K9 Professor Blog

I’m trying to be good BUT there are SO MANY options!

One of my favorite messages from Dr. Ian Dunbar is in reference to potty training dogs.  He instructs the first thing we should do when our dog has a potty accident in the house is to quickly find a newspaper, roll it up tight and bop OUR own head several times for not supervising our dog closely enough to PREVENT the rehearsal of going potty inside!  Oh, how true!  🙂 His wise advice is based on the realization that when we bring a dog (regardless of age) into our living environment, it is our responsibility to manage the environment so that their only option is to rehearse the desired behaviors.

To put what we expect of our dogs in proper perspective, take a quick trip with me on this silly but applicable analogy!  Imagine one day an alien walked into your house, put a leash on you and took you to their home.  They do not communicate via your native language.  The environment is dissimilar to what you are accustomed to and their traditions seem unusual from your natural ways of being.  Ponder for a moment on how you would figure out just the basics of functioning such as finding food, shelter, going “potty”, where to sleep, acclimating to the new noises, objects and routines.  Consider the mental, emotional and physical impact.  How would you know what is available and approved to eat or for that matter when you can eat?  What do you do if you need to go “potty” and how would you know where to go? Where and when do you sleep?  Being that we are social beings and thrive on interactions with others, how would you initiate interactions?  How would you know who or what to turn to for guidance?  I think you get the idea.  Although, this is a bit of a reach to consider, it is parallel to what dogs experience when we bring them to our  “home” and/or new environments.

As our dog’s guardian, it is our responsibility to gently introduce them to the human lifestyle.  We must understand their needs and create an environment that supports them making the desired behavior choices.  This applies throughout their life as they are exposed to new experiences (noises, animals, surroundings, etc.)  There is so much for dogs to learn and explore in our world.  Their natural instincts often conflict with what we deem appropriate.  In their natural habitat they go to the bathroom when and where they feel the need, they hunt and eat when they are hungry, chew on whatever is available, and bark when desired.  In the human lifestyle, both time and place for all of their functions are deemed by the humans’ schedule and wishes.  They eat when we decide to feed them and what we select to feed them, are only allowed to play with what we decide is appropriate, bark only if we feel it’s warranted, and, of course, only potty in our approved designated areas.

I am in awe on a daily basis of the power of the canine / human bond and our dog’s ability to adapt to our crazy world.  I can honestly say I am not confident in my abilities to change and adapt the way they do every day.  Their genuine desire to be with us seems to power them through very tough and challenging changes.  Keeping all of this in perspective, the least we can do for them is to guide and support them with positive learning associations and experiences.

So let’s talk about this adorable puppy in the drawing.  He wants to play and explore.  How is he to know that the child’s teddy bear and a family member’s tennis shoe are not authorized toys?  They were accessible so fair game, right?  Absolutely!  Case in point, when I was a child, my mom took great care of my LONG hair.  One day she had to step out of the room for a moment while I was in my playpen.  Well my playpen was near her dog grooming table and I decided to try her grooming scissors on my hair.  Of course, my Mom was horrified at the new hairstyle I had created for myself in just a matter of seconds!  I wasn’t trying to be naughty, I was just curious.  I can assure you that I never cut my hair again as my Mom made sure the scissors were completely out of my acrobatic reach at all times. 🙂

Our simple resolution to the prevention and/or elimination of undesired behavior by our dogs is proactive planning, effective management and LOTS of positive reinforcement.

⇒Adopt a beginner’s mindset.  Understand your dog’s natural instincts as well as their physical/emotional/mental needs.  Recognize that what you allow is what you teach, therefore, if you allow access to undesirable behavior options while in the learning stages, you are reinforcing the very behavior you want to prevent or eliminate!

⇒Make sure there are a variety of accessible fun doggie approved toys and activities that provide adequate mental and physical stimulation.  Specific to toys, rotate them at least once a week to keep them exciting and interesting.

