Warning: I am jumping onto my soapbox with both feet!!

If I were made queen for a day, one thing at the top of my to-do list — besides beheading any critics — would be to forbid anyone from ever establishing any routines for their dogs other than those for teaching a specific behavior.

I am on my soapbox today because I just spent a considerable amount of time with yet another client who is mystified as to why her new puppy, who was fine at first with going into the crate when she left, suddenly is freaking out about this process. She described to me the routine she carefully followed every time, right down to the puppy “lullabye” CD she put on for her, then asked if there was anything else she could do. Imagine her stunned silence when I said yes, definitely: Dump the routine. NOW!

“Everyone” had told her that routines are good for dogs. (Everyone except a trainer, I hope. Why does everyone think they are dog training experts just because they have a dog? I have a car, but I don’t for one moment think I am a mechanic. But I digress.)

I explained why I said it, then gave her suggestions about how to bust up the routine and work on what really needed to be done, which is to teach her pup to be okay by herself and to self-amuse so she is not dependent on interaction with a human all the time.

What’s wrong with routines?
There are many old beliefs that undermine your relationship with your dog, creating training challenges and missteps. The dominance myth takes the top prize — don’t get me started — but the second-place award in my view goes to the benign-sounding, but truly insidious and slyly damaging, “routines.”

What’s wrong with routines, you ask? After all, humans love routines. We take great comfort in our rituals, plus they help us to remember stuff, like locking our doors and not leaving our coffee cup on the roof of our cars.

But, to state the obvious, dogs are not humans. And they do not see routines the same way we do. For example, you may be shocked to learn routines are a huge contributing factor to separation anxiety. Here’s why:

Human thinks: I’ll do everything in the same order so my dog knows what to expect in the morning, so he’ll be okay with my leaving.

Dog thinks: Oh no, he’s doing all those things that end up with him leaving me! No, no! Don’t go!! I can’t take it!!

When you create a routine, the dog knows exactly what is going to happen. If he doesn’t like what happens, he is going to have a bad reaction to the routine. He doesn’t want you to leave, he wants to be with you. So with every step in the process, he gets more and more nervous. By the time you pick up your keys, he’s a basket case. Let the crate escape, peeing, pooping, chewing and curtain shredding begin!

This very same type of pattern, if used to teach a behavior like a sit/down or pottying outside, is how you get your dog to reliably respond when you ask him to do something: Just like he is sure you are leaving in the prior example — bad for him — he is sure a good thing will happen once his butt hits the floor or he pees in the back yard. The key difference is, once the pattern is established, we start to change it so we can progress — wean off treats, do behavior longer, ignore distractions, etc. In other words, this is not a routine but rather a progressive exercise. It changes, and the dog adjust to the changes, improving his response. In trainerspeak, this is called proofing or generalizing.

When you do the same things in the same way, your dog then expects that same pattern every time, along with the same result. Even when it’s a good thing — you pick up the leash, he’s going for a walk! — if the routine gets altered somehow, he will not handle it well. Put the leash back down without taking him out, and what happens? He might start pacing and panting, going over to the door and back to you as if to say Hey! Why aren’t we going? We always go when you pick up the leash!

(I cannot tell you how many clients tell me they have never used the leash for anything other than walks. I often ask them to leash up inside for work on specific issues, and it gets messy real quick because the dog lathers up when the routine is changed.)

Routines are rigid patterns that can create rigid dogs — they don’t bend, they break. They are incapable of flexibility, become beside themselves when presented with it, and can become quite insistent about returning to the usual pattern. A common example would be the dog who tells YOU when it’s time for dinner or for bed. A less-common example would be the dog who lays across your feet, and if you try to move, growls and snaps.

Create a ‘whatever’ dog who is calm and confident
Breaking up routines allows you to develop a “whatever” dog, the go-with-the-flow pup who adjusts to whatever is going on around him. (“Going with you? Staying home? Eating now? Eating later? Whatever!”) It’s actually a critical part of socialization, but one that is often missed by humans. Socialization is showing the dog the world so he is not afraid of it and knows how to act in it. A well-socialized dog is calmer, more confident, and very much a “whatever” dog.

