Stop Using Aversives in Dog Training

Stop Using Aversives in Dog Training

Last Wednesday night, my husband and I took the dogs for a walk at our local park. This is a pretty busy little park. There are lots of families with children, the occasional dogs, and the fun part – there are about a million squirrels and geese. Even though it’s so busy, there is plenty of open area to move off to the side to give Buster space, so I actually really like going here to work on training. 

So we did one lap around the trail with zero issues and decided to do a second since the weather was so nice. When we started the second lap, I noticed a man standing with a leash wrapped over his should. I immediately started looking for a dog but didn’t see one. We walked a little bit further, and sure enough – about 30 feet or so away from the man, the Shepherd mix was lying in a down stay. His back was to the owner/trainer’s back. 

I immediately gave plenty of space, and Buster passed him with no issues. As we were passing, I noticed he was wearing a shock collar. Right after we passed him, a squirrel ran out in front of Buster, and a kid nearby happened to scream at the same time too, so Buster let out a little alien scream. I didn’t care. I immediately got his attention back, and we kept on walking with lots of treats and happy talk. 

That’s when I noticed the owner/trainer’s total Judgy McJudgerson look on his face and his little smirk as I was giving Buster treats. 

This annoyed me. Don’t get me wrong – I could not care less what he thinks, but it’s taken me awhile to get to that point. 

The point is – whatever happened to minding your own business? Whatever happened to keeping things to yourself? Whatever happened to just leaving people alone? 

I wonder how often this man sees other people using treats and snickers at them. I wonder if he does it to someone new in their training journey, and I wonder if he makes them feel like crap. 

So, we walked by him, and then noticed him later on the very outside perimeter of the park walking the dog, still off leash. 

I’ll give the owner/trainer kudos – the dog didn’t move while he was in a down stay and we walked past. But – the dog didn’t look happy. He was visibly stressed. His ears were pinned back as far as they could go, and he there were a couple of small whale-eye movements. 

I immerse myself in positive reinforcement based dog training. All of the Facebook groups I partake in are R+. Of course, all of the books I read are R+. Sometimes I get so surrounded by that positive bubble, that I forget that R+ is unfortunately, not that common. There are so many people who have not heard of R+ training yet, and there are even more people who have heard of it, don’t understand it, mock it, and then slap an e-collar on their dog. This makes me sad. 

Admittedly, there are just a small handful of e-collar trainers that I do follow on social media, but only because they are killing it at the social media game. I try to learn from them to see what social media strategies and marketing is working, but that’s the only reason I follow them. And then, there are the occasional things that pop up in my feed because the Google gods think it’s something I want to see. The other day, I came across a Pug wearing a prong collar – A PUG! I felt as if I had just witnessed a car accident with the car going up in flames. Why on earth would anyone ever think it’s a good idea to put a prong collar on a breed that already a) really doesn’t even have a neck and b) already has a compromised respiratory system by design. 

But of course, these trainers are good at social media, and they do post videos. I’ll often see just a few seconds of their videos. Do you know what their videos are always show though? A dog in a down stay, usually on a station/bed/platform. Those videos truthfully make up 95% of their videos. That’s it.

 You guys – there is SO MUCH MORE to dog training than a down stay. Is it important? Yes. Is it the most important thing? Honestly, I don’t think so. I’m also going to insert my totally controversial opinion here – down stays are actually very easy to teach. In my opinion, it’s boring and repetitive, but it’s easy.

So honestly, it breaks my heart a little when I think about how popular e-collar training is, and how those dogs are primarily taught to down stay. Where’s the fun? Where is the relationship? What about the games? A relationship between a dog and their owner is so much more than a fabulous down stay. Sure, with a good down stay, maybe the owner can take the dogs to cafe’s more, but are they really? And then what – the dog just lies there. 

I want to see more interaction between owners and their dogs. You are the only thing your dog has, and your dog wants to interact with you. 

So all in all, we had a great walk with zero issues, but it made me think of these things that made me a little sad. 

I really hope positive reinforcement becomes the norm sooner than later. In fact, let me leave you with just a coupel of fun facts about e-collars to ponder: 

1. They are on their way to being banned throughout all of England. They are already banned in some places, like Whales. 

That should speak volumes to you. If an entire country is banning a device, there is a a valid and good reason. We also know that they are way ahead of the United States in a variety of things, so why can’t we learn from them? 