⇒Manage your dog’s environment so they can and will make the right decision.  If you can’t watch them closely to prevent a rehearsal of an undesired behavior, then don’t leave them with the options of making the wrong decision.

⇒Praise and reward them for making the right choices and allow them to continually rehearse the desired behavior so it becomes a habit.

⇒Increase their “options” ONLY when they have repeatedly demonstrated the correct behavior choice is now a “habit”.

⇒If your dog gets the cherished shoe, calmly and indifferently offer to trade the shoe for a dog toy, praise them for playing with the toy,  then take the shoe and and bop yourself on the head as a reminder that leaving the shoe out for them to access in fact gave them the option for the undesired behavior.

⇒As they mature, get a lot of practice making the right choice and are properly reinforced for doing so, you will be able to gradually give them more freedom because they will have the information and experience to make the right behavior choice!

When contemplating how to address any behavior, adopt a beginner’s mindset.  Move from a place of judgment and frustration to understanding.  Create the conditions needed to achieve the desired end result.  Focus on progression, not perfection.  Enjoy the process because the final outcome only provides temporary bliss.  Recognize dogs seek comfort, fulfillment and happiness just as we do.

Learn to be your dog’s GPS – carefully map their way to the most efficient and effective way to get what you BOTH want!

Stay tuned for more Happy Woofs from the K9 Professor!

 

Get curious, not furious!

I am often reminded of a phrase my grandfather would say to me as a child when I did something wrong.  “Well kid, I guess you zigged when you should have zagged”.  I genuinely appreciated his calm response to my mistakes.  His loving composure drew me to him for guidance while going through the learning phase of many life lessons.    I didn’t feel the need to hide my errors from him nor did I ever fear harsh judgment.   His approach created a strong willingness in me to reflect and learn from my behavior choices.  Isn’t it amazing how moments like that in your childhood can have such a profound impact on your behavior as an adult?

I have found my grandfather’s wisdom to be very useful in my relationship with dogs.  I have learned to look past the initial moment of frustration with a dog’s undesirable behavior choice and seek understanding of why it happened.  From this calm and reflective state, I can learn how to prevent the dog’s behavior from being repeated AND formulate my plan to teach them what behavior I actually want.

Harshly correcting a dog does not equate to a constructive learning experience.  Take the picture for this blog as an example.  Obviously, Fido (dog in the picture) zigged when he should have zagged!  His guardian is not happy with his behavior and is emotionally displaying his displeasure to Fido.  How do you feel when someone points their finger at your face?  If you didn’t speak their language, how would you know what you did to create that response?  Does that physical gesture teach you what you should do?  What information is Fido receiving from his guardian’s body language?  Based on Fido’s body language, he is feeling threatened and stressed.  How is Fido to know what behavior choice he should make next time?  Frequently people say in defense of their harsh responses to their dog’s undesirable behavior that the dog KNEW they did something wrong and that is why they look so “guilty”.  It is my experience that the dog’s guilty or remorseful appearance has a lot more to do with trying to calm their guardian down and a lot less to do with their actual behavior choice.  Dogs only associate a consequence to a behavior if it occurs in the same millisecond following the behavior.  More times than not when we  react to a dog’s behavior with anger and intimidation, they do not make the association to the behavior we are trying to correct.  Instead they learn to “hide” the behavior choice in the future or just offer a myriad of calming signals to appease their human.  Even if our timing in correction was perfect so that they could associate the negative consequence (our emotional correction) to a specific behavior, we lost the opportunity to actually TEACH them what we WANT them to do instead.

Dogs are opportunists….they make choices based on what will bring them the best experience.  This is why building value and strong positive reinforcement history for desired behaviors is the MOST powerful method to achieve reliable results.

