Category Archives: Top Training Tips

Dogs have needs!

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Domestication has done wonderful things in producing an animal that likes to live with us and is pretty tolerant of us and our human ways.

Our dogs don’t have much choice in most of what happens to them – they don’t choose to be born, they don’t choose the human they go home with, they don’t choose to live a life of virtual social isolation while their humans work long hours or they are confined to kennel accommodation for chunks of time, they don’t choose to have such limited access to their world especially their olfactory world, they don’t choose a sedentary life; they don’t really get to choose too much of the things we expose them to in our human world.

Because of just how awesome dogs are, they appear pretty tolerant so we often assume they are living a good dog-life and that we are meeting their needs.

But, are we?

What is a good dog-life?

I often say that dogs are here for a good time, not for a long time. We can help them live every day to the fullest and have the best dog-life by prioritising their needs.

Before we can consider “obedience”, before we can achieve success working on behaviour ‘problems’ and before we can expect them to live up to our human ideals, we first consider the dog’s needs. No point going much further without this.

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Dogs must have:

  • social contact and interaction with humans. We have spent many many thousands upon thousands of years making dogs like us more than other dogs.
    The best company for a dog is human company and it’s especially important for young dogs to just be around human life. That’s how they develop appropriate social skills, which is pretty tricky if they are socially isolated for much of the day.
  • dogs need to be able to interact or not, having the time to choose, and have safe spaces for relief from interactions.
    Humans often assume social interaction means contact and human-like contact such as hugs and petting. Dogs like to be close to their nearest and dearest and the ultimate in bonding is to lie in contact with you – no petting or hugging required!
  • appropriate challenge through mental and physical enrichment is always our central focus – if you get that right, the rest of it falls into place
  • functional spaces are important to dogs; they, like humans, prefer to have specific areas for feeding, sleeping, resting, hanging out, playing, toileting and so on.
    They don’t need a “den”, because they aren’t denning animals but will appreciate their own space and choice to interact.
    An enriched environment makes sure that the dog has access to and choice in functional space.
  • predictability and controllability are the ultimate in stress busters; “I know what’s about to happen to me” AND “I have behavioural solutions to deal with it”
    One or the other isn’t enough, for a stress-less life, your dog needs both.

    Welfare is assessed from the animal’s point of view. Dogs have needs that we must meet and might have to make specific efforts to meet because these needs might not be a normal part of our human life, with which we expect our dogs to cope. Think dog so you can give your dog the best dog-life.

    #100daysofenrichment does just this – it meets dogs needs by helping pet owners with ideas, plans and supports. Join in, dip in, have fun!

Top Ten Tips for New Year’s Eve Fireworks

With New Year’s Eve fast approaching, many dogs will again suffer terror and stress at fireworks and displays ringing in 2020. It’s become so normalised that many pet owners feel helpless, thinking there isn’t much they can do.

But, starting now, there are lots of things you can put in place to reduce the effects of fireworks on your pet, like these top ten tips!

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Top Ten Tips

Tip 1: Plan & Prepare
Start putting these things in place now!
Think about where you will hang out with your pet, think about where your pet will be, plan for toilet breaks and exercise.
Put together a shopping list or to-do list based on our recommendations here and tips that help your individual dog.
Bring your dog out for exercise early in the day, in daylight, while all is still calm and quiet. Don’t prioritise high-octane exercise that might contribute to your dog remaining wound up for the evening. Instead go for a sniffathon and make your dog’s day about rollercoasters.

Tip 2: Safe & secure
Make sure your dog’s microchip details are up to date and that they are wearing a collar and tag with current details. It’s a good idea to check fences, gates and boundaries too.
When out with your dog, have them wear their normal walking equipment, plus back-ups. An extra lead on a collar, along with their normal lead and harness, for example. A slip lead or martingale collar and lead along with their normal collar or harness, to prevent escape from a slipped collar.
Walk your dog on lead around times associated with fireworks, just in case there is a stray firework let off and your dog flees.

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Tip 3: Toilet break safety
Your dog will need to go out to toilet, probably several times so start to plan for that now. You might be lucky and be able to avoid fireworks displays by going out at quiet times, but fireworks are unpredictable as not just official, public displays will be on during the festivities.
Start taking your dog out to the garden, on lead, to toilet. If your dog doesn’t like to toilet on lead, use a long line with no tension. You will need to start practicing now so that it’s not another weird thing on an already scary night for them.
Have your dog drag a lead from a regular flat collar in the house so that you can step on it and restrain them should they attempt to bolt. Only do this while they are supervised though, otherwise they might chew the lead or become tangled.

