How to Safely Re-Home a Dog in Need
by Deborah Rosen & Andy Sands
There are many things we learn as professional dog trainers, but one of the most important, and one we share on a daily basis with clients is how to safely bring home a rescue dog. Many of these dogs come with little history and, often, there is no information at all. In general, it is best to ignore the information completely and take steps to protect yourself as well as your new family member. I hope to provide you with some simple, yet important steps to follow that will make the transition easier and more successful. Over the next few weeks and months I will highlight certain steps to take, with easy to follow instructions. By following a certain protocol you will ensure your dog is safe to bring around all types of people, especially children, and other dogs.
Rescue dogs often come, at best, with a checkered history of socializing. The one thing to know is that dog’s lives are very compressed and they age very quickly in the first year of their life. This is the reason why, as puppies, it is important to saturate them with social experiences. Dogs are generally very social beings, however, without the right experiences, fear may be a natural response. Sometimes, even with the right early exposure a puppy’s instinct will be fear of the things he does not know.
Rescued dogs are a completely different story. These dogs come to rescues needing a great deal of attention. Most of these dogs were not given much attention – they were not trained or socialized and now they are thrown into a new situation and expected to adapt. In some cases, these poor creatures were treated badly or even abused in one way or another. For these dogs, it is critical to take the proper steps while attempting to provide remedial socializing.
Let’s discuss the process of introducing new adults to your rescue. It’s important to take the proper steps to start exposing your new rescue pup safely. Instruct people who are new to your pup to show her the proper respect by averting their eyes when first meeting. Giving a fearful dog direct eye contact can be perceived as threatening and promote more fear. Second, it is always best to have the dog on a leash so you can control its movement. Know that a leashed dog will feel more threatened because it is unable to get away and knows it. Because of this it is almost better to have your guest actually ignore the dog for the first few minutes – no eye contact, no verbal interaction. Just let the dog assimilate to the newcomer. When the dog appears disinterested, you may allow the person to sit close by, without giving the dog eye contact. If the dog looks at the person without vocalizing or showing fear, deliver a very high-value treat (meat, cheese, chicken, etc.). Do this over and over until the dog looks at the person and then looks back at you for the treat. Always start this routine with adults, not children. Once the dog has assimilated to adults, you may begin to bring in children of every age.
Stay tuned for more tips on Bringing Home (Fur) Baby in future installments.
I’m seeing a huge number of puppies come through my puppy kindergarten classes right now and I thought this might be a good time to blog about basic puppy rearing, socializing, training and behavior. Here goes!
NATURE AND NURTURE
Dogs and humans share a need and a desire to be social. Dogs in the wild travel in packs and rely on each other for survival. They also have elaborate rituals for courtship and companionship. Much of this ritualized behavior continues to be “hardwired” in domesticated dogs even though they have learned to appreciate and seek affection from humans and sometimes other species of animals. What dog do you know that doesn’t enjoy a scratch behind the ear or a good belly rub? So, what is the “rub?”
Our frenetic urban setting is not always an easy or completely natural one for our companion dogs. What might seem like natural social behaviors at home does not extend beyond the comfort and familiarity of home. Despite this, we set the bar exceptionally high for dogs with respect to their behavior in public. Consider a young child, for example, kept in isolation until age 15 and then suddenly thrown into a group situation with 20 other children. Chances are very good he or she might be extremely fearful, or awkward and, in turn, respond badly or say something inappropriate.
When we sequester puppies at home for the first few months of their lives to protect them from disease or harm, we are, in fact doing them a terrible disservice. Since puppies age and learn so quickly when they are young, by holding them close for the first few months, we are doing the equivalent of what I described above to the child.
With human children, we understand and accommodate their need to “learn” to be with and around other children and adults. We encourage interactions and set up “playgroups” for them. We coach and supervise these play sessions and provide them the feedback they need to ensure their play is safe. If Katie hits Johnny while playing in the sandbox, it is common practice that Katie will be given a “time out” and receive coaching and feedback before she is sent back to play with Johnny or any other child. At that point, I have a feeling she will be watched more carefully to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Why, then, do we not give young pups the benefit of the same supervised play opportunities to ensure they development safe and solid play skills – the ability to play nicely with a variety of dogs of differing sizes, shapes breeds and temperaments.