I think back to the start of my career and the perception that strong corrections were the means to the end of an undesired behavior.   I compare those memories and subsequent results to the very different approach I employ now.  I simply allow dogs to learn through gathering information (what works to get what they want and what doesn’t) from our interactions.  Establishing effective and meaningful communication in a relationship founded on MUTUAL trust, respect, compassion and cooperation is essential.  The best training takes place when we use the opportunities presented in every interaction to teach them.  This is why a lifestyle approach to training is so meaningful.  The foundation of our relationship must be solid in order for them to be consistent and confident.   Positive reinforcement training is counter intuitive to a lot of humans.  We are so well versed at pointing out all of the things we don’t like about something/someone but genuinely struggle to as passionately reinforce the things we like.  Can you imagine how awesome our relationships with other humans would be if we spent more time reinforcing what we love about them versus communicating mostly what  we don’t like?

So what could we do differently to achieve the right behaviors?

1.  Manage our dog’s environment (distractions, options, mental state, etc.) so that they are most likely to practice the RIGHT behaviors

2.  Highly reinforce the right behavior choices

3.  Give them many opportunities to rehearse the desired behavior and experience the benefits of doing so

4.  Behavior is just information.  I assure you, as intelligent as dogs are, they are not plotting to ruin our day, embarrass us or destroy things we consider valuable.

5.  Before we respond to an undesired behavior choice out of anger,  let’s Get curious, NOT furious!  

6.  Stop, BREATHE, Seek to understand why, Plan for many rehearsals and Reinforcement of the DESIRED behavior and Implement!    

With all of that said, I completely understand my suggestions may sound great but ARE challenging to execute, especially in the heat of the moment!  I have had furniture ruined, my favorite shoes destroyed and have been embarrassed by my dogs’ unruly behavior (because the “Trainer’s dogs” are supposed to be perfect-LOL) on more than one occasion.  However, with time, patience and commitment, MOST days my grandfather’s wisdom guides me to respond to my dogs’ less than desirable behavior choices with productive curiosity and composure instead of destructive emotion and reactivity!

Remember, harsh judgment does not create positive change.

Stay tuned for more “Happy Woofs” from the K9 Professor!

Puppy Love Etiquette

What is Puppy Love Etiquette?

It is a respectful and considerate manner to interact with dogs that results in MUTUAL enjoyment.

How do we achieve this?

LISTEN to what your dog is trying to say through his body language, LEARN how he enjoys being shown love and FEEL THE LOVE when both human and K9 can enjoy the interaction.

Many people prefer a comfortable margin of space while others need to feel physically close to others to “connect”. In most scenarios, we (as humans) have a multitude of choices. We can tell people we are not comfortable, ask for space, back up or just simply walk away. Dogs do not have such a long list of options.

Instinctively dogs use their body language to communicate their emotional response to an interaction.  Unfortunately, humans often misinterpret a dog’s “tolerance” of human gestures as enjoyment. Take this picture above of a boy (we’ll call him Sam) “hugging” his dog (we’ll call him Fido). Certainly, Sam’s intent is to show Fido his love and desire to be close to him. Fido is responding to Sam’s gesture through his body language. What is Fido “saying”?

You can ask 50 people their interpretation and you will probably receive many different answers. It is human nature to seek evidence of what we want to see. Some people will look at this picture with a smile on their face from their interpretation of love reflected between a boy and his dog. Others may see a dog who is “tolerating” the hug and just expect Fido to accept this type of interaction, even if it makes him feel uncomfortable.

Below are some of my observations and interpretations from a dog’s perspective.

 

 

Our dog’s interaction preferences vary based on their individual personality, exposure, social history, etc. combined with the context of a specific situation. Within my own K9 family, I naturally adjust how I approach and give affection to each one of my dogs based on their specific needs in that given moment. I observe their body language to know what they need from me and respond in kind. My dogs trust that I will “listen” to them and consider their needs in my responses to them. This inspires feelings of mutual joy and trust in our journey together. Our interactions are a conversation where we both feel “heard” and respected, and therefore, truly experience the fulfillment of our love for each other.