Tip 4: Where will you set up for the night?
Ideally, you are there with your fearful pet but that might not always be possible. Think about setting up for your pet in a room that is closer to the centre of the building, with a person with whom your pet is comfortable.
It’s best to have one secured door between this space and the comings and goings.
Even though you might still have Christmas decorations and lights up for all to see, close blinds and curtains to minimise noise from outside.
Practice spending time there, with your dog, now too.

Tip 5: Stock up on your pet’s favourites. 
Get your dog’s absolutely irresistible favourites and have them ready. I am not talking about any run-of-the-mill treats, I mean the hottest of the hot like meats, cheese, pate, cream cheese, tinned fish. The yummiest!

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You might try these Lick-e-Lix treats that I have seen used recently and have tried out:

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Get your dog’s favourite toys too; toys that really keep him busy like squeakies and toys for dissection.

Start practicing presenting your dog’s favourite foods in toys or devices that require them to lap, chew and sniff. These are calming and engaging behaviours for dogs so will help to keep them occupied and happy.

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You’ll find lots of ideas in our #100daysofenrichment program and more specifically, lots of info on stuffables, lappables & lickables, sniffing & snuffling, and chewing activities.

Tip 6: Play music and TV louder
Start playing everything louder now to help drown out outside sounds. Playing music with lots of bass and lower frequencies might be more helpful so using good speakers and good quality recordings may be better.

Tip 7: Treat Party for Loud Sounds
Carry chicken, cheese, hotdog or something really yummy in your pockets at all times. Every time, you hear a noise outside, no matter what it is, talk excitedly and toss treats onto the floor –  a treat party!
For this to be effective, it doesn’t matter what your dog is doing, even if they are barking and even if they didn’t appear to respond to the sound. Get the family involved too so there will be plenty of treat parties happening between now and New Year’s.

Tip 8: Set up a safe bunker
Maybe your dog has a safe place where they take refuge but if not, set one up now and start to use it.
Throw a blanket or towel over a chair or table,  or over their crate to make a blanket fort. Give your dog a yummy stuffable or chew there a couple of times a day to make it a pleasant place for your dog to be.

Tip 9: Talk your dog’s vet
Have a chat your dog’s vet about calmatives and medication that may help make fireworks more bearable for your dog. There’s lots of further information on medical contributors and help for fireworks fear, with more complete detail on our Dying of Fright piece.

Tip 10: COMFORT YOUR DOG
Contrary to popular belief, you can and should comfort your dog when they are scare. But, do so in a manner that is actually comforting to your individual pet. Not all dogs will be helped by hugs and petting, even though that’s what we think will work.
Ask your dog!
For some dogs, it’s just enough to be in the same room as you. So, be there.
Sit in the room, and calmly invite your dog to join you. If they don’t approach, leave them to decide what they would like to go next.
If they do approach, that doesn’t mean they want to be touched. Sometimes, just leaning against you or resting close to you, is enough.
Pet your dog for a three count, withdraw and see what they want next. Them staying close to you, doesn’t mean they want petting or hugging, necessarily.

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Be Prepared!

Although we won’t miraculously “cure” your dog’s firework fear, implementing these tips might just save the day!

For a full covering of fireworks fear and preparing your pet for Halloween and other noisy celebrations, check out Dying of Fright.

There are lots of other safety issues presenting themselves during the festivities. Prepare your pet with our Christmas Bites.

Christmas Bites: What’s Santa Paws bringing?

Christmas and this season is all about giving! Here’s some of our favourite dog-products that Santa Paws might bring!

These are tried-and-true and things we use and recommend every day.

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The Boring Necessities

To your dog, these are probably pretty run-of-the-mill, but they can be essentials!

In general, when it comes to products in almost all categories, manufacturers will add some gimmick, marketing trick, or notion in an attempt to stand out with their own USP. But, that doesn’t make it better for you and your pet 😉
We like to understand that mechanisms behind the workings and how that applies to your pet’s behaviour, and to your wallet.

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Harnesses

While it’s great that there is such a range of harnesses available in every petshop and stockist, that can make choosing one that is safe and comfortable all the more difficult.

Look for harnesses that don’t restrict your pet’s movement, especially the front assembly (straps that cross the shoulder), when fitted properly. Make sure that straps behind the elbow don’t ride up into the arm pit too.

Harnesses, that have become very popular, with large panels that sit on the dog’s shoulders and back, make it more comfortable for the dog to pull, and most worryingly, are very easy for dogs to learn to escape from. I know they’re popular, but we don’t like them, and many dogs find them unpleasant to fit.

