Why Breed Matters When Choosing a Dog.

Why Breed Matters When Choosing a Dog.

As many can tell from my previous posts and articles, I am a big proponent of responsible dog breeding and of purebred dogs. This is not because I for any reason dislike or don’t trust shelter dogs or the shelters themselves, though some shelters have been shown to be doing very negative things in the recent past. This is simply because I believe that responsible breeders will last.

If responsible ownership is encouraged and enforced I would love to see a world where responsible breeders, whether they produce purebred or mixed breed, are the way to get pets. I would love to see a future where shelters are a thing of the past because there are few to no unwanted or homeless pets. Shouldn’t this be what we aim for?

Regardless of this ideal future, people do get their dogs from many sources and no matter where they choose the breed of a dog is always a factor.

Some might say that this isn’t the case, especially with mixed breed dogs. I however beg to differ. It has been my experience that many dog – person relationships could experience a significant change if the person takes into account the breed when not only bringing home a dog, but when training or interacting with them as well.

Here’s what I mean by this.

Certain dog breeds were and are bred or created for specific purposes. Dogs who are known as being destructive, loud, or difficult are usually bored, underestimated, intelligent animals! Do you think a mathematician would be happy to watch infants all day every day? Then why do we believe that an Australian Shepherd or Siberian Husky, dogs bred to work, would be satisfied by a half hour walk when you get home from work, after leaving them alone for 8 or more hours while you were there?

In the same regard, I have heard and experienced many people do the following. Say that they want a dog to get them to be more active. I have said this before in my post on responsible ownership, rather than encourage you to get out more this dog will most likely do nothing more than frustrate you. Instead, if you are inactive, get a dog that might only need a short walk daily, not a marathon sprinter.

Does this mean that all energetic people need Greyhounds and Salukis and all couch potatoes need Bulldogs or Pugs? No! Many Greyhounds are happy as a clam to lounge on the couch daily so long as they get the opportunity to dash every once in a while and get to go on walks regularly. Many Bulldogs would be happy to take a long slow hike so long as you give them adequate sitting breaks.

I’m also not saying that apartment dwellers shouldn’t have energetic dogs. I am saying that if you are to get one, know the responsibilities that go into giving them the appropriate stimulation and exercise.

Mental training is great and treat puzzles can keep some dogs entertained and happy for hours! You can also have just as much fun as your dog through activities like competitive obedience or agility or flyball. There are countless games, puzzles, activities, and more that you can do with your dog.

Always, always, always take all of the necessary steps when looking to add someone to your family, which is what you are doing when you get a pet. One of those steps is determining what personality, energy level, size, and requirements your furry friend is going to need. Looking at breed is a great way to do this! There are some exceptions to this and dogs cannot be 100% judged by their breed. Every dog is individual and every dog has its own personality traits that cannot be fully predetermined by breed alone, but it is a great place to start!

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Training tools – Part 2: The Bad

Training tools – Part 2: The Bad

Now that I’ve gone over some good training tools, let’s talk about some not so good. As with anything, we are learning more and more about how to properly train a dog (or any animal) as we go on. There has been some trial and error which means some of these tools have been marketed as great training tools in the past. We know now that this is NOT the case. These tools can leave lasting impressions on your pet and can very negatively affect them. Please void, even when used by a “trained professional”.

  • Shock Collars
    • Whether remote-controlled, perimeter bound, or bark activated this tool is one which many people had negative feelings about and yet went along with because their trainer said it was the best. Rather than training your dog to ignore stimuli or to not react, the collar reacts and tells them that a thing is dangerous, scary, and aggressive. Instead, use the clicker method to reward good behavior and your dog will learn not to do those things which don’t get them a reward.
  • Spray Collars
    • These are less harsh than a shock collar, but do the same thing to your dog. The collar is a reactive and punitive form of training which we now know is not as reliable and does not cause long-lasting results. This tool as well as shock collars could also cause dogs to become more reactive and aggressive when faced with stimuli which (in their minds) caused the negative effect.
  • Martingale Collars
    • Though these are less harmful than a full choke collar, these have the same negative aspects. Though they have a limit of tug that can be done these collars still choke and use pain to “train” a dog not to do something. When clicker methods can provide safe, reliable results, why use something that intentionally causes pain and discomfort.
  • Retractable Leash
    • A tool that would be wonderful for well-trained dogs on open trails that is used for daily walks with untrained, in training, leash reactive dogs, and many more inappropriate pets. This leash gives your pet the ability to roam and explore which is wonderful, but if your dog is reactive, not trained, or disobedient, this is a problem waiting to happen. The lines are usually thin and easy to break, and even if your pet is too small to do any damage to the leash, them pulling can harm the person holding the leash, or even pull it out of their hand. Please stick with a solid lead when training and with larger dogs.