This is so important that I am getting up on this soapbox and shouting, trying to get everyone’s attention: STOP WITH THE ROUTINES ALREADY!!! Your dog will be happier, and so will you.

So, to recap:

— Routines are BAD!

— Break up your routines to help your dog become a “whatever” dog.

— To teach specific behaviors, use progressive repetitions, slowly changing one detail at a time to help them generalize the behavior (e.g. Sit is the same no matter where I ask for it).

Need more help? Ask a professional — but be sure to ask them if they think routines are good or bad. If they say good, keep looking!

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Ah, spring! 

As  the weather warms, and the spring flowers bloom, another less heralded spring event begins: the rush of panicked calls and emails I receive from dog POGs wondering what is up with their pooches.

They are terrible walkers; jumping all over everyone; charging fences; going after people, kids, dogs; destroying the back yard; barking nonstop; not listening; not coming. I could go on for days, but you get the idea.

They weren’t doing this before, you cry. Why is this happening? 
Ah, spring. Or rather: Uh…spring. 
I live in Northern Ohio. We have winter here, and this year like many other places, we had a fairly nasty one. So we tended to stay in, hibernating, seeing and doing less, hunkering down, waiting for…spring!! Then we burst from our house-caves, raced to the garden centers, parks, ball fields and all that other outdoor stuff we haven’t been able to get to for months. And many of us took our dogs with us. More fun with a dog along, right?
Maybe. See, we happily adjust to the new circumstances, but many dogs don’t. If your dog is new to you, or a puppy, she may have never seen all these places, activities, people before. And she doesn’t know what to make of it. And you did not tell her what it is and what to do with it because you didn’t realize she doesn’t get it. It’s outside! She’s been outside! It’s all great, isn’t it??
I walk my dog Tawny every day, 365, unless it is life-threatening to one of us or she doesn’t want to go. In the winter, I see absolutely no one else. Fine with me. Not in a mood to be neighborly in 10 degrees and a wind-whipped snow storm. Come spring, the fair-weather walkers come out, and Tawny and I have to review our exercises for how to act around other dogs (she is scared of them and gets defensive), while working to avoid as many bad walkers as possible (defined as person casually holding leash loop, usually on phone, and dog yee-hawing all over the place. Danger, Will Robinson!).
In plain terms, most people stop socializing their dogs during the winter (and other times too) and think the dog will be just fine when they pick it up again months later. But think of it this way, if your dog is less than a year old, most of his life has been spent isolated in a house. How would he know what to do in a park, in a crowd of people, around other dogs, around screaming kids, around a ball game, when squirrels and birds are racing around? Same thing for an older dog who has been with you for less than a year. 
They don’t know!! And we, instead of realizing and helping, freak out. Many thankfully call a DogLife Skills Instructor/trainer for help, but many more try to deal with it, mishandle it and make it worse. Suddenly, they have That Dog. They are mystified as to how it happened.
That’s how, people! The solution is proper exposure. The well-socialized dog is the one that has experienced the environment, understands it’s not a threat, and knows how to act when she’s in it. Happy news: It’s never too late, so get going! You want to be outside anyway, right? Fix the problem, and you will enjoy it much more.
Want to know more about dealing with bad reactions? Visit my store http://cp-hipdogs.com/train/shop/ and look for the DogLife Skills Guide “Fear and Overreaction!”

When you are in this business for awhile, you see a fair number of dogs cross over the Rainbow Bridge. This is a tribute to two extraordinary dogs with whom I have had the privilege to work. Both have recently passed. I want to share a little of their second-chapter lives with you, and to celebrate them and the humans who never gave up on them.

SNICK

SchnickReitzloff

Snick was an old boy when he came to me. His parent/owner/guardian (POG) Barb had taken him in after her mother died and was struggling to make him into a safe dog. He had bitten her and others, snapped at people who reached to pet him, bark-lunged at other dogs and was pretty much a doggie train wreck. When I suggested trying him in my group class, Barb was unsure, concerned they would be thrown out because of his appalling behavior and non-stop barking. I assured her that wouldn’t happen. I had a nice, big room in the Cleveland APL building that would allow me to separate him from the class while I assessed him.

