Over the last two decades dog daycares have become a convenient option for many families. They can provide company for the dog with separation anxiety; keep the dogs that get bored and frustrated at home for the day, active and entertained; some people even use them to help socialize their younger dogs.
With the number of daycares available nowadays, you can be choosy. But how can you decide if one daycare is better than another? What things should you look for and what questions should you ask? When vetting a daycare there are many overlooked considerations that are just as important to your dog’s health and well-being as vaccines.
As with most dog-related services, daycares are unregulated. Because of this, anyone can open a daycare, no matter how limited their experience with dogs. Having a love for dogs or having them all your life are not qualifications for being responsible for looking after a group of dogs. Whether you are using daycare simply for babysitting or to help your dog develop skills around other dogs, it is equally important that you take the time to check out potential facilities carefully before you drop your dog off for the first time.
Finding out the facility’s philosophy, protocols and experience is a crucial first step. If these are not up to par, then everything else will be of little consequence. A modern, attractive layout is an eye-catcher for sure. And a clean and safe environment is certainly important for the care of any animal. Looks aren’t everything though and spending a lot of resources on making a facility attractive to people, but skimping on research, training and the education of those looking after your dog, is all too common and a BIG red flag.
One of the biggest drawbacks of most daycares is that their protocols and setup are not based on what we now know about dogs. Being responsible for looking after any number of dogs while using outdated information as a guide is not only inappropriate it’s also dangerous.
- Have they had formal training in dog behaviour?
- What is their philosophy in the handling and management of the dogs in their care?
- How do they handle misbehaviour? Do they use squirt-bottles? Do they correct the dogs? Or do they give time outs so the dog can take a break?
If they think dogs are wolf-wanna-be’s and the group at their daycare is a pack with individuals vying for position and needing to be dominated for control, RUN. This is old information. Any caregiver should be better informed. It is vital that you find out what the knowledge base and qualifications of the staff is. They should be skilled in managing the dogs in a safe and kind manner.
Another dangerous aspect of most daycares is that they don’t have a good understanding of what safe and appropriate interactions look like. Dogs are typically put together that should not be together, not supervised adequately and allowed to be active for too long.
- Most people ask what the maximum number of dogs allowed is. This a good question, but even more importantly is how many dogs are together at a time.
- How many people are actively supervising the dogs?
- Most play involves dogs pairing off. Can that happen?
- How often do the dogs take breaks during their visits and what else do they do other than play?
All too often dogs are over-stimulated and allowed to interact inappropriately. This allows some dogs to become rough and bullying in their behaviour, while others are left to defend themselves. Both situations can lead to behavioural issues. Dogs do not just magically learn manners and social savvy by being around other dogs. It takes skill, understanding and experience on the staff’s part to be able to organize, monitor and supervise pairs and groups of dogs. It is vital that those in charge of watching the dogs, understand canine body language and recognize signs of stress and arousal.
As touched on earlier, the facility should be set up so that it best suits the needs of the dogs.
- Are there separate areas for small or shy dogs?
- Can dogs pair off to play?
- Are there separate areas where dogs can safely rest or have a snack?
At our facility, our dogs have ample time for non-dog activity. Many choose to play with other dogs for only a part of their visit. I think parents would be surprised at how much time their dogs want to be doing other things than playing. They enjoy time to investigate and sniff without being hassled by another dog to play; time to chew or work at a food puzzle; time to have a nap or a cuddle with a best friend. In one-space only daycares, these activities are not usually possible. A single area just isn’t good enough. Dogs should be able to be grouped and there should be additional space to rest or participate in non-group activities without having to feel vigilant. It’s neither natural or healthy for a dog to play uninterrupted for hours at a time.
- How will they be provided a chance to go potty?
- Is there a secure, outdoor area with easy access?
Although it’s not possible for all daycares to provide a full-sized outdoor play area, it is a bonus if the dogs are able to have access to some kind of secure outdoor enclosure during their visit, versus having to go out for a walk to do their business and get some fresh air.
Another indication of whether the facility is up-to-date in their care, is the protocols in place for vaccination and pest management.
- Do they require annual vaccinations? If they do, oh oh.