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We recommend a simple H or Y-front harness that’s properly fitted; like this one from Zooplus.
These harnesses tend to be the best tolerated in terms of fitting them. This clip shows you how to fit one using a stuffable toy so that, from the first time, the dog associates having their harness fitted with yummies:

If you feel you need more control in preventing pulling, you attach your lead, or add a second lead, to the ring at the front. Show here in this clip:

My favourite of the modern harnesses is the Blue9 Balance Harness for its versatility and fit, but recognise that they are expensive and difficult to get here.

Collars

Hands up, I have a total collar addiction and my dog has so many collars from all sorts of places that serve all sorts of functions, but really, most just look pretty!

Dogs in Ireland must be microchipped and wear a collar, with their owner’s details, in public.

My absolute favourite ID tags are the plastic tags from Identi-tag – you can fit lots of info on  there, they come in teeny sizes and big, they are super hard-wearing (most of Decker’s are almost 8 years old and are as good as new) and very reasonably priced. Love them!

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Collars that dogs wear for ID and that they wear most of the time should not be tightening, and just with regular buckles. When dogs are unsupervised, playing in groups, or confined, it’s best to use safety break-away collars or no collars at all.

Take care when using collars with snap buckles if you are attaching a lead and check how secure the buckle on your collar is regularly.
Some collars come with safety adjustments, like this in this clip here, with instructions for use and fit:

Martingale or limited slip collars are best for dogs with lots of coat, with narrow heads and with wide necks to prevent slipping. This is one of Decker’s martingales:

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Or using a collar, like a Sighthound collar, with a wider side, which also helps to prevent slipping or the collar coming over the dog’s head. This is one of Decker’s:

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In general, the wider the collar band, the more comfortable it will be, so choose the widest band you can find.

Lots of collars, to suit your dog and specifications, can be found in stores and online. Measure your dog’s neck with a string at the point you want them to wear their collar, and then measure that.

We love Swaggles collars; based in Ireland and GORGEOUS!

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Leads

Go for the simplest lead you can find – generally, you don’t need all the bells and whistles. I like a plain five or six foot nylon or leather lead, with a safe trigger hook. Nothing more, nothing less.

Simple leads like this 200cm lead from Zooplus are suitable for most dogs and owners.

I don’t like poo-bag carriers attached to the lead because they weigh them down and fall/hit the dog. But, choose biodegradable bags and always dispose of them appropriately; do not leave them on the street, hanging on a tree, in a ditch or anywhere livestock or wildlife might access them.

Swaggles do matching leads too!

Long Lines

I am a big fan of long lines but careful, safe use is required. More in this clip:

Long lines are just really long leads and most people do well with a 5m or 10m line – longer than that, becomes harder to manage.

You can get long lines in lots of places including online, e.g. Zooplus and in stores; I particularly like the Maxi Zoo range of long lines.

I much prefer long lines over extendable leads, but recognise that people love their Flexis! Here’s more on how to use them appropriately and safely:

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Coats & Clothing

Before we go any further with this one, it’s important to note that LOTS of dogs don’t like to wear coats, clothing and for some, even harnesses.

Clips that are often shared online, showing dogs freezing, having difficulty walking, refusing to walk or struggling to get away when a coat or clothing is being fitted or worn, actually depict a dog experiencing high distress levels.

Unless your dog needs a coat or clothing, it might be better to skip it, unless you can be sure they are comfortable with fitting and wearing.

Clothing that opens so that the dog doesn’t need to put their head through it might be tolerated better; these coats from Petstop open at the front so can be placed on the dog, rather than them having to pass through an opening, are reasonably priced and really good quality.

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Confinement

For safety and for training, some form of safe confinement will likely be required at some point in a dog’s life. The best way to prepare them for that, and help with other training exercises, is to confinement train. This means to make being behind a barrier a pleasant experience for a dog and to use confinement, particularly in crates, appropriately.

Get started with Crate Training 101 and then begin to build comfort with hanging out in confinement while you move about, with Level 2 crate training.
From there you can build comfort incrementally; working in a release routine can help you build duration in confinement, without a food toy or chew to work on.

Wire crates are often most convenient as they can fold away flat and are sturdy. To reduce the noise, wrap the tray in a towel or blanket and then add the dog’s bedding. Savic crates are great, long-lasting and sturdy; you can get them and a more budget friendly line from Jeb Tools.

Plastic travel crates are required for airline travel and can be handy, if you have the space. Zooplus offer a variety but if you are travelling, check the requirements before you purchase.

Soft-sided crates are great because they fold flat, are lightweight and quiet, but a dog who chews or is looking to escape will not be safe with this crate.

Crates are not for every owner or dog so where confinement, management and safety are required, gates and pens are a great addition.