Take time to pause, observe and respond to dogs with mindfulness and compassion. Please do not presume dogs are or should be “ok” with human gestures of love just because we know the intent of our actions. Give your dog (and any other dog you encounter) the gift of experiencing your love for him in a way that he feels safe and happy. I’d like to think that if Sam understood how Fido felt about being hugged, that with the guidance of his parents, he would alter his show of affection so Fido felt love instead of anxiety.

I end with this quote from Quincy Jones that embodies my goal in every interaction I have with animals.

I hope I multiply your joy, subtract from your pain, divide your sorrow and add to your tomorrow.”

Stay tuned for more Happy Woofs from the K9 Professor.

Perception IS reality!

I watched a video posted online of a small dog (we’ll call him Fido) being held in a person’s arms while someone held a stuffed dog at his level as if it was approaching Fido head on. Fido pinned his ears back and began to growl and snarl at the stuffed dog. The person holding the stuffed dog continued to move it towards him in a back and forth motion. Fido continued to growl and snarl.

I am sure this occurred with no harm intended. I assume it was viewed as entertaining and funny to some people. However, I see it as an opportunity for people to learn how what may seem like an insignificant, harmless event such as this, is actually detrimental to the wellbeing of our K9 companions.

Dogs are emotional and social beings. They experience joy, excitement, fear and anxiety as strongly as we do, yet with much less information than we have to assess a situation. From this little guy’s perspective, he was being restrained with no option to escape while an object that he perceived as threatening was approaching him. His only recourse was to growl and snarl to make it go away. His body language clearly indicated his distress and need for the “scary” thing to go away. Although, we, the humans, know it is a stuffed dog and Fido was not in danger, Fido did not know that. Ultimately in his mind, the snarling and growling eventually made the scary thing go away. He will retain this in his memory to make his perceived threats go away in the future. Next time, it may be a situation that humans don’t find funny, but how is Fido to know the difference? In his mind, a perceived threat is a REAL threat and his choice in response will be similar….only next time maybe it is a real dog who will not take kindly to his snarling and growling, or maybe it will be a person he perceives as a threat. Perception is reality. His reality was a scary situation where, in contrast, the human reality was entertainment.

As a society, we tend to give less respect (albeit, unintentionally) to small dogs. They are easier to physically control so we overwhelm them with our physical presence and attention. We dismiss behaviors from them that we don’t dismiss from larger dogs. Had this occurred with a large dog in the same scenario, I doubt it would have been handled the same or even caught on camera to share.

Dogs learn from experience and association. As dog parents, it is our responsibility to create positive experiences and associations so our K9 companions can deal confidently with their ever-changing environment. They need and deserve to be able to trust us to keep them safe. We can accomplish this by not forcing them to deal with things beyond their comfort level. We can create positive associations with new events by letting them choose to stay at a distance where they feel safe and then pair the event with something wonderful.

Alternate option to the scenario in the video….Fido is on leash walking with his human, he sees stuffed dog at a distance, his humans are cognizant of his concern and do not force him to get closer thereby giving him the ability to feel safe. His humans then reward his great behavior choice to observe the stuffed dog with calm confidence by giving him a special treat that he LOVES……with good timing and repetition, he learns he is safe in the presence of a stuffed dog! When he feels safe, he doesn’t go into “fight or flight” response (growling, snarling, or trying to escape) AND the stuffed dog becomes a predictor of something great …. like a really tasty treat, verbal praise, affection, etc. Humans are happy and entertained by his joy and confidence! Humans video Fido’s behavior and share it with pride and love! Everybody wins!

Stay tuned for more Happy Woofs from the K9 Professor.

