Tag Archives: dog training

Upcoming Continuing Education Events

While we have had a little break from blogging due to illness and holidays and general run-off-our-feet-ness, we have been working away behind the scenes.

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AniEd has some really exciting plans to bring you accessible and relevant educational events, that will be as up to date as possible, interactive and packed full of useful resources.

Access to these resources, interactive feedback and discussion and the events themselves will be largely via this blog so you might see password protected posts – these are for those who have signed up for the event. A password will be given to each attendee so that they can get the full picture and access all the associated material.

We will be back up and running soon with our usual free access blogs, with lots of clips & tips too.

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This weekend we have a CAP1 workshop at our centre, to help those just starting out with clicker training and to help prepare for submitting assessment.

More on CAP1 here and here.

Working spots (with dogs) are filled but there are unlimited spectator spots available. Current students of ours can take advantage of discounted rates for attending and outside of this, this event costs €50, payable on the day.

If you would like to attend just send an email to info@anied.ie and we will provide details.

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Look out for news of more workshops, seminars and webinars too so that you don’t miss out!

 

What the world needs now…

(apart from love, sweet love, that is)

…is dog trainers, good dog trainers.

Dog trainers with exquisite mechanical skills and exemplary instructing skills. Dog trainers who behave professionally and who emphasise puppy and dog training.

You would think that this is what we have within our population of dog trainers. If we did, then I think we would be in a better place.

Professionalism, regulation, certification, recognition (or lack thereof)

You will commonly hear that the only thing that two dog trainers agree on is, that the third dog trainer is wrong. We hear it so often it is cliché and is largely accepted, which informs our view of our evolving industry.

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It is unlikely that professional regulation for dog trainers will be widespread any time soon. We don’t have any sort of minimum standards of anything right now, and this is difficult to establish in such a diverse and divisive atmosphere.

Because there are no standards, there are no standards.

This is not made any easier by the really, really confusing array of certifications and titles, and a stunningly large number of organisations to align with – each and every one can offer you something you just don’t get from another and so on.
Or plethora of educational institutions offering courses, seminars, webinars, books, articles, blogs, tips, clips and promising you that they, over all the others will offer you the very best.

And to add to the in-fighting among individuals, it’s present among professional bodies and organisations too, with one not recognising the achievements or certifications of another.

Developing some sort of structure is tricky because we would have to develop minimum standards in practice, but trickiest of all, there would need to be some incentive to do so.

Pressure needs to come from pet owners, but because of a history of expert advice offered and accepted by everyone from vets to groomers, from TV gurus to the random man in the park, it’s hard to see how there would sufficient motivation for the pet owning population to exert this pressure when I’m not sure many are aware or (dare I say) care about professional standards for dog trainers.

But it is getting better. It is unrecognisable compared to the so-called industry I started in and continues to grow and develop.

Dogs and dogma

Balance, in dog training, is a dirty word. The dominance of social media (I’m allowed to say the D word in this context!) means that polarisation of all things dog is becoming entrenched in our culture.

Listen, there are more than two ways to do most things and that’s the case in dog training.  We are dealing with living beings, both two and four legged, and changing environmental conditions – that’s why behaviour exists, is modifiable and is so adaptable.

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You can have a wide and varied toolbox without having to venture outside your comfort zone.

And having a comfort zone, that’s ok too. Choosing to train in a certain way doesn’t make you better or someone else worse.

In general, teaching and learning have been moving away from the application of aversive methodologies and emphasising the importance of mechanical teaching skills and careful management of the learning environment. This is good.

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But exactly how this is applied varies and therein lies the problem – the dog training world is a polarised place and the more one movement promotes their mantra, the more another movement pushes further and further away.

Polarisation is not getting us anywhere, as the same arguments are rehashed again and again on the various stages, most of them via social media.

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Despite our emphasis on un-labelling animal behaviour, we sure spend a lot of time trying to define more and more specific boxes into which we can squeeze our training.

“Positive”, “force-free”, “traditional”, “balanced”, “humane”, “welfare-friendly”, “working dog trainer”, “show dog trainer”, “crossover trainer”…

We are trying to stand out from the ‘others’ with whom we don’t agree, and in doing so pigeon hole our training, skill and knowledge.