I mean, to flip the script – I often hear people complain that the United States is stupid for having the legal drinking age set to 21 when it’s 18 in most other places. So, if we wish the United States would follow the lead of those other progressive places on that topic, why can’t we follow the lead with something as simple as dog training? 

2. At my day job, I work with contract workig dogs that serve on government contracts for the federal government. These are Belgian Malinois, Dutch Shepherds, German Shepherds, German Shorthaired Pointers, etc. None of them are trained with e-collars. 

I really wish the United states would ban e-collars, but I’m not sure that will ever happen. I just hope R+ becomes the norm soon enough, and the best way is to lead by example and keep spreading the message!

 

How do you train your dog, and what’s your favorite thing to train? 

7 Reasons to Stop Letting Your Dog Off Leash

7 Reasons to Stop Letting Your Dog Off Leash

Acadia National Park in Maine holds a special place in my heart, as it probably does for anyone that has been there. It is simply one of the most gorgeous places in the US, and it offers something for everyone – from easy to difficult hikes, rocky beaches to sandy beaches, and even a 27 mile scenic loop drive to the summit of Cadillac Mountain for the best pictures.

In the off season, Acadia feels like a secluded getaway, and you maybe run into a handful of people. In prime travel season (the summer months), it is packed, and you can barely stand to get a picture without bumping shoulders with someone. Acadia sees over 3 million visitors per year. 

Dogs are allowed in the park but must be attached on a 6 foot leash. There are some difficult trails and some beaches, along with a few other spots, that do have restrictions and where dogs cannot go. All of those details can be found here. 

However, there have been 3 instances this past week of visitors being bitten by off leash dogs.

While I’ve been lucky enough to not run into that issue at Acadia, I have had many issues with off leash dogs on several hikes around my home. 

Let me be clear – people with off leash dogs are ruining it for everyone. Not only are they ruining the experience for anyone they may directly come in contact with, but they are also potentially ruining it for everyone in the future. Most parks have leash laws. By violating those leash laws, they are risking these places to no longer allow dogs in the future.

 

 

Why Does your dog need to be off leash?

He doesn’t.

  

There are no ifs, ands, or buts. I assure you – your dog DOES NOT have some intrinsic requirement to be off leash. Your dog is not getting some magical benefit of simply being free of a 6 foot leash for a couple hours that is worth breaking the law, ruining the visit for all of the other visitors, and potentially worth getting in an altercation or having a police report filed as a result of said altercation.

The main argument is that the dogs get “so much more exercise off leash,” and that they’re just “so much happier” running off leash. Let me assure you, your dog is getting plenty of exercise on a 6 foot leash. Just because he is attached to a 6 foot leash does not mean he is not getting a cardiovascular workout, because he is.  