Puppies that are kept away from other dogs, people or urban settings and then, suddenly, thrown into social situations may react with fear that evolves into fear-based aggression. Like children, young puppies need exposure to unfamiliar (and potentially scary) things as well as encouragement when they react well. And, they also need to be told, in no uncertain terms, when their behavior is unacceptable, and there are ways to gently tell them so they will understand and be able to play better next time.
IS YOUR DOG FRIENDLY? Tune in next week for the next installment!
Treats are a Powerful Tool!
When used correctly, treats can work as a powerful tool to modify a dog’s behavior. If you are uncertain, it is better to withhold a treat than itis to give one out. In teaching basic obedience, I ask clients to put their dog in a “relaxed down” position, where the dog actually slightly rolls onto one hipand is more likely to maintain the down position. If we deliver a treat to the dog only when he or she assumes the relaxed down position, this is the position the she will assume every time we say “down.” Ultimately, achieving this posture enables us to teach the dog a reliable “down stay.”
Many people are still uncomfortable with giving dogs treats to get them to perform and wonder if the dog will become dependent on treats,or will fail to perform without them. Other people worry about the dog gaining too much weight if bombarded with too many treats. I’d like to address both issues. The answer to the first is that most dogs will not work for free and need at least the hope of a reward. How and when we deliver treats will allow us to improve and fine-tune the dog’s skills and will, ultimately, assist in making the dog less reliant on the treat itself.
Fading Out Treats Can Help Improve Skill
As dogs begin to perform skills with more regularity and in a variety of circumstances we can begin to fade out the treats. As you create greater diversity of distractions while requiring the dog to perform, you are gaining greater reliability. Doing this actually helps the dog to maintain or even increase skill level. Once you have a reliable level of skill, you can progress from a fixed-treat schedule (one treat for every skill they perform correctly) to an intermittent treat schedule. For example, decide in advance to give the dog one treat for every three skills he does correctly. If he fails to perform, start the cycle again. The dog learns that before he gets the treat, he first has to perform “sit,” “down” and “wait.”
Next Step – Randomize Treats
As the dog gets more reliable in performing each skill we can delay the delivery of the treat, progressing eventually to a “random” treat schedule. As you might suspect by its name, this treat schedule involves giving the dog a treat only when it’s deserved. For example, if a dog performs a skill that is difficult for him or if he performs an easier skill, but with many distractions.
Treats and Weigh
As I mentioned earlier, people are often worried about weight gain when giving so many treats. High value can take the form of healthy treats as well. Many dogs love apples and carrots and you can always cut up treats so they are extremely small. At the recent APDT annual conference in Spokane just last month, I discovered a Seattle based company called Leanlix. They make a highly nutritious, low-calorie treat delivery system. It comes in a plastic delivery stick (kind of like the way deodorants are made) and it makes for a quick delivery of the treat. I had been looking for a very long time for just this type of product, with healthy enough ingredients and finally here it is, right in our own backyard. For more information on Leanlix products, I provided a link below. This system is also helpful for dogs that have a hard mouth. It puts your hand at enough of a distance to save your fingertips.
Here are a few basic reminders about giving dogs treats for training purposes.
- Deliver the treat quickly after the dog elicits the desired behavior – timing is critically important.
- High value treats (very tasty treats) will help achieve hard to get behaviors.
- Be selective in giving out treats! It’s better to withhold a treat than to deliver one for the wrong behavior.
- When working with treats make sure that there are no other dogs around. Food can cause fights, especially with very food motivated dogs.
- We Don’t Work for Free, Why Should Our Dogs?
Remember, just like their owners, dogs need motivation to work. It is perfectlyfine to hand out treats to your best canine friend, but it’s best to do it with a plan and a purpose. If you do, you will have a happier dog—one that is gainfully employed performing many of the desired skills in exchange for tasty rewards.