Dog training can often be hostile. Social media, which has become an important part of dog trainer culture, makes this hostility more impactful. Clinging to a ‘side’ is negatively reinforced and that’s pretty powerful.

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When we are starting out, we want to belong. We need the support, and we might not have the confidence to stand out or pull against the tide. It’s easy to be sucked in and to find comfort there.

That brings us to an interesting point of contention – we might be quick to apply these more modern approaches to teaching to our canine students but not so generous when dealing with fellow two-leggers.

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Want behaviour change? You first!

Well, as we say in dog training, you get the behaviours you reinforce, not the ones you want. Behaviour is behaviour is behaviour and regardless of what label you are aligned with, we are technicians and facilitators of behaviour change, so we shouldn’t be finding this so hard, right?!

Science & practice

Something pretty cool has happened in the last couple of decades that has really accelerated our practice but also the trainer wars – dogs have become a popular subject of scientific study. Every week papers are published of scientific merit and we get to drool over them, working out the best ways to apply this new knowledge.

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To do this requires a thorough understanding of the principles of behaviour and behaviour change.

We have a whole science of behaviour to call on, and although we still have lots to learn we have a good understanding of lots of areas of natural animal behaviour and how animals learn.

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No modern dog trainer can function ethically, competently, effectively without this bread and butter.

Walk before you can run

We all want to sell our wares; it’s an industry after all, and each of us needs to eat and make a living. To do this each trainer is trying to get their unique selling point to the forefront.

In our evolving industry, with our competing educational and certifying bodies abound, there is an influx of courses and seminars and webinars and fads and trends boasting the latest methodology, or more advanced techniques and in some cases, information that will never be applied (realistically or correctly) by most dog trainers.

And as excited as I am about new discoveries and new ideas, I am just as concerned about the loss of focus on the very foundation that’s our bread and butter.

All the sexy stuff is great but to become a really great dog trainer, one of those ones that the world really needs, requires a simply excellent mastery of those foundations.

Becoming better

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  • learn how to capture behaviour – how to arrange prompts to get behaviour without causing frustration or loss of interest
  • learn how to shape behaviour, without relying on extinction – be a better observer, be a better setter of criteria
  • develop exquisite timing
  • learn how to handle food rewards – how to get them from you to the dog, how to position them to promote learning
  • learn about motivation and how reinforcement functions
  • learn how to lure so that you get behaviour quickly, and can fade those lures quickly
  • learn how to fade prompts, without losing integrity or quality of behaviour
  • learn how to manipulate the learning environment so that you can progress and generalise learning
  • increase your ROR, and when you have increased it, increase it some more
  • build desired behaviours rather than break down unwanted ones
  • learn how to supervise dog-dog interactions
  • learn how to expose puppies to different experiences to best facilitate their behavioural development
  • train your dog, and live what you preach
  • develop the gift of foresight so that you can predict and prevent – be proactive, not reactive
  • learn how to safely organise teaching so that every one is safe
  • learn about muzzling, and barriers and proper management
  • become an amazing definer of criteria – don’t settle for good enough
  • plan your training, split criteria and be adaptable
  • forget about the sexy stuff, forget about aggression and biting and reactivity – get really good at training behaviours, and I mean really good
  • and once you have aced all that with dogs, start working with other species like prey animals who don’t like you, or predatory animals who can hurt you – dogs are forgiving and hide a multitude of our sins
  • develop skills in applying this to humans too

This list is the tip of the iceberg, and I haven’t even mentioned the people-training stuff, professional & business stuff or the rest of the dog stuff.
(Can you add to this list?)

But if you get really really really really good at this stuff, the other stuff falls into place and all that advanced, pie-in-the-sky information fits right in, is beneficial and enjoyable, rather than overwhelming.

What the world doesn’t need more of…

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We don’t need more egos who feature in their own videos more than dogs or dog training do.

We don’t need more dog whisperers, listeners, psychologists, experts, specialists.

We don’t need more gurus with massive social media followings, who can’t seem to demonstrate these basic skills with other people and their pets (as in, being a dog trainer).

We don’t need more rehabilitators, or aggression specialists, or reactive dog fixers.