7 Reasons to not let your dog off leash

  1. THE LAW
    • MOST places require dogs to be on a 6 foot leash. It is the law. When parks continue to get unhappy visitors due to those breaking the law or continued reports of dog bites from off leash dogs, it is a very real possibility that they will start banning dogs altogether. Then what are you going to do, and where are you going to go?
  2. OTHER dogs, children, people
    • I know we are living in the most self-absorbed and selfish time of history. People care more about themselves than anyone or anything. But, for just a couple of hours, can’t you do better? Can’t you be a better person than the majority of people? Can’t you care just the tiniest bit about others? There may be other dogs on the trail that don’t like dogs. There may be children who have been attacked and are terrified of dogs. There may be people who don’t like dogs, or elderly people who may fall if your dog bumps into them accidentally.
  3. wildlife
    • Wildlife is everywhere. Bears, coyotes, snakes, porcupines, etc. can all do serious damage to your dog if your dog gets into a scuffle. Plus, what about the smaller wildlife – baby birds and rabbits – will your dog leave those alone or will they incite your dog’s prey drive which may result in a dead animal?
  4. unsafe water
    • Most dogs, especially during a long and hot hike, will naturally get into any body of water they see. I’m sure you’ve seen the news stories all over the country recently, but there are serious concerns of blue-green algae in water. It can be in ponds, lakes, and rivers. The water can even look clear, but it unfortunately could still be contaminated. There’s just no way to know. Exposure to this blue-green algae can easily kill your dog in about an hour. In many parts of the country, there are also serious concerns of leptospirosis. This is a bacteria also found in standing water, which can be treatable if treated quickly, but otherwise, it too can be fatal.
  5. does your dog really have a reliable recall?
    • I have come across some parks that have signs stating something to the effect of, “Dogs must be on leash unless under direct voice control at all times.” This essentially means your dog can be off leash, as long as you can recall him. But, can you really recall him? Can you recall him off of a deer, bear, snake, or squirrel? Can you recall him off the family you may be passing that’s all eating delicious smelling beef jerky? Can you recall him off the excitable dog approaching who is on a leash? Most people like to think they their dog has a fabulous recall, but unfortunately, that is not the truth. Just because your dog has a great recall at home does not mean he will have a great recall on the trail with so many more exciting sights and smells.
  6. tick borne diseases
    • If your dog is off leash, he is likely to be traipsing through the tall grasses off the trail. While ticks are naturally a concern anytime you go outdoors, their prime environment is in those tall bushy grasses. So while you may not be seeing any ticks on the well maintained trail, your dog could be picking up tons in those tall grasses. Is a 2 hour off leash walk really worth a lifetime of tick borne disease?
  7. LONG LINES DO EXIST
    • Again, a lot of parks have a very specific “dog must be attached to a 6 foot leash” rule. But, for parks that don’t have that rule, you can always use a long line. You can find long lines that range from 8 feet to 50 feet long! With the use of a long line, your dog has more room to roam, but is still connected to you, so you don’t have to worry about everything else I’ve just listed here. My personal favorite long lines are the brahma long lines from Bold Lead Designs.

If you’ve read this and for some reason, you still think your dog just absolutely needs to be off leash, then you need to find a place that explicitly allows dogs off leash. These places do exist, so do some research! There are many smaller secluded areas in larger parks off of the trails that are explicitly off leash friendly. You could also consider just taking your dog to a local dog park (try going at odd hours to avoid others if you wish).

Do you let your dog off leash? What do you do to ensure you follow the law and don’t bother other visitors? What about those of you who have been rushed by off leash dogs? Tell me about your experience in the comments below!

5 Tips to Train Your Puppy

5 Tips to Train Your Puppy

It seems that this general time of year is the puppy time. With the holidays just finishing up and spring on its way, I bet a lot of you have puppies in your lives or are considering getting a puppy. Is a puppy the right answer for you? Puppies are hard work; there is no doubt about that. There are lots of accidents, lots of sleepless nights, lots of bite-y behavior, and lots of rushing outside to potty train in bad weather. But, those negatives can absolutely be outweighed by the joy and satisfaction from training a dog from puppyhood to adulthood, if that’s your thing. If you are seriously interested in dog training, are a dog trainer, want to compete in sports with your pup, then a puppy may be the right answer for you. For most people that just want an excellent family companion that isn’t quite as much work, then likely, adopting a young adult or even a senior dog is probably the better option. Whether you’ve decided to get a puppy or an adult, these 5 training tips will be applicable and help you in your journey with your new dog.

5 TIPS TO TRAIN YOUR PUPPY

#1 – Crate Train

Crate training is essential for any and all dogs. I guarantee you will need to crate your dog at least one time within his life – whether he’s kenneled while you’re on vacation, has to be hospitalized, needs to be contained when you have family or friends over, etc. It is so much easier if you have already exposed and trained your dog to love his crate.

Here are a few general tips to crate train your dog:

  1. Never, ever use the crate as punishment. Do not put shut your dog in the crate after yelling at them for doing something wrong.
  2. Always give your dog some sort of safe chew inside the crate. I recommend the Extreme black Kongs, either Large or XL. You can fill them with some peanut butter, canned food, pumpkin, kibble soaked in water or broth, etc.
  3. When you first introduce the crate, only keep your dog in there for short periods of time with the aforementioned chew. Gradually increase the time the dog is inside the crate over several weeks.
  4. Only open the crate when your dog is being quiet. If your dog is whining or barking, wait for just 1-2 seconds of quiet and then open the crate.