- Do they accept titers?
- Can dogs be on a non-pesticide management program?
Requiring outdated health protocols is usually a tip off that they haven’t done their homework in other areas either. Adopting protocols that make it easier for the facility, rather than what’s best for the dogs, is not a good sign.
- What type of information do they require beyond vaccines and emergency contacts?
- How do they get new dogs started at their facility?
- Are dogs allowed to come everyday?
Many dogs lack the skills, experience or confidence to safely and comfortably be around other dogs in a daycare setting. It’s important that the daycare wants to get behavioural as well as health information from you AND meet your dog before staying for a visit. The facility should be interested in your dog’s early socialization; whether your dog has attended any other kind of group activity; whether they have ever had an incident with another dog – either on the giving or receiving end; if they have bitten a person; whether they are segregated in any way at home; or have shown resource guarding towards items, people or food. These are just a few of the things that should be discussed.
Along with an pre-visit interview, a good daycare should ask for at least one short set up visit. Having an easy, carefully supervised introduction to the daycare will allow them to keep new dogs comfortable, get to know them properly, introduce them to the other dogs properly and recognize any potential issues.
Not all dogs can handle the same amount of time at daycare. Restricting how long and often a dog can attend shows concern for the dog’s well-being versus profits.
And finally, although incidents will be rare at a well-run facility, with good management and prevention keeping dogs safe and comfortable, being prepared for the worst is important.
- What happens if 2 dogs get in a fight? How would they break it up?
- Is their a person with an animal First Aid certificate on site at all times?
- Do they have a relationship with a local vet clinic? What is their policy for emergency vet care?
Having a plan and good protocols in place not only makes good sense, it will afford you extra peace of mind.
Although this list is not complete, I hope that it gives you an idea of the considerations that are important in finding a facility that will make your dog’s daycare experiences fun, safe and positive.
It’s important to recognize that not all dogs are suited for daycare. Dog Days has been able to provide an environment that was supportive and safe for many dogs that really are not candidates for regular daycare.
Lisa Kerley BSc, KPA-CTP
For those of you familiar with my training or who follow my articles, you know that I dedicate a lot of time to socialization and emphasize how critical it is for puppies and young dogs. Over the last 18 years, the number of fearful and reactive dogs that I have seen has increased – a lot. The majority of my behavioural work now is working with 8 – 24 month old youngsters that are fearful, reactive or aggressive.
My statistics indicate there are 3 groups that these clients fall into:
- Those that haven’t formally socialized their pups, believing that the key to a ‘good’ dog is obedience.
- Those that waited to begin socializing their pup.
- Those that actively socialized their young pup, but didn’t get it quite right.
There has been so much valid scientific information in the media over the last two decades, that it’s hard to believe early socialization isn’t a part of every young pup’s life as soon as they get home. Unfortunately, people are still following outdated information or are the victims of misinformation.
I’d like to address the things that many parents should do differently when trying to socialize their pup. Even with the best of intentions, many parents still end up with a young dog that doesn’t act like it’s been socialized. After all those hours at the dog park and having met nearly every person in the neighborhood, how is this possible? The two biggest blunders most people make are over-exposing their pup and not pairing socializing experiences with something pleasant for the pup. Both of these are critical to being successful. Not including them will make many socializing efforts a waste of time.
In this article, we will focus on socializing with people. No one wants to have a dog that is fearful or reactive, but a dog that has issues with people is a game changer. Unless you are a hermit living in the middle of nowhere, your life and the way you live it will be impacted. For those of you who have chosen a ‘loyal’, ‘one-person’ or ‘stand-offish’ breed, an effective, well-thought-out socialization program is crucial. These breeds are designed to be suspicious of people outside their core group, so without good socialization they will be stressed or reactive around new people.
Don’t think that if you have chosen a ‘friendly’ breed that you don’t have to worry. ANY dog can potentially be fearful. It is the responsibility of every dog parent to ensure their dogs become comfortable and confident via a good socialization program.
Now I bet many of you are thinking, “What’s the big deal? Get out, find lots of people and get them to pet your dog.” Wrong. That’s why so many dogs end up being reactive or fearful.