Snick came rampaging into his first group lesson, in full-throttle defense mode, pulling poor Barb, who had an apologetic smilie frozen in place. We went to work immediately, and, by the end of the hour, Snick was on his back with Barb rubbing his belly. We had cracked the shell and found the real Snick, a funny, silly boy just dying to trust someone. That’s the boy you see in this picture.

I saw Snick on and off over the next few years, as Barb continued to work with him. What a great time he had with her in his second chapter. Yes, there were bumps in the road, but because Barb was determined to do right by this dog her mother adored, she kept going.

I loved Snick. He was the one and only dog I allowed to jump on me. Every time he saw me, he immediately rushed over, put his paws on my leg and licked my fingers till I petted him. I asked Barb to never correct him for that. Because he had been so distrustful of humans, I wanted him to feel completely secure around someone. So I made sure he never attached a negative to me. Interestingly, that allowed me to trust him completely.  Snick had a profound impact on the way I looked at other “doggie train wrecks” that have rumbled my way since we met.

—————

PRETTY GIRL

Pretty Girl and Me

Pretty Girl was actually gorgeous–a striking black/white, 90-pound pit who was taken in by Mary even though she had bitten. She had also passed two separate temperament evaluations. Mary, a huge animal lover, felt PG had been wronged. Instead of allowing her to be put down, Mary took her home to add to her furry family. She called me in for help in making sure Pretty reached her full potential.

That was nearly six years ago. I had been working steadily with them ever since.

When I first met her, Pretty was a tornado encased in dog skin, possibly the most hyper, overstimulated dog I had ever seen. I could see every bone in her body; she seemed to be vibrating away every calorie she took in! Mary and I stood outside her kennel, waiting for her to calm down a bit so I could reward a better behavior. That was a loooong wait. After 15-20 minutes of bouncing on her hind legs and barking, I was finally getting what felt like nanoseconds to stuff treats through the fence.

She had come a tremendously long way since then. The super-hyper girl had calmed a lot and gotten more focused. She still struggled sometimes with self-control (for example, she would sit but tap-dance with her front feet, waiting to be released), but she always worked very hard to do what we wanted. She built a strong bond with a small group of trusted humans who helped her understand and cope better with our world. She became good friends with Mary’s cat Smokey, who liked to follow her around the house and roll on his back in front of her, batting at Pretty’s nose. She was smart, sensitive, goofy, fun. She improved to the point where I felt comfortable bringing my frail 84-year-old mother to meet her. The only challenge we had that day was Pretty showing how eager she was to meet Mom by plowing her head into her chair…and moving Mom and chair a good foot before we restored order. Mom petted her the whole time; she thought that it was all pretty funny.

That was Pretty Girl — she put her whole heart into everything she did. That heart gave out way too soon. There was so much unexplored potential in her. I still can’t believe she’s gone.

——-

I make no secret of the fact that I feel the dogs I work with are part mine. If that’s unprofessional, so be it. This is the only way I can work. I half-jokingly say these are my dogs too.  I’ve been honored with the trust of both human and dog, which has allowed me to do my job to the best of my ability, and to keep improving through all I’ve learned from these marvelous creatures. And occasionally to connect with extra-special dogs like Snick and Pretty Girl.

Rest easy, pups. You’ve earned it.

———

Some people talk to animals. Not many listen, though. That’s the problem. 

– A. A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

At a client’s house recently, working with her adorable nine-month-old, 95-pound puppy.

She mentioned that, after early success following my instructions, her dog was once again bothering/chasing their cat. “What’s going on?” she asked with exasperation.

Diagnosing time! Here’s roughly how it went (my questions, her answers):

Happening in specific places/situations? No, random.
Cat starting any of it? Possibly, somewhat.
Pup runs up and what happens? Bugs, starts pawing, cat doesn’t leave but starts hissing.
What do you do? Yell and charge over there.
Is that effective? No.
How much are you telling pup she’s wonderful when she exists peacefully with/doesn’t bother the cat? Not at all. I thought that was fixed.

Ah. There it is.

I titled my book Reverse Dog Training for a very good reason: because I believe most people, when faced with a behavior problem, don’t just do the wrong thing, they do the exact opposite of what they should to solve the problem.