#2 – Muzzle Train

Similar to crate training, it always a good idea to muzzle train all of your dogs. All dogs have teeth, which means that all dogs have the ability and potential to bite. In an event of a true emergency, it is much easier for veterinary staff to administer emergency first aid if your dog is muzzled. Your dog will also be less stressed if they are already familiar with the muzzle.

 Here are some general tips in muzzle training your dog: 

  1. Choose the right muzzle. I recommend a basket style that allows the dog to pant, drink, and take treats.
  2. Start slow. Allow your dog to sniff the muzzle on the ground. Hold the muzzle in your hand, and give your dog a treat for simply sniffing or getting near the muzzle. Eventually, work up to placing the muzzle on their face for 1-2 seconds while treating.
  3. Using spray cheese or a wet food mixture in a squeeze tube may be easier to squeeze through the muzzle instead of trying to shove small pieces of hard treats inside.
  4. Allow your dog to wear the muzzle occasionally in other places outside of the vet or other “scary” situation. For example, allow your dog to wear the muzzle for just 1-2 minutes on a leisurely walk or while inside the house training.

 

#3 – Clicker Train

Clicker training is a beautiful thing! The clicker enables very clearly defined communication between you and your dog. The click should be applied at the exact moment the dog does the behavior you are looking for, and the dog learns exactly that! After you click, you will reward your dog. The dog learns that the click means he did the correct thing. This very clear communication allows other aspects of training to happen quicker and faster.

Here are some general tips for clicker training your dog: 

  1. The mechanics can be challenging, so learn them on your own without your dog. I recommend holding your clicker and treat and demonstrating on yourself. Learn to click at the correct time. For example, go from a standing to seated position on a chair, and learn to click the second your butt hits the chair.
  2. Get used to holding the clicker, leash, and treats without your dog so you are comfortable.
  3. Practice holding the clicker, leash, and treats with your dog inside the house or in your fenced in backyard before you try to go on a walk.
  4. You will need to “load the clicker” with your dog, and teach your dog what the clicker means. Likely, your dog already knows how to sit, so just start using the clicker the moment your dog’s butt hits the ground. Do a few repetitions for a few days, just so you can teach your dog what the clicker means.

#4 – Train a Collar Grab

 There will be times in life that you will need to grab your dog by his collar, likely for his own safety. From a dog’s perspective, this can be a terrifying and threatening thing! They are happily wandering around and all of a sudden a human hoovers over them and applies pressure to their neck. Many dogs will instinctively react negatively to this and could potentially even bite. You want to teach your dog that collar grabs are not scary or threatening, and in fact, mean food is coming!

Here are some tips for teaching a collar grab:

  1. Starting inside in a familiar room, simply extend your hand towards (but do not touch) your dog’s collar, and give your dog a treat. Repeat several times for 1-2 days.
  2. Once your dog is comfortable, extend your hand, lightly touch your dog’s collar, immediately remove your hand, and reward your dog. Repeat several times for 1-2 days.
  3. Once your dog is comfortable, extend your hand, lightly grab your dog’s collar for 1-2 seconds, let go, and reward.
  4. Once your dog is comfortable, grab your dog’s collar lightly and walk 1-2 steps while luring with food, and then reward.

#5 – Train a Recall

If you only teach your dog one thing, let it be a recall! Every dog needs to know a recall, and in some cases, it could actually save his life.

Here are some tips to train a recall:

  1. Pick a word (also known as a cue) that you only use for recall and don’t often use in everyday language. This will maintain clarity for your dog. Many people use the word “come” or the phrase “come here,” and while that may work, I would recommend a unique word if possible.
  2. Train the recall inside your house in a familiar environment before trying it outside. Start small – only call your dog from a few feet away before widening the distance.
  3. Train your recall outside in your back yard from square one from only 1-2 feet away, no matter how well your dog is doing inside.
  4. Make sure you aren’t only using the recall to call your dog to you to end fun behavior. For example, if you allow your dog off leash, don’t only call your dog when you are getting ready to leash him up to put him in the car to go home. Call him to you at least 2-3 times throughout the walk just to give your dog a treat and let him go back off on his merry way again off leash.

