Skunked in Montana

Our dog keeps getting sprayed by skunks. Can you make any suggestions?

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Ask Professor Boo is our recurring, positive reinforcement dog training and behavior question and answer column. If you have a question that you would like to ask Professor Boo, please feel free to contact him.

[dropcap]Q[/dropcap]: Our dog keeps getting sprayed by skunks. She’s a terrier mix and loves looking in culvert pipes and other exploring. We live in the country in Montana and there is so much here that a curious dog can get into trouble with.baf6fec90b93fdec742ca7136bdd68c1 She used to not come when we called her but we’ve been training her with treats and she’s gotten so much better at coming when we call. We hate to have to keep her on a leash when we go for walks. Can you make any suggestions?           Thank you, Jennifer

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]: Hi Jennifer,

Many folks who enjoy walking their dogs off leash like to have a handful of distance commands. The recall is, of course, the most common in terms of getting the dog well under control at a distance. There are others that are a little less ridge and less restrictive for the dog.

They are:

  • A distance leave-it. This could be used once your dog has learned leave-it so well that on that command, she will turn away from whatever it is she has found.
    • Leave-it has to be rewarded with food in the learning stages, and then intermittently forever depending on the dog and the surroundings.
  • A distance sit or down. These could be used anywhere or anytime you need to simply put your dog into a holding position. Once you can reliably request these commands at a distance, you can lock your dog down matter how far away you are.
    • Some dogs do better with a stop command at a distance than the sits or downs, but essentially the stop command like the sits and downs, simply halt all actions until you tell your dog otherwise.
    • The sit, down and stop all have to be trained in close where you can easily reward them, then using a long drag leash, you can begin to increase the distance you ask your dog to preform these until she is ready for the big leagues of off leash completely.

Hope that helps and remember, there is just something that dogs LOVE Goodbye-Dante-Thumbnailabout skunks so keep that skunk wash handy.

And, hopefully the ideas above will allow you to not have to use it quite as often as we had to with Dante. He loved skunks!

What’s in Lisa’s treat pouch?, or How To Make Your Own Puppy Crack

Ever wonder why dogs like Lisa’s treats so much? Here’s the secret to how her treats get and keep a dog’s attention both in class and home.

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Ask Professor Boo is our recurring, positive reinforcement dog training and behavior question and answer column. If you have a question that you would like to ask Professor Boo, please feel free to contact him.

[dropcap]Q[/dropcap]: Just what do you have in your treat pouch? Whenever we’re in class or you’re over for a private our dogs always like your treats better than our own.

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]: I get asked this a lot and for whatever reason folks never believe that the secret behind Puppy Crack – as my treats have come to be known – is actually no real secret at all.

Imagine that you’re a kid again, it’s Halloween, and you’ve just come back with a mighty haul of candy. You tear off your costume, run into the living room to dump your pillow case into the middle of the floor, and find yourself looking down into a huge pile of nothing but Smarties.

Alternatively, you dump out your pillow case and see a giant pile of nothing but Lindt truffles.

Or apples.

Or little boxes of raisins.

Even if you really love Smarties, Lindt truffles, apples, or raisins, there’s just something that’s going to be disappointing about that Halloween haul.

For me, the best hauls were always the ones with lots of stuff mixed in the pile: high-end things like truffles right next to the pure comfort food yumminess of Smarties.

What’s true for kids on Halloween is just as true for dogs when training.

There are some guidelines that I follow for what makes up a perfect potpourri of puppy-crack for my treat pouch:

  1. The primary ingredient of any treat that I use has to be the actual thing. If it’s beef jerky the primary ingredient should be real beef, if it’s chicken it should be chicken, etc. In other words, read the ingredients and the first one should be some kind of meat.
  2. There should be a selection of treats that are stinky and the stinkier the better: remember that for dogs and people alike the majority of tasting is actually done with our noses, so the stinky treats will make all the others taste better.
  3. There’s a fairly even mixture of high-, mid-, and low-end snacks.
  4. The treats are only the ones that I know my dogs absolutely love. If the treats are only “meh” to the dogs then they won’t receive a reward commensurate with what I’ve asked them to do.
  5. Not every kind of treat that I have in the cupboard goes into the treat pouch at the same time. That allows me to change up what’s on the menu each time I refill, which keeps things interesting to the dog and makes them look forward to whenever I put my hand in the pouch.
  6. I always mix an amount of kibble into the pouch, simply because the ultimate goal is to eventually get the dogs to feel as if their kibble is a treat in and of itself.

And there you go: the secret of Puppy Crack.

Now that you know how I do it, there are a couple bits of additional advice:

  • Don’t cut up too many treats in advance – only keep enough cut on-hand to be able to fill and refill your treat pouch once. Treats go stale and they become less and less yummy to the dogs the staler they get.
  • Most treats seem to make dogs thirsty so please remember to take some water along for your dogs when you’re out and about training.
  • Keep in mind that at home you can probably train with your dog’s kibble, but when you increase the distractions we typically need to increase the power of the reinforcer – at least in the beginning.  Ultimately the goal is to only need food reinforcement in the learning stages or when something new occurs, because eventually your praise will be as powerful as that puppy-crack!  (How to properly sequence things will be addressed in its own Ask Professor Boo.)