Overexposing the Pup
This is this biggest fault in most people’s attempts to socialize their young dog. When meeting people one-on-one, most puppies are made to interact, being petted or handled in some way. This is not necessary to start with. For many pups it will actually make them uncomfortable and cause them to become sensitized to people. And although it is recommended to socialize young pups to lots of people, many also misconstrue this and expose them to too many people at once. Choosing a location or event with large crowds will often be too much for most pups, especially early in their socializing.
Remember that we do not want to flood or overwhelm the pup. It is vital for good socializing that the pup feels comfortable. Exposing the pup does NOT mean they have to actually interact – be patted by or sniff the person. They just need to be aware of people nearby to begin with. As the pup builds confidence, they can interact to a greater degree.
When a person approaches, ask them stop at some distance from the pup. Setting up this initial buffer zone will allow some time for the pup to check out the person from a safe place. This will also give you a chance to make sure the pup is comfortable with this degree of exposure. Keep the pup next to you rather than having them out front. This position will provide them some security and allow them to be assessed and helped more easily, when necessary.
If and only if, the pup looks comfortable should you let the pup get closer and potentially interact with a person. It’s vital that the interaction is not forced on them. They should not be restrained, being held or ask to sit and the person then invading the pup’s space. Remember contact is not the goal. It is to make each interaction comfortable for the pup. This means the pup may be fine to eventually go all the way up to some people and not others. That’s OK. The pup will gain confidence just by having a buffer zone with each and every person to start. They won’t feel rushed or over-faced. You will also gain the ability to read the pup’s body language and choose how to proceed more readily.
Some dogs are more relaxed in larger groups of people as they may feel they ‘get lost in the crowd’ and won’t be noticed and have to interact. In this situation it is vital to manage the exposure. When exposing a pup to larger crowds, choose a position where the pup is not in the thick of things, at least to start. Pick a spot at some distance from the crowd or location. If choosing a busy retail location, for example, don’t start at the front entrance. That’s way too much to start. Instead let the pup watch people from a safe, quiet location – next to your car or on a bench away from all the activity. Make sure the spot doesn’t make the pup feel trapped. Eventually the pup can get closer. That may be able to happen in that session or may need to wait until a future one.
Along with distance, the intensity can be reduced and the pup kept comfortable by picking lower intensity exposures to start, gradually increasing the intensity as the pup shows they are able. Depending on the situation, you can choose locations or times of day when the place is quieter or less crowded. For example, the first time a pup visits a school playground shouldn’t be at recess, when all the kids are there at once and very active. Watching children going into school (from an appropriate distance) would be a better choice to begin with.
It’s Not Positive
Creating exposures that are comfortable and don’t overwhelm your pup is a crucial part of good socializing. If one really wants to maximize the benefits of a pup’s exposures, there is one more simple thing to do. Pair any and all exposures with something positive. This will create good memories and pleasant associations. Usually a tasty treat is the easiest way to do this. Apart from being convenient to carry around and provide to the pup, it also provides an additional way to assess how the pup is feeling (along with their body language). If a dog loses interest in an otherwise irresistible treat, or takes it with a rougher mouth than usual, these are both indications that the pup is not relaxed.
Remember the point about positioning the pup next to the handler when encountering passersby? Apart from support for the pup, it also allows for the reinforcement to be provided conveniently. It’s much easier to hand the pup a treat (or any other reinforcer) from this position. DO NOT HAVE THE STRANGER FEED THE TREAT. It is common practice, and all too often advised, to have the stranger provide the treat to the dog. By doing so it is believed the pup will learn that strangers are OK. What often happens however, is that the pup will be lured in by the food, with no chance to assess if they are ready to be that close. When the food is taken, the pup is now really close to someone that they may not have been ready to approach if the food didn’t tantalize them over. The important thing is that the pup is being provided with something they enjoy in the presence of the person. Again, it should not come from the stranger. This will also prevent the pup from learning that passersby are treat dispensers!
Although a treat or food is typically the best reinforcement when you are ‘on the go’, anything that the pup finds enjoyable can be used as a reinforcer. As long as they find it rewarding in that particular circumstance, it will be valuable. Any activity – play, tricks, treat searches – anything that they enjoy and can engage in, will work.