Do you have a new puppy or dog? What are you working on? If you follow my tips and start training these five behaviors, let me know how it works out for you!

8 High Value Dog Treats

8 High Value Dog Treats

You need to use high value dog treats when you’re working on reactivity issues. Reactivity training is hard work for a dog, so you need to compensate him appropriately. Let’s use an analogy for humans so that you can understand what your dog is going through. Let’s say you hate spiders. Will you sit in a room with spiders for $5.00? Absolutely not. Will you sit in a room with spiders for $5,000? Most likely, yes. It’s the same concept for dogs. Reactivity training is much harder than learning to “high five” in your living room, so the type of treat he is rewarded with needs to reflect that.

With reactivity training, you’re making your dog be in the presence of his trigger, which is something that is emotionally stressful. You’re trying to change your dog’s emotional response to that trigger. Plain kibble or healthier treats like fruits and veggies just aren’t a big enough compensation for your dog in this scenario. Those may work fine in the comfort of your own home, but they don’t work for reactivity. So make it worth it to your dog and break out these high value training treats. You’ll thank yourself in the long run, because your training will progress so much quicker and smoother!

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means that I may get a small commission, at no additional cost to you, if you make a qualifying purchase. 

8 High Value DOG TREATS

  1. FREEZE DRIED LIVER
  2. SHARP CHEDDAR CHEESE
    • I recommend just buy a block of sharp cheddar cheese and cutting it into little cubes yourself. The cubes only need to be put about the size of a pea. Sharp or extra sharp cheddar cheese just has more flavor and smell to it than any other cheese, which is why dogs love it so much. If you want cheddar cheese without the hassle of cutting it yourself, PureBites does make a freeze dried cheese that is Buster approved!
  3. HOTDOGS
    • These are cheap and much easier and quicker to cut up than a block of cheese! I recommend cutting the hotdog into quarters lengthwise. This will give you the perfectly sized training treat.
  4. BOILED CHICKEN/STEAK
    • We’ve all heard to feed boiled chicken and rice when our dogs have an upset tummy, but you can use that as treats too! Just boil the chicken, steak (you can even use pork!) as you normally would, and then either chop it into pieces or crumble it up.
  5. TUNA FUDGE
    • If you are in the dog training world, you’ve definitely heard about this. It is super cheap and easy to make, and it’s basically the equivalent of doggie crack. You can modify it if you need to (I’ve made it with applesauce in place of eggs). I also tend to leave out the garlic powder, but that is just a personal preference.
    • Here’s a link to the full recipe.
  6. PEANUT BUTTER
    • This is Buster’s favorite! Peanut butter can be hard to work with outside, but it’s possible – I promise! I usually use this in the beginning stages of reactivity training when there is less movement involved. So if you’re in the beginning stages playing the “look at that” games, then this will work wonderfully. All you need to do is bring a peanut butter jar and a slender wooden spoon. Dip the spoon in the jar, offer your dog a lick for looking at this trigger, hide the spoon behind your back, and repeat. Dip the spoon back in the jar to load it up with more peanut butter as necessary.Make sure you label this peanut butter “DOGS!” in black Sharpie all over and put it somewhere different than your normal peanut butter so your husband or children don’t accidentally grab it and start using it for their sandwiches!
  7. Liverwurst
    • There are a ton of different ways to cook this, but be forewarned, it can get a little messy in your training pouch. Make sure you put this in a ziplock baggie instead of eating it directly into your training pouch! Or, you could blend this up and put it in the training tube above!

      Here is a good recipe for treats that aren’t quite as messy.

  8. FILLED CAMPING TUBES
    • So you know those reusable camping tubes you put condiments in? Use them for dog treats! These are my absolute favorite because they’re so customizable. The basic principle is simple – find your ingredients, add water, blend in a blender, fill the camping tubes, and get outside to get training! You simply offer your dog a lick in place of when you would hand or throw him a hard treat.
      Here are some ideas for what to blend up:
      canned dog or cat food
      boiled chicken or steak, some cheese, liver
      peanut butter and applesauce
      Honestly, the options with these are endless. That’s one of the reasons I love them so much!

       

What high value dog treats does dog love the most? Tell me in the comments below!