If you’re interested in the specific brands of treats that I use, they’re available over in the Boo-tique.

 

The Thieving Puppy, or How to Teach the Rules of Tug

Teaching your dog the rules of tug and setting up boundaries helps control their natural tugging behavior and gives you both what you want.

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Ask Professor Boo is our recurring, positive reinforcement dog training and behavior question and answer column. If there’s a question that you would like to ask Professor Boo, please feel free to contact him.

[dropcap]Q[/dropcap]: We’ve just got a new puppy and while he’s got all the rough-around-the-edges things that go along with being a puppy he does one thing that’s driving us crazy: everything becomes a game of tug. If he grabs a pillow off the couch – tug. If he grabs a towel in the bathroom – tug. If he grabs our pants – tug. How can we stop him?

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]: First things first: tug is an ingrained behavior but that doesn’t mean that you can’t shape and give it rules.

It is more fair – and makes for a much happier dog – to shape behaviors they love than try to “break” the dogs of them.

If we step back for a moment and think about tugging, just what is it that we’re looking at? In short, you’re seeing a social manifestation of millions of years of their evolution.

As canids evolved and their hunting techniques developed to allow the hunting of larger prey, they faced new issues: bigger prey requires a collective effort to take them down and how would the group divide up the results?

At some point – millions of years ago – by chance one of them grabbed one end of a kill and another one grabbed the other end and what started as a solution to communal hunting and eating back then we see today in dogs as “tug.”

That is why you can see tug begin to manifest in litters of puppies barely stable enough to walk: it’s in their genes.

Bringing this back home to your new pup and how to shape his tug addiction, here are what I like to call…

The Rules of Tug

  • Engage the game with a cue like “tug” or “take it”.
  • Use a toy large enough so that your hands will be clear of the dog’s mouth. I like to use only one or two designated tug toys because this reduces confusion and the dog’s desire to tug everything under the sun. It also focuses their tug energies on their Super Special Tug Toy – and for that I just love the Tennis Tug!
  • When the dog pulls or shakes side-to-side, relax your resistance or drop the toy completely. (You can continue the game this way if your back and arm joints are strong enough but – if you’re like me – stick with the straight-on tug).
  • When the dog pulls front-to-back or straight-on, keep your resistance on the toy and play the game.
  • If the dog’s teeth hit your hand or clothing at any point, drop the toy, fold your arms, and look or even walk away from the dog.
  • If the dog’s paws briefly land on you, you can choose to do the same look or walk away. If they are using you as a lever with the paws up against your body, drop the toy and look or walk away.
  • The dog will probably come back to you with the toy after something like this. When they do, ask for a sit and restart the game using the cue you’ve chosen.
  • If the dog begins tugging any article of clothing, disengage from the dog and give them a time-out from you and the game.

These are the rules I use for our own dogs at home, and with both consistency and patience in their application they do a fantastic job of both giving the dog what they want (a great game of tug) as well as giving us what we want (rules and boundaries). It is also a great way to build trust and wear out that puppy!

In fact, tugging is so hard-wired into most dogs that you could very well find yourself shocked to see how quickly they’ll adapt to the rules. Tug is of such high value to them that they’ll jump through hoops to play it consistently.

Good luck, let me know how it goes, and stay positive!

 

The Anxious Greyhound, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Leash

Leash anxiety can be a common behavioral problem in dogs. Here are some great positive reinforcement tips on how to overcome it.

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[dropcap]Q[/dropcap]: We have two Italian Greyhounds, a seven year old male and a four year old female. The female has not allowed us to leash or harness her since she was about six months old. She is extremely nervous and skittish and generally difficult to deal with. She can run in circles for hours. As you can imagine, getting her to the vet or anywhere in general is a nightmare. Have you ever heard of this, and can this be corrected? We have had no problems like this with the older dog. Thanks.

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]: While it might seem as if you’ve got one single issue with your younger greyhound, from what you’re saying it seems as if there are smaller, individual problems that are snowballing together.

On the one hand, she seems as if she’s leash-phobic, which isn’t entirely uncommon, and on the other she seems to be exhibiting the classic signs of a more general type of anxiety.

Let’s address the leash sensitivity first since it presents a pressing safety concern for her.

Almost no dog is born liking their leash. It’s something they eventually learn to love, tolerate, or even hate depending on the rewards associated with them putting it on.  Going for walks, play, and general fun will make the leash much more attractive for a dog who likes those things.

Stepping back for a moment and putting it in human terms, in many ways on a behavioral level a leash to a dog is the same as a tie is for a man.

No man, young or old, likes wearing a tie the first couple times, but if they’re consistently told they look handsome in it – or if they get paid a million dollars to wear it – they’re going to learn to really like it.

Alternatively, if someone has to wear a tie to a job that they only kind of like but they get paid pretty well to do it, then they’ll tolerate the tie but – more often than not – will look forward to pulling it off the second they’re out of the office.