And one final point. Keep the sessions short. With some things the pup may only need a minute or two to get everything they need out of an exposure. Remember that flooding will have the opposite result to what is desired. If planning to ‘get a lot accomplished’ give your pup lots of intermissions, so their brain gets a break and they don’t overtire.
Anyone taking the time to socialize their pup does so with the best of intentions. By following these simple considerations, you can really make the most of your pup’s socializing time!
Manners and More
Lisa Kerley BSc KPA-CTP
One of the first things most people consider doing when they have a new dog is enrolling in an obedience class. If a class isn’t an option, a private trainer is often brought in to teach obedience in the home. Obedience seems to be the first thing on many people’s minds when it comes to training their dogs.
Teaching your dog to do some specific things when asked has obvious value. Obedience on its own however, does not provide the average dog with the skills they need to be ‘well-behaved’ day-to-day. We routinely have new dogs come to our facility that are already obedience graduates. Although they can perform their trained behaviours when asked, sadly, many of these same dogs are easily excited and unmanageable when not being directed. Even dogs from advanced classes often aren’t calm or settled unless they are put into a ‘down stay’ or they can’t politely meet a person without being told to ‘sit’ or are corrected in some way.
So what skills are our dogs often missing in regular obedience training?
Young puppies are in a critical phase of development and have special requirements for their learning. Studies indicate that delaying socialization can have serious consequences on a dog’s entire life. Safe socializing can and must begin as soon as a puppy comes home and needs to be the focus of their early education. And just in case you were under the impression – socialization does not mean playing with other dogs. But that’s a whole other topic…
Vital lessons include developing a gentle mouth, acquiring good social skills and getting used to all the different sights and sounds that are part of the world a family dog will live in. By the time a pup arrives home at 8 weeks of age, the critical period to learn these things is already half over. Spending time on these critical skills while a puppy is still in this phase of development, will make the lessons (and other training) much easier and both parent and pup will have fun doing it. These pups will be set up for success by creating a more relaxed adolescent who already has some great skills started. It is not possible to make up for a lack of attention to these early lessons later. Many are time-sensitive, and once the critical early learning phase has passed, so has the opportunity.
For Every Dog
How to get things they want
For many dogs, the excitement of something they love is just too much, and they lose control. Depending on the dog, it may be a passerby or their favourite toy that sets them off. Parents often react to unruly behaviour with demands or corrections in an attempt to get them to behave.
Our dogs learn instead that polite behaviours work to get things that matter to them. Not only does this help the dog learn to be polite, but they will also learn to do it by default without having to be micro-managed (constantly told what to do). And we don’t want to always have to remind our dogs to be gentle or polite, do we?
Helping one’s dog learn that they have choices is a novel approach for many people. Waiting for polite stuff from our dogs, specifically waiting for them to offer it, can be tough. It’s hard for people not to just tell the dog what to do. The value in this style of training is that it teaches the dog what TO do by showing them the behaviours that will work to get them the things they want. No hints or corrections are needed – these will actually weaken the dog’s ability to offer the desired behaviour! And the polite behaviours we make ‘work’, will have a great reinforcement history and start to feel good to do, in and of themselves. So cool!
So how does it actually work? Simple. All you need to do is decide which behaviours you like. Let’s pick ‘sit’ as an example. It’s a great all–around behaviour. Start practicing this with any items your dog wants – toys, chews, dinner. Show them you have that thing they want, but don’t give it to them right away. Keep it out of reach. Stay calm and quiet, and wait. What do they do? If they do anything you don’t like – jump, bark, or paw – withhold the item. Don’t instruct your dog. Wait for them to offer the behaviour you like (sit, for example). Praise and offer the item as soon as they sit.
Bonus point of this method:
Not only will you be teaching your dog how to get things they want by offering calm, polite behaviour, you will also be training “in real time” by reinforcing sit with real life rewards.
Having a dog pay attention or check in with us is a behaviour that traditional trainers often have to spend a lot of time on, as it can be challenging when there are distractions present. In our “wait for what you like” approach, young dogs are regularly being reinforced for checking in when things they get excited about are around – things that are distracting. They have learned that being involved with us is part of their success. They want us to notice the great behaviour they are offering, to reap the reward.
