Category: Helpful Hints

How to Chop Dog Treats in 5 Minutes or Less | spend less time cutting treats and more time training your dog!

How to Chop Dog Treats in 5 Minutes or Less

02Helpful Hints, Product Reviews, Tutorials and How-To GuidesTags: , , ,

In our Day School program, we go through a lot of dog treats! During our busiest weeks, it is not uncommon for us to use 10 pounds or more. We’re always looking for the fastest and most cost-effective ways to prepare and store this much food in our training studio.

When it comes to food rolls, we have this down to a science. We recommend and sell Happy Howie’s treat rolls. Happy Howie’s rolls are way less crumbly than other rolls on the market, which is why they are our favorite. These are 1- or 2-pound chubs of semi-soft dog treats which you can chop up or tear chunks off to give to your dog. Because you take care of the cutting yourself, these treats are very inexpensive per-pound.

Chop Treats in 5 Minutes or Less

Here’s how we process the 2-pound Happy Howie’s treat rolls at the Academy in just 5 minutes or less.

1. Unwrap the roll. While a pair of scissors works just fine to snip the plastic open, we use a pair of large dog nail clippers.

2. Slice the roll into discs. We usually aim for 1/4″ thickness – these are a bit thick.

2_sliced

3. Place one disc at a time on to the cutting portion of your Vidalia Onion Chopper.

“Wait, what?”

More info

Choosing A Best Friend: What to Consider When Finding a New Dog

00Helpful Hints, PuppiesTags: , ,

There are so many choices when it comes to adding a new dog to your household. There are hundreds of breeds to choose from, not to mention the thousands of wonderful dogs in shelters across the country. If you have never had a dog before, or haven’t had one since childhood, it can be overwhelming! Here are some things to consider when adding a dog to your family.

Not all dogs would be so tolerant of this child’s advances! (Photo Credit: Giulio Nepi)

Do you have children? Dogs weighing less than ten pounds are not recommended for homes with very small children as they will not handle roughhousing well.

Terrier breeds can get nippy with small children due to their heightened “prey drive” – they have a strong desire to go after small, fast moving things that make high pitched noises. Toddlers fall into that category. For that reason, I also don’t recommend terriers for households with small pets.

When choosing a dog for a home with young children, consider a medium to large sized dog with a stable, easy-going, happy-go-lucky temperament. Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers, and mixes of those breeds, are popular choices because they tend to fit this description.

If you are a busy parent, consider adopting or purchasing an older puppy or an adult dog. Puppies require lots of socialization and training, and most working parents are just too busy to add that to their to-do list.

Consider the dog’s energy level and compare it to yours. If you are busy and don’t have a lot of time to be active with your dog, consider a smaller laid back dog like a Bassett Hound or some of the larger toy breeds.

If you’re just looking for a buddy to hang out with around the house, consider adopting a senior dog. Older dogs are often dumped into shelters once their owners decide they can’t handle their special needs such as increased vet costs, medication, and physical ailments. They are less likely to be adopted than younger, spritely dogs, but they make wonderful companions.

If you are active and love to go for walks or hikes, or could imagine spending your evenings playing fetch in the backyard, consider a dog from the Herding group, such as a Border Collie or Shetland Sheepdog. Shelters are full of these high-energy dogs that are surrendered for being “crazy” or “too much dog” for their laid-back owners. In reality, most of those dogs just need more exercise and a bit of training.

Dalmatian in Window

Not all dogs are suitable for apartment living. (Photo Credit: Daniel Sancho)

What are your living arrangements? Many home owners’ insurance policies have a “blacklist” of breeds they will not cover. Check with your insurance agent before adding a dog to your household. (I cannot have a Yorkshire Terrier under my policy!) This also makes renting tricky. I spoke with a dog-friendly landlord who grew up with German Shepherds but cannot allow them to live on her properties due to her insurance policy.

Are you living in an apartment now, or could be in the future? Often apartment complexes have policies that dogs must be under 20 or 25 pounds, so consider a small dog. Avoid breeds that are known for excessive, loud barking. Many hounds are notorious for barking and are not a good choice for apartment living.

What kind of grooming are you prepared to provide? So-called “non-shedding” dogs (which actually DO shed) such as Poodles and Poodle mixes require frequent grooming as their hair type mats easily and must be trimmed often.

