Archive for the ‘Human Nature and Dogs’ Category

Real Deal on Dogs now CATCH Canine Trainers Academy

March 20, 2012

Hello Dog Lovers and Friends of the Real Deal on Dogs blog!

Great news.  The blog is back at my national school for aspiring dog trainers: CATCH Canine Trainers Academy.

As always, our blog will be filled with fun and fascinating dog insights, plus videos, photos and enough wisdom to make a Jack Russel stop chasing squirrels!  (Well, maybe not that much, but we’ll really do our best.)

Do not miss this wild video and post:  Would you let your dog play with a wild bear?  This video shows why you might.

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Shout Out of the Day – What’s Up Dads

June 18, 2010

Ok, I admit it, I’m a just bit biased because it’s about me, but I love this week’s article by Lisa Begin-Kruysman! It’s a Father’s Day piece about being a Dad to kids and dogs.  Thank you, Lisa, for being an enthusiastic fan of The Real Deal on Dogs. Everyone, check out Lisa’s Blog on Her Book About National Dog Week and this week’s article: NYC Dog Trainer knows “the real deal” on how a Family Dog can influence the Fathers of the Future.

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How Do I Get My Dog to Behave When I’m Not Home? Chiller the Couch Boy, Part 1

June 17, 2010

Here’s a great question that came up in recent conversations I’ve had with Real Deal readers on my Facebook page.  Dog owner Tracy wrote: 

What I want to know is  “how to teach my dog to still obey the rules when I’m not in the house.”  He would never go up on our formal living room couch if we were home, and apparently (from the warm seat and askew pillows) knows that the garage door opener sound means we are about to come in.

When it Comes to Snuggling or Snoozing - Dogs Can't Resist a Soft Couch


The Myth: My dog knows better than to do something “against the rules” when I’m not home.

The Real Deal: He doesn’t.  Your dog simply does what he has learned works best for him in the present moment.

Let me explain how Tracy’s dog appears to “know” he is wrong for being on the couch when no one is home, and how in fact he does NOT know.  Then I’ll tell you how to get your dog to stop “breaking the rules” when you walk out the door!

Let’s give Tracy’s dog a name to make this explanation easier.  We’ll call him “Chiller,” since he loves to chill on the couch (once they leave).  Tracy says Chiller would NEVER go up on their living room couch when they are home.  This means that anytime Chiller has tried to go on the couch when a person is present, he has been stopped or reprimanded in some way that he finds unpleasant (this does not have to be mean, just clear).  One way or another, the people of the household have gotten the message across to Chiller that it’s not worth the effort or comfort to get on the couch when people are home.  It is LESS FUN for Chiller to get on the couch than it is to find some other spot for his chillin’.  He knows this.  He has learned it through experience.  What exactly has he learned you ask?  Here’s the simple RULE in Chiller’s mind: 

Me on the Couch + People in the Room = NOT Fun for Me (so pick another spot)

Now, there’s something else that I’m willing to bet Chiller has learned.  I’m willing to bet that Chiller has learned that chillin’ on the couch is a sublimely comfortable experience. And I’m willing to bet he discovered this more than once.  This happened in one or all of the following ways:

  1. Some people in the house have let Chiller up on the couch sometimes. Sometimes even when they are present in the room.
  2. Chiller has gone on the couch on his own when no one is in the room.  On at least a few of these occasions, he was then reprimanded upon discovery.  However, this was after the fact (once he had already experienced how comfortable the couch was).
  3. Chiller was NEVER, ever, allowed on the couch, not even for one second.  BUT, he could not resist his natural desire to rest on soft, elevated surfaces so he tried it for the very first time when no one was home (this is the least likely of the three scenarios, but possible).

We can safely assume that one or more of the above scenarios took place.  It would only take one or two occurrences to create Tracy’s problem.  That is because once Chiller learns that sometimes being on the couch is enjoyable, the only thing left for him to figure out is: WHEN is lying on the couch enjoyable and WHEN does it suck?

Well, that’s easy for him to sort.  He tries going up on the couch at different times, in different situations.  After a few trials, he can plainly see that the couch is perfectly enjoyable when no one is around and it sucks when people are present (because they immediately kick him off).  He’s now got two SIMPLE Rules he can trust:

  1. Me on the Couch + People in the Room = NOT Fun for Me (pick another spot)
  2. Me on the Couch + NO ONE in the Room = Joyful Peace and Comfort (relax on the couch)

So, Chiller has learned that the couch is bliss when no one is around – Rule #2.  When he hears a signal that someone will come into the room (garage door) he follows Rule # 1.

Tracy, your smart dog IS obeying rules.  They’re the rules he’s learned from his own experiences.

Did he deviously strategize any of this?  No!  Is he a bad boy?  No!  Does he have spite?  No!   He just knows the simple rules above. He does what works for his happiness in the present moment. Just like every animal. Just like you and me.

~

In the next post I’ll tell you how to solve Tracy’s couch problem and prevent your dog from following different rules when you’re present vs. when you’re not.  Hint: The problem above comes from the fact that Chiller was given an opportunity to experience the joy of the couch – sometimes – and when no one was there to teach him otherwise.

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Don’t Ruin the Recall: Part 3 and a True Story That’s Tough to Take

June 10, 2010

First off, I’d like to sincerely thank everyone who has been joining in the training discussions via Facebook and Email.  I really appreciate each and every one of you who share your feedback.  And I love hearing about your training experiences with your own dogs.  It’s awesome to hear about the positive results you are getting as well as the common challenges that we all face in raising our beloved dogs.  (Dog trainers are not exempt from these challenges, trust me.)

