. He corrects him for over-the-top behavior, but never in a mean way. He steps in when he sees the humans struggling to walk because there is a puppy attached to their legs or shoes.  Westley is a gem and I would not be able to do this without him.  Ozzie you ask?  Well Ozzie was over-indulged when he was a puppy as Desi let him get away with murder.  Ozzie will play with the puppy, but Ozzie gets him riled up and they run around full tilt, barking and playing chase.  That needs to be done in the yard, but there have been a couple of bouts of rousing chase in the house that had Westley and I both hollering, "Take that outside!" Desi has been awake more since the puppy arrived, and Henley is inherently gentle with him, sniffing Desi's face, snuggling him under his chin, and lots of play bows. He hasn't knocked Desi over and he gives him space to move around.  Desi seems to be enjoying the extra treats that having a puppy around entails and he also seems to like watching the other dogs play with Henley, though he doesn't want to be directly involved.  At almost 13 years of age, Desi has earned his freedom from puppy duty.

I've started working on cooperative care exercises with Henley, and this is where he's much more like Ozzie was as a puppy than he is like Westley or Desi.  He didn't like having his ears cleaned and his nails trimmed, even though he had a lick mat and I was taking it slow, moving away with the mat when he backed off of it.  He drew the line, however, at the bath.  Initially he seemed to like being in the shower, but once thoroughly wet and lathered he'd had enough of me.  Drying him off was easier with his short coat, but he was pretty frustrated with me, even growling a couple of times.  Not goofy puppy grumbles, but real growls of aggravation. Again, I slowed it all down for him so that he could see the inherent rewards in cooperating in his necessary grooming. Fortunately, he was a good puppy for his first vet visit this week, so those cooperative care exercises are paying off already!

For those of you wondering what behaviors I've taught him already, here goes.  He knows to "Go Potty!" when asked.  He will sit, lay down, stand, and turn when asked.  He's learning crawl. He knows drop it.  We are working on his name and come still.  He'd much prefer to follow the other dogs!  Luckily, the name Henley sounds like Desi, Ozzie, and Westley, and they all come when called, so I have that going for me!  I'm hoping to have him attend the puppy classes I'm currently teaching once his vet gives him the all clear to do so.  He's also scheduled to do a tricks training demonstration with me for a Golden State Warriors dog days of summer event we are doing in July, so I've got to keep plugging away on the tricks training so he'll be able to entertain and delight the attendees of that event.

I'm certain you'll see Henley again here in my blog as he continues to grow and thrive.  I'll continue to share his ups and downs in an effort to be transparent about just how much work raising a puppy truly is, even an exceptional puppy like Henley, that is, one with good breeding and a lovely temperament.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Westley is the best babysitter, puppy manager, and all around good guy.  The things that Henley can learn from Westley are too numerous to name.  My desire is for Henley to be just as sweet, engaging, and well-mannered as his Uncle Westley.  Henley is definitely as smart as Ozzie and as friendly as Desi, but Westley is the most well-balanced dog of the bunch, and that's what I want for Henley.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Is Your Dog a Scaredy-Cat?

So far this week, all of my appointments have involved fearful dogs.  Dogs afraid of noises, dogs afraid of the stairs, dogs afraid of walking on hardwood floors, and dogs afraid to ride in the car. In each case, the owners were frustrated and feeling like they were never going to get their dogs past these issues.  I get it, I really do.  Fear is one of the most frustrating problems to deal with, for owners, for veterinarians and groomers, and even for trainers and behaviorists like myself.  If you've ever had a fearful dog, you get it.  It IS frustrating.

Fear is a functional response and very hard to unlearn. While some fears are rational, many are irrational. For example, if you were bitten by a dog as a child, you might grow up being afraid of dogs.  That's a rational fear; you've been bitten before, so you could very well get bitten again.  If you're afraid of dogs, but never had a negative encounter with one, then that's an irrational fear, that is one not based on the reality of your experiences. This is true for dogs as well. I had a client years ago who was in a serious car accident and her dog was in the car with her when it happened. After the accident, he refused to get in the car, any car, no matter who was driving.  That's a rational fear.  I've also met a handful of dogs who are afraid to ride in the car, and have never had a negative experience there to support their fear.  That's an irrational fear. 

