Northern Beaches dog lovers were given high quality, free information about positive, reward-based dog training last night.
Learning to read dog body language, tips for communicating with our furry companions and doing cool tricks together were covered by qualified dog trainers who only use positive outcomes when working with their and other people’s dogs.
For those who weren’t able to make it on the night, here are some of the key insights from the line-up of fantastic speakers.
Dr Jill King – Pittwater Animal Hospital
As an animal behaviourist, Jill covered anxiety in dogs as many animals needing her help visit her office every day. While a normal response, anxiety is an anticipation or worry about a potential future danger. Some dogs, however, develop anxiety about things that aren’t dangerous such as hair dryers or the sound of thunder.
Jill spoke about the stages or zones of anxiety:
- Happy, relaxed dogs = in the blue zone.
- Interacting with us, slightly excited = in the green zone.
- Getting worried but starting to get worried = the yellow zone (pre-panic).
- Absolute panic zone= in the red. There’s not much can do at this point as they are totally stressed out.
Jill’s advice was that if your dog is in the green zone, moving to yellow, but before they get to the red zone is to get your dog out of the situation and avoid it in the first place when you can. Calm them down and get eye contact. Tell them it’s all okay and be kind to them.
Louise Colombari – Pittwater Animal Hospital
“I have emotions you can relate to as a human but I need you to understand me as a dog”… Understanding canine body language was covered by Louise who is a vet nurse and dog trainer.
|Human communication||Dog communication|
|Approach each other directly/ face to face / front on
Engage direct eye contact
Shake hands or hug
|Approach in an arch
Have indirect eye contact
Body language indicates their personality – swift and direct = confident, slow and less direct = less confident
Find face to face contact confrontational. Especially when they’re on a lead and feel they can’t escape.
Learn to read your dog’s emotional state by observing the big picture. Loose, wiggly dogs are generally comfortable while those who are stiff in their eyes and body stance and have a shut mouth are anxious, uncomfortable or alert to potential danger.
Dogs use displacement behaviours and calming signals to calm themselves or others. These are either normal behaviours taking place out of context e.g. they yawn when they are not tired or to diffuse a potentially stressful situation with other dogs or people.
There’s a range of these behaviours where if you observe them you’ll be able to recognise if your dog is uncomfortable in the situation – even when you think everything’s okay. The list includes yawning, scratching, lip licking, sneezing, stretching, turning away, lifting a paw, showing the whites of their eyes, blinking repeatedly or slowly dropping their head.
Some easily recognisable signs of stress in dog include suddenly shedding a lot (like a dandruff storm), sweating through their feet which leaves wet paw prints, refusing to eat, shaking as if they are wet, pacing, panting and barking or whining.
There are great body language apps and resources on the Internet, including:
Maxine Fernandez – Canine Kindergarten
Tricks are a great way to build trust and confidence in each other through positive reinforcement. They create calm and can help you learn to communicate with each other, while your dog has to get basic behaviours down pat as they’re often the foundation for more complex actions e.g. lying down precedes rolling over.
Maxine likes training multiple tricks at the same time so there’s variety and unpredictability, while you can move onto another trick if they’re struggling with a particular one. To do complex tricks you break them down to their most simple stages and build them together as the dog grasps each stage.
Tips for getting started with tricks:
- You can teach by luring (getting them into position), capturing (reward as they do the right thing) or shaping (stitching behaviours together)
- Mark the behaviour with a clicker or a “yes” to mark the moment the dog does the right thing and reward them with food to reinforce it
- Use prompts or chains to shape a more complex behaviour
- Be safe – watch your dog for signs of stress, frustration and discomfort. Don’t pressure them and don’t train if they are over-excited.
Barbara Hodel – Goodog Positive Dog Training
Dog sports are fun, save you going to the gym as it keeps you fit, you have a better trained dog and improves the relationship between you and your dog. And above all it’s about Barbara’s catch phrase: tired dogs mean happy owners!
There is a large choice – 50 different options available, including some breed-specific ones. Dog sports Barbara recommends and that are available in our local area are:
- Treibball where instead of sheep they use large balls where dogs need to ‘herd’ them into a goal.
- In Earth Dog for terrier-type dogs they have built purpose-built dens to ‘hunt’ rats (which are protected behind a fence for their safety).
- Nose Work is inspired by working detective dogs and they learn to find a specific odour and its source. Great for older dogs who aren’t as agile anymore or those with other disabilities.
- Flyball is a race between two teams of four dogs. Each dog jumps over four hurdles, retrieves a ball and returns.
- Rally O (stands for rally obedience) is a combination between traditional obedience and agility but is more relaxed and suitable for most dog owners. Handler and dog navigate a signposted course, performing a series of exercises such as turns while a judge checks their performance.
- Agility – dog and handler navigate a course with jumps and equipment, while competing against time with no faults.
- Dancing with dogs. The routine choreographed to music is also called freestyle obedience or heelwork to music.
Choose what’s right for you according to your age and fitness level, time and interest, as well as your dog’s age, fitness, sociability and breed. Some ways to get involved in sports on the Northern Beaches include:
- Goodog fun classes
- North Suburbs Dog training Club
- Manly and District Kennan and dog training clb
- Canine fun sports
Dogs NSW has info about herding, Earth Dog etc
It was a great night and the community really benefitted from having access to such high calibre dog trainers who don’t use punishment to get the best from their dogs.
Around three education sessions are planned for next year. If you are interesting in finding out more or attending future events, please get in touch with Barbara at www.goodog.com.au or Barbara@goodog.com.au