This client is further proof of my point. The kickers here are:

– She had already been given the right thing to do, had used it, and it had worked beautifully. The cat was left completely alone.
– After a brief period of success, she stopped using the mark/reward system completely. Dog was “fixed” in her view. (Wished she had told me this!)
– The dog, no longer getting the attention reward she was getting used to for ignoring the cat, slides back into the old habit of going after the cat, which she knows will get the desired results (yelling is attention).
– Everyone is back doing the same thing, and getting the same bad result. And she is wondering what went wrong?

Good/bad of marking
What is wonderful about a mark/reward system is it can work really fast. This can also be a bad thing if you don’t realize that to keep it working, you have to keep doing it (albeit slowly scale back on how often, aka progressing) and permanently change YOUR habits.

When something works immediately, it is thrilling to the owner/POG and makes us trainers/DLSIs look like geniuses. But we — or at least I — always caution that the problem is not gone. We have started the process of eliminating it. It is “fixed for now.”

How to ‘fix forever’
To get “fixed forever,” you have to continue to follow the instructions you were given, slowly varying the exercises and making your dog aware that s/he should do this same thing no matter the circumstances (“proofing” and “generalizing” are the words trainers use).

Put simply, a new habit usually will not erase and replace an old habit in a matter of days or even weeks. And I would contend the longer the old habit (problem behavior) has been in place, the longer it will take to get a reliable new-habit response.

Instant success may be fun — heck, it IS fun! — but long-term success is sooooo satisfying. Well worth the extra work.

If you need help expanding your exercises to get your dog “forever fixed,” see my e-booklet Next Steps! How to Progress Beyond Treats.

One of my favorite lines about getting older is that we are like fine wine, getting better with age. I also like to think with age comes wisdom, and that thought is leading me to believe I need to be a little more specific in my statements.

As I and my beloved friends and family grow longer in the tooth, I notice while the mind might be expanding, the body is wilting in some highly unpleasant ways. The aches, the pains, the injuries, the “conditions,” the loss of control in certain embarrassing areas.

Fair warning, one thing I am going to talk about is incontinence. In hopes you will stick with me, I will tell you the topic is dog incontinence, and there is a happy ending to this story.

Still there? Okay, thank you.

This tale is about my darling girl Tawny. She’s around 11 now, and doing quite well (you may have seen my recent YouTube/Facebook video post of her racing around my back yard; crazy puppy still there!). She is still developing and growing behaviorally; I am sometimes awestruck at the decisions she makes these days (another post for another day, for sure).

But she is burdened with two problems. One has been a lifelong struggle getting worse: skin allergies that cause her to scratch and scratch, especially during the winter, sometimes bloodying herself, in particular her ears and tail. The other is more recent, and it is nighttime incontinence.

The struggles, the discoveries, the victories
I need to say here I am no vet, and I am not recommending anything. Tawny goes regularly to the vet, and they are well-versed in her life and health. But in my quest to help my girl (and before her, my darling boy Jaspar who was with me 17 years), I will look everywhere for potential solutions, especially those that avoid strong medicines/chemicals. I do this for myself, so of course I will do it for Tawny.

Over the years, in my quest to quell her infernal itching (I have eczema, so I relate), I have run through: topicals ranging from vitamin E to various things in squeeze bottles and moistened towelettes, to salves and cortizone creams, to plain water; not bathing and bathing frequently; brushing little and brushing a lot; every shampoo and conditioner on the planet; making my own dry shampoo; many, many commercial dog foods, vitamins and supplements, and a lot of money with no good results.

What I have finally found that put the brakes on it:
1) A round of antibiotics in case there was an infection.
2) Making her food myself (see my “Goofy dog love” posts for that story)
3) Baking soda, water and a washrag.

That last one, believe it or not, has become my miracle, and it was a total desperation move on my part. Tawny was worse than ever this ling, cold winter, her black skin testifying to total loss of her golden coat on the back of her ears and the tip of her tail. As I was researching my latest thought, dry shampoos, I keyed in on the baking soda part. The dry shampoo itself was a bust, but the baking soda intrigued me because it has a cleansing effect AND a soothing effect.

