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Girona, Spain

At least 30% of dogs have a phobia of loud noises. This time of year is particularly hard for our furry friends, and making sure they are comfortable and safe can help us avoid intense anxiety in our dogs and destruction in our homes. The best training technique is to work on some noise desensitization far ahead of time. Buying soundtracks with noises and playing them very softly at first while giving your dog lots of treats and love. Slowly increase the volume and continue to do so, never getting loud enough that your dog starts to get anxious. Practicing with noises such as thunder and fireworks in this manner will help your dog learn that there is nothing to fear with these noises, but rather loud noises = treats and love! If you’re left with two little time to do such training (like most are at the moment), try managing the environment to set your dog up for success. Keep a close eye on them today! If you have to leave them anywhere, give them lots of positive things to do such as a treat dispenser, peanut butter filled kong, new toys or chews, etc. Turn on some loud music to drown out the sound of fireworks or thunder. If thunder is the main issue, keep an eye on the weather and try to be home when there are suspected thunderstorms or hire a pet sitter to come by. Remember that anxiety is serious and avoiding it is very important for your dogs health. Happy 4th of July to everyone and their dogs, may you all have a rewarding holiday!

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One of the absolute best training tools is the ‘Look at That’ method (or LAT as it’s known in the world of dog trainers) and it has many implications. What better way to get your dog used to a calm reaction to a stimulus than to give them a reward as they calmly watch the stimulus go by? This technique is extremely helpful in reactive and fearful dogs. You can stage a training session with a friend if your dog is reactive to people, or another pet that is under a friend’s control if your dog is reactive towards other pets. You can even practice this with wildlife if you are able to stay outside the threshold and move away if the stimulus moves in your direction. If by yourself, a park is a good place to start, just choose where you post up wisely. For this example, I will explain for a dog that is reactive towards other dogs. To start, simply ask your dog to sit (or lay down, although not all dogs like to stay in a down position when there are things happening around them) in an area where there are no current distractions with high quality treats to reward them. Choose a spot that is far enough away from any stimulus that might elicit a response, a spot that it is just barely outside the threshold of your dog’s likeliness of reacting. Make sure this spot will remain just outside that threshold so for the duration of the training. If your dog reacts at any point, move farther away, you are too close! Once you have your dog in a sit or down, wait for any dog nearby that you are looking to practice with. As a dog approaches, have your body in between your dog and the dog nearby and slowly allow your dog to look at this other dog. As your dog sees the other dog, say ‘good’ and reward with a treat. The idea is that your dog won’t have time to react to this other dog and will instead focus on a yummy treat that it has been rewarded for not reacting and staying calm. If your dog seems to be too fixated and starts to elicit a reaction, move in front of his/her view and continue to talk calmly and reward as long as no reaction occurs. Once you are able to repeat this exercise for a few sessions with at least a handful of stimuli walking by each time, you can practice a little bit closer to the stimulus. Eventually, the threshold for your dog’s reactivity will be closer and closer until you can practice walking by other dogs (or people or wildlife). Such a simple yet effective technique!

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Wanting to teach your pup a new trick, but not sure how to get them there? Try breaking it down into small steps that your dog and you can be successful at! Start with the basics and make sure you dog understands a ‘touch’ command to get them excited about using a food lure. Teach ‘touch’ by putting a hand out (without a treat) and waiting for your dog to become curious enough to inspect. The second their nose touches, say ‘touch’ followed by a positive reward marker (click or ‘good’) and treat. Continue this until they are good at touching on command. Once they have this down, they will be more inclined to follow a food lure. Remember that you can be as creative as you’d like using the lure to get your pup into a ‘down’, ‘roll over’, jump through a hoop and much much more. Just make it easy at first and reward for small steps towards what you are looking for! For example; if you are trying to work on a ‘roll over’, start with a down and then drag your lure along their hip until they start to roll onto their back. Make sure to reward these steps at first and then slowly reward more and more turning until they have made it all the way over. The more creative you are, the more mentally stimulating it is for your pup and the more fun you can have!

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Humans have grown to rely on language to communicate. We are so good at communicating verbally with one another that we can even deceive each other through language while our body language tells a different story. Unfortunately, this focus on verbal communication makes it harder for us to communicate with our dogs. Our dogs use body language to communicate and are extremely good at reading the body language of others, including their human friends. Not only must we learn to read their body language in order to understand them, but we must also learn to use our own body language in order to get them to understand us. Although there are many different reasons a dog may be experiencing anxiety, noticing the signs listed below can help you to avoid situations when your pet is overwhelmed or ready to react. It is especially important to be mindful of your own body language in situations where your dog might be a bit anxious. In example, if you know that your dog lunges and barks at other dogs on a walk, tensing up when you see a dog down the street will signal to your dog that there is something to be concerned about and will add to if not trigger a response on their part. Instead, keep your body loose and your demeanor calm. Take the opportunity to distract your pup with treats and calm words as you walk past the other dog or calmly change directions if you know they cannot handle walking that close.