There are many more bad training tools, some of which you’ll see later in my “Part 3: The Ugly” post but I will say the same thing you’ve ready many a time from me. If something seems or feels wrong, or you feel bad using a tool on your dog, do not feel compelled to use it.

More information on Shock Collars: https://positively.com/dog-training/methods-equipment/training-equipment/shock-collars/

Training tools – Part 1: The Good

Training tools – Part 1: The Good

There are countless methods and tricks and aids to help with training. Today, I want to go over some of the good things you can use to help your training plan.

  • 6 foot+ leash:
    • A solid strong leash is a wonderful tool. No only is it necessary for walking, and leash training, but it can be used when training a recall command or when training sit outdoors.
  • Solid Collar:
    • In addition to being a key safety need in case your pet ever gets lost, their collar is important to training. Not only to get them used to it, but as it’s used for walks, securing, and of course the identification.
  • Front lead Harness:
    • These harnesses are great because rather than hook your leash to the top of the dogs back or neck, you connect right at the front of their chest. This is so helpful when training a polite walk and proper heel because if your dog tries to pull they not only feel resistance, but are forced to change directions. This helps to teach them that pulling does not mean getting what they want faster.
  • Head Harness:
    • These are wonderful for the same reason the front led harnesses are great. Pulling causes the dog to turn.
  • Crate:
    • While one might have once thought it inhumane and horrible to put a dog in a box metal crate, we know that this is actually a wonderful tool and benefit to the dog. It gives you a secure place to put your puppy or dog for short periods of time while you are away and it also gives your dog a safe place to go if for example you have many friends over and your dog gets over stimulated.
  • Toys:
    • The stimulations from playing and chewing is so key to a happy dog. If your dog is bored, destructive behaviors can and usually do follow. Use toys as a reward after training, or to show a job well done for play motivated dogs.
  • Treats:
    • When used in training and in addition to an appropriately nutritious diet treats are your dogs best friend. You can highlight good behaviors, redirect, and more by using treats.
      • Treat and Toy combination: These are great tools to use and there are different levels of difficulty depending on your dog’s level, from a peanut butter filled kong all the way up to puzzles you have to lift, twist, and pull. These are also wonderful for crate training because you can stimulate your dog while they are in the crate without you.

There are countless good training tools out there but here are some of the basics which every dog-owning family should have and use. As always, if a tool puts you off or makes you feel bad using it, don’t. Follow your gut in your training.

Importance of finding your dogs incentive

Importance of finding your dogs incentive

You’ve probably had a time where you’re trying to praise your dog and hand them a treat just to have them reject the treat. This could be because the dog has been pushed past a point of stress and so they cannot even think of food. However, more than likely the treat you are trying to use means very little or nothing to your dog. More and more you will hear dog trainers and training books mention using “Jack-Pot” treats for those things you really want to encourage and enforce. This is in those books usually in regards to house training and leash training.

That “Jack-pot” doesn’t have to be food though as not all dogs are food driven. A dog could be mainly praise driven and only needs food in the most distracting of situations. Or a dog could be play and praise driven and care nothing for food. Or if they are food driven, they might accept a regular biscuit while in the house and yard, but needs something more special when on walks or at a park. You need to figure out what incentive drives your dog within the first few weeks and months of owning so that you can encourage your dog the most efficiently.

Also, as I mentioned briefly above, one form or type of encouragement might not be enough. I like to think of their encouragement like their paychecks. A person wouldn’t want to get paid $2 for something that should be a $100 job. In the same realm of thought, one who gets paid $100 for a $2 job might then ask for $200 on a $4 job. To put back into dog language, don’t give them the freeze-dried liver every time they sit and don’t give them a plain dog biscuit when they focus on you as another dog walks right beside.