We don’t need more organisations, or certifications or titles.

(Can you add to this list?)

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Be a critical thinker, challenge what you are told and what you believe. Don’t get sucked in.

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Above all else, what the world needs now are more great dog trainers.

Get out there and train, teach people, show off your skills, have fun with your dog and be a great dog trainer, making that difference.

Somewhere in between

Balance filling in a polarisation sandwich

Dog training is a pretty dynamic and certainly dogmatic field, even more so with the popularity of social media and the speed with which information spreads.

With such strong views it is no surprise that attitudes to everything from education to ethics, and from techniques to terminology are often extreme and polarised. Balance truly is a dirty word in dog training…

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…or wrong, for that matter!

A vocation and a career

Dog trainers often enter this area, first in hobby form or perhaps via working with their own pet and slowly will (hopefully) build on knowledge and skill to help develop a career.

But this area is not quite a profession just yet – our field is unregulated, with no minimum standards of education, experience, skill or knowledge.

The transition from passion to every-day-job can be difficult for others (and ourselves) to appreciate, leading to lots of less comfortable attitudes toward our work.

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You say black, I say white

Just recently, this piece was published on a blog known for its pretty direct tone: Why being a dog trainer f***ing sucks and in response to that, several pieces on why being a dog trainer doesn’t suck…
And around and around we go.

(Please be warned, that the above linked piece contains some pretty strong language.)

The truth will set you free

Like any job, dog training will have ups and downs and those swings will come in cycles. It’s not always brilliant and it’s not always awful.

But we’re not in dog training for the big bucks and instead reap a range of other rewards.

Now, this isn’t a rant or a moan – we don’t work down coal mines or in third world conditions, but because AniEd spends a lot of its time, not only training dogs, also supporting new and developing dog trainers our concerns lie in building a professional industry, recognised and respected.

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It is misleading to tell, especially new, dog trainers that all is rosy, and that you should always love your job, the dogs, the people. This is unrealistic for any area.
But it’s not always helpful to vent and rant either so middle-ground must be achieved.

Why is it so tough?

Well, truth be told, it’s not much tougher than lots of other jobs out there, especially those where you deal with lots of human clients.

But, when you come into this field, your expectations can be a little high – it’s supposed to be a vocation, right? So that might set you up for a little bit of a crash & burn.

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Challenges that dog trainers might face:

  • You might think you’re in the wrong place…
    I don’t think there’s anyone out there who says to themselves that they would like to work with people, “so I’m going to become a dog trainer”.
    But dog trainer is a misnomer – a whole lot of our work involves people-training.
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It’s really “people” trainer…

Might help to:

– seek education in becoming a great people-trainer, emphasise this as part of your developing skill set

 

  •  You spend a lot of time working alone, and much of your daily social contact is with dogs and clients. 
    It’s probably what you thought you wanted, but after a while it can become really lonely. And it can be particularly difficult if you have some emotional turmoil or you’re feeling a bit delicate – being alone with your thoughts can push you a little over the edge.
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…or so you thought…

 

Might help to:

– engage in non-work related social activities regularly
– maybe even develop a new, non-job-like hobby
– generate a good support structure, someone you can call and have a chat with when you feel the loneliness creeping in
– develop an excellent support network among colleagues too

 

  • Your friends and family probably don’t get your job.
    Because dog training is seen as a vocation and as something that “anyone can do“, it can be difficult for others close to you to truly understand that there may be complexities and difficulties.
    But because of this attitude to our field, we have often put quite a bit of effort into talking-up dog training as a career so it can be uncomfortable to admit that sometimes it’s not what you had hoped for.

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Might help to:

– be top of your game by reading, practicing, learning and developing
– realistically describe your job and its demands to non-doggie people
– promote our profession, by behaving in a professional manner

 

  • It’s a passion AND a job
    Your hobby, passion and love becoming your career certainly sounds great but…
    This makes it hard to break away – your day job is dogs but so is your spare time.
    We often work largely from home and in other peoples’ homes so don’t have that threshold to cross and leave it all behind.
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Really…?