Finally, if the only time someone wears a tie is to go to funerals then the powerful negative associations they’ve made to the tie will essentially guarantee they’ll hate every second of wearing one.

Bringing it back to your anxious greyhound, for whatever reason she’s put herself in the “funeral” associative camp and your job is to get her from there to tolerating and then loving her leashes or harnesses.

Here’s my advice for how to deal with the leash issue:

  1. Since her anxiety levels likely spike if she even sees the leash or harness, in the very beginning just bring it out so she can see it and give her jackpot handfuls of her favorite dog treats (or a tidbit of something super-yummy like cheese, hotdogs, etc.). Do this once or twice a day for the first couple days to allow her to begin to associate the presence of the leash or harness with something really, really good. Please remember that if you are using the jackpot method to cut down on her regular meals – she does not need extra weight.
  2. Once she begins to display excitement when you bring the leash out – even if it’s just excitement for the treats – bring the leash or harness over to her, put it on the ground next to her, and give her the same jackpots or cheesy tidbits as before. At this point we’re trying to build comfort with proximity to the leash or harness and repeat this process once or twice a day for a couple of days.
  3. Once she’s displaying excitement with having the leash next to her on the ground, hold the leash in one hand while feeding her the jackpot or other yummy goodies with the other. Like before, this is about building comfort with both proximity and having the leash or harness near her head and face so you’ll want to do this for a couple days as well.
  4. Finally it’s time to move on to putting the leash on her collar or harness on her body – and like before it’s going to be jackpots or other super-yummy snacks while you clip her up and walk her around wearing the leash. Like the man in the example above learning to love his tie because he gets paid a million dollars to do it, your jackpots are her million dollars.

Once you’ve gotten to the point where she’s happy to wear her leash or harness, in the very beginning you are going to go very slowly as she builds up her confidence while she’s wearing it. Dogs feel at a disadvantage when they’re leashed so you must be very careful so you do not undo all the work you’ve done.

(As an aside, I’ve written before on the topic of how best to handle leashes – here and here.)

With regard to your greyhound’s anxiety, not knowing what’s triggering it makes it a bit harder to pinpoint a specific approach.

My general rule of thumb when it comes to a dog who exhibits anxiety is to check with your veterinarian to be sure that she is healthy and seek out a local behaviorist to be sure you are doing no harm. There are a number of over-the-counter approaches they might try before recommending consulting a medical specialist for pharmaceutical help:

  • D.A.P. – Dog Appeasing Pheromone – is something that I’ve used extensively in the past in both my private and shelter consultation practices and I’ve seen encouraging anecdotal evidence that suggests it does help the dog to reduce their anxiety levels. D.A.P. is nice because it comes in a wide variety of forms from house diffusers to collars to pocket-sized sprays, and I’ve noted no negative side effects from its use.  (I’ve written about D.A.P. here, which you might find useful to read.)
  • Thundershirts – like D.A.P., the Thundershirt is something that I’ve used extensively to address dog anxiety.  Essentially, the Thundershirt is a body wrap that cinches snugly around the dog and functions in very much the same way that similar deep touch pressure calms patients with autism or ADHD. In short, the pressure exerted on the body causes the wearer to relax which reduces their susceptibility to anxiety-producing stimuli.  I use the Thundershirt frequently in my shelter consultations and have witnessed anecdotal evidence that it does, in fact, work very well – especially considering the highly reactive environment within a typical animal shelter.

Ideally I would like you to address both the leash sensitivity and anxiety in parallel because the confidence she builds from the leash training might lessen the anxiety while the lessened anxiety from the over-the-counter approaches might allow her to better focus on the training.

The leash sensitivity training will take time and patience on your part, but desensitization through positive reinforcement does – and can – work wonders.

And don’t forget while you are working on these items please seek out professional help to assist you with the root cause of your greyhound’s anxiety.

Good luck and let us know how it goes! Stay positive!

 

A Touch of Class

The benefits of our positive reinforcement dog training classes and how they can help your dog go from being a pet to a true family member.

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Ask Professor Boo is our recurring, positive reinforcement dog training and behavior question and answer column. If you have a question that you would like to ask Professor Boo, please feel free to contact him.

[dropcap]Q[/dropcap]:  What’s so important about training classes???

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]:  I have mentioned in previous posts that dogs don’t generalize well.  I think there may have also been some mention about socialization being very important with both people and dogs even if you have many people and dogs in your home.  We also know that when we teach our dogs we are building a communication system that allows us to prevent some behavioral issues that might crop up later in your dog’s life.

Classes allow us to do a little of all of this –

While…

Teaching good behaviors and manners

You…

Build good communication skills between you and your dog

Which Can…

Prevent a good chunk of behavioral problems

And…

Socialize your dogs to other people and other dogs

So you can…

Help your dog to generalize behaviors to a variety of places

And in the end…

Your dog is happier, you are happier, and life is Good!

In short, while classes may not seem like a good idea in times of economic troubles they are usually the most cost-effective way to a happy doggie household since prevention is much cheaper than damage control.

Take a look at the upcoming classes and see if you and your dog might fit into one of these!