Regardless, when confinement is expected, the dog will need help to learn to settle comfortably behind a barrier so spend some time on that too.

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Beds

Before you splash out on a new bed for your dog, do some research and ask your dog about their sleeping and resting preferences. See Day 10 of #100daysofenrichment for more!

There is a lot of variety in beds available for dogs, with lots of choices. I really like the Beddies range in Equipet and we have several, but there are lots and lots of awesome beds to suit every budget and every pet.

Don’t invest in expensive soft bedding if you have a chewer or a young dog but getting some VetBed will tie you over until you can splash out.

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For fun and brain games

Now we get to have some fun!

We talk a lot about Kong toys and the Kong range, so of course Kong toys will feature here too! They are available from all sorts of outlets and have toys that offer all sorts of different challenges. The full Kong range can be viewed here.

There are lots of stuffable options out there, and not just Kongs! Try K9 Connectables to offer different challenges and enrichment outlets with these versatile toys.

One of my current favourites is the Toppl; it’s pretty durable and is a straight forward solve for dogs who experience frustration or are new to puzzle feeding.

It can be transformed into a more challenging feeder by combining a small and a large size, but it’s still a great stuffable toy on its own.

My other favourite is the Qwizl – as a straight forward puzzle toy it’s great for kibble or wet foods, can be lined or frozen. I use it with dogs who have a tendency to gulp and swallow the last bits of long chews, like pizzles, so that it’s safer and easier to grip.

We get our Westpaw Zogoflex toys from one of our favourite outlets, Tough Enough for Charlie.

There is a wonderful variety of chews, both edible and non-edible, available and we have a whole LONG list here for Day 11 Chewing of #100daysofenrichment.

Stuffables can be some of the most versatile toys so investing in a couple of different types.

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While I love to use my dog’s regular foods in stuffable toys, treat foods feature too. I prefer to use real meats as treats like chicken, turkey or cheese. But, you gotta have some special treats too and I love these dried meats from RiRaw:

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When it comes to choosing toys, think what your dog might get out of it; what sort of behaviours will these toys provide outlets for? Toys are enriching for dogs when they allow them to practice natural dog behaviours like chasing, biting, catching, chewing, dissection, tracking; play allows for practicing these behaviours.

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Having a range of toys for your dog will allow them to try out different behaviours – your dog can’t be wrong, what behaviours they decide to use in toy or item manipulation is what they find enriching.

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Tug toys from Tug-E-Nuff offer a wide range to tempt most dogs, providing lots of opportunities for tracking, chasing, tugging and even dissecting. Decker LOVES an oversized ball to chase and bite like Jolly Balls:

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For literally hundreds of ideas and a ton of inspiration for choosing entertainment and fun for your dog, check out #100daysofenrichment and pick from challenges that you think you and your pet will enjoy.

All your dog wants for Christmas is YOU!

Certainly buy your pet gifts and items that make their life more comfortable and enjoyable, but, don’t forget that YOU are the most important part of your dog’s life.

Take time, lots of time, to just be and hang out with your dog, especially over the holidays when the chaos is swirling all around.

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If you are taking some time off from work and your normal routine this holiday season, maintain your dog’s comfort by trying to keep some features of normality in their day to day. It’s especially important to keep a little separation and alone time throughout the holidays so that when everything goes back to normal and you leave again, the bottom of their world doesn’t fall out.

Prioritise time to just be with your dog and make sure to go for lots of SNIFFS! rather than walks – making sniffing possible is the biggest gift you can give your dog.

Run through the Sniffing Saturdays from #100daysofenrichment and try to include a little sniffing everyday for your dog.

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Christmas Bites: Don’t eat that…don’t chew that…don’t touch that…

Don’t eat that…don’t chew that…don’t touch that…

With so many tempting but out of bounds bits and pieces hanging around during the holidays, it’s easy to understand how challenging this might be for most dogs.

While some dogs can be concerned by new and elaborate decorations cropping up all over, most dogs will be interested in investigating novel items. This usually means that they will approach them, sniff them, taste and chew them – that’s how dogs explore their world!

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Make it easy to get it right!

Management is very much the name of the game, particularly if you have a puppy or a dog who is interested and interactive. Make it really easy for them to stay successful thinking carefully about how and where you arrange decorations, presents, party-food and other temptations.

  • keep things out of reach, remembering that dogs can jump and climb
  • take care with storing and disposing of foods and presents
  • use management, like baby gates and leashes, to prevent your dog accessing forbidden items
  • confine your dog safely when temptations are in play
  • consider decorating only limited areas elaborately

Check out this gorgeous scene, carefully managing puppy Tucker’s access to that tempting tree!

