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Training Tips

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Concept Training

Teaching dogs concepts rather than just behavior cues enables them to develop skills of responding independently in the proper ways by adding value to a concept, not just individual behaviors. For example, once value is added to the concept of impulse control, it helps dogs choose restraint and patience by default in new situations. By teaching concepts through fun training games, dogs learn that these types of thought and action are highly valued, and they learn to apply them in new ways and offer wonderful behaviors when presented with new challenges. 


Teaching concepts also helps dogs use their brains more and innovate their own unique responses and behaviors that fall in the categories of desired lines of thinking we have rewarded in the past. For example, a dog who has been taught that impulse control is valuable may choose to reverse then sit and offer eye contact when you drop food while cooking, because these type of behaviors were rewarded in other circumstances. The dog was not trained to offer those 3 behaviors consecutively in the event human food is dropped, but he transferred the concept to the new event, helping him to choose an appropriate response. Teaching these concepts via play is what helps produce such reliable results, because it is interactive and investing fun in the behaviors and ideas we want them to seek out on their own.

 

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn.” Benjamin Franklin


Author: Sarah Singler

Original post date: 12/4/18

Updated: 12/4/18

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The Dominance Myth (Alpha Theory)

The Alpha theory was proposed by Rudolph Schenkel based on an observational study in the 1940’s, and popularized by David Mech’s book on Schenkel’s findings. The study took wild, adult wolves from different packs and placed them together in an enclosure and observed the mayhem that followed. This scenario is a far cry from functional family units present in wild wolf packs, which aren’t driven by violent fights or the need to create social hierarchy. These scientists then extended their thoughts on the resulting behaviors of their captive wolves to healthy, natural, wild wolf packs, then to domesticated dogs’ interactions with one another, and then to domestic dogs’ interactions with humans. It was understood afterwards by the scientific community, and even David Mech himself, that the conclusions of that experiment had been wildly misappropriated and misunderstood, but the general public still held onto the notion. I consider this the pop psychology of the dog world, and it is not at all indicative of true dynamics between wolves, much less between domestic dogs or between dogs and humans. 


This myth is still popular due in part to many trainers who are uneducated in the science of modern dog psychology and learning mechanisms, who still promote inhumane methods based on the dominance assumptions. Promoting the dominance myth is also the sign of a trainer who does not notice or listen to a dog’s communication, because dogs make it very clear to those who listen that they have no interest in dominating us. The behaviors many will claim are attempts to become alpha, are simply responses rooted in fear, stress or overexcitement. If a trainer uses punishment, correction, fear, force or dominance in any way, please seek help elsewhere with someone who advocates for truly force-free methods. Aversive methods drive behavior based on fear, not learning or trust, and cause much more harm than good, which is simply unnecessary and inhumane. 


Domestic dogs want to build relationships with us and learn and adapt willingly when presented with suitable opportunities in an appropriate manner. Your dog is not vying for the top spot or showing you who’s boss. Even with wrestling, this is just a form of play, and the dog is not trying to gain your submission. Dogs often show blatant signs of being more bold or more shy, but their dynamics are not as simple and archaic as the dominance model leads the public to believe. The whole of dog training is moving towards fully positive, force-free methods, both in popularity and legislative changes, because they are backed by legitimate scientific studies and have been proven to have the most success. After all, training your dog should be fun for you both!

Author: Sarah Singler

Original post date: 12/5/18

Updated: 12/5/18

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Obedience

Dogs rely on us to communicate clearly and consistently and to take notice of their communication and respond appropriately to help them succeed. Disobedience often occurs as a result of the communication gap between human and dogs, misunderstandings or inconsistencies in expectations, confusion, fear, excitement, a challenge or distraction that is overwhelming, or the task is simply not interesting enough the way it is currently being presented. Behavior is communication, and it’s up to us to determine the causes and meet the dog’s needs so they can succeed in behaving well. Thinking of your dog as behaving badly predisposes you to respond with punishment, but thinking of him as struggling with something difficult sets you up to see his perspective and help him face the challenge. 

