Terrible Teenagers

Golden Retriever puppy, "Opie" sitting like a good boy.Remember that bumbling ball of fur who plopped into a “sit” and melted into “down” with just a couple of minutes of practice? And, the adorable way he dropped his little head and gave you the best sad puppy eyes when his shark teeth hit your hand and you instinctively said “ouch”? Well, those days are gone when puppies hit their adolescent stage. Technically, dogs hit the equivalent of their teenage stage between 6-18 months. But, I find that the absolute worst phase for urban dogs is 5-10 months of age. Here’s a few tips to survive the raging hormones, lack of motivation and VERY selective hearing.

Follow-through When puppies are super young, they are biologically inclined to want to please. “Oh my goodness, you want me to sit? Ok, and thank you for that bite of biscuit. Garsh, I just love you so much.” As pups develop and become more independent, they sometimes choose NOT to listen to cues they once readily (and happily) complied with. It is super easy for us understanding humans to give our pooches a pass because we know they are in a funky stage.

But, if you ask your darling fur babe to “touch” and she stares at you with her best “I don’t wanna” face and you go on your merry way; all you teach your precious pooch is that your words really do not mean anything. Doing so can bite you in the butt when it really counts. Just like Gavin did when he was this age.

So, in the above example, move your hand a tiny bit closer. Help a puppy out. There is a lot going on in her body clouding her compliance capability. If she then touches your hand, say “yes”. But, do not reward. If you treat your teenage pup for the slow responses, then she is getting reinforced for sloppy behavior. If your puppy is REALLY in a punky place, she might turn her head or continue to ignore you. But, fight the urge to hover over her shouting “touch, touch, touch”. Adding pressure and force to the situation never does any good. Take a step away and gently offer just your hand (not the verbal cue) again until she responds. Some pups make take QUITE A FEW repetitions. Patience is important at this stage; and making sure you help your growing dog remembers that good things happen when she listens to you will pay off for years to come.

Use play as a reward.  Often at this age, pupppies turn up their naughty nose to the most scrumptious treats. Are you playing hours of fetch to try to tire your hooligan hound? Make it count! Ask for a “wait” before you grab the ball. Impulse control is REALLY important. And, who wants gashes in their hand from an over-eager puppy mouth when the only reason you are picking the ball up is to toss it for your clamping canine? Ouch!

Ask for a “sit” before tossing it again. Or, if your dog likes to do drive-bys, have a second toy ready and just bounce or squeak it. When he graces you with his first toy at your feet, toss it as a reward. This is a great way to shape “drop”. But, only give the cue when the ball is out of his mouth. Too much talking and your pup learns to ignore you.

Lighten up. I called Gavin “El Diablo” when he was a terrible teenager. Often, I would ask him to “sit” and he would stare at me, then tear around the living room like he was the Tazmanian Devil, and lay down (not sit, like I asked) right in front of me right before he would grumble again for punctuation. As long as there are no serious behavioral issues developing and your puppy is not in danger him or herself, chill out a bit.  I find that when my clients get too serious during this stage, it alters their body language so much that it actually causes the pup to respond even less. So, try not take atrocious behavior to heart. Practice an easy behavior or play a game so your pup remembers that you are not such a stick in the mud. Oh, wait, if you were a stick, your pup would be SUPER interested in you!!!

Follow these few steps and remember, your adorable juvenile delinquent will soon look at you again with the glitter gaze that made you fall in love in the first place. And, do continue to polish your pup’s skills even if you do not see the rapid results you did when she was a wee little one. We promise, terrible teenagers do not “stay” around forever.




New Dog? Four Key Behaviors

Adopted dog "Homer" doing what he loves most, napping.Ah, winter has FINALLY released it’s wretched grip from Chicago. And, what does that mean? Puppies, new rescue dogs, oh my! What the heck do you do with that four-legged darling who stares, follows you around and gets into things now that he or she is home? Below you will find our top four behaviors to focus on in the first few weeks of your relationship with your new dog or puppy.

