Who, exactly, is being trained?

Going to “dog school” is a great step many people take in building closer relationships with their canine companions. They’re prepared to invest the time and money to make this happen, which benefits both the animal and the humans it shares life with.

As the thinking party in the human-canine relationship, it comes down to us to make the change we want to see in our dogs.

As the thinking party in the human-canine relationship, it comes down to us to make the change we want to see in our dogs.

We’ll explore on another day the type of things you need to consider when signing up for dog training – including the training tools used and experience of the person running the classes. What is greatly rewarding is to watch the relationship between the dog and its owner/s develop over the course of a few weeks as they come to class.

However, there’s still the view in some circles that dog school works similarly to the way we educate children. That you hand it over to a trainer who teaches the dog new, acceptable behaviours such as not chewing the lead while it’s walking, or jumping up when greeting new people – like children going to school to learn from their teacher and coming home knowing the alphabet. I recently had a conversation in a dog park with a lady who had sent her Bull Terrier to just such an outfit.

The dog went on a ‘training camp’ to a purpose-built facility in Sydney and returned home two weeks later with the verdict that it was no longer bouncing off control at the end of the lead and was able to provide focused attention when requested.

The lady told me that all was well on day one when the dog got back home, day two there was some regression and by the end of the week the dog was back to its old tricks of jumping up, not listening and other shenanigans.

She was disappointed and also upset that she had paid good money, for no result. I could tell she wanted to blame the dog for the outcome or that it was something to do with how it saw their relationship – that she wasn’t to be ‘respected’. So I asked her a simple question: “What did you learn while the dog was away being trained? What do you need to do differently to get a different outcome? She looked at me. Then the realisation dawned that she had not acquired any of the skills needed to help her dog learn what was acceptable and to make that behaviour more rewarding than, say, playing tug-of-war while on lead.

If there’s one thing that will foster a closer relationship between owners and their dogs and get better behavioural outcomes, then it’s this. Training a dog to have good manners only works if the humans also learn and make their own behavioural adjustments. Such as – not pushing down when the dog jumps up so that it doesn’t become a great game that in itself is rewarding for the dog. Rather asking for a ‘sit’ instead and rewarding that.

It’s not always the easiest option and takes patience, time and perseverance – but the result is getting the behavior consistently and the dog doesn’t get shouted at or have to be locked away when visitors come to the door. It means less negative energy invested or having to manage a problem rather than creating a long-term solution. Like life coach Anthony Robbins said: “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” And as the thinking party in the human-canine relationship, it comes down to us to make the change we want to see”.

Fast ways to create fun for a slowed down dog

My energetic, ball-chasing, beach-digging, vivacious little jumping bean of a Staffy has a very sore leg. He can’t bear to walk further than 200 metres and mostly only wants to spend his time sleeping in front of the heater. He is obviously in pain and uncomfortable. That he took chase after a cat skulking across our front lawn just as I was bending to put his lead on in the pre-dawn dark of Friday morning, has only worsened a situation which was already painful.

Invest in some new chew toys to entertain a dog that has to take time out from exercise due to an injury. Zac loves those that squeak - this is a stuffling-free duck being given a test drive.

Invest in some new chew toys to entertain a dog that has to take time out from exercise due to an injury. Zac loves those that squeak – this is a stuffling-free duck being given a test drive.

The vet is treating possible arthritis and a potential injury of his front elbow with painkillers and anti-inflammatories before we head down the x-ray investigation route. Patty from Healthy Pets Naturally has also prescribed Rosehip joint support which we’ve now started. While I try to remain positive about an eventual recovery and frankly want to cry (and have) to see him in such pain, I’ve had to find new ways to keep him entertained without any leg action involved.

Here’s my plan for brain and body games that we can do for enrichment and burning off energy while he’s lying down on his bed in front of the heater to keep the leg warm and still. These can also work equally well for rainy days, for entertaining older dogs with limited mobility or when you are sick and can’t go outside with your dog during this time of winter colds and flu bugs.

  1. Zac has become a self-appointed squeaky toy tester. I’ve stocked up on new toys to put in the toy box. He gets to choose a toy during every play session and afterwards the toy and box are put away so that the toys remain interesting. I hold the toy and he gets to chew on it and make it squeak. This can go on for quite some time before he tires of the toy and also creates an interesting background soundtrack as I make my way through watching the Breaking Bad series on DVD. Will be sharing more about our testing results soon.
  2. I hide chew treats on and in his bed. Either use little dry treats or break up bigger ones into tiny pieces and hide them under the blanket on his bed to find. Zac doesn’t need to move his body, just his head and neck. One hand distracts while the other hides the treat. Shezam, it works every time!
  3.  Practice the ‘watch me’ focus exercise. I bring a treat up to my nose, he has to “watch me” and keep eye contact with me for longer and longer periods – working his way up from a second or two, to about half a minute or longer, then he gets the treat. If he looks away, the clock starts again and I ask for a shorter attention span before he gets to eat the treat.