So the next time I saw Tawny scratching something, I dumped some baking soda in some cool water and simply blotted the area with the mixture, making sure I thoroughly soaked the skin, towelled off the excess moisture and let her dry.

After about three days, the miracle: I didn’t see her scratch all day. I checked with my mom and sister, who also spend a fair amount of time telling her to stop scratching, and they reported the same thing: virtually scratch-free. Soothing the skin kept her from bothering it, allowing it to heal. The hair is growing back on her ears and even the end of her tail!

I need to treat every other day at least. If I go more than that, the scratching starts. But I will happily blot her for the rest of her life if I get this result.

Pee problems peter out, too
Now a recent problem: Nighttime accidents. For the entire time she’s been with me, Tawny has not drunk much water, and just plain didn’t ask to go out much. Most mornings she wouldn’t go out first; she wanted her breakfast instead. I called her the Exxon Valdez — a super tanker who could hold it forever.

So I literally got a rude awakening when she started having deep-sleep whoopsies. I wasn’t thrilled when she let go on one of her dog beds. But I was supremely miffed when she released on my side of my bed (this is NOT the way I want my spot warmed!).

Because she had already had the antibiotics to address any skin infection, I knew she didn’t have a UTI. Something else was going on. But could I do anything about it beyond cutting up shower curtains for bed liners? (What? They work great and it’s cheaper than pee pads.)

Back to the Internet I went. I knew this was a common problem in older females (dogs and humans!), but didn’t know how many different factors could be involved. After doing my usual obsessive analysis (mild OCD is helpful sometimes), I decided to try a couple of natural remedies that were given credence by some vets. And also vowed to let her out as late as possilble for that one last pee.

First up was apple cider vinegar. I added some to her dinner and crossed my fingers that 1) she would still eat it and 2) it would do some good.

No worries for the first part; she snarfed it just as fast as always. And I am relieved to report she hasn’t had an accident since I started adding the vinegar. However, after two weeks of treatment, though she was dry through the night, she was still doing a lot of “tidying up her downstairs,” as my British friend puts it.

So I went after the second remedy: powdered cornsilk. Apparently, it’s been used for a long time by different peoples for urinary stuff. And interesting to note, though corn is a common allergen for dogs, they haven’t shown a similar reaction to cornsilk.

I kept the vinegar going and added the cornsilk to her dinner, and crossed my fingers again.

Long story short, she still ate it and — drum roll — stopped over-attending to her personal area. She is not only dry overnight, but she is not dribbling.

Is she fixed forever? Of course not. But we have beat back the beast for now, and both of us are happy about that!

Told you it was a happy ending. 🙂

The review is in: My Tawny girl loooooves her home-cooked meals. I keep researching and experimenting with different foods to give her the best nutrition while making sure I minimize her exposure to allergens, especially the one that made her so sick: mold.

Imagine my horror when I opened up a new bag of her favorite chicken jerky (made in the USA) and found the entire contents covered in mold. I mean this stuff, normally an orange collar, was green. I looked at the second bag I bought; same deal, but not as obvious.

I returned them, and when asked if I wanted replacements, without even thinking I said no. I wondered how many more might have mold, how many I may have brought home with some amount of mold on them I didn’t notice. I couldn’t risk it. I walked out without anything for my dog to chew on. Again. I’d already been through this process several times eliminating just about every chewing option for one reason or another: too hard (antlers, bully sticks, regular Nyla bones); contains corn, wheat and/or soy (many composite/shaped things), too-big last pieces getting swallowed and thrown back up with blood on them (rawhide!).

The only option I had for Tawny were the sticks in the yard! She liked them and didn’t eat any of the pieces she broke off. Little hard to find one in the snow, though, and a little more mess than I’m willing to deal with in the house….

Aarrgh! Now what?

To the Internet, of course.

I found a recipe for making sweet potato chews. It went like this: slice and bake in low oven for several hours. Okay, so more like a procedure. Really easy, I thought. I’ll give it a whirl.

I should mention here that I know absolutely nothing about sweet potatoes, except that they’re not the same as yams. I don’t know the difference is. I’ve never cooked or eaten one. That orange stuff in the bowl with the marshmallow stuff on top? I don’t know which one that is; regardless, no way am I eating that.