Potty training. Why? Because it’s one of the very few behaviors you NEVER have to teach again. Seriously. Once your furry sweet pea learns to pee and poop outside (or on a pad) and ONLY in your designated spots; you can move on to other behaviors. Dig your human heels in the ground and it will pay off for YEARS to come. Plan to take your dog out (or gently guide him or her to the pad) every couple of hours (more frequently for smaller or younger dogs). Most dogs figure out how to go in a spot, many just need help not going in other places. So, crates, gates and watching your dog like a hawk when he or she has not peed in the past hour is critical.

If you are easily distracted, set the timer on your phone. And, start your relationship right by getting up to take your dog out before he or she whines in the middle of the night. That’s a problem that will haunt you for a long time if you do not prevent it. We like our sleep too! But, if you set your alarm and take your dog out at 4am then again at 7am and have no accidents and no barking in the middle of the night; well, each week add a little more time to the early potty break until you get to a normal wake up time. It gets better, we promise. Gavin was outside ten times a day when he first came home and now he goes out 3-4 times per day with absolutely no incidents nor any crossed paws.

Doggie, be nice with your mouth. In our opinion, this is the absolute most important thing to teach a new dog. If you rescued an adult dog; you likely have no idea if he or she has bitten nor how severe the bite. And, that does not mean you should not be rescuing dogs. But, we believe in helping dogs succeed AND keeping people safe in the process. Even if you think you adopted the sweetest, gentlest dog in the world or you are only seeing issues outside, still make this exercise a priority because every opportunity your dog gets to use his or her mouth GENTLY, he or she gets better at it.

Take a semi-boring treat and hold in your hand. Say “wait” and if your new dog sits or simply does not jump, that’s a perfect wait. Give the treat to your dog with a flat, open palm and say “gentle”.  If your dog jumps or attempts to grab it from your hand, say nothing but also do not give the treat. That’s NOT nice waiting behavior. Repeat a few more times. Next, with the same level treat, hold the treat in between two fingers as most folks normally would do to feed a reward. Say “wait” again and “gentle”. If you feel teeth, say “ouch” (very gently) and move your hand away. Try again. Work on this every day. When Gavin first came home with me, his mouth was so wreckless I actually meant it when I yelped “ouch”.  Now, I can trust a child to give him a treat and he will take it gently without me reminding him over and over to be “gentle”.

To get to that stage, repeat the same exercise but do not cue “gentle” before giving the treat. If your dog is nice with his or her mouth, praise and give that reward. If not, “ouch” and it goes away.

Reward every good thing you see outside and when people come in. Certainly basic obedience is important but in the first few weeks, I like to focus on anything I see outside or when guests come in that I would like to see again. Look new doggie, there’s a kid and you are not jumping, barking or knocking the poor child over; “yes, reward”. Bouncing pup, you see a dog down the street and you are not growling or snarling, “yes, reward”.  We as humans get so caught up in the command and dogs don’t speak our language. Don’t worry about what the command is, just reward for good behavior and your dog will start to offer it. Your mail person drops bills into the metal slot of the door and your dog does not throw himself in a frenzy towards the activity, woohoo! Reward. Once you start seeing NICE behavior around distractions, put it on cue.

Some dogs become extremely overstimulated outside and with new guest commotion. While you are getting to know your new dog, attempting to reward for any calm behavior AND build a relationship with this creature who has no clue he or she can trust you; it may take some trial and error to find the right reward that is kind to their tummy AND trumps scary and distracting stuff.  Don’t give up. But, also NEVER give food or toys near another dog, ever. Gavin turned his nose up to cheese, hot dogs, meatballs, even squeaky toys the first few months we were working outside. Once I figured out his greatest passion was running up trees, our leash training became much more fun for both of us because I used that as a reward for loose leash walking AND not screeching like a maniac every time he saw a squirrel.

Love being alone. As trainers, you might assume we push crates. It’s a personal choice. But, our priority is SAFETY! Regardless of whether you want your dog to nap in a crate or on your couch; spend a few minutes each day getting him comfortable, no, SUPER EXCITED about you leaving.