Might help to:

– learn to compartmentalise
– hang out with your own dogs – you will really appreciate them!
– assign working hours, and don’t respond to job-stuff outside those hours
– develop very clear policies about client interactions, and establish those boundaries from the start

 

  • You got into this because you love dogs. 
    Dogs are pretty awesome. But sometimes they can, like anything, try your patience – it’s OK to concede that. You are human and a dog trainer.
    What’s more, when many pet owners come to us it’s because their dog is causing them a big problem. It’s hard to empathise with them when you know that their behaviour is a major part of the problem, and they continue to vilify their dog.
    That can inform your attitude to the human end of the leash.

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Might help to:

– concentrate on behaviour – don’t take it personally, it’s just behaviour…even the human behaviour
– learn to empathise – a misguided pet owner is you x number of years ago
– at the same time though, learn to draw that line

 

  • Whether you like it or not, you are a people trainer.
    It’s not just that humans pay the bills, it’s so much more than that. The welfare of the dog depends on your ability to communicate, instruct, counsel and teach that human.
    One of the biggest frustrations is that people have seriously inflated expectations of dogs. This is reinforced by media coverage and by other dog-people.
    Sharing stories about miraculous acts of canine kindness, promoting dogs as loving you more than they do themselves and attributing super-natural powers to dogs in terms of their abilities to save and support contributes to this. Dogs are awesome with out all that.
    Unrealistic expectations lead to disappointment, which leads to poor motivation, leading to temptation to reach for quick fixes. That can feel pretty thankless sometimes.

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Might help to:

– promote realistic, grounded education on all things dog
– help them to reframe their attitude
– facilitate dogs being dogs, and help pet owners appreciate that
– continue to develop excellent counselling skills

 

  • Dog training is simple, but it’s not easy (~ Bob Bailey)
    Dog training involves mechanical skill that takes lots and lots and lots of practice, instructing and feedback to learn.
    Pet owners are typically unskilled and we have the challenge of teaching them to teach their dogs. We might have been working on developing our skill level over years and years and even thousands of dogs.
    Not only are we teaching the dog new behaviours, but the human too.

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Might help to:

– be a really good do-er, before you become a teacher
– seek education in the mechanics – prioritise this because only from an in-depth understanding can you teach this to non-skilled pet owners
– apply dog training mechanics to teaching pet owners: provide feedback, split criteria and create a collaborative learning environment, that is conducive to learning

 

  • Good dog trainers are educated and invested.
    The dog trainers who are going to truly advance our industry toward becoming a respected, regulated, standard-filled professional are educated, with both academic and experiential credentials. We learn about the appliance of science, how animals learn, how natural behaviour is shaped, how genetics interact with health and behaviour, how to construct meaningful training plans and how to teach both ends of the leash – and that’s just for starters.
    We are living in the most exciting time that dog training has seen – in the last decade-ish, science has begun to really dig canine science and we get to reap the rewards of all this investigation.
    The financial, time, emotional and physical commitments to our continued education will be pretty huge.
    This is not a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants operation, or at least it shouldn’t be.
    It is understandable, then, that when people belittle our efforts by not respecting our work, it’s going to hurt.

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Might help to:

– promote professional conduct
– continue to invest in your education
– make sure your training does the talking

 

  • We only have ourselves to blame. 
    It can sometimes seem easy to blame pet owners. But this is the same blame that they might put on their dogs, frustrating us.
    We have to be able to take on the responsibility for the human learning, just as the learning-human is taking on responsibility for their dog learning.
    At the same time, and this is the tricky bit, we also have to know when we have done all we can do, step away and move on.
    This is the hardest part.

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Might help to: 

– have support from colleagues with whom you can discuss cases, outcomes, ideas
– help people and their pets to the best of your ability
– work within your skill, competence level and remit
– know when to quit, when you have done all you can do (you’re not a magician)
– have an outlet for venting BUT please be careful with ranting and moaning – this can very quickly overwhelm you and inform your feelings and behaviour

 

  • I hate to say it, but other trainers can make life miserable. 
    Without consistent standards and a lack of professionalism, business and personal conduct can sometimes leave a lot to be desired.
    This might manifest in bitching (pun intended), snarky comments made publicly, social media interactions, bad-mouthing, stealing clients, copying or misrepresenting ideas, logos, policies etc.Social media, as wonderful a tool as it can be, can also be a curse. It has encouraged almost religious following and the rise of gurus, with egos to match.
    The boasting and bragging on social media can become tiresome and further raise expectations of this job – there is often a gap between reality-reality and social-media-reality.