Bonus point of this method:
Being able to focus and work through distractions is one of the biggest challenges in proofing or making training reliable. In essence, we are turning distractions into meaningful real life rewards.
There are even more benefits in waiting for polite behaviour. As if we need more! Dogs will develop impulse control, learn to manage themselves and deal with frustration, and build patience. These are skills that do not develop when a dog is always micro-managed. Dogs that have too much freedom and have free access to things that matter to them miss the chance too. These skills are sadly missing in many dogs these days. Helping a dog learn these skills can take some time, so patience and consistency is required. It will be worth it, as they can truly change the way a dog behaves and how they handle day-to-day life.
Bonus point of this method:
Once dogs are outside the home, many get over-excited by the big, stimulating world around them. A dog that is already learning the value of being calm and thinking about what is happening will be much better-equipped to deal with things in the real world.
An extra word about real-life rewards:
An obvious example of something your dog loves that you can provide is food, but there are so many more at your disposal. A chance to play a favourite game; getting let out into the yard; getting the leash on for a walk; being let out of their crate. The sky’s the limit. You have lots of opportunities each day to help your dog practice.
So if you have a young puppy, don’t wait to start socializing. A puppy’s brain is set up to learn certain things that it can’t later on. Please don’t delay!
Hopefully the benefits of this “wait for what you like” approach are enticing enough that you’ll want to give it a try. And as for obedience, with the skills your dog will already have, teaching obedience will be a breeze!
Getting Ready for a Baby
Lisa Kerley BSC KPA-CTP
Ideally you’ve just found out the happy news and want to start preparing your first kid (the one with four legs) for the new arrival as soon as possible. The key to a smooth transition is early preparation. It is very important to establish new patterns and routines beforehand, so your dog does not associate the changes with the baby. Not only will you make things easier for your dog, but with some preparation early on, you won’t feel overwhelmed as the big day approaches.
By thinking and preparing ahead you will be able to have the final game plan in place before the baby comes home. Ideally the new routine should be a normal part of your lives at least a month before the baby comes on the scene. The more changes needed to get there, the longer the preparation period required.
So where do you start? Here are a couple of basic things to start thinking about.
Make a list of all the ways you think your dog’s routine will change.
In the house:
Is your dog your shadow in the house?
Does your dog get up on the furniture?
Does she make up her own routine for most of the day?
Do you typically respond to your dog’s requests for attention, such as pawing or jumping?
If your dog presently has free-run of the house, you will need to establish a routine of regular quiet times throughout the day. In addition, creating a special place for your dog to settle will be very helpful. With a baby present, your dog will need to respect the times when you require some space to safely feed and hold the baby. Along with not having to worry about tripping over a dog that is constantly underfoot, she will need to be able to chill out while you’re attending to someone else.
If the duration or schedule of your dog’s walks or exercise activities will be different once the baby arrives, start making the adjustments towards that new routine now.
Will someone else be helping out with the walks? If so, have them start taking over some of the walks now.
And don’t forget about your dog’s transportation. If your dog’s place in the car will change, get your dog used to it now (crate, seat belt harness or simply a new position in the car).
Identify the things that will be novel to your dog.
Many dogs find the cry of a baby upsetting, so it’s a good idea to start desensitizing your dog to the sounds of a baby beforehand. You can accomplish this with the real thing or recorded material. You can create a good association by pairing the cries and squeals with something tasty.
As well, start getting your dog used to you carrying a baby in your arms. You can do this simply by holding a swaddling of fabric. Again, don’t wait until the last minute to start desensitizing.
Note: Some dogs become agitated in the last trimester of pregnancy. They may become very clingy or stressed. It is important to not coddle, but make them feel secure through consistency and sticking with the routine you have been practicing. Complimentary tools, such as Aromatherapy and Tellington TTouch can be used to relieve your dog’s stress.