For dogs with rational fears, treatment is about convincing them that while their fears are valid, we can assure them that whatever it was that happened before is unlikely to happen again.  This is a slow process and one that takes into consideration the depth of the dog's fear and the necessity of doing whatever it is that scares them. So, while you could certainly just pick up that fearful dog, put them in the car, and take them for a drive, doing so will not allay those fears. This is akin to handing a person a live snake when you know they are afraid of snakes!  Pushing a dog (or a person) too quickly like that results in a lack of trust for the person who forced them to "cowboy up."  In the case of the dog, good luck ever being able to scoop them up again without a struggle!  Better to break up a car ride into all of its component pieces and work on each of those pieces one by one, helping the dog gain confidence and overcome their fears of each step in the process. Working on obedience exercises or playing games around the outside of the car.  Feeding the dog near the car.  Open all of the car doors and repeat the obedience work/games with judicious use of food/treats.  Sit in the car while the dog sits outside.  See if you can coax the dog to sit in the car with you, doors still open, no restraints involved.  Build up to sitting in the car together for longer periods of time until they will get in and sit down and allow a safety restraint and closed doors.  Now, turn on the car and sit with the car running.  Move on from this to a short drive down your street.  Then it's on to around the block and eventually to a location the dog loves; the park, a friend's house, a favorite hiking spot.  Baby steps are key and not pushing through any of the steps too quickly.  I had one client diligently working through the steps, making great progress, but then she rushed the last few steps as she wanted to drive the dog to the vet for a vaccine appointment.  Not only was the dog not ready for that drive, a vaccine appointment isn't a particularly pleasurable experience for a dog.  This one vet appointment car ride set my client back over a month in her desensitization training.  I asked her why she hadn't just scheduled for a mobile vet to come to the house to do the vaccine appointment and she said she sure wished that she had!

For irrational fears, the treatment still involves desensitization, but often also involves distractions and redirection.  The dog almost needs to be tricked into doing whatever scares them so that they can see that there wasn't anything to be afraid of in the first place.  For example, I treated a dog who was terrified of shiny floors.  He'd never once slipped or fallen, he just hated them and avoided them like they were hot lava.  He'd try to jump over them, or go around them, even if it meant going out one door and coming back inside through another.  For him, I brought along some foot balm that would give him traction.  I massaged his feet, applying the balm as I went along.  I gave him high value treats while I touched his feet. Then, I put down a few rugs on the shiny surface and had him walk with me while on a leash, lots of praise and treats. He was so focused on the steak that when he stepped off the last rug onto the shiny floor, he just kept going.  I walked along with him dropping treats until we got to the other side.  When he realized what he'd done, he seemed surprised himself!  I then sat down on the shiny floor with my bag of steak, eating a few bites myself.  He was tentative at first, but he took a few steps on his own, realized he wasn't going to slip or slide, and he moved right over and nudged me to share.  Mission accomplished.

The world is full of potential risks.  Some things are more likely to occur than others.  Smart, fearful dogs seem to be able to think about all of the possible outcomes, dwelling on the worst case scenarios.  It's our job as their caretakers to help them see that while the world can be a scary place, we are there to help them navigate it.  It's worth it to do this slowly so you build trust and your dog gains confidence.  Try not to get too frustrated.  Keep your sessions frequent and short, that helps.  Some dogs may need some anti-anxiety medication as part of the process as well.  I am always happy to help you figure out what will work best for your individual situation.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Westley used to be overcome with fear on trash day; the sound of the garbage trucks created such panic for him. Now, after slow desensitization exercises and CBD oil made for dogs, he can manage garbage day with minimal stress, often just retreating to his crate until they are gone.  When he's visiting me, he can even walk the neighborhood on trash day as long as his buddy Ozzie is there for moral support. And his favorite thing to do on trash day?  Go for a ride in the car to his favorite hiking trail and hike with my daughter until the garbage truck monsters have moved on.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Please DO (Hand) Feed the Animals!

In last week's blog post, I talked briefly about hand-feeding puppies as part of their training, and as part of your effort to ensure that your puppy isn't weird around food/feeding time. I had someone reach out and ask if hand-feeding had any value for dogs who aren't puppies, and someone else who reached out and said they tried hand-feeding, but their puppy goes bonkers when he hand feeds her and he's afraid he'll lose a finger in the process!  Seems like it's time to dive a bit deeper into the pros and cons of hand-feeding, when to do so, and when to back off.