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Might help to:

– get off the computer!
– let your training do the talking
– don’t engage in trainer-bashing
– have supports and outlets outside of social media
– critically evaluate EVERYTHING
– choose your mentor wisely and avoid the hollow gurus
– allow for balance and don’t dismiss another trainer too easily – you can probably learn something from most trainers

 

  • Behavioural health is just as important as physical health.
    This industry is young, and as of yet not well understood by many, even those in other related industries.
    Spotting a dog who is in physical pain may be easier for others to spot and appreciate; somewhat invisible behavioural suffering is a harder sell.
    Most of our starter dog trainers, don’t earn from their new career right away. Instead they supplement their earnings from within or outside of the animal care industry. Many will develop the dog walking, pet sitting, boarding sides of their businesses first, adding training as it grows.
    Even though nobody would deny the importance of early and continued education for children, it’s not a given for puppies and dogs.

Might help to:

– forge great relationships with veterinary staff, groomers, pet shops and other stakeholders
– promote proper socialisation practices for puppies
– engage with breeders and rescue organisations, and other sources for dogs

Training is about relationships

Developing positive attitudes and relationships is our most important function.
We do that via the dog-pet owner relationship, via the pet owner-trainer relationship, via the dog-trainer relationship, via the dog-society relationship, via trainer-trainer relationships and via trainers-society relationships. No pressure then!

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We must take care with the ease with which we can facilitate more confrontational relationships with people (pet owners and professionals alike).
Outlets such as this and this, are understandably borne out of frustration and funny, but how helpful are they, really?

I love my job

When I say that I am not exaggerating, I truly love my job.

But some days I am exhausted, frustrated, feel helpless and it’s OK to acknowledge that.
Identifying that helps me to reframe and work out where I need to make changes.

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I really do!

 

When you lack that clarity, you can’t see the wood for the trees, you need help. Compassion fatigue and burnout have been highlighted in animal care of late, and dog training and behaviour work bare all the hallmarks, making us susceptible too.
If your mental health is suffering, you are helping nobody. Ask for help. Always ask for help.

More on compassion fatigue and mental health here, here, and here.

Weekly Woof from the Web

It’s time for your weekly roundup of the best woofs from around the web!

Here are some great ideas for homemade entertainment – let the fun & brain games begin: DIY, Six DIY food puzzles and Recycled Enrichment

Off leash dogs storming your dog, who may not welcome the space-invasion, is a common complaint and a common contributor to your dog’s discomfort; here’s one strategy to try when you can’t get away.

Here’s a nice straight forward canine communication resource and the answer to a more specific signaling puzzle: Do you know what the dog twist behaviour means?

And there is no more important application of an understanding of canine signaling, than when children and dogs interact. Here’s what to do: I Speak Doggie and here’s How not to greet a dog

Resource guarding is normal, natural, necessary dog behaviour that may cause problems within groups of dogs living together: How to prevent resource guarding in multiple-dog household

Some excellent ideas for exercises for attention building around distractions here.

Remember, dogs don’t work for free (just like you and me!) so don’t think that he should do it because he loves you!

Need some training inspiration? Check out this awesome training!

Pulp Fiction fan? Talk about inspirational training: Pulp Fiction

It’s a fact; humans are powerless against puppy head tilts…check out these GSD puppies and prepare to surrender!

Think Outside the Food Bowl, 2

Part 2: Give That Dog A Job

Remimder why it’s important to get your dog working!

Unemployed dogs soon become self-employed so the easiest, quickest, most efficient and enjoyable way to get your dog working is by having him use some of those in-built skills  to earn his food, everyday.

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Food is Currency

To dogs, food is like currency, euros and dollars. So, if you are to employ a dog, you gotta get them working for their food.

Last time, we looked at the sorts of predatory and feeding related behaviours that dogs come with as part of the package.

