Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What a dog wants

Ever notice those dogs who will chase that ball till they drop?  How about those dogs who can grab the Frisbee in mid air.  Why is agility so popular?  Why do our dogs get so excited to do these things?  Any guesses.....?  If you stop and think about it, when you taught your dog to play fetch or how to run an agility course were you happy?  Were you supper excited and showed it when they brought the ball back to you?  The things that your dog tends to care the most about are the things that you were excited about and gave the most positive feedback for.  (Keep this in mind when you go to teach your dog anything, it will get you much farther if you use positive feedback more than negative, you will have a do who is much more enthusiastic to do what you are asking.)

For those who are still trying to teach their dogs how to play fetch here is a tutorial for ya! Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Adopting a dog vs. buying from a breeder

This is a happy looking bunch aren't they, what do you think they all have in common?  They all have been either at a shelter or rescued from a bad home situation.

I know a lot of breeders, and I know a lot of people who will only rescue dogs.  Is one bad and the other good as is often portrayed?  So often the breeder is villanised, and anyone who buys a puppy from them, while the person who rescues is looked upon as a saint. I personally don't see anything better or worse in either way of acquiring a dog or puppy, and let me tell you why.

It is true that there are many dogs that get adopted and end up living much better lives because they were able to find a family who they fit in better with.  The problem is that there are too many people finding themselves with mismatched dogs.

There are plenty of people out there who would like to own a dog and who don't or are not able to handle the puppy stage.  For people like that I suggest finding an adult dog that is up for adoption.  Another perk with adopting a dog is that a lot of times their personality is already known.  You know if they are shy, or outgoing.  Others will claim more, but honestly anything else comes down to how much time and work you put into your puppy in the first place.  If you want a dog that is good with kids, make sure your puppy has lots of positive experiences with lots of kids. Same with bikes, or men, or even cats.  Sometimes you get a shelter dog who doesn't have those issues, and that can also make life easier. Just because you can tell if the dog gets along with cats or doesn't chase bikes, don't think that a shelter dog has zero issues, most of the time they are there because someone else didn't do their job.  If they had they would not be so easily parted with their hard work.  Sometimes you can find a pet partner from the shelter who will only take a bit of extra training, and being older will the training will only take a few months vs a puppy taking year or more.

When you buy a puppy from a breeder, and you do it right, you should be off to a great start, you have a blank slate on which to create your own "best friend."  True, all dogs come with their own personality,  but if you go to work at the very start you can have a dog who, at one year of age can handle most situations, and should be able to handle being off leash (if you have really worked with your puppy).

Now all that being said, here is the main reason for this post.  I am very tired (as I am sure all of you are) at seeing so many dogs in shelters or posted up for adoption.  Now I know that sometimes things do happen that are out of our control, suddenly becoming disabled, or loosing your home and having very limited housing options.  The problem is that too many people get a dog and then loose interest in it far too quickly.  If we don't want to see the shelters filled to the brim with unwanted pets we need to make sure that  we and our children our educated and responsible.  Spaying and neutering our dogs does help a bit in reducing the amount of unwanted dogs in the shelters, but there is another half of the equation that does not get enough public spotlight.  There are too many people who should not be getting a dog in the first place.  There is a false demand for the dogs, and far to many people who buy or rescue them end up getting rid of them for all kinds of reasons.  

If you are young, going to collage, and don't know exactly what you will be doing, or where you will be living two or three years from now; or are a newly wed couple who want to start a family but aren't quite ready for children yet...please think really long and hard about whether or not you should be getting a dog.  If you have young children and they really want a dog, but you are not sold on the idea, or you think it is a good idea to give them some responsibility, please make sure you understand that you, as the parent, are the one who will ultimately end up being responsible.  Yes I agree pets are a great for children, and if I could do it I would make sure every child in the world had at least some kind of personal access to a dog or a cat. 

The thing is you see, the animal market responds to consumer demand just like anything else that is bought and sold.  The difference between the milk you buy at the grocery store, and the puppy you fall in love with is how long they last.  The fact that a dog lives, on average with good care, twelve to fourteen years means that you should have your life stable enough, or have enough commitment to stick by your new family addition for that amount of time.  I know things don't always go as planned, in fact they seldom do.  No one expected the sudden downturn of the economy and the loss of so many jobs, which meant many displace families, which meant for some sad reason, many displaced pets.  I understand that sometimes the money it takes to buy food for the pet your brought into your home sometimes seems to make or break the bottom line.  The thing is, most of the time, if we budget correctly we can make room for twenty five dollars a month that it takes to feed them.  If you don't think that you would keep your pet if you suddenly had to move or if something in life changes, please reconsider getting a one, much less a puppy.  If you must have a dog, look into getting an older dog, one that someone else was unable or unwilling to keep.  The problem with getting puppies, is not the puppies themselves (unless you get yours from a puppy mill, but that is a whole different discussion, one in which we all will agree on.) but our ability to see our future, and where this new puppy will fit in.

