Ask the Trainer
Q: My dog only pays attention to me when I have food. How can I get him to obey me all the time ?
A: Once a dog learns a behavior, meaning it occurs 9 out of 10 times that you ask for it, the reward must become unpredictable or the behavior falls apart. When teaching a dog to sit for instance , you gently lure him into position, label the action sit, and give him a treat. Gradually your dog learns the behavior and starts to sit without you showing the treat. You have now replaced the sit with a hand signal and the treat comes as a result of the dog responding to the word sit and your hand motion.
At this stage you are ready to vary the reward. Sometimes he gets the treat, sometimes just a "good boy" and no treat. The important thing is that you have become unpredictable to the dog, keeping him guessing as to when his reward will come. Basically your dog plays you like a slot machine, sometimes he gets something small, sometimes nothing, and every once in a while he hits the jackpot. A jackpot might be sitting while another dog runs by off leash. In this case your dog should get a handful of treats to reinforce an exceptional behavior given the circumstances.
Q: Most breeders, vets and trainers warn against playing tug of war with your dog but my dog really likes it. Is there any way I can play it and still remain in charge ?
A. Tug of war is usually not recommended simply because it pitts the dog against the owner and the dog usually wins (because the owner gets bored). Each time the dog wins he gains points for himself and loses respect for his owners status.
If you must play tug of war play by these simple rules:
- Use one toy.
- Toy stays in a drawer when you're not using it.
- You decide when to play and when the game is over.
- You always win.
- Game stops if dog gets too excited or puts its teeth on your skin.
- Toy goes back in draw when done, dog does not get to keep it, ever.
This game can be fun and great exercise, and by following these simple rules you won't lose your leader status which you've worked so hard to achieve. M
Q: What is bloat and how can I prevent it from happening to my dog ?
A. Gastric torsion, or ‘bloat' as it is often called, is a condition which manifests itself in the twisting of the stomach around itself. Because the twisting restricts the blood supply the tissue often dies and death can result if immediate medical attention is not provided. Bloat is common in deep chested breeds such as great danes, whippets, borzois, greyhound, etc. but can happen in other breeds such as shepherds, goldens, labs and samoyeds. Early medical intervention usually involves surgery to untwist the stomach and tack it in place. If an animal is bloating there is limited time to act. Signs of distress can be subtle, such as pacing, circling, restlessness, excessive panting, whining, laying down and getting up repetitively, looking over shoulder or at abdomen, etc.
Prevention is always the best medicine and is relatively easy to do:
- Divide the daily meal ration into 2 equal shares.
- Feed giant breeds less food more often.
- Avoid exercise for 1-2 hours before or after meals.
It's a good idea to feed your dog and observe him for an hour or so rather than rushing right out. Many owners have fed and exercised their dogs and rushed off only to come home hours later to a distressed dog that is beyond medical help. Observe your dog for signs of discomfort or distress after eating and rush him to the vet if bloating seems likely. With a little effort on your part you can prevent disaster and enjoy your companion for many healthy years ahead !!
Q: Why does my 8 month old dog refuse to come when called?
A. An eight month old dog is like an adolescent human. They want to know 'Why (should I come to you?)?' More than anything else, you need to change your relationship with your dog- if your dog knows you're in charge, coming when called is easy! Because you are your dog's number one, he wouldn't think of going far from your side. If you have been working with your dog since he was a young puppy, things should start to look up soon; if not, here's how to give your relationship a good re-start:
- nothing in life is free: make your dog do something, like sit before he receives treats, toys, petting, leash on, ball thrown, etc
- when going thru doorways or up/down stairs, you go first
- you initiate all games and petting: if he does ignore him
- keep your dog off the beds and furniture
- you always eat first, then feed your dog
These exercises give your dog a reason to pay attention to and need you: this itself is the beginning of leadership. Without leadership your dog doesn't need you for anything and learns to take care of itself. Dogs that feel this way have no sense of responsibility to their owners and continually run away when off-leash.
While leadership is being achieved, the owner also needs to follow through and make the dog pay attention and come back if the dog ignores them. The use of a 20' rope is handy in accomplishing this. Go to an open, distraction-free area and practice calling your dog before he gets to the end of the rope. If he doesn't come back, pick up the line and reel him in. Give him praise and a treat, and release immediately. Use a happy upbeat voice and act excited, even if your dog didn't come on his own. You can also make a game of calling your dog back and forth between two people, rewarding the dog at each end with praise and a treat. The more fun your dog has, the more it will want to come to you no matter what.
Q: How can I get my dog to stop pulling on the leash?
A. First of all, set the ground rules and establish yourself as the leader (see guidelines above). If your dog knows you're in charge, his tendency will be to follow, not lead.
Teaching him to follow you takes a little practice. Put a 6' leash around your belt and attach it to the dog. Go to a wide open area, and take a walk going where YOU want to go. If your dog gets in front of you, go in the opposite direction. Have treats on hand and give one to the dog when he's walking beside you, but keep on moving. As the dog starts to catch on, call this position 'heel' and reward. If the dog gets caught on anything, like branches or bushes, stand and wait for him to work it out; do not immediately rescue him unless the leash is wrapped tightly around a leg or he is in danger of choking. Continue on your way and let the dog realize on his own that he must follow your lead.
The more you practice this, the better your dog will get at it. Start off somewhere that has few distractions, and then gradually move up to mild, moderate, then severe distractions. Soon your dog will follow your lead!
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