Anxious Dog Signals:
  • eyes wide or showing whites
  • mouth closed and puckered (commissure drawn in)
  • teeth showing
  • growling
  • tail between legs or stiff
  • walking slowly or freezing
  • tongue flicking
  • yawning
  • turning away or turning head
  • ears up or forward
  • hackles up
  • hunched or low body posture
CALM DOG SIGNALS:
  • eyes squinty or relaxed
  • ears relaxed and neutral
  • mouth slightly open or smiling (commissure back)
  • tongue lolling out or panting
  • licking others as friendly submission
  • tail neutral or wagging in an enthusiastic manner
  • stretching
  • relaxed posture with weight evenly distributed
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dog pulling

When it comes to walking your dog, how do you know what tools will work best? With all of the different options out there, it can be tricky figuring out how to keep you and your dog safe and happy on walks around town. Many dogs pull and lunge at the end of their leash whether it be towards a squirrel, another dog, or something that smells delicious in the grass. In most cases, aversive tools like choke collars and pinch collars will increase the fear of or aggression towards whatever your dog is pulling towards (or away from in some instances). This can also lead to increased anxiety towards you if after pulling, your dog feels pain or discomfort and then attributes it to you being at the other end of that leash! Even more important is the health concerns of using such collars. Both pinch and choke collars can cause damage to the trachea or neck. So how can you stop your dog from pulling and lunging? There are many positive tools to use in order to maintain a healthy and happy relationship with your dog while maintaining control. My personal favorite is the front clip harness. It puts no pressure on the neck and controls the momentum of your dog in a way that simply turns them back towards you when they pull forward. My favorite is the Sense-Ation by Softouch Concepts (http://www.softouchconcepts.com/index.php/product-53/sense-ation-harness), but there are other good options out there. Another tool that is still better than aversive techniques if is the Gentle Leader by PetSafe. I rarely recommend the use of these simply because they can easily be misused and can also cause neck damage if the dog continues to pull with it on, or if you pull them. In addition they take a lot of desensitization for most dogs who are not used to having something over their muzzle. The most important and effective tool for walk etiquette is training! Distract your dog with treats and try to stay as far away as necessary from the things that trigger your dog to pull or lunge. Start at whatever threshold they can handle and ask for a sit with a nice juicy treat in their face (and your body in between your dog and the distraction to block any reaction) until whatever distractions goes away (or until you walk away from it if necessary). Then slowly move closer and closer to distractions until your dog can handle them close up!

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For those of you adding new four legged members to the family this winter, remember how important socialization is at a young age! Introduce your puppy (or dog if adopted at an older age) to as many new friends as possible! Set goals for meeting as many new people, FRIENDLY dogs and other creatures as possible! Invite people and their pets over or visit the park or other controlled environments for positive experiences with your dog. Socialization does not mean throwing your dog into situations that are overwhelming or scary. Be weary of dog parks packed with dogs and avoid other pets that do not want to meet or be bothered by your dog. Seek out positive interactions only and leave or separate at the first signs of any negativity or fear (growling, sideways looks from any dog showing white in the eyes, tails straight up or curled under, incessant licking or showing teeth, etc.). Most importantly, always keep your demeanor stress free and positive because your dog is reading your body language better than you yourself are even aware of it!puppy socialization

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As the weather gets a bit colder and dogs are indoors more, make sure to keep an eye on their environment.  A huge misconception is that dogs must be given free range of the home and that it is cruel to put a dog in a crate. On the contrary! It is important to make time to get your dog the exercise they need with long walks or trips to the park. If their exercise needs are met, however, a dog that cannot handle being alone without getting into trouble should be kept in a safe area or crate where he/she is not given the opportunity to get into anything. Not only is it important to avoid poor behavioral habits from developing, but it is important for a dog’s safety as well. Crates not only serve as a barrier from the rest of the home, but also as a safe place where a dog can feel less overwhelmed or anxious.  Make sure to get your dog used to the crate in a successful manner that involves lots of treats, starts with small sessions and maintains that the crate is always a positive place to be! This will help your dog to remain calm, comfortable and out of trouble while you are gone!destructive puppy

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Its safe to say that this snowy weather tends to bring out the laziness in all of us.  If you prefer not to venture out in the cold, try coming up with new ways to tire out your dog.  Fetch or hide and seek works for some pups, but for those who aren’t interested in fetching or are too clumsy to let them run around inside, try working on new training techniques.  Mental stimulation tires dogs out more than you can imagine!  If you are having trouble with training, call us for a free consultation so that you can spend the holidays comfy and cozy inside without a crazy wound-up dog

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Don’t forget that your dog still needs exercise in the winter. Dog parks are a great way to get that energy out. Make sure your dog gets along well with other dogs before bringing them into a dog park. It might be time for some socialization training.  Contact us now for a free consultation!

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Using Positive Reinforcement and Leadership Exercises to Shape your Dog’s Behavior.

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