Professional grooming costs vary from location to location, but expect to spend about $50 plus a tip for a good grooming for almost any dog in this area (Rhode Island). Long coated breeds such as Irish Setters, English Springer Spaniels, and Collies need to be brushed out a couple of times per week, and professionally groomed every 5-6 weeks. And don’t forget the drool that comes with many giant breed dogs such as Newfoundlands and Great Danes!

Before bringing any dog home, be sure you are committed to caring for that dog for its entire lifetime. Ask yourself: am I financially prepared for a sudden vet bill? Do I have the time to devote to training this dog? Is this dog a good fit for my lifestyle? Is now a good time to add a dog to my household? If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, you are setting yourself and the dog up for failure. Dogs are not disposable! Surrendering a dog to a shelter should only be done as an absolute last resort. Be sure you are truly ready for the responsibility of dog ownership.

Creative Puppy Socialization

20Helpful Hints, Puppies, Training, Tutorials and How-To GuidesTags: , ,

Good puppy socialization requires a bit of creativity. Read on some suggestions for getting your new addition “out and about” in the real world.

Puppy Socialization with Firefighter

Always be on the lookout for new people for your puppy to meet! This German Shepherd puppy is learning that people in uniform are a good thing. (Photo by Nicholas Wadler)

Remember that when socializing your puppy, your goal should always be exposure without overwhelming him. We want your puppy to experience novel things without getting scared or feeling too uncomfortable.

Younger Puppies

When your puppy is very young (under 16 weeks of age) and has not yet received all of his immunizations, carry the puppy in locations where lots of dogs or wildlife are present to limit the (already slim) possibility of picking up a disease. These places include pet stores and wooded areas or trails.

Don’t worry about your arms getting tired — you should be taking frequent, short trips to new places when socializing your puppy. Five to ten minutes is plenty of time. It is unrealistic to expect a ten-week-old puppy to spend two hours at a child’s soccer game. Use common sense: if you wouldn’t take an infant to a certain place, don’t take your puppy there, either. More info

What Makes a Great Training Treat?

02Helpful Hints, Training, UncategorizedTags: , , ,
Dog Eating Treat

Be sure to pick a training treat that your dog enjoys!

At last, here is my written answer to the number one question I receive from owners learning to use clicker training with their dogs… what makes a great training treat? Here are the things I tell my clients to consider when choosing treats to use while training their dogs.

Size

You will be using a lot of treats when training your dog. In order to avoid weight gain, cut your treats into the tiniest pieces possible. My rule of thumb is that treats should be no larger than the size of a pea; for itty-bitty dogs, the treats should be half that size. I can tell you that there is no commercial dog training treat on the market that I have found that is small enough for training. I buy the usual “training treats” like Zuke’s and soft Tricky Trainers from Cloud Star and break them in half. Any soft treat can be cut into smaller pieces.

Texture

As a general rule, I do not use crunchy treats when training my dogs, and I suggest that my students avoid them too. Crunchy treats make a mess and encourage your dog to sniff the floor and hunt for crumbs, taking their attention from you. Dog biscuits are okay as an occasional snack, but leave them out of your organized training sessions. Soft treats are much easier and faster for dogs to chew.

Every once in a blue moon, I do encounter a dog that strongly prefers crunchy treats to soft ones! For those dogs, biscuits made for “small breed” dogs and freeze-dried treats tend to work quite well.

Taste

The golden rule of dog training is this: your dog decides what is reinforcing. One dog’s favorite, most desired treat might be mediocre to one dog, and revolting to another. Experiment with different flavors and textures of treats: sweet, salty, meaty, crunchy, chewy, mushy. Make a list of treats that your dog enjoys and try to build on it.

Offering your dog a treat they do not like can actually be punishing to them. Imagine a food that you hate: perhaps cilantro, sardines, or jalapeños. Now imagine that you walked to a nearby convenience store and all they had for sale was that food, and that food only. How likely would you be to go to that store again?

Ease of Handling

You need to be able to get treats out of your pocket or bait bag quickly, and shuffle treats around in your hand with ease. If they are sticky or goopy, it will slow down your training.

Cheese is a very popular dog treat, but warm temperatures (such as your body heat) can cause it to become melty or oily. Keeping cheese in a cooler until you use it will help tremendously.

That being said, dogs tend to love certain types of food that is not very easy to handle, such as canned dog food and peanut butter, and with a bit of ingenuity you can still use these things. You can use a spoon to deliver it to your dog. A long-handled wooden spoon works great for tall handlers with small dogs. A refillable squeeze tube like a GoToob is another great way to dispense soft, mushy food.