First and foremost, you will want to try hand-feeding with your puppies from the moment you bring them home.  You need to know that they aren't aggressive around food and know how to take it nicely from your hand.  It's also a wonderful way to bond with your puppy, reinforcing that you truly are the bearer of all wonderful things.  For puppies who get overly exuberant when food comes out, you'll want to take extra care so as not to lose a finger (lol) or inadvertently reinforce grabby behavior.  Here's how I like to introduce hand-feeding to those "shark puppies." First, I let them see I have the kibble in one of my hands.  If they jump up, bark or whine, I turn away taking the food with me.  Once they have four feet on the floor (I work on this before even attempting to get a sit around food), I lower my hand with kibble inside a closed fist.  As they bump their nose to my hand, they'll realize the food isn't going to drop because they are shoving, pawing, or being overly grabby.  Usually what happens is they get frustrated and plop into a sit.  The second that happens, I swoop with my other hand that also had kibble in it.  Oh boy!  They didn't realize that both hands could have valuable rewards.  Now, they're paying attention.  I continue to do the hand-feeding this way until the puppy stops sharking at my closed fist and begins to offer a sit when he sees that closed hand coming his way.  This way, you have something to work with going forward; you can begin to ask for other behaviors and use that kibble as a reward.  Remember, too, to also do the food bowl exercises I outlined last week so you are certain that your puppy is happy and content even with hands around the food bowl, above his head, and on his body while he's eating.

Hand-feeding is not just for puppies though!  There is a great deal of value in hand-feeding dogs of any age.  First and foremost, it does increase your value in their minds.  Food isn't free and doesn't just magically show up in their bowls, rather they work for all of it, or at least some of it, before the remainder is placed in their bowl. If you have a new dog in your home, hand-feeding can be a way to establish rapport with that dog, teaching them to focus on you and what you are asking of them.  For adolescent dogs, hand-feeding can be part of their daily training exercises, slowing down the speed with which they eat and getting them to hone their skills.  For senior dogs, hand-feeding can be a lovely way of spending time with a dog who is likely slowing down in their eating process and needing a little extra attention. Above all, and regardless of the age of a dog, hand-feeding a dog is a bonding experience.  Because of that, some dogs get so attached to the process that they don't want to eat any other way.  If that's the case, simply hand-feed a small portion to get your dog's tastebuds primed, and put the remainder in their bowl.  Give them 15 minutes to eat it (or not), pick it up, and do the same at the next meal. If they are hungry enough, they will eat.  I promise.

So when shouldn't you hand-feed a dog?  If the dog you are working with is fearful, then hand-feeding can make the behavior worse rather than better, causing more stress. For example, there are a lot of folks who try handing treats/food to their guests or visitors to their home, telling them, give him treats and he'll calm down.  This can be very anxiety-provoking for a fearful or aggressive dog; they may be food motivated, but getting that close to get the food means that once they've taken the food they will realize they are close to someone that makes them anxious, and they may then bark, run away, or even lunge and snap at the new person, thus those treats given didn't reduce anxiety, they reinforced it.  Giving treats/food to people to give your fearful dog will end up being viewed by your dog as a trap; yes, they can be lured in to grab the food, but it isn't changing the way they view strangers.  Better for you yourself to give your dog those treats/food in the presence of strangers who are at a distance away and actively ignoring your dog. As your dog gets more comfortable, you can decrease the distance, but again ask those strangers helping you with your dog to continue to ignore him.  

Finally, while I (obviously!) think hand-feeding should be part of every dog's day, I do know that we don't always have time to do so.  A nice bridge between hand-feeding and bowl feeding is to place the food in a slow-feeder bowl or a puzzle toy.  In both cases, your dog will be working for his food, he'll just be working diligently on his own.  For dogs who are champs at the hand-feeding, placing the remainder in a puzzle toy becomes a double reinforcer; they get food and they get to solve a puzzle/play.  If your dog does enjoy puzzles, be sure and have several that you rotate so that interest remains peaked and your dog remains motivated to solve them.  

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Ozzie very much enjoys hand-feeding exercises, as well as his slow feeder bowl and any puzzle I throw his way.  He has always been a joy to work with where food was involved, never trying to grab the food or my fingers.  He just wants the vending machine to keep vending!

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Time IS on Your Side!

I received a message from a client who now lives out of state.  We worked together years ago when she rescued her first dog.  I taught a lot of classes back in the late 90's and early 2000's, and she must have attended three or four of them with her dog.  He was a rambunctious adolescent, eager to please, but mouthy, jumpy, and terrible on the leash.  She worked really hard with him and he blossomed into a lovely companion dog, making it to almost 16 years old. She was reaching out because she's getting a new puppy next week from a breeder, another first for her!  She's never had a puppy before, let alone a purebred dog, so she feels like she's got more to learn and fast.  She's already scheduled the puppy's first vet visit and signed up for a round of puppy classes, but those classes don't start until mid-June.  She's already worried that she'll be "behind the curve" with her new puppy by waiting those weeks before classes begin.  She was hoping for some tips on things she could do with her puppy before classes even begin.  Happy to oblige!