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This fantastic management example is from Linda Adams Brennan of Canine Coach, starring the adorable Tucker!

More on holiday hazards here and more on management during the holidays here.

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Uh-Oh! Management Fail!

Sometimes management can fail; the door was left open, the baby gate removed, the dog wasn’t being watched. It’s easy. You are human and your dog is canine – mistakes happen.

Now the dog has got something we would prefer he didn’t have. What now?

  • First, consider the situation: is the item harmful to your dog, will they damage it? If, the answers are, no, let it go and don’t worry about it. Next time, step up your management to do a better prevention job.
    If you need to reclaim the item, do so carefully…

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  • STOP! Don’t pursue the dog. Going after them serves to convince them that what they took must be wonderful (because everyone wants it!), which may lead them to ingest it quickly (so nobody else can have it) or guard it (use distance increasing signaling to keep every else away).
    Some dogs might even take stuff to get that attention and chase, as it works every time!
  • Instead, move away from your dog. Sounds counterintuitive, but moving away will attract the dog to you.
    Move away and pretend to engage with something really interesting, with lots of oohs and aaahs for effect. For example, scurry toward the kitchen counters and tap it, move things, wiggle things. Keep oooh-ing and aaah-ing until your dog approaches to check out what you are up to.

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  • Even if you must get the item back more urgently, don’t pursue the dog. Instead move away and create a diversion by, for example, opening the fridge and rustling packaging, getting the dog’s lead and pretending to prepare for a walk, or tossing food rewards away from your dog.
    We don’t want to rely on this strategy too much, it’s for emergencies only. Otherwise, we might have the dog taking things to get you to play this game!

This is the important part:

Continue with your diversion tactics until your dog moves away from the item. Don’t make this interaction about the item or about getting it back.

When the dog discards the item, continue to redirect them. For example, encourage them to follow you into another room by moving and talking to them excitedly, jollying them along with you. You might even toss a toy or food rewards into another room to help your dog move away.
Close the door behind them – they don’t need to be present when you recover the item. Remember, we are not making it about the item!

Step up your management to prevent repeats of this!

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There is absolutely no point in attempting to punish scavening behaviour – scolding and reprimanding won’t help you here. Once the dog has taken the item, they have had their fun and the behaviour is reinforced to happen the next time.

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Step up management and start teaching them the behaviours you would rather they do when temptation is available.

The Floor is Magic

Food on counters, tables, and on low coffee-tables, during the celebrations can be difficult for dogs to resist.

Scavenging behaviour is normal, natural, necessary dog behaviour; behaviour that we humans go out of our way to suppress.

Making sure to practice settling and working on some canine entertainment in set-ups where food will be available tantalisingly close to your dog will go along way to helping prevent your dog taking food that’s out of bounds.

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Plan ahead!

Where will food be most tempting during your gathering? At the dinner table, on the kitchen counters, in the living room low-down?

Introduce the Floor is Magic game in those places and start practicing now.

Work with some pretty yummy food rewards and let your dog see you place one treat on the counter or table. Immediately toss a couple of treats on the floor.

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LOOK! from Distractions

LOOK!, as a reorientation exercise and cue, is a valuable skill to have in your arsenal for all sorts of situations.

LOOK! means that your dog orients toward you, away from a distraction for reward. They never get access to the thing they have been cued away from. You can use any word that you like, such as “Leave It!”.

Check out these puppies learning to leave tissue, a puppy-destruction-favourite:

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The key here, as always, is to make sure that you set your dog up for success. We need to use leads and barriers, along with space and distance from the distraction to effectively teach the dog to respond to you when close to temptation.

You can use anything as your distraction such as food, decorations, gifts or the Christmas tree. In the following tutorials, food in a bowl on the floor, is used as the distraction:

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Each time your dog looks toward the distraction, cue “LOOK!” (or whatever cue word you like) and wait for your dog to reorient to you. Reward well and repeat.

Very soon, your dog will focus on you because the distraction tells them that focus is the most rewarding thing to do!

Christmas Bites: Chill Out

Chill Out

Holiday celebrations can have everyone somewhat wound up and it can take a food coma to help with relaxation. For the most part, we will want our pets to chill out too, especially when the family are hanging out or eating, and this is of course made even more difficult given the activity and festivities.

You know what I am going to say….start practicing now!

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All is calm

So that they feel comfortable on the day, start practicing chilling out today. This can be easily supported by using some pacifying activities entertainment ideas.