Visibility

In certain situations, you will want treats with a certain appearance. If you are tossing treats on to your dog’s mat or into the crate, you will want to make sure there is a color contrast between the treat and the surface you are putting it on. So if your dog’s crate is black, use light-colored treats so your dog can find them quickly. Time spent sniffing around, hunting for treats is time wasted. Similarly, if you’re tossing treats, you may not want a round treat that will roll away from your dog.

The Power of Peanut Butter

21Group Classes, Helpful Hints, Reactive Dogs, TrainingTags: , , , , , ,
Peanut Butter

Behold! One of the most versatile dog training tools known to man. (Photo Credit: Victoria Chilinski)

What’s your favorite training tool? Dog trainers are always looking for the latest and greatest items to add to their bag of tricks. My answer can be found at any supermarket or convenience store: peanut butter!

For Agility Dogs

My passion for peanut butter began while attending agility classes with Tessie. She is a whiner, and would anxiously await her next turn on the equipment by making all sorts of strange noises. Springers are capable of making some pretty bizarre sounds and Tessie is no exception. (We call her the canine tea kettle.) A PB-stuffed Kong kept her quiet and relaxed while waiting in her crate.

Later in her agility career, I discovered that Clean Run sells refillable squeeze tubes. By filling one with peanut butter, I could keep Tessie’s focus ringside. This was something I struggled with because Tessie doesn’t enjoy tugging away from home. (Canned dog food works really well in squeeze tubes, too!)

For Reactive Dogs

My next great peanut butter discovery came while working with our puppy Finch. He is reactive towards people and other dogs. Finch strongly prefers playing with toys over eating treats, especially outdoors, which is where he sees his triggers. PB was the answer. It was valuable enough to him that he would take it while working outside. I also use crunchy peanut butter to disguise his pills — the broken pill pieces blend right in with the nut chunks!

I think that there is more to this than enjoying a tasty snack, though. My theory is that the act of licking is calming to the brain. I think it may have its roots in nursing behavior. Horses exhibit a “lick and chew” displacement behavior which is sort of like an equine calming signal. Perhaps someday someone will research this — does the use of a “lickable” treat promote calm, relaxed behavior?

Kong toys are perfect for enjoying peanut butter! (Photo by OakleyOriginals)

I have noticed other benefits, too. Other dog trainers often use peanut butter for dogs that tend to bark during group training classes. The PB basically glues the dog’s tongue to the roof of his mouth, allowing the owner a chance to reinforce quiet, polite behavior.

For that reason, I began using PB with my Reactive Recovery students. That class is the noisiest, with several dogs that will start barking at the drop of a hat (literally!). It did help to quiet the class down, but it had a wonderful side effect. The dogs made the silliest faces as they licked the peanut butter from their muzzles, and the owners began to laugh!

The tension level in the class dropped dramatically. With the laughing came more relaxed handlers. They felt more comfortable in class and progress came more quickly as a result.

Peanut butter also provides another benefit while working with reactive or fearful dogs: counter-conditioning. Typically, counter-conditioning is done by feeding the dog lots of tasty treats while being exposed to a trigger (like a person approaching). No trigger = no treats.

Using PB takes some of the work out of counter-conditioning, because it takes the dog several seconds of licking to fully consume it. The whole time this is happening, the brain is making the association between the trigger and the wonderful taste of peanut butter.

For Excited, Jumpy Dogs

In one of my Basic Dog Manners classes, I discovered another fun use for PB: teaching four-on-the-floor to a very bouncy dog. Capturing moments of calm was difficult, particularly when working on loose leash walking. But we soon found that the little dog couldn’t eat peanut butter and jump at the same time!

As she licked and licked to get the PB off the roof offer mouth, she walked calmly with all four feet on the ground. Another student remarked that the change was so significant that it was if that dog had been drugged. Never before have I so desperately wished for “before and after” video clips. It was quite remarkable.

In conclusion, now I crack open a jar of peanut butter and prepare a few plastic spoons before all of my classes! I’ll leave you with this video clip of Finch enjoying peanut butter as a five-month-old puppy. If this doesn’t make you smile, I don’t know what will! 🙂

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Stop Free-Feeding: How to Feed Your Dog Regular Meals

00Helpful Hints, Training, Tutorials and How-To GuidesTags: , , ,
Stop Free Feeding Your Dog

Is there always a bowl of food on your kitchen floor? If so, you’re free-feeding. (Photo by JnL on Flickr.)