Author: Sarah Singler

Original post date: 12/5/18

Updated: 12/5/18

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Exercise

Adequate daily exercise is crucial to physical and behavioral wellbeing. There are many possible forms for both physical and mental exercise and both are needed daily for a healthy and happy dog. Even among any given breed, the energy level of the individual dog can vary widely, so be sure to meet your dog’s personal needs.

Author: Sarah Singler

Original post date: 12/5/18

Updated: 12/5/18

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Nutrition

Quality nutrition can not only reduce inflammation, relieve pain and improve overall health and behavior, but it can also save your pet from the dangers of many popular pet foods. Many big-name brands use fillers, poor quality ingredients, and even dangerously sourced materials in their foods. These foods are also typically marketed as healthy, clean or natural, so be aware that in most cases these claims are advertising and you need to analyze what is actually in the food yourself. First read the bag to look for any fillers or red flags up front, but read up on the company’s sourcing before trusting in the transparency, honesty or safety of the ingredients listed. Even if it says “made in the USA” this doesn’t mean the ingredients were sourced in the US as well and is typically a sign of cheap and dangerously sourced meat that often contains pesticides, diseases, poisons, or other dangerous chemicals. 


To simplify this and narrow down brands to research, a general rule of thumb is to avoid food and treat brands that are available in large, traditional, chain pet stores, or in grocery stores. It is best to look at brands offered at pet boutiques or holistic pet supply shops. This includes prescription diets, which are equally as dangerous in many cases and unnecessarily so. There are now safe brands that offer alternatives to these and provide similar protein ratios or other critical differences that help dogs with specific medical conditions. It is also best to avoid grains as dogs’ digestive systems simply weren’t designed for them. Speak with shop owners, animal nutritionists and holistic vets to find trustworthy brands that can meet your dog’s dietary needs. 


A properly balanced raw diet is ideal, and there are many frozen or freeze-dried options for those who don’t want to prepare and measure it themselves. There are also quite a few brands I trust for well-sourced kibble. The nutritional value of kibble will always be notably less than that of a raw diet, but quality kibble is still a far cry from the processed fillers and dangerous ingredients that make up the entirety of many popular kibbles. Regardless of your choice of kibble or raw diet, I always recommend the addition of supplements to cover your bases in meeting your dog’s needs for specific vitamins and minerals. This is especially crucial for dogs eating kibble as many of the components lose their value or potency when cooked. To determine what is best for your dog, speak with a holistic vet or nutritionist who is well educated in the dangers of major brands and the benefits of a well balanced and safely sourced diet. 

   

Author: Sarah Singler

Original post date: 12/7/18

Updated: 12/7/18

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Socialization

I recommend small groups for socialization or even 1:1 with dogs of friends, family and neighbors you trust. Appropriately matching dogs to socialize and play is key, and if dogs aren’t a good match, don’t continue, regardless of the relationships on the human side. Improper socialization can be more damaging than no socialization as it can create a fear of future interactions with new dogs. 

Author: Sarah Singler

Original post date: 12/7/18

Updated: 12/7/18

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Puppy Success

There are many choices in front of a puppy at any given moment, and its crucial to invest value in good ones we want them to repeat. Management is training in that it helps limit a puppy’s available options so they are more likely to choose and value options we find more desirable. For example, managing a puppy’s available space with crates and gates helps limit their choices until they mature and learn to make great choices on their own. Set them up to succeed by incrementally increasing challenges. This helps prevent development of bad habits such as chewing on furniture or going potty indoors. Building good habits is key, and consistency in doing so is of the utmost importance. 


Redirection is also a very important concept in helping puppies learn to make wonderful choices. Instead of punishing mouthing, barking, or inappropriate chewing, redirect them into a healthy and desirable activity to show them that it has value. Over time they learn that their previous choices aren’t as valuable and they form great habits to replace those behaviors instead. Toys, stimulation and appropriate play and exercise are also key to preventing destruction of household items. Patience is paramount as puppies require that you give them time and space to learn and guide them along the way, but it is always worth it! Happy Training!