I was stumped in the store because one sign said yams and another for the same bin said sweet potatoes. A kind fellow shopper informed me that the things in the bin were what I wanted, no matter the name, because we only have one kind on the U.S. I don’t remember which one. But I’m awfully grateful to the shopper; if not for her, I might still be standing there.

I also have learned that sweet potatoes are really hard to slice for three reasons: they are shaped funny, they are dense, and my knives stink. I ended up raiding my mom’s knives and finally found a serrated one that worked.

The “easy” cooking part was anything but because of the above slicing challenges and one additional one: I can’t cut straight. It’s a hand-eye coordination thing; it looked straight until I start slicing. My knife got stuck and I realized I was seriously off track. When I finally get a piece hacked off I tried to even it out by planing it like a door, which worked not at all. So uniformity did not happen. That meant a lot of different cooking times for one trayful. Since the goal here is to dry them out, I really had to keep an eye on them. Other parts of the learning curve caused me to toss a bunch that I burnt because I set the wrong temperature, and another batch was 86ed because I forgot to turn them halfway though.

Sooooo, not as easy as it seemed.

However, I am nothing if not determined — some might say stubborn, perhaps even pigheaded — and I have pretty well straightened out my system. I use parchment paper instead of foil so they don’t stick. If all the shininess is gone from the inside they are close to done. I have even gotten a little better at slicing. A little.

There are several upsides to doing this. It’s cheaper — much — to make my own. It makes my house smell nice.

The best thing, the most surprising thing, and the only thing that will ensure I will keep making them, is that Tawny loves them. I mean loves them. She takes them and runs off in absolute delight. How could I not keep cooking them up? I believe I have already established that I will do practically anything for my dogs to make their lives better. Goofy dog love!

Sweet potatoes. Who knew? What next?

Most people think they are good to their dogs, treat them well. Yeah, I used to think that too. Until I realized some things:

– There were times that I physically forced my dog to do things she didn’t want to do.
– There were times I was angry when I interacted with my dog, which may have frightened her, which led to a refusal, which made me more angry, which frightened her more.
– There were times when I did what “experts” told me to do even though I didn’t feel right about it. That included hitting.
– There were times when I yelled at my dog in anger and knew that he was frightened and got defensive. That made me angrier.
– There were times that I regretted later what I did to my dog earlier. I got her to “obey” but what did I really accomplish?
– There were times that I did things I regretted because I couldn’t think of anything else to do.
– There were times I did things I regretted because I was embarrassed by my dog’s behavior.

From those realizations came the commitment to do better. My dog deserved better. He deserved my respect. I knew I could do better. But I needed more information so I would know the right things to do.

So began the sea change that would reshape my life. The information I needed was out there. I just had to find it. It’s been an unending learning curve. But what I have today is a great base of kind techniques that work beautifully. But I’m not satisfied, so I keep digging. I keep asking, is this the best I can do? I’m sure not. So I keep digging.

Have you felt this way — the regrets, the guilt? No one’s listening. Be honest.

Okay, now listen up. You can change. You know you should. That’s why you don’t tell anyone what you’ve done.

You can. Your dog deserves it. So do you. You will hold your head higher, walk taller. And your dog will blossom. I have seen it over and over again, in my own dog and hundreds if others.

Do what I did. OWN IT. Then commit to changing it. You don’t have to make it your profession to make a huge improvement.

Want help? There are tons of stuff out there. Look at my sites, cp-hipdogs.com and trainedwithkindness.com. Use the Resources I’ve listed to bounce to other sites. Watch, listen, read. Ask tons of questions. Insist the experts, including me, explain themselves. Why are they doing what they’re doing? I can explain, in excruciating detail, why I do all the things I do. I do not accept the norm, and neither should you.

And please, please stop listening to your neighbors, your relatives, your local dog whisperers. Most of them are working off old, out-of-date information, heresay and anecdotes. Teaching dogs how to live in our world is a profession, not a hobby. Please give us our due. Most of us work very hard to give you and your dog the best service we can.

To sum it up, DO NOT SETTLE. “It’s good enough” IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH. I always want to say, “I’ve done everything I could.”

I don’t want any regrets.

Do you?

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