Get your dog used to going for walks with a baby now. If you hope to walk the dog and the baby together on your own, and your dog is unruly on the leash you need to start dealing with leash manners now. Don’t wait! Basic leash manners need to be in place before adding the challenge of a stroller. If your dog is polite on leash and you’ve done some initial desensitization to the stroller, you can head outside with the dog and stroller together. At first, it is easier to have one person pushing the stroller while another walks the dog. Reward your dog for staying calm and being mannerly. You can use treats during the first outings as bonus pay. When you feel ready you can try the same process on your own. The important thing is to work out any ‘bugs’ on the walks before the baby’s actually in the stroller!
Hopefully this has given you some ideas about things you need to consider while getting your dog ready for your new baby. Again, the sooner you start the smoother it will go for everyone.
In Part 2 we’ll discuss:
– the specifics of desensitizing your dog to strollers, carriers and sounds of a baby before baby comes home
– setting up resting stations your dog will love
In Part 3 we’ll discuss:
– last minute preparations
– bringing the baby home
Using Brainpower Instead of Manpower
Lisa Kerley BSc KPA-CTP
How often have people told you to “show your dog who’s boss”? I get that a lot too. As a professional dog trainer, people come to me for help and advice with their dogs every day. Away my facility however, many people don’t know what I do for a living and are more than eager to give me ‘some tips’ with MY big guy. I’m told I should use a chain to assert myself and to maintain control. I need to correct mistakes and ‘get after him’ if he steps out of line. Not only am I warned that he will take over, but that he will actually become dangerous if I don’t do these things.
Over the last two decades I’ve worked with literally thousands of dogs of every size and description, from a 1lb Chihuahua pup to a pair of Presa Canarios weighing in at 165lb each. All have had their own unique personalities and every imaginable behavior or training issue. From dogs that would readily use teeth to defend anything they prized, to those that would pin strangers against walls and hold them there until rescued by the parents. Not once have I felt that resorting to harsher equipment or tougher methods was necessary or would help.
So every time I hear “those kind methods are fine for the soft ones, but they don’t work with bigger / stronger / tougher dogs”, I smile. Really? Because my guy, a stallion, weighs in at over 1100lbs.
Horses endure force and punishment in the name of training and in their day-to-day handling, even more than many dogs do. They have chains on their faces and metal in their mouths. Their heads are tied down and their mouths strapped shut. They are poked in the ribs with metal spikes and hit with sticks. This is partly because of their size, as this somehow makes a smack or kick sting less; partly because they ‘do worse to each other’, so they can certainly handle anything we might dole out; and partly because that’s the way it’s always been done, perhaps the most upsetting reason of all.
And stallions often get more than their fair share of this. They have a reputation for being intense and dangerous. Their behaviour is strongly influenced by hormones and they often respond to things in the environment much more intensely than is typical with a gelding or mare. “You can’t treat him like a regular horse”, I’ve been told again and again.
Now, I’ve seen how labels can land people in a lot of trouble with their dogs. They set up an attitude for confrontation and challenge, even before getting started. Just like the dogs I work with, with my horse I’ve focused on building a strong relationship, one where I have developed trust by being reasonable and fair in my expectations and remaining consistent in those expectations. Short-term goals never override maintaining or strengthening our relationship.
I set my horse up for success by teaching him the skills he needs to share his life with me safely and comfortably. They are the foundation of our work together. I make these lessons clear and reasonable and don’t rely on equipment to get results. Initial work is presented simply, breaking the behavior or skill down into small pieces. This allows my student to grasp the lessons more easily and reduces frustration, both important for success. Most of the lessons are started at liberty, whether they ultimately will be used for day-to-day life or for riding. And because I have taken the time necessary to teach preliminary skills, there’s no need to rely on equipment like bits or crops, to get things done.
I know that if I have over-faced him and he loses his focus, or doesn’t respond to a request or acts inappropriately, it’s because I haven’t trained him adequately for that situation. I do not react to undesired behaviours by getting upset or using punishment. Instead I get him through the situation with as little drama as possible, making extra room for him if that will help, or giving him something to do that he’s good at that will get him focused and help build a pleasant association. What I take away from the experience is not that my horse has been ‘bad’. Instead I recognize that something is missing in his training. Whether that’s something I can work on in the moment or something I need to set up in a later session, reactions or stronger equipment won’t be part of the solution.