We can safely offer our pet dogs outlets for behaviours like the following, using your dog’s dinner:

  • tracking
  • chewing
  • dissecting

And we can safely provide more appropriate outlets for some of this behaviour, through the use of games and play:

  • stalking & chasing
  • grabbing & biting

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Don’t let “domestication” fool you!

Domestication has done lots of things to dogs that has made them better pets and companions, but this process has also done a couple of things that mean getting your dog working for their food is even more important.

This process continues to ensure that dogs live closer and closer to humans and the more time the dog spends in the human world, the less time it gets to spend on doggie pursuits.

Domestication has certainly seen a dilution of some more serious predatory traits, but has amplified these traits across various breeds.
Each component of the predatory sequence is exaggerated in some dogs, but played down in others, according to their job or breeding history.

A lot of breed history is mythic but if we look closely at the early roles for many dogs, we can get some clues as to the activities they may love most.
But saying that, teaching your dog to carry out any and all of these behaviours will provide them (and you) much joy regardless.IMG_8604

Tracking:

 

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Chewing:

Our absolute favourite toy:

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Pupsicles:

Choose chews for your dog carefully and know your dog’s chewing style. Your dog chewing anything may be potentially harmful in a particular situation so be aware of ways to reduce the risks.

It’s never a good idea to give your dog cooked bones or very hard bone (e.g. weight bearing bone, heavy antlers etc.) as these can cause damage either when ingested or during chewing to teeth.

Natural chews are generally best but always check and monitor their condition. Look for signs of splitting or splintering, and keep an eye on their size appropriate to your dog.
Chews such as gullets, ‘pizzles’ and scalp have become more widely available.

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Cheaper rawhide type chews can be dangerous if swallowed so if choosing rawhide look for chews that are constructed from one piece of hide, that are not bleached or coloured and keep a close eye on your dog as he chews them.

If in doubt, ask your qualified veterinary healthcare team before allowing your pet to chew!

Dissecting:

Snuffle ball –

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Busy box –

Fill a box with crumpled paper, add treats and close up the box. To make an even busier box, you can add that box to another box too.

Stalking & Chasing:

Energising food dispensing toys –

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Flirtpole –

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Fetch –

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Give the Treat Launcher a go, especially for those dogs less inclined to chase a ball – they might chase this though!

Grabbing & Biting

Tug is one of our favourite doggy games because if it’s played with appropriate rules we can teach dogs so much with this game, all dressed up in pure fun!

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And for the DIY inclined why not consider building a springpole for your tug-addict: How to make a springpole

Enrichment comes in all shapes & sizes

We can give our dogs all sorts of jobs that challenge them in different ways. Giving them outlets for natural behaviour might include providing them with :

  • sensory challenges
  • physical challenges
  • cognitive challenges
  • social challenges

Stay tuned for more…

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Think Outside the Food Bowl!

Part 1: We Really Don’t Like Food Bowls

Feeding time is an exciting and important part of your dog’s daily routine but just because it’s routine doesn’t mean it needs to be boring.

The key is enrichment; protocols that you can put in place, simply, to provide your dog more appropriate outlets for natural, doggie behaviour.

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Why enrichment for pet dogs?

‘Natural’ behaviour

The “wild”, that idyllic place that’s considered the model we should mimic even though in actuality it is a dangerous, dog-eat-dog place, has nonetheless caused the evolution of a wide range of feeding behaviours that take up plenty of an animal’s energy and keep them busy.

Animals will naturally work for their food, with or without your help (or knowledge!):

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Contrafreeloading

Animals  are compelled to carry out behaviours, even if the goal of those behaviours e.g. food, is freely available.

This is referred to as contrafreeloading – animals often prefer to work for access to food, even when food is freely available.

Sounds counter-productive, but perhaps not!

Check out this smart pup, passing by a bowl of free food to activate a food dispenser:

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Natural Puzzlers

Dogs also appear to experience that ‘eureka’ feeling when working on challenges – working on a puzzle is rewarding to dogs, even if they don’t solve the puzzle successfully (i.e. get the tangible reward such as a food treat).

Dogs are natural-born-puzzle-addicts!