Dogs & Treats
Americans love their dogs. We show our love them by showering them with toys, affection, praise and, most of all, tasty treats. We dole out these goodies on a regular basis and sometimes for no reason at all. This practice of giving dogs treats “just for the heck of it” is all fine and good, but by doing so you are missing out on some wonderful opportunities to train your dog and to make him or her much happier.
Dogs Need Gainful Employment
If your dog has things to learn—like most dogs, including mine—the practice of handing out treats, praise, affection and anything else for no good reason is actually doing the dog a terrible disservice. That’s because dogs, not unlike people, need jobs to do and without them feel lost or purposeless.
I like to tell people that the number one problem with pet dogs is that they are grossly underemployed. Our pet dogs are, by and large, coded with the DNA to motivate instinctive behaviors like herding, hunting, chasing and catching vermin and so much more. In other words, dogs were meant to “work for a living.” Without purpose pet dogs are apt to get into a world of trouble!
Give Your Dog a Job
(or two or three)
Without jobs to do, dogs will find other things to do and will “self-assign” the job of say, chewing your furniture, or digging holes in your backyard or barking at everyone who passes your uncovered windows. Without gainful employment, pet dogs become either destructive or neurotic or, if you are very unlucky, both.
Nothing in Life is Free and…jobs are fun!
Human beings understand and accept the fact that we get nothing in life for free, but our dogs have to be trained to understand this. Begin the practice of assigning your dog the “job” of doing something for a treat, a belly rub or a bully stick. In dog training this concept is actually called “Nothing in Life is Free,” a training philosophy that has been around for a long while but is not often practiced with much consistency. For all types of reasons, we stop asking our dogs to perform for the things they enjoy. This is unfortunate, because dogs both need and enjoy working. And, if we find jobs for our dogs and reward the behaviors we like, we just may be able to gain control and correct unwanted behaviors that often go unresolved for the dog’s entire life.
Take, for example, a German shepherd mix named Max, adopted by a mother and daughter when he was already a year old. He was a big ninety-five pounds and had inadvertently learned that it was fine to “play-bite” on his female owners’ arms and legs. Immediately, Max was put on an intensive routine of consequence-based training, which included managing his behaviors using treats, praise, affection and play — all the things he craved. Within a short time Max was eliciting all the right behaviors, play biting with other dogs instead of his owners and was becoming a wonderful companion for both Mom and daughter.
Be Selective When Handing out a Treat
Another perfect example is Bella, a sweet eight-month-old Weimaraner puppy who is a chronic jumper. She is lightning quick, incredibly agile and has the potential to knock you down in an instant. The remedy to the unwanted jumping is to turn quickly and ask her to sit. If she is successful, she gets both praise and affection as well as a treat. If not, the response is “too bad,” and we walk away in a huff. For some dogs that are hard-wired to jump like Bella, this may be a lifelong challenge. What is most important is that we try very hard to successfully redirect the unwanted behavior and be sure only to deliver a treat or praise them when they do it just right.
Check in for the next installment later in the week to find out how to “fade out” the treats.
“Wow, look at that really amazing… rock!”
Whether it’s an inanimate object, like a leaf or a rock or a moving one like a bug, a bird or a squirrel, your dog is certain to be easily pulled away from you the instant something crosses her path. Distractions will always be there, but our specialists – providers of the dog training Seattle Washington area owners can depend on – recommend several ways to change and correct this behavior, to help make you a good “dog handler” and allow for a more enjoyable walk.
Some puppies, and even older dogs, enjoy the game of carrying their leash around or playing with it while walking. Put a leash on in the house and allow the dog to have it on randomly. This will make the leash far less interesting. Once the dog habituates to the leash and has learned to ignore it, you can move on to the next step.
Start by picking up the leash in the house and walking with your dog from room to room. Ask the dog to watch you as you walk slowly at first with either a treat or a favorite toy in your other hand. By starting inside you are removing the outdoor distractions, but you are also creating a sense of fun and importance for yourself in the mind of your dog.
• Become the most interesting distraction of all.
Call the dog and give a gentle tug on the leash every time its attention veers away from you. Use some high- pitched “happy talk” (“C’mon let’s go, let’s go!”), make sounds and squeak the toy, or wave the treat to get and keep its attention.