Establish your dog’s safe zone – a comfortable place they can go, spend time, without anyone approaching or interacting. Easy to do by giving your dog a yummy stuffable or an irresistible chew there every day, and leaving the dog to it. (For more see here.)

This helps to reduce your dog’s intensity about all the yummy stuff all the humans have!

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Most dogs will benefit from some comfortable confinement during the celebrations, and all dogs will enjoy a break away from the action, even occasionally. (More on preparing for there here.)

To make sure that confinement is a viable option during your party or gathering, and that your dog will be comfortable there, start practicing now! Every day, prepare the most wonderful puzzle, stuffable or chew for your dog – with your dog’s absolute favourites. Give him his treat in confinement and let him out before he becomes upset.

A little bit of alone time, away from the action and social pressure, will benefit most dogs (and people!), while making it easier to maintain safety and reduce unwanted behaviour.

The key to this is practice, every day, so that when you need confinement, your pet will cope better, be more comfortable and you will be at ease.

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Calm Context

Dogs learn what emotional response to expect, and therefore, which behaviours will be required in a given context. That might include the room they’re in, the people or other animals present, the time of day, what’s just happened, what comes next, the activities that go on there, whether good things, scary things or neutral things happen or can be expected.

During our celebrations, we might expect our dog to be calm and chilled, so we need to set up contexts that allow that to happen. Of course, seasonal festivities are anything but calm so, you’ve guessed it, we need to start practicing now!

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Plan ahead

Think where you will like your dog to be calm and chilled out during the celebrations. That’s where we start practicing by setting up a Calm Context there.

  • practice at times that your dog might normally be calmer
  • the house is quiet, no comings and goings, nobody expected to come home or call in
  • all their needs are met – they have toileted, they have eaten, they have been exercised, they have had lots of attention, interaction and company
  • you can practice with them on lead, if you like, to help reduce their moving around and getting themselves excited again
  • make less exciting chew toys, chews or toys available to minimise excitement but to give him something to do should he need that

It’s important that you start setting up this calm idea for your dog – no more active or raucous play in that location from now on. Make this place about being chilled out.

And it’s best that your dog has access to this room, only when it’s easy for him to be calm and chilled out.

Set up for settling!

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While I don’t really like to use lots of treats for this particular exercise, that can be helpful to get you started and begin to build value in settling behaviour, for your dog:

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Park Your Pup!

Parking is a valuable exercise to practice, for both ends of the lead. This can help your dog learn to chill out in the house and when out and about, meaning you can take your dog lots of places.

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Parking is a particularly great for when you are eating or relaxing, and you want to help your dog relax, but also not have to pay them too much attention. This can help to prevent or reduce so-called begging behaviour at the dinner table too.

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This clip demonstrates the leash technique:

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Park your Pup with their lead on and with a delicious stuffable toy, chew or treat to work on. Hold the toy or chew under one foot, while you are sitting down, and the dog’s lead under your other foot. Give your dog just enough lead that they can comfortably lie down or turn, but not so much that they can jump up or get into mischief.

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Start practicing some Parking today! It’s great to practice this exercise as you might use it on the day. For example, Park your Pup while you are eating a meal or relaxing in front of the TV.

Every time you practice calmness and settling in your calm contexts, the easier it will be for your dog to do this, in these contexts, during the celebrations.

Make time for crazy too!

All this settling and being calm is fine, but is tricky for dogs, particularly at exciting times. Always thinking in rollercoasters, regularly interrupt your dog’s settling and calm-time with some fidget and crazy breaks.

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Help your dog to become familiar with this routine, by practicing settling and then crazy, settling and then crazy, ending with a little more settling. Not only will this prepare your dog for calmer, more settled behaviour in those Calm Contexts, but also help your dog develop better self-calming skills which will help him calm himself more efficiently after excitement.

But, you gotta start practicing now!

Christmas Bites: Doors, greetings and all that drama

Doors, greetings and all that drama

Doorbells ringing and people coming and going, amid the excitement, can cause dogs a lot of distress. Not to mention the distress their dog’s behaviour can cause pet owners, who are trying to welcome guests while wrangling canine greeters.

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There’s no time like Christmas and holiday celebrations to really test any control you thought you had over door and greetings goings-on!

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Safety First!

While most people believe that their dog’s behaviour at the door is motivated by excitement, that’s not always the case. And it’s more than likely that most dogs experience a range of emotions and expectations when they hear the door.

Dogs can’t be expected to differentiate between intruders and welcome guests, but yet we want them to welcome visitors with calm and friendly behaviour, while scaring away gurriers up to no good.

For the most part, door action will cause arousal for dogs. This makes them more likely to become excitable, to bark, and even to aggress or have other strong emotional responses.