Ian & Irene work on puzzles for the first time, in puppy class; they work harder relative to the value of the food reward – they are in it just for the fun:

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“Problem” Behaviours

When animals don’t get the opportunity to engage in enrichment and are lacking outlets of natural behaviour, they can develop all sorts of difficulties.

At the very least, those behaviours that dogs are compelled to carry out will become a problem for us – dogs need to chew, dogs need to chase, dogs need to sniff and track.
And you might not like the outlets they choose for those behaviours.

All the puppies learn to settle themselves in a busy class with the help of a food puzzle and lapping & chewing, which helps dogs to chill:

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Think of all the things your pup can’t do if he is chilling out, working on a food toy?!

Dogs that are unemployed, become self-employed…

With all that free time on his paws, your dog may also engage in other behaviours that become a problem for you such as barking, digging, escaping, jumping up, being obnoxious.

It is not easy to live with a self-employed dog because the jobs they choose for themselves are usually not particularly preferred by humans…

First step, ditch the food bowls.

Why do we HATE food bowls?

  • food bowls do very little to encourage interaction between dog and owner
  • food bowls do little to teach the dog that good things come through their owner
  • feeding from a food bowl wastes hundreds of reward opportunities by presenting them for free all in one go
  • your dog would probably prefer to work for his food than get it for free
  • modern pet feeding practices encourage a sedentary way of life for our pets
  • there is a limited range of behaviours demonstrated so dogs will need to display them in other ways (which may cause problems for people)
  • chasing, chewing, tracking and using their brains are important for dogs and modern feeding practices often don’t encourage any or much of that

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Food bowls are human convenience devices – toss food in bowl, leave on floor, dog eats….dog is fed and my job is done.

But feeding your pet can be soooo much more…

Dogs come with  predatory behaviour, built-in

Dave Mech, the wolf guru, outlines canid predatory behaviour in a sequence of behaviours called, not-surprisingly, a predatory sequence. These are behaviours that are innate in all dogs and to greater or lesser extents in different types of dogs and individuals.

The dog predatory sequence might look something like this:

track – stalk – chase – grab – hold – bite – chew – dissect

These are the behaviours that your predatory pet needs to do – provide acceptable outlets otherwise he will find his own, and you might not like that.

Watching dogs play with pals gives you an insight into just how relevant these behaviours are for even modern, pet dogs. A good proportion of normal play behaviour will be feeding related with games of stalking, chasing, take downs, neck biting, and of course enjoying being chased too!

You will see your dog practicing these behaviours in other non-real-life scenarios too – give your dog a tissue or soft toy and watch him chew and dissect it, throw a tennis ball or play tug and flip the switch, turning on those in-built behaviours.

But feeding behaviour isn’t just about feeding…

Dogs engage in all sorts of feeding related behaviour, and many activities revolve around feeding.

Dogs enjoy actively scavenging for food and, let’s face it, non-food items – they will devote plenty of time to this sort of activity and often learn to do it when their owners are not watching…!

Although dogs prefer their own space when eating (not big on sharing!) they have evolved plenty of behaviour for negotiating social contact around food.
For the most part, this can cause trouble for us living with modern dogs, but it can be easily managed, with the right guidance.

Competitive interactions, that may lead to resource guarding and even social facilitation have been shaped over millions of years and generations, and despite a few hundred years of pretty intense selective breeding modern dogs still show these behaviours strongly today.

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Digging/burying and hoarding behaviour may be employed by many dogs, often much to their owner’s disgust (especially the green-fingered owners). Some dogs appear really bothered when they get something quite special, carrying it from place to place, vocalising, difficulty settling…
This may be frustration related at not having a safe place to work on their treat or indeed at not being able to stash it away for a rainy day.

Grass and plant eating can cause concern for many owners. But for the most part where this behaviour isn’t excessive or too intense, it’s probably nothing to worry about and a normal part of canine behaviour.
However, where dogs do this a lot, or try to, and/or where there has been any changes to this behaviour have a chat with your vet as soon as possible.
Intense eating of grass, plants or other non-food items (behaviour called pica) may be linked with gastrointestinal upset and stress.

And you thought feeding was just about putting- food-in-a-bowl…

 

In Part 2 we will be looking at things to get started enriching your dog’s life!