One of the first management recommendations I make to my clients is to stop “free-feeding” their dog. Free-feeding means leaving a bowl of dog food on the ground for hours at a time, if not all day long, rather than giving the dog regularly scheduled meals which need to be eaten immediately.

Here are some of the problems with free-feeding:

Free-fed dogs are harder to housebreak. Scheduled input of food means scheduled output of poop. If you’ve got a new puppy and you’re free-feeding it, you’re making house training infinitely harder.

It limits your dog’s motivation to eat treats. When I have a new client who complains, “My dog isn’t food motivated!“, more often than not, they’re free-feeding the dog. I tell clients this is like having a bowl full of $1 bills on the table, free for the taking, then telling your child he needs to earn his $5 weekly allowance. Why would he work when he can just grab a fistful of dollars when he wants?

You don’t know if your dog’s appetite has decreased. This can be a tell-tale sign of illness. When I feed my dogs, they immediately wolf down their food. If I ever put down a bowl of food and one of my dogs didn’t eat, that would earn them an immediate trip to the veterinarian. Also, if your dog ever needs emergency surgery, the vet will want to know when your dog last ate. If you’re free-feeding, that answer could be 30 minutes ago or 3 hours ago – you have no way of knowing.

It attracts pests. Disgusting but true – we’ve found ants and mouse poop in and around the food bowls of dogs that are free-fed.

Additionally, almost every free-fed dog I have met is overweight. Rarely, a dog may have a medical condition requiring it to be free-fed. If that’s the case, follow your veterinarian’s advice when it comes to feeding your dog.

How to Make a Change

If you’re ready to stop free-feeding your dog, here’s how you do it.

Step 1: Decide how often you are going to feed your dog. For most dogs, twice a day is enough – once in the morning and once at night. Puppies and small-breed dogs may do better being fed three times per day.

Step 2: Decide how much you are going to feed your dog. Some owners actually don’t know how much food their dog eats in a given day – they just keep the bowl full, and if it gets low, they dump in some more kibble. Use the amount listed on the dog food bag as a guideline for how much to feed your dog. (In my experience, these amounts tend to over-estimate how much food your dog needs.)

Step 3: Pick up the food bowl and clean it thoroughly. If you’ve been free-feeding for awhile, chances are it’s been awhile since your dog’s bowl was washed.

Step 4: At the next scheduled mealtime, measure out your dog’s food in the bowl and place it on the ground. Set a kitchen timer or your phone alarm to go off in 15 minutes and let your dog eat. She may not eat anything! Don’t worry about it.

Step 5: When that timer goes off, pick up the food bowl. If there’s anything left, measure it and subtract that from your first measurement so you know how much food your dog ate. Throw out whatever’s left.

Step 6: Do not give your dog any food until the next scheduled feeding. (An occasional training session or small snack is okay, but nothing more!)

Step 7: At your next scheduled mealtime, repeat steps 4 and 5.

Within 48 hours your dog should be eating most if not all the food you give her, and will begin eating as soon as the bowl hits the ground.

Troubleshooting

“My dog isn’t finishing her meals!” If your dog consistently does not finish her meals, you are probably offering too much food. Reduce the amount of kibble accordingly.

“My dog eats everything in her bowl and still seems hungry!” Most dogs are always “hungry” – self-control is not their strong suit. If your dog is wolfing down her food and you are feeding the amount suggested on the dog food bag, do not give her more food yet – wait a week or so, see if she’s gaining or losing weight, and adjust accordingly.

“My dog isn’t interested in the food when I put it down, so I added a little water/broth/chicken/dog treats/cat food…” Stop! Your dog is training you. If she ignores her food, you’ll add something exciting to it, therefore she continues to ignore her food until there’s a nice snack in it. If you want to give your dog a special snack, use it as a training treat, or add it to the food bowl before you put it on the ground – not after she’s decided to ignore her regular kibble.

It’s That Simple

This process really is not that difficult. All you need to do is stick to your guns, put down dog food 2-3 times a day, and not add any “goodies” trying to entice your dog to eat. A healthy dog absolutely will not starve herself. If you are concerned about your dog’s health, contact your veterinarian before beginning this plan.