This not only shows them what is most important to you, but it gives them a hierarchy. You can occasionally use a high value treat on a day-to-day action but if you use it too much, that treat will lose its value. Rather, if you use a high value treat on a very random schedule for daily actions you will enforce that action. This is the same train of thought that backs a “variable-interval” reward schedule for encouraging actions that have already been trained through positive methods.

It’s also important to use your dogs incentive to encourage them because even though a freeze-dried liver treat might be a “Jack-Pot” for your Pit-Bull it may mean nothing to your new Australian Shepherd who is encouraged by play and praise. For them a jack-pot could be being able to play tug for 10 minutes or a “Good Dog, that’s it” in addition to being pet for a moment or two. To them you are using a low value treat ($2) for a big ($100) job.

Once you’ve found your dogs appropriate incentive and discovered their own hierarchy of  encouragement you’ll be able to see the change in how your dog reacts to training!

Here are some great resources on positive training and reward enforcers. Note-some of the “conditioning” links are very much relating to people, this is because this enforcement works on all animals, including Humans.

http://psychology.about.com/od/vindex/g/def_variablerat.htm

http://psychology.about.com/od/behavioralpsychology/a/schedules.htm

https://positively.com/dog-training/positive-training/positive-reinforcement/

https://positively.com/dog-training/positive-training/the-value-of-rewards/

Bonus article: Using Food in Training

What is “BSL” and why are so many people against it?

What is “BSL” and why are so many people against it?

Breed Specific Legislation, or BSL for short, is something that is hated by many people in the show and shelter circuits of the dog world. This is for many reasons, but the main reasons are:

  1. It does not stop what it is put in place to stop, namely Dog-Human aggression.
  2. It does little to nothing to protect animals from being mistreated, neglected, or any other number of forms of abuse.
  3. It actually in some ways make certain breeds more attractive to people who want dogs for the wrong reasons (ie. status, fighting, etc.)
  4. Many dogs who have done nothing and have no history of aggression are removed from loving families and put down for nothing other than their breed.

The current dog which is under scrutiny is the Pit Bull, which is actually more of a type name like herding or hound, than a breed itself, but in the past dogs such as German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, Rottweilers, Akitas, and more were the “aggressive” dog found in newspapers and legislation. (Many Insurance Companies will not allow you to get renters or homeowners insurance from them if you own an “Aggressive Breed” of dog)

BSLs are put in place in many cities and even countries around the world in an effort to bring down dog bite numbers in the surrounding areas. But just like treating a symptom without knowing the illness BSLs have done little to do what they are meant to do. In many of the places which rely on BSLs, such as Great Britain, Ireland, and parts of Canada and the US, there has been little to no change in numbers of reported dog bites since legislation was put in place to restrict or ban ownership of certain breeds.

When looking at animal welfare side of this it is terribly shocking. Firstly, though it may make it more difficult to acquire a dog legitimately this does not stop people from buying and breeding dogs for dog fighting and status. In fact, by making a breed illegal to own or more difficult to register, it is actually causing a dog fighting ring to go more underground and cause them to be harder for the authorities to crack down on. More people who should not own dogs or who only want an animal to help make them look tough will look for this breed because of the image BSLs put on the dogs.

The final point however, number 4 above, is what really makes me dislike BSLs. Many people who move to cities who do not know there is a BSL in place, or even people who have lived in cities for years before a BSL is put in place but who are not “grandfathered in” learn that they can either move or get rid of their dog. This is heartbreaking and unfair to the families and the dogs.

Humans make such a point to say that we should not judge one another by our skin, nationality, culture, and more. So why is it acceptable to judge a dog by its breed when it’s proven that how an animal is raised, treated, and cared for matter more than the breed of dog itself?

As always, Responsible Breeding and Responsible Ownership should be what is taught.

Please read the articles included below for a more in-depth look at BSLs, the truth about Pits and Bully Breeds, and more.

Chako – Pit Bull Rescue

Positively – Mom, we’re getting a puppy…

Positively – American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior Position on BSLs

Your Pit Bull and You – Learning is not Breed Specific

Huffpost – Bully Breeds vs Insurance Companies

Tidbit: Pit Bulls are generalized to be any dog with a block head, muscular body, and a deep chest. As you can imagine, many breeds fit into these characteristics. Even the “Pick the Pit” website makes a point to say that Pit Bull isn’t a recognized breed in itself and includes many pictures of dogs regularly called Pit Bulls or even Pit Mixes though they are Purebred dogs of other breeds.