I’ve found that even though he’s not active, he’s still hungry. So remember to take the calories being fed through treats out of the next meal, as weight gain won’t help with joint support and healing.

Make the rules, don’t shake the rules

Imagine one morning you get to work. You boss starts shouting at you about being late as soon as you walk in the door, although it’s the same time you arrived the whole month before and it’s well before office opening hours.

keep it consitent

Make the rules wisely and apply them with kindness and consistency.

You sit down at your desk as you always do and then he comes running from across the room, pushes you by the arm out of the chair, glares at you and angrily tells you to use a chair from the kitchen today. Hopefully this isn’t a typical day for most of us…

Confusing? Certainly. Frustrating. Absolutely. Inconsistent. Yes-sirree. But at least both of you speak the same language.

Now imagine the premise of this scenario which many dogs face. One moment they’re being fed roast chicken skin from the table when they make whiney noises under a chair. But the day stern Auntie Marg comes to visit, the dog is admonished by the owner for the same begging behavior. Or a dog that is invited onto the bed on the day the laundry is due to be done, but told off for jumping up there at other times.

Confusing? Certainly. Frustrating. Absolutely. Inconsistent. Yes-sirree. With an additional consequence added for the dog – fear of doing the wrong thing, which creates a lack of confidence and certainty. If you’re not sure of doing the right thing you’re certainly not going to be sure of doing a lot of things, to avoid punishment – whether it be verbal or physical.

The thing is, dogs don’t know when it’s washing day compared to when the sheets are clean. They also don’t know about social etiquette as not jumping on the couch they usually lie on when a visitor comes around. That’s their spot. From their perspective they’re allowing the visit access to and sharing their couch space.

We expect our dogs to intuit, deduct, instinctively understand or at best guess what the rules are. Isn’t it far kinder to them to make one rule and stick to it? If the outcome you want is a dog that is well behaved, which in my experience is what most people want from their companion animals, then you’re better off thinking about the rules you make and being consistent in their application (I have chosen not to use the word ‘enforcement’ here.

I personally don’t like cleaning very much and therefore don’t allow my dog to sit on the furniture. However, he has his own dog bed and comfortable mattress in the lounge which he is free to sit, lie or play on. When guests come, they can sit on the couch in peace without being covered in dog hair or have their face licked as they sip their cup of tea – and the dog knows exactly where he has to be, though sometimes the excitement is just too much for him and I have to lure him back to the mat which is also okay. Nobody’s perfect! I’m not saying dogs shouldn’t go onto furniture as it’s a personal choice – but it doesn’t work for me and I therefore make it a consistent rule for Zac.

For a happy dog that understands the rules, make them wisely and apply them kindly and consistently. For as American politician Lincoln Chafee said: “Trust is built with consistency”. This lesson applies as much to dog training as it does to running election campaigns. With dog training involving a lot less barking and jaw snapping of course.

Make this long weekend a fun weekend!

The prospect of a public holiday on Monday means an extra sleep in and more time to spend with my dog. Woohoo!

Try as he might, the Jakaranda tree always wins! Make sure to buy a specially-designed pet tyre as they don't contain steel as tyres for vehicles do.

Try as he might, the Jakaranda tree always wins! Make sure to buy a specially-designed pet tyre as they don’t contain steel as tyres for vehicles do.

My top five fun things to do with my dog on long weekends:

  • Tie his pet tyre to a tree and watch the tree win tug-of-war every time.
  • Go for a walk – anywhere will do, as long as you take time to sniff the roses and the lamp posts (erm, just to be clear, I go for the roses).
  • Train a new trick to show off and yes old dogs will happily learn new things if you make the food rewards worthwhile. Roast chicken, anyone?
  • Play ‘hide the treat’. He sits and stays in one room. I hide a treat in another and only when he is called can he come and search for it.
  • Take him with me to as many places as possible, as just getting out and about is great enrichment which keeps him from barking and digging. I signed him up for companionship, not isolation.

How do you and your pet have fun together?

Welcome to Pedadoggy!

Pedadoggy's doggy and training inspiration.

Zac – Pedadoggy’s doggy and training inspiration.

Dogs, life and learning. They’re all intrinsically intertwined if you enjoy the companionship of dogs and having them as another member of your family.

The definition of ‘pedagogy’ is the art or profession of teaching. Pedadoggy reflects on the process of learning for both humans and their dogs. Whether it’s the revelation of a new skill, insight into what drives us or simply doing what we enjoy doing best, even just a small amount of time with a dog and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Modern dog training is based on well-established learning principles that have been chartered by scientists and psychologists over many years. While some dog trainers still advocate punishment in various forms to change behavior, it simply is more fun and builds a better relationship if you focus on reward through a positive approach.

And in the process you may learn something about yourself too. So welcome to Pedadoggy – where the dog is both the student and the teacher.