Puppy Nipping: A Plan to Stop It

10Helpful Hints, Puppies, Training, Tutorials and How-To GuidesTags: , , , , , ,

Puppy nipping is one of the most frustrating behaviors that new owners report. It hurts! But you’ll see a big reduction in puppy nipping in a short period just by getting some human cooperation.

Puppy Nipping - Dachshund

If this is a familiar sight, it’s time for a new training plan! (Photo Credit: Renata Lima, Flickr)

Let’s start by examining why your puppy is putting his mouth on things. I don’t like to spend a ton of time pondering why a dog is doing what he’s doing, but puppy nipping is such a frustrating behavior for owners that I find it helps to consider the puppy’s point of view.

Beginning at a young age, puppies bite each other during play. This behavior starts before you bring your puppy home from the breeder or rescue organization. The puppies are play-fighting and learning their own strength. If they bite a littermate too hard, the other puppy will respond with a high-pitched yelp. This tells the biter to tone it down next time.

This is why a common nugget of advice is “If your puppy bites you, shriek in a high-pitched voice.” This sometimes causes the puppy to stop. But sometimes the puppy thinks your noises are fascinating and bites harder next time; it gets him excited and worked up!

It just depends on your puppy… and your ability to make a high-pitched puppy yelp, something most men can’t do. I prefer to use methods that work more reliably. Here is the plan we use with our clients, as well as in our Puppy Day School program.

Step One

Institute a new house rule: everyone interacting with the puppy is “armed” with a soft, biteable toy. It should be long enough to keep your fingers away from the puppy’s mouth when playing. This is always within the puppy’s reach when you’re petting her, playing with her, or snuggling together. Praise the puppy for interacting with the toy.

Set yourself up for success by keeping a soft toy in your back pocket, another in a basket on top of the puppy’s crate, and another in the room where you tend to hang out with your pup the most. I recommend braided fleece toys and “unstuffed” plush toys (the kind that resemble roadkill).

Puppy Chewing Shoelaces

Tuck in shoelaces, sweatshirt drawstrings, and other dangly bits of clothing and jewelry to set your puppy up for success. (Photo by Nicki Varkevisser, Flickr)

Step Two

Don’t tempt your puppy! For at least the first few weeks, avoid wearing nice clothing or anything loose-fitting or dangling around her. Change out of your nice work clothes before interacting with your puppy. Tuck in shoelaces and sweatshirt drawstrings, and remove large earrings and necklaces, too.

This eliminates the puppy’s opportunity to grab on to these things and elicit an exciting reaction from you. We don’t want the puppy to learn things we wish she wouldn’t, such as “grabbing my mother’s earrings makes her squeak and push me around. That’s fun!” Not a good lesson.

You can also use bitter-tasting spray on things that you’re not likely to touch often, such as your shoelaces. The bitter taste can transfer to your fingers, so if you use this method, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before handling food or touching your face.

Step Three

When your puppy mouths your hands, pull them away from her and keep them out of her reach for several seconds. I recommend sticking your hands in your armpits – your puppy can’t nip them there! Ignore your puppy for about 5 seconds. If she continues to try to nip during this time, it may be necessary to stand up or even leave the room.

After this little time-out, calmly present your toy to your pup and resume interacting with her. Praise and play with the puppy for engaging the toy, licking your hands, or just being polite. Repeat this step when the pup bites. Be consistent!

Remember that screaming or shouting at the puppy, pushing her away, or physically punishing the puppy by pinching her lips or clamping her mouth closed will either intensify the biting or scare the puppy, potentially leading to fearful and aggressive behaviors in the future.

If your pup bites on your clothing, gently remove the clothing from her mouth and prevent her access to that article of clothing. If she’s chewing on your shirt sleeve, stand up and roll up your sleeves. If she’s chewing on your pant leg, leave the room or step to the other side of a baby gate or puppy pen so she cannot reach you. Ignore her for a few seconds, then offer her the toy to play with.

Closing Thoughts

The purpose of these training steps is to teach the puppy that when she has the urge to put something in her mouth, she should pick an appropriate toy rather than your hands or clothing. Puppies need to bite, mouth, and chew as they grow, so rather than fight that instinct, channel it into appropriate items.

If you need to give your puppy a “time out” more than two or three times in a 10-minute period, she is either very wound up and needs a bit of exercise, or is overtired and needs to be put in her crate for a nap. Remember that the time out does not teach the puppy anything. It just provides an opportunity for your puppy to calm down enough to try other ways of interacting with you, which you must then reward.