While dogs are convincingly intelligent, they are not complex (in the way that humans are) and they will always go to the thing they view as the most fun. If you appear to your dog as supremely interesting, you have a better bet of getting it to stick around on as well as off leash.
• Be unpredictable.
You are now walking your dog around the houseon leash and it is enjoying this game because it’s fun. When you think you’re ready, ask your dog to sit, look at you and give it a treat. Now start moving in more unpredictable ways; take a right turn, a left turn, about face and then ask for a sit. If your dog follows you and looks right at you when you ask for a “sit” deliver a treat and lavish praise. If your dog does this well ten times in the house, you are now ready to go outside.
• Time to venture out.
Start in your backyard, if you have one. If not, go to a small park during “off” hours. Follow the same steps that you did in the house. Maintain a very happy and animated disposition—it is best not to try this if you are tired feeling the least bit impatient.
Remember, you are now introducing the outdoors, and if your backyard is anything like mine you’ll be competing with squirrels, birds, microscopic insects, sounds from the street, airplanes and a host of other distractions. (Try this on a number of different occasions at different times of the day and at night. You may not be aware, but different times mean noticeably different distractions for your dog. The daytime may provide more hungry squirrels shopping around for food—the nighttime means cooking smells from your neighbors’ houses) After you’ve had success on 10 different occasions, you are ready to venture for a real stroll—outside the house in the neighborhood.
As hard as it is to believe, we’re already approaching the end of summer. But for those of us living in the great northwest the days are still long and the weather is, well, perfect. It’s not too hot, there’s next to no humidity, and unlike many places during this time of year there are few bugs around to bother you. There couldn’t be a more perfect place or time to enjoy long walks with your 4-legged best friend!
But our specialists here at Good Citizen – long time providers of the daycare and positive dog training Tacoma Washington pups love – know from experience that there is one issue which can cast a dark cloud over this otherwise sunny situation: dogs with no leash manners.
To quote a recent inquiry from a potential client: “I found your business on Yelp when I was researching how to get my dog to not go after other dogs while on the leash. He’s a 1-year old Bullmastiff and he’s getting stronger all the time. Whenever we encounter other dogs along our walks, or in the park, he lunges and snaps at them. The last time he did it was the final straw because he almost took my arm off. I’ve looked into some other places that offer dog training in the Tacoma, WA area over the past year, but never found anyone who could figure out how to help me with this. After talking with some other owners who have been to your classes, I think what my pup needs is to become a Good Citizen!” The perspective client playfully ended the note with a smiley face, but what I read between the lines was a painful grimace.
The question is this: Is it possible to get even large, older dogs to stop pulling and being reactive on-leash? Is it possible for you to be able to have an enjoyable walk with your companion, starting and stopping whenever you want to “smell the roses” without getting dragged into them? Of course it is! Read on and learn how to train your canine companion to walk with you on a loose leash without ever becoming overly reactive.
“Don’t bother me, I’m busy.”
You may not know it, but the minute you step outside for a walk you have opened a proverbial “Pandora’s box” of tantalizing sights, smells, and sounds that can send your dog into an utter frenzy. In fact, I have yet to meet the untrained dog that has the attention and focus required to stay beside his owner without pulling. If your dog struggles with distractibility while on-leash, you can take solace in the knowledge that we all experience similar behavior problems in our pups before beginning training.
Displaying a lack of attention and focus does not mean that your dog is intentionally being obstinate or unruly. It simply is a sign that your dog is compelled by things that would easily distract most any dog, and that he or she has not yet learned to both walk and deal with those distractions at the same time. It’s the equivalent of a human learning to walk, chew gum, and carry on a conversation all at once. Distractions, not a desire to misbehave, are what lead your dog to pull you in whatever direction they find most interesting while they are on-leash. This issue becomes especially problematic when present in dogs that are large and strong — or in those with an instinct to run, chase, greet, or play with whatever or whomever they encounter. Then there are dogs who, much like the Bullmastiff described above, actually react with fear to the things they encounter while walking. The sources of their anxiety can vary, but often include other dogs, bicycles, skateboards, or motorcycles.