While puppy classes are great, they aren't the be all/end all for every dog.  In fact, puppy classes aren't suitable for puppies who are overly fearful (the classes can reinforce their fear); they aren't for puppies who are experiencing aggression (the classes expose other impressionable puppies to unsafe situations); and they aren't for puppies who are easily overwhelmed. Don't get me wrong; puppy classes are great controlled socialization opportunities for the average puppy, but not every puppy will thrive there. So, whether you have a puppy for whom classes aren't an option, or you live in an area where suitable classes aren't available, or like my client, the classes are available but require waiting, there are lots of things you can do with your puppy, on your own, to get them off to a great start.

First and foremost, puppies need to be good with people, so taking your puppy out in public for short periods of time everyday is good for their social development.  Since they aren't fully vaccinated, you'll need to carry them, or put them in a buggy or wagon, to protect them from exposure to pathogens.  Do, however, encourage people of all ages, colors, and abilities to approach your puppy.  If your puppy gets overwhelmed easily, you may need to start with excursions to less populated areas and work you way up to malls and restaurants that allows dogs.  Take treats with you and reinforce your puppy for calm behaviors like looking around, inviting greetings from strangers, etc. 

Puppies also need to be good with handling, whether that handling is being done by you, your groomer, or your veterinarian.  Start handling exercises and cooperative care the moment you bring your new puppy home.  Handle them all over, inspecting ears, mouths, bellies, etc.  You can use a lick mat smeared with peanut butter or baby food if they are really wiggly, but do work daily on being able to look in their mouth, inspect their feet, and touch their ears and clean their eyes. Cooperative care exercises like those I've outlined in previous blog posts are important in helping your puppy understand that holding still and allowing care is in their best interest. And if they feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable, all they have to do is move away from the food; they don't have to jerk away from handling, bite your hand, or skitter away.  They simply have to back away to indicate their discomfort and then you can give them a moment before trying again. 

Those basics that I outlined last week (come, sit, and down) are behaviors you can work on before you ever get to a class.  You should also work on leash walking with your puppy, even though you'll only be walking around for 5 minutes or less, inside your house or in your own yard. Walking nicely on a leash doesn't come easily to most puppies; they don't appreciate collars and harnesses that restrict their movement and leashes that keep them from being able to scamper away!  It will take patience and daily training sessions to get your puppy to the point where they aren't stopping every 5 seconds to scratch at their collar or harness and trying to grab the leash from your hand.  This is all developmentally appropriate, but worth working on at home before attending classes.

Food bowl exercises can be done daily as well.  For at least one meal each day, hand feed your puppy, petting them and handling them while offering them the food. Some puppies get so distracted by the love that they almost can't eat, and that's okay!  You are doing the hand feeding so you can see if your puppy has any questionable behavior around food.  If they are fine with hand feeding, you can start adding food into the bowl while petting them and making noise around them. Still good with that?  Now you can drop food from above into their bowl while they are eating.  Still no problem?  Great! Now, bend down and put your hand on the bowl while they are eating and pet them with the other hand.  All good?  Add some more food to that bowl!  Now, try picking up the bowl, add some more food, and put the bowl back down. You will want to continue to do these exercises around food and mealtimes periodically throughout their first year of life.  While I know there are people who will tell you that dogs should be left alone while they eat, the truth of the matter is that at some point in time, every dog's mealtime will be disrupted by people.  You want to make sure that your kids, grandkids, neighbor kids, and housesitters will all be safe if they are the ones to interrupt your dog's mealtime. 