And just like us, horses can have bad days, and may not always be at their best. I’m not going to allow an off day to damage our relationship, or be an excuse to get tough with him, either.
So what special lessons and skills are required for a stallion? Stallions tend to use their mouths A LOT and many bite. They can be pushy about space and difficult to control, especially when they get aroused. They often lose their focus because of distractions in the environment.
My first concern was for safety. I didn’t want my guy to get hurt because his emotions got the best of him, just as much as I didn’t want to get run over or injured.
He also needed to be able to cope calmly with his daily life at the barn, including having mares moved around him and being groomed nearby – both big demands for a stallion! When we are together, whether that is riding, walking together or around other horses, I need him to pay attention and follow my direction when asked.
So with a plan in mind and a clicker in hand, I taught him to:
– take treats nicely
– be calm and polite around food and at feeding times
– stay out of my space unless invited in
– get out of my space calmly and quickly
– be around distractions while remaining calm
– walk together quietly, matching my pace and following my direction, while maintaining a loose line
Guess what? These are all skills that any horse (or dog!) would benefit from knowing! The only difference was that we had to spend extra time and care on developing his attention and focus in the face of distractions. Extra care and time that I was more than willing to spend to ensure he would be safe and have exceptional ground manners. And taking this time has allowed these skills to be developed without intimidation, force or equipment.
I like to think my stallion is an ambassador for positive, force-free training. He’s proof that tougher methods or harsher equipment are not required because the animal is bigger or stronger. Every day both of us enjoy the benefits of using brainpower instead of manpower. And it sure feels good when people tell me what a polite, well-behaved guy he is, too!
For more tips and info on force-free training visit:
And if you would like to see what Bandolero and I get up to, check out:
Freedom – Too Much of a Good Thing?
Lisa Kerley BSc KPA-CTP
A classic conversation that I have with new clients goes something like this:
Client: “Mitzy is SO smart. She’s only 12 weeks and she already knows how to sit.”
Lisa: “That’s great. Puppies’ brains are little learning sponges!”
Feeling encouraged by my response, the client continues: “She hasn’t had any more accidents in the house so she doesn’t need her crate anymore.”
Lisa: “Really? (Eyebrows are raised, at this point).
Client: “No. And at night she’s more settled out of it, so we just let her sleep on the bed. That way we don’t need to get up at all!”
So if a pup’s not having accidents or tearing the house apart, what’s the problem with giving them freedom? In the short term it may seem easier or kinder to just let a puppy have what they want. But wait. Whether the puppy has the maturity or skill to handle it, this approach of easy freedom early in a dog’s life takes away the opportunity to teach some very important skills – tolerance, impulse control and patience, along with developing confidence.
Consider a child that has always gotten whatever she wants, when she wants it. Experience has taught her to expect it this way, so the skills required to ask for things appropriately and deal with not getting them quickly enough have not been learned. Yikes – that’s a scary thought!
Dogs that get to decide how things happen – having free run of the house, choosing when they want your company or when they want to be alone, are in the same situation. They are used to getting immediate gratification, and as a result, have a hard time coping with not getting their way or being asked to follow through with things they don’t want to do. They will be intolerant of being denied what they want – responding with frustration, anger or stress. Not the best plan for developing patience and tolerance, is it? These are skills that must be learned, and are just as vital for our dogs as they are for our children.
So that makes sense, but what’s too much freedom got to do with your puppy’s confidence, you ask? By leaving a pup to make choices with too many options, they are being put in situations beyond their learning or skill set. Without proper direction or support, they are forced to deal with things and face challenges on their own. Even in the safety of their own home, dogs with too much freedom often begin patrolling the environment. They will react to noises outside, people passing by, and even the mailman.
Although teaching impulse control, tolerance, and developing confidence takes time and effort, the benefits to your pup are huge. Dogs that possess these skills are typically calmer and more manageable even before any additional training takes place. As a bonus, you will also be teaching them to be comfortable in a crate, be on their own and walk politely on leash. How cool is that!
