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DOG TRAINING ADVICE: HOW TO TRAIN A DOG NOT TO BARK

train-a-dog-not-to-bark-pawsh-2About a year ago, I moved to Toronto and into a new apartment. It was everything I was looking for in a space — hardwood floors, separate office space, working fireplace (a nice perk). But being in the heart of Toronto it was also a little noisier than Rory was used to compared to our sleepy Ottawa residence.

As a result she developed a bad habit — barking. Not only would she bark whenever she heard anything unexpected, but she would bark and charge down the hallway whenever she heard neighbouring dogs, people on the street or even our upstairs neighbours shuffling around in their apartment. Needless to say, it was a habit that had to stop.

So I started a strict training regiment. Using nothing but positive reinforcement, Rory’s frantic barking is now manageable and civilized. Here’s how I did it:

STEP 1: ACCEPTANCE
There is a saying — “if you can’t beat them, join them” — and that is the approach I took with Rory’s barking. There is no way you are ever going to stop a dog from barking and nor should you try.

A dog barks to tell you something isn’t quite right, that there is ‘danger’ nearby and to raise the pack’s attention. Trying to debark a dog through bark collars and negative reinforcement is like trying to combat a natural, engrained instinct that is programmed into a dog’s DNA. So instead, I chose to embrace Rory’s barking.

It is good that she raises the alarm when something is not quite right in her books — the key then became controlling the bark. In other words, I needed to train her to have an ‘off switch.’

STEP 2: REDIRECT
Every dog has at least one trick that they love to do and never fail to do when asked. For Rory this trick is ‘go to your bed.’ So I began to use that phrase to redirect Rory’s charging bark. Every time she started barking, I would tell her to ‘go to bed.’ Of course, she didn’t always go when asked in the beginning, so I would need to choral her to her bed and once all four paws landed in her bed, reward her with a treat right away.
train-a-dog-not-to-bark-pawsh-1STEP 3: TREAT RIGHT – AND RIGHT AWAY
Just any old treat wouldn’t work in this situation, because you are trying to distract your dog from a high-energy and agitated state. In order to aptly capture Rory’s attention, I needed to be offering something truly fantastic, so I alternated between cheese and dehydrated cow’s lung.

I also made sure to reward Rory as soon as all four paws were in her bed so that she associated completing that action with the tasty treat. Any pause between command and completed command can cause confusion in a dog’s mind.

STEP 4: BE CONSISTENT
The trick to this sort of training technique is consistency. I couldn’t intervene in Rory’s barking display once in a while and then let it slide at other times. Regardless of what I was doing or where I was whenever at home, if she barked I intervened.

Every single time she barked I would follow, tell her ‘go to bed,’ direct her there if need be and instantly reward with a high-value treat. Every – single -time. You would be amazed how quickly dogs can learn new habits when rewarded positively.
train-a-dog-not-to-bark-pawsh-3THE RESULTS
Now we have a happy quiet home once again. Yes, Rory still barks when she thinks something is wrong, but she is now enabled with a debark word/command. One quick bark, a word from me and she settles down again. In fact she has now got to the point that she barks once, sometimes twice, and then takes herself to bed to await cross-pawed for a treat.

Rather than punish Rory for giving in to her natural instinct and alerting her family that there might be danger, I have instead managed to reign that enthusiastic barking into a controllable and manageable habit. Rory feels like she is doing her job (protecting) and I am no longer getting frustrated (albeit sympathetic) calls from my lovely neighbours. It is a win, win, win situation.

{Photography via Pawsh Instagram}

PAWSH PERK: Expert advice for training a dog not to lick.

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DOGS AND BABIES: HOW TO TEACH DOGS ABOUT BABIES

children-and-dogsThe bond we have with our childhood dogs cannot be aptly describe by mere words alone. But in order for that bond to thrive, parents of both the pet and canine variety should be aware of a few key points to ensure that little ones and furballs live in harmony (and have a lot of fun along the way!)

OBSERVE BODY LANGUAGE
Dogs will usually give all sorts of warning signs before being pushed to their absolute limit. Nobody really enjoys being clamoured all over, sat upon or pushed around and usually if a child is doing this (which a child should not be) to a dog the dog’s body language will stiffen.

Happy, relaxed body language means the dog is comfortable, confident and happy. Stiff, jerky body language means the dog is uneasy, fearful or upset which can lead to an unwelcome incident. Teach your child to be respectful of a dog’s space and to interact in a manner that is polite, but always keep an eye on your dog’s body language too, especially with very young children.

HANDLE YOUR DOG
Little ones are always going to play a bit roughly while they learn the social dos and donts of life. In order to prepare your dog for this somewhat rambunctious addition to the family pack, handle them frequently.

Get your dog used to being touched all over — on their tail, their ears, between their toes, their bellies, their necks etc. — and make it a positive experience. This will help a dog be ready for little hands all over them.

INDOOR VOICES
It is no secret that dogs have very acute hearing. Loud screaming and crying can frazzle a dog, so be sure to have a quiet space that your dog can occupy when your babe starts fussing. As the child matures, teach them that quiet voices are nicer for Fido.

ESTABLISH A ROUTINE
Puppies and children are very similar in many ways. In particular, both do better when they are given boundaries, structure and routine. Creating a routine for your dog and your child to interact together helps both to learn what is expected of them. For older children, giving them a dog-friendly task such as brushing the dog after dinner, helps them to understand their dog as a unique personality with certain needs, likes and dislikes.