Distractions will always be present when you take your dog for a walk, but our trainers here at Good CitiZEN have developed several highly effective strategies for teaching dogs to remain focused and cooperative while on-leash. By introducing patented techniques like our well-known “doggy zen”, our dog training classes have helped many owners in the Seattle-Tacoma, WA area become “master handlers” whose pups are a pleasure to encounter on the walking path.
Check back later this week to read our next blog entry which will offer practical tips on how to build and maintain your dog’s attention, both on leash and off!
On Wednesday, July 17th at our founder and lead trainer Deborah Rosen will begin a new Advanced Meet & Greet (formerly Growly) class at our location in Fife (get directions to our dog training facility). This is our single most popular class, and it will continue meeting at 6:30pm on Wednesdays. One nice feature of our group classes here at Good CitiZEN Dog Training is that they are carefully designed so that each week can stand on its own. While we would certainly love to see you at each session, this means that owners who need to miss a week or two of class will still benefit greatly from joining us when they are able to.
Advanced Meet & Greet is a safe and extremely fun course for any rescue dog, or one with a late start on socializing. The class, which was designed to address on-leash behavior using only positive techniques, will help you get the kind of attention and control that you need when you are out and about with your dog. Whether your dog gets overexcited when meeting and greeting new dogs and humans, or actually displays some fear-based aggression, this is the class for you!
Take a look at some of our testimonials from past graduates and learn first hand how helpful the work we do together in Advanced Meet & Greet can be. If you would like to join us, you can sign-up directly on our online class schedule. Simply choose Advanced Meet & Greet from the “Select A Class” drop down menu and enter the couple pieces of requested information. As an alternative, you are also more than welcome to contact us by phone (253.752.6878) or e-mail (Deborah@goodcitizendog.com) to reserve your spot.
We look forward to seeing you in class!
The importance of giving “working dogs” a job is one of the main principles of dog training Tacoma Washington owners regularly learn about while attending Good CitiZEN’s classes. Some basic “jobs” for dogs can be asking for a “down” and a “leave it” when you place the food bowl on the floor. Instinctively, dogs are not equipped with impulse control (this type of behavior did not serve dogs well in the wild). So, asking a dog to control his impulses will burn a lot more energy than it would to run around the block ten times.
Food Bowls Are Boring!
Most dogs are highly food motivated, so one of the best ways to make a dog work when you’re not aroundis to feed them out of a stuff toy like a Kong, instead of their regular bowls.
From a health standpoint, the Kong slows down the eating process, which is good for dog’s that like to “scarf down their food.” A Kong also rewards a dog for figuring out the puzzle of getting the food out. By the end of the meal, you have a tired and satiated pooch. Many dogs fed this way will refuse to eat out of a bowl. They count on this challenge to satisfy their need for purposeful activity.
Some people will read this and worry about the time and effort required to stuff Kongs for their dogs. “I don’t have time to make myself coffee in the morning, how will I find time to stuff a Kong?” My suggestion is to get a supply of Kongs and stuff them at the beginning of the week—all at the same time. Put a couple in the fridge and the rest in the freezer. The frozen Kongs will be even more challenging for the dog and take even longer to dissect. It will be even more satisfying once he has completed the task.
For dogs that have figured out a stuffed Kong and empty out the foodin seconds, try tying a filled Kong into an old t-shirt. At first, tie loose knots around the Kong. After the dog has figured out how to undo the knots, start tying them more tightly. We need to continue to make the task challenging—we can’t risk allowing the dog to get bored. Put your working dogs like German Shepherds, Schnauzers, Boxers, Border Collies, Pit Bulls and all the others to work on dissecting a good knot. You’ll see how tired and happy they are when you come home to a house that looks exactly like it did when you left.
The most important thing to remember is: find your dog a job! Get her off the couch and off the doggie unemployment line. The next time your dog looks up at you with her tail wagging, asking for work, don’t hesitate. Say, “You’re hired!”
It’s time to find something constructive, meaningful and fun for your dog to do to channel his energy and instinctive behaviors. A dog’s mind left idle will start looking for things to do. And as our Tacoma and Seattle dog training clients can attest, that may very well include chewing your expensive furniture, digging up your new landscaping, or “counter-diving” for unattended food.