Being Comfortable in a Crate
Many people don’t plan on including the crate as part of their adult dog’s routine. However, keeping your dog comfortable with it through regular use will equip you for many of life’s unforeseen situations – medical emergencies, transport, moving, renovating. These are all stressful to the dog – there’s no need to compound their anxiety by putting them in a crate for the first time in a year.
Having a secure, safe place for your dog that can go anywhere will also allow you more options and flexibility. Your dog will be welcome at more social engagements and facilities if they can be comfortably crated. This will allow you to take them more places and include them in more aspects of your life.
Lessons: Many pups are happy to sleep in their crate at night. Some can even handle being in the crate for periods during the day, if the house is empty. Being willing to settle there when the house is more active, is a different matter however. A dog’s first steps in this training needs to be very easy so they can be successful. Ensure your pup always has something great to keep them busy for the duration of their crate time – a beef chew or Kong, for example. Make sure you provide something really special, that your puppy LOVES and save it for these crate sessions. Start with short sessions – even as little as 5 minutes and practice while the environment is calm. Gradually work your pup up to where they can calmly hang out in their crate while things are happening that are hard to resist – such as when you’re prepping meals, lounging nearby on the floor or the kids are playing.
Being on Their Own
Having a dog that cannot be left alone will affect almost every aspect of your life. It will restrict how long you can leave home, and can impact even the simplest daily activities. Many dogs intolerant of being left will be destructive. Finding safe solutions can be challenging and costly. For many, the only option is providing nearly continual care via babysitters, walkers or daycares. Going out for dinner won’t simply be a matter of getting restaurant reservations.
Lessons: Continual access to you while you’re at home won’t give your puppy the skills they need to be on their own. Having your puppy regularly spending time in their crate while you’re at home, will also be setting them up to spend time alone when you have to be away. No matter what your hectic day entails, you can create a basic routine that the little puppy can get used to – something that they can rely on. With this consistency, they will learn to accept periods on their own as positive and normal.
Some puppies will wander off to a quiet place on their own. This is not the same as crate time. The point is to help your pup become comfortable with being put away and being on their own when it is NOT their idea. All gentle examples of direction from you will help your puppy develop tolerance. Short, regular sessions in their crate throughout the day will help your puppy accept imposed down time.
Although we have used the crate as an example (because of its usefulness outside the home), these lessons can also be taught using a pen, containment area or tether. Even using a safety harness in the car counts! Finding as many opportunities to practice these foundation skills will improve your dog’s ability and make things easier in the long run.
Having a dog that walks calmly and politely on leash is one of the joys of sharing our lives together. Developing good leash skills also has value to your dog’s well being. There is increasing evidence that a dog pulling while on a collar can be detrimental to their health. Additionally, poor leash skills result in unruly approaches, pass-bys and greetings. These in turn can develop into frustration behaviour, and escalate to leash aggression in maturing dogs. And with many areas now requiring dogs be leashed, it is a must-have skill.
Lessons: Dogs get into the habit of pulling because we allow it to work for them. As a result, any slow downs or impediments to reaching things of interest become a frustration. Instead, you can show your pup that displaying some patience and impulse control will get them where they want to go. When you approach something attractive, stop at a small distance away and wait for your puppy to settle. This delay can be frustrating to your pup, but you will be helping them develop tolerance and be able to reward calm behavior.
By consistently providing this space and pause, you will also allow your pup to check out potentially worrisome things safely and comfortably. Following this protocol will help to prevent reactivity.
All these lessons are best started with a young puppy. This is much easier than changing game plans later on, when a lack of these skills requires more intense and time-consuming (and expensive!) remedial training to occur.
By helping your pup develop these skills, you will be giving them the foundation that will make training much easier and allow them to progress faster than dogs without them. Instead of becoming over-excited, frustrated and unable to focus, they will be in a state where they are ready and able to learn. They will be in a ‘thinking brain’ rather than an excited, reactive state and they will be able to take direction from you more easily. All of these will ultimately help them to make good choices and decisions. Possession of these skills can help prevent many common behavior problems from developing. As an extra benefit (as if any more are needed!) you will also be giving your dog the skills and confidence to go almost anywhere, allowing you to share more of your life together.