REINFORCE BASIC LESSONS
Dogs can benefit from a refresher course in basic training to brush up on their ‘sit,’ ‘stay’ and ‘drop it’ commands. Children should also be taught that roughly stealing a dog’s toys and food is rude. Teaching both parties basic lessons such as this will help to create a respectful bond.

TEACH EMPATHY
Often times little ones don’t realize that their actions are effecting others, so be sure to teach them that how they act towards others — especially animals — means something. Be sure to teach your child that how they act effects Fido’s mood and can hurt their feelings. Translating dog behaviour into the basic language of moods and feelings can help small children better relate with the family furball.

EXTRA PREPARATIONS
Of course, if a dog has difficult behaviour issues or if you are not comfortable preparing your dog-friendly home for a baby and a dog, it is always recommended that you consult a professional, experienced and certified dog behaviourist to help your family adjust.

{Photography by PAWSH Studio.}

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DOG PARK ETIQUETTE: 6 KEY DOG PARK MANNERS

dog-park-manners-1 Dog parks are lively, bouncy environments that to the outside eye look chaotic, intense and perhaps even a little bit scary. Fortunately, however, they are more often than not very welcoming places — a friendly subculture of pet parenthood that allows dogs and their people to socialize and enjoy some rejuvenating fresh air.

Like any culture though there is a certain etiquette that comes with going to an off-leash dog park. Here are six important dog park manners to mind (assuming that your pupster already has great recall)…
dog-park-manners-2
1. KEEP CALM WHILE ON LEASH
Dogs sometimes like to great new arrivals to the park boisterously and will run up wildly to say hello. If this happens while you are arriving in the off-leash area and your dog is still on leash, keep calm to help your dog keep calm. This sort of greeting is completely different from a strange dog charging up to you on a street; although it may still be a bit nerve-wracking.

Do not yell, stiffen or try to shoo the greeters away. Allow all the dogs to sniff each other (that is their way of saying hi officially) and let your dog off to join in on the fun. Ideally you will want to let your dog off leash as soon as you pass an off-leash sign to avoid being in the middle of the park with lots of dogs running up while your dog is still not free.

If your dog is fearful of having other dogs run up to them both on and off leash, an off-leash dog park may not be the best environment for them. Consider instead a small doggie daycare group or dog-walker or go to your local dog park during less busy times of the day.

dog-park-manners-32. IT’S NOT ALL FUN & GAMES
While it is true that dogs will be dogs and play roughly with one another — they’ll chase around wildly, wrestle like there is no tomorrow and happily bark until they lose their voices — it isn’t always all fun and games at the park. Keep an eye on your dog’s body language and behaviour to avoid any undesirable incidents.

If your dog is being hounded relentlessly by another, despite trying to get away, growling or giving usual signs to back off, it is perhaps wise to intervene. Similarly, if your dog is the over-excited one who fails to recognize another’s signs to call it quits, direct them away to another area of the park.

Likewise if your dog is jumping all over other people or poking noisily around other people’s belongings, step in to correct their behaviour. Remember that a dog park is a public space and that you are responsible for your dog’s behaviour. Do not allow your dog to do whatever they please just because it is the dog park.dog-park-manners-4

3. STOOP & SCOOP
You may be outside in a large grassy field, but that doesn’t mean you should let your dog do their business just anywhere and then leave it be. Imagine how horrid dog parks would become if every four-legged visitor did that? Pe-eww! Keep a mindful eye on your pup as they frolic and bag their ‘doo.’ Forget your doggie bags? Just ask a fellow dog park visitor for one (or two so you’re covered on the walk home as well!)

4. NO SQUEAKING PLEASE
Lots of dogs like to play fetch at the park, so bringing balls and Frisbees is a lot of fun. Squeaky toys, however, are widely regarded as a dog park faux-pas. Squeaky toys are designed to speak to a dog’s natural hunting instincts and are very much loved by dogs of all shapes and sizes. Bringing such an item — a high-value item — to a raucous dog park can mean disaster. Dogs may fight over the squeaky toy, so air on the side of caution and leave the high-pitched noises at home.

dog-park-manners-5
5. DON’T TREAT BEFORE YOU SPEAK
Treats are a no-brainer at the dog park and practically every pet parent will have them tucked away in their pockets. But don’t treat a dog other than your own without their person’s permission. While you may want to spoil the adorable new fluffball at the park with lots of goodies, a lot of dogs have allergies or are on special diets. Or sometimes dogs are being trained without food and treating unexpectedly can disrupt their progress.

You wouldn’t want a total stranger giving your kid candy, would you? The same principle applies to kiddies of the four-legged variety. Similarly, don’t assume you can pick up any dog you like — even if they are a squishy puppy. Respect the dog’s space and presence as well as their person’s and always ask before you treat.

6. DON’T IGNORE YOUR DOG
Don’t be that person — the person who lets their dog off-leash and is then completely engrossed in their smart phone and oblivious to their dog’s whereabouts or antics. Your dog is your responsibility at the park. Make sure they are behaving in a dog polite manner (tip #2 above) and make sure you know where they are at all times so they don’t get lost.

Follow these tips and you’re dog will have a wonderful — and polite – park experience!

{Huge thanks to my incredible friend and talented artist Tonya Pet Photography for photographing this special “Pet Wellness” column.}

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