If you are the young newly wed couple, who don't think they are ready for kids yet, you both work full time, and you don't care for cats...you are a great candidate for the senior dog (ages 7 and up).  Most senior dogs tend to spend more time sleeping ( are not needing as much attention as a puppy), don't need as much food because they don't expend as much energy, and love simply being hanging out and sharing the love.  Be aware though that older dogs may have more health issues that mean you might be spending a bit on vet bills to keep your older dog as healthy as possible. 

 Don't think I am saying that people who aren't settled down should not get a dog, just consider your situation, and think about the stage of life you should be getting one at.  Consider what would happen if you suddenly lost your job, or had to move, what would happen then, don't wait till it happens and leave the mess to someone else to clean up, this is a life that you have taken upon yourself to look after and it should not be treated as lightly as it is so often treated.  

I also need to make mention that if you do decide to get a dog, young or old, understand that in order to have a good dog, you have to put quite a bit of work into making that happen.  If you can't commit to training on average 15 minutes of training a day with your dog, if not more if your have an older dog with issues, then don't get a dog at all.  Sure you can pay to have someone else train your dog, but that lessens the bond between you and your dog. Besides that your dog will may or may not stay "trained"once he his home with you because you have not put the time and effort into bonding with him.  You become the fair weather friend who only needs to be listened to when their is something to be gained, and since you don't have a base friendship to work from that will create problems of it's own.

Dog used to have a different role in our lives, they used to be the working partner, their job description was different.  Dogs used to be the farm animal, the "hired hand help."  Dogs were the "wild" animal that kids were allowed to keep because it helped the child, but few were allowed to live indoors with us, sleep on our beds with us, and heaven forbid, eat better food than we do!  Now a days their role is a bit different, they are there to make our lives whole.  They are a furry, intuitive best friend.  Many of us see them simply as our children with fur, yet we will fail to see how badly we treat them when we give them up or give up on them.  If you do need to find your dog a new home please take the time to find a good owner yourself.  Don't simply abandon your dog to a 3X5 chain link dog kennel, what will most likely end in his death, what a horrible way to treat such a friend.  Someone you have invited into your life, to be a friend and companion, yet when the tough gets going, you leave that same friend to live it's last days in terror.

Please be responsible, be reasonable, be resourceful, and above all be committed when you decide to make a furry addition to your house.  If you wouldn't take your child back to the hospital when things got rough, why would you think about getting rid of your dog in the same way. If you are unable to handle your dog because of the lack of training on your part, find a trainer to help your or locate a rescue, or simply put the dog down yourself.  If you are unable to stand the thought of doing any of those things, don't get the dog in the first place.  The animal shelter is there to help reunite a lost pet with it's owner, not for you to abandon your friend at.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Why positive works best

"If we can teach Killer Whales to pee in a cup, you can teach your dog without punishment." ~Ted Turner, Head trainer at Sea World

It all started back in the 60's when a woman named Karen Pryor was asked to see if she knew how to train a dolphin.  Her husband worked at the newly built research facility in Hawaii where they were trying to study the behaviors of wild marine mammals.  They had a problem however in getting the animals they were trying to study to work with them.  They had also wanted to train the animals to put on shows for people to pay money to watch to fund their research. The problem was the animals were not wanting to cooperate.  How did you go about training an animal that you couldn't punish?  The dolphins would starve themselves rather than give into any punishment form of training, and that rather defeated the purpose.  So that left them in a rather unique circumstance, you can't force a dolphin to do what you want, but how do you ask it to do something when you don't speak the same language?  

operant conditioning
n. Psychology
A process of behavior modification in which the likelihood of a specific behavior is increased or decreased through positive or negative reinforcement each time the behavior is exhibited, so that the subject comes to associate the pleasure or displeasure of the reinforcement with the behavior.  thefreedicitionary.com

Karen started using a marker to indicate there was a reward coming after they did something she wanted.  At first it was swimming from one end of the tank to the next, then they placed a rope across the pool so they had to swim over the rope to get to the other end where their reward was. Gradually the rope was raised, and instead of blowing the whistle (which was her marker) after they had jumped over the rope, she stared blowing as they were over the rope. That gave the dolphins the information they needed to continue receiving their yummy reward.  The dolphins understood that only when the whistle was blown would they receive their treat, so by blowing it when they were up in the air, it changed the criteria for what they they had to do to get their fish.  Thus "clicker training" was born.  Karen used this new concept to then train horses, a crab, and even a fish. Now it is widely used to train everything and everyone, from golfers and gymnasts( they call it TAG training), to service animal and zoo animals.

So if you think that your dog is too stubborn, or not smart enough tell that to the tiger and the goldfish, both of whom have been trained using this method.

Clicker training establishes trust and a good work ethic between two beings who may or may not have very much in common.  You can teach your dog that it is in his best interest to not run out the open door the same way the zookeepers teach a several ton elephant that it needs to hold it's ear out for a blood draw.  That elephant did not start out thinking that that poke on it's sensitive ear is the most fun it has ever had, just as your dog doesn't think that sitting for you and not chasing that squirrel across the street is the most fun at first either.  However just as we teach our dogs that catching a Frisbee or a ball, then bringing it back to us and dropping it at our feet is fun, so too can we teach them that coming when called or letting other people pet them is fun as well.  Don't forget that enthusiasm is catchy, and one of the best spread things around!