Dogs who approach the door with a wiggly body, they may or may not be barking, and generally calm and quieten once the guests enter are probably ok. The exercises described here will help.

But if a dog barks and continues to bark at the person coming in, jumps repeatedly, lunges or moves forward directly toward the guest or slinks away and attempts to avoid interaction, get some help before putting advice into play.
Management that includes confinement away from doors and incoming guests may be best, at the very least.

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Dogs barking at boundaries, when people are approaching or passing, is related to distance increasing behaviour and the inner conflict they experience. Of course, most of the time, people pass on or leave shortly after arriving, and your dog’s behaviour functions for them in achieving distance.
Dogs do behaviour that works, so they bark each time.

You can imagine then, that when a stranger doesn’t leave, the dog may feel they have no choice but to try harder to scare them away. So, for some dogs, it’s safer for them to be confined away from the action altogether.

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Even if you think your dog is excited to greet guests coming into the house, it’s important that we keep greetings low key. There’s a lot going on, with lots of excitement, so your dog’s normal tolerances may be stretched thinly.

Enthusiastic greetings, with lots of touching, petting and hugging, is not going to help you or your dog remain even a little calm as people enter or move about. Helping your dog learning to like being out of the way a little during the festivities is probably going to be better in the long run.

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An ounce of prevention

Use leashes, baby gates and other management strategies to keep the peace at doors and greetings.

  • confine and secure your dog in another room, with a tempting treat, chew or toy to work on before guests arrive (More on preparing your dog for confinement here.)
    Have your guests call or text, rather than ringing the doorbell or knocking.

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  • let your guests come in the door and settle before introducing your dog
  • bring your dog in on lead to prevent jumping
    Guests will probably be wearing nice clothes, specially for the occasion, so even a friendly dog jumping up or getting too close may be uncomfortable.

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  • you (don’t have guests feed your dog) have high value food rewards for the dog and drop them every couple of seconds, or scatter a handful – this HIGH rate of reinforcement will help your dog to focus on this game, rather than losing control in excitement
    Guests don’t need to pet or greet your dog too emphatically – let things settle before you think about letting your dog choose to interact, or not.

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  • some dogs like to hold something in their mouth when excited; have a favourite toy type available at various spots around the door and areas where guests will be welcomed. Give this to your dog to carry before they greet guests.
  • don’t yell at your dog for barking – scatter treats, ask him for behaviours or tricks, hold a stuffable toy for them to lap, or remove them from the room

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If your dog is more cautious meeting guests, try a new guest greeting routine to see if that helps them settle. Practice NOW with familiar people so your dog learns the pattern, without all the excitement of greetings at Christmas.
Many dogs are more comfortable greeting new people outside in more open spaces:

  • have your guests call or text when they arrive
  • they wait outside on the street, away from the house
  • bring your dog, on lead, out and walk in a wide loop around your waiting guests
  • your guests move into the house and ahead of you and settle
  • keep your dog back far enough that they are not reacting, barking, staring or straining on the lead to get them
  • once your guests are settled, enter with the dog on lead and feed him really high value food rewards really regularly
  • remove the dog after a couple of minutes and confine in a safe room with plenty of things to keep him entertained

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A dog this uncomfortable with guests may not settle enough to be truly comfortable and may be better off confined away safely, with regular visits and outings on lead, or may do better with a pet sitter or with familiar people having quieter celebrations.

If a dog is unable to settle and can’t largely ignore guests after a few minutes, remove the dog and give them a break in another room.

Please be aware that sometimes, a dog appears to have settled because he has stopped barking and is ignoring the guests. The absence of barking or growling does not indicate comfort or happiness.
If your guests move, laugh or talk loudly, get up or come back into the room, your dog will start to bark or become unsettled again. This is a good indication that your dog has not been comfortable, and can’t cope with the extra stimulation and change to the guest.

Remove your dog and settle them in a safe confinement spot.

Sniffing & Snuffling for better door management

One of the most effective ways to control your dog’s arousal related behaviour is to redirect them to an equally absorbing task, but something that gives them more appropriate outlets for their excitement.

Sniffing and snuffling are the perfect alternative behaviours because they really encourage the dog to focus on the task at hand (finding food rewards), while helping them calm and preventing them practicing unwanted behaviour.

Start practicing today so that doors and greetings don’t cause drama at all this holiday season!

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Calm entries

Practice this simple exercise each time you come into the house on the run up to Christmas.

Establish a Sniffing Station inside the door, or other appropriate greeting spot, at which you greet your dog. Use a snufflemat or similar snuffling puzzle, or just scatter treats onto the floor as soon as you enter.