If you are doing crate training with your puppy (which I truly hope you are!) then you will want to be reinforcing that crate as their safe space throughout the day.  If your puppy loves their crate, readily hopping in there for naps and nighttime sleep, then you may have to do very little to reinforce how great that crate really is. If, however, your puppy doesn't seem to enjoy that crate as much as they should, then you'll need to put in some time helping them to see it from a different perspective.  Put the crate on the floor next to your favorite chair or your bed and grab a book and some treats for yourself as well as for your puppy.  Toss a treat inside your puppy's crate for them to follow in and leave the door open.  When they pop out, sit in your chair or on your bed and reach over to poke a treat through the top or side of the crate so the puppy has to go back inside to get it. Hopefully, if you do this a few times your puppy will see that they can get the treats faster if they just stay inside the crate.  Once that happens, you can begin feeding your puppy meals inside their crate, offering them frozen filled Kongs there, or even an enticing bone.  If they can enjoy those items with the door open, try shutting the door, but do stay with them (perfect opportunity to read that book and have your own snack) so you can open the door if they start to panic or fuss.  Build up to longer periods of time in the crate with the door closed and begin trying to leave the room.  Hopefully, your puppy will accept their crate and be able to rest there for short periods of time everyday.

Your puppy will likely be getting plenty of physical exercise at home, chasing their toys, walking on that leash, and running toward you when you call them.  There isn't any need to push a puppy to do long walks/hikes, fetch for extended periods of time, or run around with your other dog. In fact, over-exercising a puppy can have huge consequences in terms of pain, interfering with normal bone growth and development, and result in an over-tired, obnoxious puppy who can't settle down.  Keep the physical activity age-appropriate, enforce those naps, and put an equal amount of importance on mental exercise for your puppy.  Those brain games and puzzles I love aren't just for adolescent and adult dogs.  There are puzzles specifically designed for puppies, that are easier to solve and more durable for those sharp, puppy teeth.  Get a few puzzles so you can rotate which puzzle you give to your puppy everyday.  You can even use those puzzles to help your puppy wind down and transition from active play to self-directed play before a nap.

See?  So much you can do to train your puppy well before you ever set foot in puppy class.  By doing all of these activities daily with your puppy, he will not only be ready for puppy class, he'll be the star pupil, able to focus on the exercises being taught there with distractions.  For me, I feel like the primary reason to attend puppy classes is to give your puppy the opportunity to play with and interact with other puppies, big and small, while being supervised. The best puppy classes I know are mixed, all breeds welcome, and without an adult dog present to squelch their fun.  I know some instructors like to have their own adolescent or adult dogs attend their puppy classes to show the puppies the ropes, but I do know that the presence of an unfamiliar adult dog can curb some puppy behavior that needs to happen for the benefit of those puppies.  Having the humans there in class is what's needed to redirect puppies, assign time outs, and establish and encourage appropriate play.

I went over all of this with my client, reinforcing that she can use that time before puppy classes begin to get her puppy off to a great start! I know she's going to feel overwhelmed at times, given that this is her first puppy, but frankly, who hasn't felt overwhelmed by a puppy? Puppies are a lot of work, but it feels so worth it when you can see all of your hard work paying off in the form of a dog who is comfortable and capable across situations, able to make their needs known, and behaviorally reliable.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Here's Ozzie at 4 months old, having worn himself out with a Nina Ottosson puzzle toy.  He fell asleep with his little tongue hanging out!

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

The Basics!

I just got off the phone with a new puppy owner.  She hasn't had a puppy in years and was feeling overwhelmed, even by the basics like teaching her pup to sit, lie down, come when called, and stay.  She's been doing lots of reading, but like most of the dog owners I meet, she's finding contradicting information at every turn.  Some folks recommend lure training, while others eschew it.  Some say use treats, while others say don't use treats, just use praise. While I know I've talked about some of this before, I thought it might be nice to just put all of my thoughts on these basics into one blog post, for easy reference. 

First, a little learning theory refresher.  The easiest way to teach a new behavior is to use shaping.  That is, a process by which you reward an animal for successive approximations to the desired goal. Once they reach that goal, you mark the behavior (best to use something fast and easy like "Yes!"), and reward.  While there are some folks who like to just capture behaviors when they occur naturally and reward then, I have always found this to be tedious and time consuming.  Dogs offer behaviors all the time, so waiting to capture when they do something you want, means constant vigilance and rewards at the ready. I'd rather be proactive, shaping behaviors I want to see happen again, and rewarding them accordingly.  Now, some examples.

Getting a puppy to come to you is critical and probably the most important behavior they will ever learn as it keeps them safe.  This is why you never call your dog to you for something they'd hate; they'll learn to ignore you and quit coming reliably because you are the fun police.  For puppies, it's often easy to get them to come to you, at least initially.  Capitalize on that and reward it profusely so instead of being the fun police, you are party central.  Bend down, wiggle your fingers, and make kissy sounds.  When your puppy looks your way, wiggle those fingers some more (that's a lure!), say their name happily, and call them now.  Most puppies are already scampering your way with the kissy sounds, but adding in the happy voice and wiggly fingers just seals the deal.  When they get to you, say "Yes!" and give them a treat, before sending them back off to play.  This is important:  You send them back off to play, even just for a few moments, before you pick them up or move them on to the next thing.  That way, coming to you is associated with amazing things like more play.