The Science behind “Positive” training.

The Science behind “Positive” training.

Positive training is a training method which is based on Positive reinforcement.

This means that, rather than punishing an animal for doing something which you do not like, or ignoring them, and instead of forcing them to do what you want them to do, you encourage them to do what you want, without force, and you reward them when they do what you want. It’s been proven that positive reinforcement, specifically “Variable-Interval” reinforcement is the best method of teaching anything how to do something you want them to.

Now what does this mean?

This means that by training your dog using positive, non force methods and that, once the dog “gets” what you’re asking, if you reward them in an unscheduled and unexpected basis your dog will not only learn what you want of them, but continue to do so.

That is because your dog will have been taught that by doing  an action they get rewarded. After a period of time, the treats and rewards became less frequent, but because they cannot estimate when a reward will happen and when it won’t, the dog is encouraged to continue the behavior.

What this means for you?

As an owner, the best way to train your dog, the most dog friendly and with the greatest results is by training using positive reinforcement. This will not only give you a well-behaved dog, but you can make training like this into a game which will only help you in bonding with your dog.

Resources for more on Positive Reinforcement:
http://humanesociety.org/animals/dogs/tips/dog_training_positive_reinforcement.html

http://positively.com/dog-training/positive-training/what-is-positive-training/

https://positively.com/dog-training/positive-training/positive-reinforcement/

How to recognize a dog communicating stress.

How to recognize a dog communicating stress.

Dogs are constantly communicating with each other and with us. The problem is that, though they will learn how to speak human and we’re learning that they somewhat innately know how to “read” us, many humans never take the time to learn how to “Speak Dog”.

No only will learning to speak dog allow you to bond with your dog, but it will help you to recognize situations where your dog may need to “Take 5” or take a break.

I’ll be talking about different ways of speaking dog continuously but today the focus is on how to recognize discomfort.

Most dog bites are said to be “unprovoked” or it’s said that the dog gave no warning. This is not the case though, because all dogs will try to tell you if they are unhappy with a situation before a bite occurs. Many people unintentionally make situations more dangerous though by using dominance method training to teach the dog not to warn people. This means by teaching the dog not to show teeth, bark, growl, or back away from what they don’t like. The person is “fixing” a behavior rather than trying to determine what is making that behavior happen.

If your dog is showing any of the following behaviors, they are stressed and trying to calm themselves:

  • Heavy Panting even though they haven’t exercised recently and have no reason to be panting
  • Licking lips and/or nose repeatedly
  • Turns away from stimulus but continues looking at it
    • you’ll see lots of the whites of their eyes
  • Shows teeth
  • Growls
  • Tries to hide or pull away
  • Freezes.

If a dog is in a severely stressful situation for very long they will shut-down. In dominance method training a trainer may say that this is the moment where the dog accepts the person as the leader and that this is submission. This is not the case. Just because the dog does not show stress signs or doesn’t do the behavior you didn’t like any more, does not mean that the training was a success. If you train a dog to not do these behaviors you could possibly be creating a more dangerous dog who does not signal before they reach a point of “fight or flight” when a bite may occur.

If you see these please first assess the situation and try to determine what is causing your dog to become stressed. It may be a man in a brimmed hat and the dog has never encountered someone who looked that way or it may be that a stranger just came up to you and them and started petting the dog and scared them. Then help to show your dog that there is nothing to worry about. This might be by desensitizing your dog to the stimulus, for the hat wearing man, or this might be by instructing someone on how to greet your dog so they show they aren’t a threat, for the petter.

There are of course many other signals including tail carriage and how the dog is carrying themselves. As you bond and learn about your dog and become more aware of what they are telling you, you’ll learn how your dog communicates. If you use positive reinforcement training methods you’ll bond even stronger and help your dog become more confident in the world.

In the next few days I’ll be posting some methods to use to help build your dog’s confidence in stressful situations and how to desensitise your dogs to things they are afraid of which may be causing stress.

Great resources for more information on dog stress and stress signals:

https://positively.com/dog-behavior/behavior-problems/stress/

https://positively.com/victorias-blog/why-are-dogs-aggressive/

http://www.sheknows.com/pets-and-animals/articles/1026295/12-clear-indicators-that-your-dog-is-stressed

http://www.lifeanddog.com/top-ten-signs-of-stress-in-your-dog/