Have treats in a tub in the car or your pocket so you are prepared as soon as you walk in, or just inside the door. Enter the house and excitedly bound to the Sniffing Station; scatter treats liberally for your dog to snuffle.

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This helps to change your dog’s expectations. Instead of anticipating this spike of arousal and great excitement when someone comes to the door, they will think sniffing is best instead.

If others practice this too, and you put this into place with guests entering, you will have a calmer door situation, with lots of snuffling and sniffing!

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Doorbell = Snuffle Party

Teach your dog that the doorbell signals a snuffle party! Instead of your dog running to the door, they run to you and their Sniffing Station to snuffle for treats; then you can bring your guests in calmly and quietly.

Establish a Sniffing Station with a snufflemat, a snuffle puzzle, or simply scattering treats on the floor, on a blanket or towel, or in their bed.

Practice in short sessions of just a minute or so at a time.

Begin working close to the door so your dog can quickly check that there’s nobody actually there. But as their comfort increases, you can move your Sniffing Station to the spot you want your dog to go to when the door bell sounds, such as another room, a confinement area, a crate or their bed.

Be exciting as you bound to their Sniffing Station – it’s a snuffle party after all!

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Use a recording of your door bell or a similar sounding bell. The one I use can be found here.

You gotta practice door management games before you really need them but they are simple to work into your daily routine and require only 30-60 seconds practice per day.

 

Christmas Bites: Entertaining Canines

Entertaining Canines: keep ’em busy and out of trouble

Entertainment and enrichment for pets is kind of our thing. If you want a FULL program of enrichment, training, fun and entertainment, check out our #100daysofenrichment project.

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Festive Entertainment

In general, during social gatherings, parties and meals, you likely need your dog to be pretty low key and out of the way.

The easiest way to manage their behaviour is to provide them with appropriate behaviours to keep them busy and entertained. Instead of thinking how to stop them doing things you don’t like, think what you would prefer them to do instead!

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Get your dog hooked on entertainment!

Start practicing now with simple activities that your dog can work on themselves, without too much input required from you.

Pacifying Activities: 

This category is great for confinement, for calming and when you want your dog to take themselves away and stay busy.

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Introduce these now:

Day 1 Stuffables

Day 11 Chewing

Day 37 Lickables and Lappables

Get practicing now so you can find the best approach for your pet – it’s too late to discover they don’t like a certain thing or can’t work a toy on the day, when you really need it.

Activating Entertainment:

Before it all kicks off, provide your dog with plenty of appropriate mental and physical exercise so that they are relaxed and satisfied before the celebrations begin.

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Always think in Rollercoasters: if you bring your dog up, they need help coming down again. This is why, it’s not necessarily a great idea to provide exerting exercise right before your guests arrive; your dog will still be wound up and now, with the extra excitement, will find it even harder to come down again.

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Introduce some of these activities, and always follow with some down time and something from the pacifying category above.

Day 2 Play: Release the toy, release the joy

Day 6: Sniffing Saturday – Sniffathon!

Day 13: Sniffing Saturday – Scatter Feeding & Snuffling

Day 27 Sniffing Saturday: Adventure Time

Day 32 Play: Fun with Food

Day 55 Sniffing Saturday – Sniffing Courses

Day 57 Rollercoaster Games

Day 62 Sniffing Saturday: Searches & Scavenger Hunts

Day 69 Sniffing Saturday: Drag Hunts

Day 71 Chasing!

Day 76 Sniffing Saturday – SNIFFARI

Day 93 Watersports

Put these in place on the morning of your party, and even in the days leading up to celebration.

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Puzzles!

Puzzles can be a great way of providing vital mental exercise and putting them together can be a great to get kids involved. When creating puzzles, think safety first!

Day 9: Busy Boxes

Day 16 Tubs

Day 18 Eggboxes

Day 23 Pulleys

Day 25 Dissection & Destruction

Day 29 Blankets

Day 31 Foraging Boxes

Day 39 Bottles

Day 44 Puzzle Chains

Day 46 Teasers

Day 51 Compound Puzzles

Day 53 Suspended Puzzles Pt1

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Day 58 Paper

Day 67 Suspended Puzzles Pt. 2

Day 72 Food Dispensers

Day 74 Snuffle Roll Ups

Day 79 Box o’ Stuffables

Day 85 Tubes!

Day 87 Stacked Puzzles

Day 88 Suspended Teasers

Day 92 Winebox Puzzles Pt. 1

Day 94 Winebox Puzzles Pt.2

Day 99 Pockets

Day 100 Pockets (again)

Puzzles are a great way to use up all that Christmas wrapping and packing!

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