The journey begins with change……

Most of you reading this are probably interested in changing some aspect of your dog’s behavior. In a society where the expectation of instant gratification is commonplace, we tend to look for the “quickest” route to the result we want, typically considering the present impact more than the future impact.  The reality is changing behavior (human and canine) is not typically instantaneous….If it were we would have run out of New Years resolutions long ago instead of often having the same ones every year!  Change is work.  Change can be hard and feel uncomfortable in the beginning stages. So why do we want change?  Maybe you would like your dog (we’ll call him Fido) to stop jumping on and/or accosting every visitor.  Or to stop chewing your shoes.  How about ending the constant tension on the leash when you TRY to go on a walk together?  Perhaps it would be nice if Fido would come running to you when you called him. Maybe you would prefer that Fido NOT bark at every person and/or dog and/or squirrel and/or cat he sees.  In any of these examples and countless others, there is one very important factor…if we want Fido to change, WE have to change.  YES, you read that correctly, if we want Fido to change, WE have to change too!

Obviously, what we are doing currently to address Fido’s behavior isn’t working or we wouldn’t want to change it.  The big lesson here is that in order to change Fido’s behavior,  not only do we have to change OUR behavior, but we also have to learn and experience a NEW way to get the behavior we ultimately want.

We have all heard, and probably said, “I tried it (a different or new way) a few times and it didn’t work”.  Somehow as we have matured into adults, we have forgotten the process of learning.  As children we accepted the challenge of doing something until we got better at it or even awesome at it.  If we wanted to go to the pool in the summer, we had to learn to swim….most of us didn’t just get in the water and take to it like fish, right?  But, we REALLY wanted to learn how to swim because there would be so many fun activities related to knowing how to swim….vacations at the beach, going to the pool with friends, etc.  We were fully VESTED in doing what it took to do something that was initially challenging and required lots of practice……because the juice was worth the squeeze!

So back to dog training….Try picking ONE very specific behavior for you AND your dog to change.  Make sure it is the one you care the most about, that you are excited about changing.  This will get you through the tough, uncomfortable moments when it would be easier to go back to the “old way” or just give up. Think about how you can incorporate this change as part of your normal routine and interactions with your dog. Once you have decided on the behavior you want to change, please join us at Happy K9 Campus to learn how to make that change a reality!

I discovered a fabulous quote in a recent Podcast that is very appropriate for this topic, “Knowledge is only a rumor until it lives in muscle”.  I interpret this to mean we must apply our knowledge repeatedly until it becomes an “automatic” or subconscious action.  This happens over time with purposeful planned repetition. Happy Training!

Stay tuned for more Happy Woofs from the K9 Professor.

 

My reason……

My dog training methods have evolved since the early 90s and continue to do so as I learn from the dogs and people I encounter daily. I habitually observe both human and canine behavior as it is a puzzle in motion where the answers are fluid.  The variables in the  behavior of emotional and social beings (humans and canines) are what intrigue my constant pursuit to learn through observation, interaction, mindfulness and openness. I choose a teaching style that is based on a foundation of mutual respect, compassion, trust and cooperation. My intention is to share what I have experienced in hopes that it will help you in your journey.

I aim to inspire thought, consideration and most importantly, positive action.  We each choose our own path everyday; it is these choices that create our unique journey.  What I share may challenge or vary from what you have learned previously-that’s ok.  Take from it what serves you and your dog best.

To my guests who are keenly interested in solving a specific dog behavior challenge, in the near future I will invite you to join Happy K9 Campus, our soon to be launched online dog training academy.  It is there that you will be able to select the specific behaviors you want to focus on.  We have designed the experience to be tailored to your individual needs and interests. You will find a multitude of learning options based on subject, skill level and investment. 

I have learned that I will never be able to make everyone happy and/or accommodate each person’s preferences BUT I just might be able to help each person and/or dog in some way….this is my intention, purpose and mission in life.  So my request from each visitor, please be mindfully open to what I share and maximize the opportunity to learn and gain new perspectives.

Stay tuned for more Happy Woofs from the K9 Professor!