An underemployed dog may also become anxiety-ridden and neurotic, barking at every noise, lunging at the postal carrier, or becoming antisocial with other leashed dogs.
NOTHING IN LIFE IS FREE (FOR YOUR DOG)
If this sounds like your dog, he or she is probably looking for a job. “Nothing in Life is Free” (NLIF) is a common training adage in our greater Seattle area classes. It is incredibly beneficial to engage your dog in activities that he or she enjoys as a normal part of your life together: feeding, walking, petting, playing and so on. Once you do so, each of these activities can then be used as a motivational tool for the dog. The premise behind NLIF is that your dog needs a job and needs to be useful—why not make her work for the things she enjoys?
Before you take your dog for her daily walk, ask her to sit calmly and wait for three seconds. Not only are you training her to sit quietly, which will enable you to put on her leash more easily, she now knows that she must do a certain thing in order to get her beloved walk. This becomes her new job!
If you dog already does this, then you can step-up the difficulty a little. Ask your dog to get her leash and bring it to you. When she arrives with the leash get her to sit calmly and wait for three seconds. If your dog is really smart, start to hide the leash and give the dog hints without telling her exactly where it is. Your dog’s vocabulary is probably more extensive than you know. Say, “kitchen,” “bed” or something else. Then hide the leash in that place so it’s visible (at first).
Once your dog gets the knack of this new routine, make her sniff out the leash: use and develop her sense of smell and tracking instincts to make the game even more challenging. Not only are you giving your dog a task, you’re now requiring her to think and problem-solve to complete the task. You’ve made her job more difficult, but you’ve also made her life more interesting by satisfying her natural instinct to find and retrieve!
I have a Seattle area client who gave Murphy, his highly energetic chocolate Lab, several jobs. One of these was bringing in the morning newspaper. Believe me when I tell you, that owner gets a lot more pleasure out of telling stories about his talented pooch than he once did from talking about the mattresses Murphy destroyed before finding “gainful employment.”
Check back again later this week for more tips on putting your dog to work!
“You’re Hired! It’s the new canine version of The Apprentice hosted by Donald Trump’s dog, Ivan.” Are you kidding me? Well, yes, I’m kidding – but perhaps I shouldn’t be. When providing the positive dog training Seattle and Tacoma area residents have come to rely on, our Good Citizen trainers can often be overhead explaining to clients that the number one trouble with dogs is “underemployment.”
SURVIVAL: IT WAS A FULL-TIME JOB
Dogs in the wild had only one real job: to survive! Even before they evolved to be companion pets (aka couch potatoes), each dog was bred todo specific jobs: herding, hunting, tracking, ratting and so on. Dogs were workers and underwent training to help them serve a purpose that often occupied most of their days. They tirelessly completed their assigned tasks, after which they collapsed and happily slept the night away. The next morning they would awaken rested and ready to start the routine all over again. Today’s domesticated dogsare, quite simply, bored out of their heads! They have nothing to do to “allow them to be dogs” in the way that nature intended.
Labrador retrievrs, for example, are bred for tracking and hunting, can be overwhelmed by compelling and competing smells and sights with no bird to track and retrieve.
Jack Russell terriers, accomplished and tenacious ratters, are instead focused on the squirrels in the park. I recently saw a rat climbing through the tree in our backyard and wished (momentarily) for a JRT.
Schnauzers, bred to work and guard, are no longer needed to do either and instead, left to their own devices, become unwanted guards against their owner’s friends and friendly strangers. They start a cycle of “alert barking” that becomes habitual behavior for this type of dog. Two of our close friends live a nearly idyllic existence on American Lake about 30 minutes south of Seattle, Washington. The only exception is that each day they are greeted by a cacophony of barking from their underemployed next door neighbors – the forever barking two mini Schnauzers.
Is it time to refer to the classified section under, “Ratters Needed?” Probably not!
Be sure to check back in on our blog throughout the next week for our tried and true strategies for overcoming the epidemic of canine underemployment…
Come to Good Citizen’s this weekend for Puppy II Classes, Puppy Kindergarten Classes, or Advanced Classes.