Author: Sarah Singler

Original post date: 12/7/18

Updated: 12/7/18

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Maintenance Care Training

Most dogs require regular maintenance care for their claws, teeth, fur and ears, and many for their paw pads as well. Handling and proper care for each of these areas should be trained and introduced as positive experiences, and never forced. Force creates fear and distrust, making it an even more difficult task the next time and damaging the bond between you and your dog. There are also different methods for ear cleaning, nail trimming, teeth brushing, grooming and paw pad care, some more safe and effective than others. First, positivity and calmness needs to be associated with handling in these areas before any care or cleaning can begin. Next, using safe materials and methods, the dog should be slowly introduced to each activity and the gear and materials used. Patiently build up positivity at the dog’s pace, especially with a Dremel or fur clippers, to help the dog become comfortable around the sounds and vibrations. 


It is best to use a rotary tool such as a Dremel for grinding nails rather than clipping them because clippers put pressure in the nerve of the quick and risk cutting the quick. Grinding also produces a rounded edge when done correctly, rather than sharp edges. Teeth can be brushed a number of ways, but the use of an actual brush with bristles, either a traditional brush or finger cap, is ideal. This helps clear away more plaque than chews and toothpaste alone. I also prefer enzymatic toothpastes as they continue to work even after you stop brushing. Cleaning the ears requires that the dog first be comfortable with handling of the ears by hand, then with contact of a closed ear cleaner bottle or clean, dry cotton ball (never q-tips) without any ear cleaner. Once they are accustomed to this, you can begin introducing an appropriate ear cleaner to the activity. Never use water, soap or alcohol to clean a dog’s ear as this can cause harm to the ear canal. For dogs who require grooming of the fur and trimming, slowly get them used to fur clippers and scissors with guards and caps first without the blades exposed. Many dogs also develop calluses or keratin overgrowth on their paw pads and require softening and sometimes trimming to prevent painful build-up. Choose a suitable paw cream to help soften calluses or a specialized cream for softening keratin overgrowth. On the Gear page of this site I have examples of my favorite equipment and materials that I use with my own dogs, but choose gear that suits your needs and taste so long as it meets similar safety components of the ones I recommend. Most importantly, have fun and keep these interactions positive!

Author: Sarah Singler

Original post date: 12/7/18

Updated: 12/7/18

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Fear-Based Behaviors

Many dogs need to develop more confidence and optimism to help them realize they can handle the things that scare them. Fear responses can look very different, often resembling fight or flight type of actions such as lunging, biting, cowering or hiding. All fear-based issues require guidance and patience and reshaping the dog’s though process to alleviate the fear. As a child scared of a monster under the bed needs your compassion, support, teaching and patience, so do dogs when working on resolving fear. Just like the scared child, punishment, ignoring the behavior, or being harsh doesn’t solve it. Teaching them to be brave and showing that there is consistently nothing to fear removes the fear and the associated unwanted behaviors. 


“I truly believe once you have optimism yourself the dog will follow and so will success.” Anna Lawrie

   

Author: Sarah Singler

Original post date: 12/7/18

Updated: 12/7/18

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Body Language

Dogs don’t have words to convey their thoughts so they use many subtleties of movement and body positions to communicate. A dog can use body language to communicate very effectively with just a few quick movements, which requires us to take notice and respond appropriately. It is our job to learn typical dog body language and to learn our own dogs’ tendencies and typical means of expressing discomfort, fear, stress and other important feelings. Many common  movements and positions used to convey stress or to calm themselves or others are often called calming signals. To learn more about these, check out  the book by Turid Rugaas, On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals, which can be found under the Gear tab above, then Under Books. Recognition and proper response to these between multiple dogs and between dogs and humans is critical to positive interactions and successful training.

Author: Sarah Singler

Original post date: 12/7/18

Updated: 5/8/19

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Body Language

Dogs don’t have words to convey their thoughts so they use many subtleties of movement and body positions to communicate. A dog can use body language to communicate very effectively with just a few quick movements, which requires us to take notice and respond appropriately. It is our job to learn typical dog body language and to learn our own dogs’ tendencies and typical means of expressing discomfort, fear, stress and other important feelings. Many common  movements and positions used to convey stress or to calm themselves or others are often called calming signals. To learn more about these, check out  the book by Turid Rugaas, On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals, which can be found under the Gear tab above, then Under Books. Recognition and proper response to these between multiple dogs and between dogs and humans is critical to positive interactions and successful training.

Author: Sarah Singler

Original post date: 12/7/18

Updated: 5/8/19

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