Take a Kong and fill it with some yummy goodies. Hand it to your dog in the space you would like to him to enjoy his alone time and say “be good”.  Walk out the door, come back in and TRADE UP with better treats for the Kong (to prevent nasty resource guarding) and put the Kong on the kitchen counter. Have a seat on the couch and ignore your pup for a few seconds. Repeat, repeat, repeat.  What this exercise teaches your dog is because you are walking to the door and leaving, does not mean he will be alone for 4, 5, 6 hours. And, by taking the Kong away when you come back in, you create anticipation and excitement that he only gets the super awesome Kong when he’s alone. When you are home, you are the reward.

Again, play with different fillings. If your dog won’t eat the Kong with you standing in front of him, he certainly won’t touch it when you leave. Finn used to LOVE pumpkin but if I gave it to Gavin, I’d be cleaning up orange goop off my floor. For crate training, I used a similar technique with Gavin to make sure when I said “go to your house”, he happily jumped up and trotted into his crate.  Lil’ Big Head is close to being able to spend some time out of his crate while he’s alone.  And, I’m excited about that but puppies should always be crate trained, the risk to their safety is not worth the freedom in the short time.

Bringing home a new dog is fun, amazing and honestly, overwhelming. Focus on the above four behaviors while you are navigating your shared world together and once you see the trust and the bond start to build, move on to other fun behaviors.

Rescuing a Dog

Ellie!We very strongly support rescuing a dog and think the world of the people who spend their time, open their homes and see things that people do to animals that might cause many of us to become cynical. We are so grateful that we spend our days with people who love their dogs and are good to them. However, before falling in love with a face, remember this is a lifetime commitment and take the time to make sure your home and environment are appropriate for the dog’s personality so your life together is what it should be, amazing!

Think long and hard about what your dog will need to put up with on a daily basis. I live by a school and with my work schedule, my break is often during the time school is letting out for the day. I wanted and needed to know if Gavin likes kids. I asked the rescue and they were not 100% sure so they let me walk him around their neighborhood so I can assess for myself. Rescues do so much for the animals they save but they do not always know every single thing there is to know about a dog. Given that they spend their days caring for the animals, transporting them, raising money, meeting adopters and I’m sure a million other tasks; I would not expect them to. Any parent out there willing to offer up your child to your local rescue to verify each dog who walks through their door is not child aggressive? I am guessing no. If your dog MUST LOVE KIDS, take accountability and ask how many kids he or she has met and if the dog is excited, wiggly or running away.

It was not a deal breaker if Gavin was afraid of kids but it would have been a VERY different start to our life together if he was not ecstatic about hundreds of children passing him at least once daily. I would have planned different walk times for him to have a better chance at learning kids are not so scary and I would have rewarded him for not running away; and I would have NEVER forced him to say hello if he was hiding behind me. These are important things to consider BEFORE your first walk with a new dog.

No one wins in the blame game. So often I hear, “well the rescue told me he was good with other dogs.”  A dog living with four other dogs who have been taught or naturally have appropriate social skills is completely different than passing 100 dogs yanking on their leashes towards you and your dog every single walk; four times daily. Again, the rescue may not know how well your potential new pooch will do on a walk in YOUR neighborhood. Consider the amount of dogs your potential rescue sees on walks in their foster home and how many he or she will encounter in your neighborhood. It is much easier to plan ahead. If there are a lot of unknowns; start easy with your new pooch and give him plenty of space until you get to know him or her better rather than put another dog on the street in a scary position after your dog lunges, growls or bark at them.

The dog you come home with may not be the dog he or she truly is. Imagine if you were plucked from your cozy couch and thrown into jail, where people were screaming and banging on bars. Would you be yourself? For the first three months Gavin was with me, I was very diligent about how I gave him bones, how close we were when I was eating and watched his face like a hawk every time he met a dog and human. Why? Because I know that the more comfortable a dog feels in their home, the more their personalities blossom and you start to see who they really are. This does not mean if he tensed when I passed him chewing on a bone that I would have taken him back to the rescue. Goodness no, but I would not poke and prod him when he was eating either. New developments, new plan.