If you are having trouble getting your puppy to sit, or stay sitting, you are not alone.  A lot of puppies will sit for a few seconds and them pop right up as soon as you say anything or reach toward them with a treat.  If you blow it and give them a treat when their little bottom pops up, then that's what they will think a sit is; a jack-in-the-box maneuver, rather than a calm, sit in place.  Whether you are having trouble just getting a sit, or you're having trouble with your puppy holding the sit position, here is an exercise to try that should help.  Position your puppy in a corner so that their little bottom is pointed toward the corner.  Hold a treat in front of their nose and slowly move that treat in your hand up and over their head.  They will try to back up to reach for the treat, and their bottom will hit the wall.  When this happens, they may wiggle sideways, but if your hand is still just above and behind their head, that head will tip back, and that bottom will hit the ground. The second it does, say "Yes!" and give them the treat.  While they are still sitting, quickly give them another.  Each time you do this, you can move further and further out and away from that corner until your puppy can sit without the support of the wall behind them. 

A lot of puppies have trouble with lying down, especially those small breed puppies who are literally thinking," Hey!  I'm already low to the ground! How much lower can I go?!" This doesn't mean, however, that you shouldn't teach your puppy, regardless of breed, to lie down when requested. Head for that corner again, and this time, bring a bed, mat, rug, or towel.  That way, you can kill two birds with one stone, teaching your dog the meaning of place (on their bed, rug, etc.) and getting a solid down on request.  First, get them to sit with their bottom in that corner.  Now, slowly (and I mean SLOWLY) move that treat down from their nose, under their chin, and then down their chest to the ground. They'll start by just trying to stretch their necks to reach the treat, but persevere! If that bottom pops up, you moved the treat too quickly. As you move that treat toward the ground, move your hand and the treat even closer to their body, between those front legs.  You'll leave them with no choice but to fold up, origami puppy-style, into the sloppiest down you've ever seen, and that's okay!  Each time you do this, your puppy's down will look less like a puppy puddle and more like a down.  Now, you can start moving that bed/mat/rug away from the wall and begin sending your puppy to their place to lie down.

As you can see from my examples, I'm all in favor of using treats to lure your dogs into doing what you'd like them to do.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again.  Everyone, your dogs included, likes to get paid for a job well done.  Whether you are using their kibble, dog treats, cheerios, or string cheese, it doesn't matter.  What matters is what is your dog willing to work for?  Some dogs are pickier that others, some crave novelty, and others will eat anything you offer them.  Try different lures and figure out what works best for your pup.  And, yes, you can use a toy for a lure as well, just remember that if you are using a toy, then they get to play with it following completion of the behavior, which may derail training sessions for some dogs. I myself prefer a pocketful of small, yummy treats so I can lure, reward, and repeat a couple of times before moving on to a play session as the penultimate reward. It's like getting paid for your job and then receiving a bonus!

Once you've taught a puppy to come, sit, and lie down on request, you've got the foundation you need to teach every other behavior you might want them to be able to do on request.  Whether it's teaching them to stay, walk across the dog walk in agility, or retrieve an object, having these foundational behaviors means your puppy knows how to listen, focus, and perform an action on request. I like to test my dogs' on their skills by changing it up, not always giving verbal requests, but just using hand signals, for example. For people with puppies, however, I always suggest using both the verbal cue and the hand signal until you are sure they understand what both cues mean AND what it is that they are doing that means the same thing as your cues.  You'll really know they've got this when you simply glance their way and before you can ask, they approach you and offer a sit as if to say, "What are we doing next, favorite human?"

I hope this helps.  Whether you are working with a new puppy or an adult dog you've just acquired, this outline should give you a good idea of how I would approach teaching them the basics. Just don't move too quickly through them and remember to repeat the exercises only enough to ensure that they understand, but not so much that you bore them into misbehavior.  Keep your training sessions short, 3-5 minutes works great for puppies and adolescent dogs; you hold their attention and release them before they've gotten tired or bored or both!

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Here's puppy Ozzie, adding his own spin to a down/stay
 by crossing his paws.  It's a collie thing.