Rescue dogs, please and thank you. I am thankful EVERY SINGLE DAY that I rescued Gavin, he’s one of the sweetest dogs I have ever met. This does not mean I dislike puppies or good breeders either. But, I do often hear that folks choose a puppy because they don’t want the baggage of a rescued dog. Well, a puppy is not a blank slate. And, the little butterballs are peeing, pooping, chewing machines who not only need lots of work to learn where and when to do those things but extensive and appropriate socialization so they are lovely members of society. And, it is your role to make sure all of that happens early and often. Good for you if you rescue a puppy! But, puppies are constantly evolving so keep your eye on new behaviors and create new training plans when surprises happen; and they will.

If the dog you fall in love with online is already spoken for, don’t give up! I can not tell you how many times I contacted a rescue and I was told the adoption process was pending with another family. Some people might be upset by this but it made me happy because I knew there are sadly, always SO many other dogs who need a good home and I liked knowing other people were rescuing dogs. If the one you want was adopted, I’m sure you will fall in love with another lovely dog, keep at it.

My Finn was a rescue but he truly fell in my lap. This was my first time formally going through the adoption process and I have to share that my experiences with Alive Rescue and Chicagoland Lab Rescue were absolutely top notch. When my dream of having a giant back yard comes true, I will be in touch with both of them because the care they took in making sure my home was safe and I would provide the love and life every dog deserves means they truly want to assure a FOREVER home for each and every dog they save.

Training Your Dog to Lay “Down”

Train your puppy or dog to lay "down" when askedWe usually like to start with a nice “sit” before attempting “down” so make sure your pup or dog can “sit” for at least a couple of seconds.  No need to add a “stay”, you just want to reinforce for keeping his or her tushy on the ground.

The first couple attempts, do not say anything other than “yes” for trying.  What can happen is you say “down, down, down, down” as your dog stares at you.  Then, “down” does not mean what you want it to mean so make sure you can get your dog into position before attaching the human word to the behavior.

We like to use a bigger treat for this as to not encourage any chewing on fingertips as you are guiding your pup into position.  From a “sit”, let your dog nibble on the treat a little.  Once he or she is engaged in the treat, SLOWLY start to move your hand towards the floor.  The goal is as your dog nibbles, his head lowers, then elbows, then shoulders and eventually belly flat on the ground.  If your dog pops into a standing position during every attempt, you are moving your hand too fast.  It’s REALLY slow and the treat is glued to your dog’s nose like a magnet.  When your dog’s belly is getting closer to the ground, some dogs do well if you SLOWLY move the treat forward so his paws slide forward but some dogs do best if you lower at an angle towards their chest so he or she flops back into it.  Try it both ways as it truly matters how your dog’s body moves.   Remember to “yes” every step along the way, head lowering, shoulders, etc. so your dog knows he or she is on the right track.  If you do not give any feedback and your pup does not get it, frustration can easily settle in then the game is no longer fun.

Only after your dog actually lies down 3-4 times are you ready for the next step…adding the word “down” to your training. Practice in a non-distracting setting to help your dog learn the “down” cue.  Give the cue “down” while standing tall and the hand signal RIGHT arm perpendicular to the floor, motioning down towards your core.  Count to two in your head. Then take the treat from your LEFT hand and place it in your RIGHT hand, without saying “down” again, lure all the way to the floor like you did at the beginning.  “Yes” and treat once there and “yes” and treat a couple more times to reward for maintaining the position.

By keeping your treats in your left hand while communicating, you avoid overshadowing your words with the power of the treat.  When you give yourself that two second pause between verbal cue “down” and the actual behavior, you allow your dog the opportunity to think about what you are asking.  Once you repeat hand/verbal cue, pause, hand-switch, lure three times you are ready for the next step.

The last step is give the cue “down” and the hand signal, count to two THEN without the treat in your right go all the way to the floor. This is called phasing out the lure.  However, once your dog is down there, be ready to treat very quickly for going there without a food prompt.

Follow these instruction carefully and be sure to keep the treat out of your hand while communicating and your dog will more readily lay down without you needing to always have food to guide him or her.  Asking a dog to lay “down” on a sidewalk, in front of other dogs or around other distractions adds varying layers of difficulty your dog might not be ready for until you get extensive practice at home.