For Part 3 today I want to give you a summary of everything I’ve taught in the past two days of posts.  This is the list of things you must know if you are going to have a dog who comes when called. So, drumroll, please… … Here are the indispensable, comprehensible, well-intentional…

Rules for Recalls

1. Never call your dog to come and then have it result in something she won’t like.
2. If you must expose your dog to something she won’t like – do NOT use any kind of recall cue before the unwanted event.  Just go get her instead.  Or do something fun in between!
3. During the early training phase when you are still teaching a recall, do NOT use your recall cue word UNLESS you are prepared to reward generously.
4. Do NOT use your recall word in situations where you know your dog will fail.  In other words, don’t start practicing this while your dog is in the middle of a euphoric chase with another dog or a squirrel.  You need to gradually work your way up to that level of distraction.  (If your dog hears the cue word over and over, all the while ignoring it, you will systematically desensitize her to the very word you are working hard to train.)
5. Use a SLACK long line at first when training so that if your dog ignores you, she CANNOT learn that ignoring you is more fun than listening to you.  (Example: You call your dog.  Your dog ignores you and chases a squirrel instead.  Outcome of ignoring is highly rewarding to her.  That’s not good for training.)  This rule is optional depending on your dog.  It’s very smart to adhere to it if you think there’s a chance you’ll get ignored and lose control of the situation.
6. Reward all recalls with FUN. This could be walks, rubs, toys, play, chase, treats, more freedom, etc – be creative!  This is especially important in early training.  Once your dog KNOWS that recalls are wonderful, the association with them will be so positive that running to you on cue will be one of her absolute favorite things to do.

"You called? I'm back!"

Now – sigh – a story about a recall that made my stomach turn.

It was just me, in shorts and a tee with a leash and a fluffy white Coton de Tulear at the end of it.  He was a pup named Grayson that had been a client of mine for over a year and his owner trusted me to take him out on my own.  We were doing a walk-and-train private lesson in Central Park.  It was the middle of a hot summer day, middle of the week, when most people are at work.  Nonetheless, the famous NYC park was living up to its billing, the paths and field abuzz with many characters.  From the joggers and disc tossers to the moms and their toddlers to the dog walkers and who-knows-what-nutters, if people-watching was your thing, this was the place to be.

Across the field, a guy in a wheelchair caught my eye because he had a Border Collie alongside him.  You don’t see many BCs in NYC.  The striking black-and-white coat stood out beautifully against the green grass and trees.  I watched them for a moment, nothing particularly interesting about them, so my eyes wandered away and back to Grayson at the end of my leash.  I put Grayson in a down-stay and was walking away from him, letting my long line drop on the ground when suddenly I heard firecrackers go off nearby.  BAM-BAM!  BAMMITTY-BAMMITTY-BAM!!!  I quickly reeled in the long line and brought Grayson beside me.  As I was doing that I saw something that made my mouth drop and my adrenaline spike.  “Oh, no,” I said aloud.

On a path across the field I could see that the firecrackers sent that Border Collie into a panic.  Her owner in the wheelchair had been holding her leash but the fear caused her to dart out in front of him so forcefully that the leash was yanked right out of his hand.  She was now a mad dash of black-and-white streaks  running frantically down the path and away from her owner in his chair.  The guy was pretty fast racing after her but he was no match for his dog.  She was heading my way when I noticed that several other people were tuned into the event and were thinking the same thing I was, “Help this poor man and GRAB THAT DOG.”

It quickly became clear, though, that this Border Collie had a serious fear of strangers.  Anyone who reached out to her only caused her to dart away in another direction.  I reached in my pocket and grabbed the cheese I had on me as a training reward.  I was thinking if she came close enough I would throw a bunch of cheese on the ground in her direction and make a dive for that leash that was trailing behind her.  But she never made it close enough to me.  All of her side-to-side dashing away from strangers gave her owner enough time to get within shouting distance of her.  And shouting he was.  I heard him yelling at her to come to him and I could see her ears pin back with fear when she heard that voice.  “Uh oh,”  I thought.  “He’s not the one we should all be pitying.”

The poor dog was now torn between fear of running away and fear of returning to her owner.  As the wheelchair crept closer and closer, she would trot further to maintain the distance, but then she would stop and cower whenever her owner would yell.   “Get over here, GET OVER HERE!”  I could hear him seething and his scowl was visible even from 50 yards away.  I frowned.  The situation was all too predictable at this point. Sadly, I watched it unfold just the way I knew it would.  The dog gradually stopped trotting further away and the wheelchair slowly closed the distance between them.  Once he got close enough, the yelling owner was able to freeze his dog in place by intimidating her with his anger.  Then, when he finally caught up to her he really let her have it.  He grabbed the leash and yanked it hard several times, “Don’t you EVER do that AGAIN!” he bellowed through clenched teeth.  The poor dog had her head hung so low I wanted to cry.

“You should’ve just kept running girl,” I thought.  I was sick to my stomach.  There was a strange mixture of emotions churning there: anger, sadness, disappointment, and shock – to think I initially felt bad for the man.  It took me several minutes of pacing and a few deep breaths to make the difficult decision NOT to intervene.  I wanted to be a protector for the dog and a teacher to the man.  There was a strong part of me that badly wanted to go over and have a talk with him.  To tell him it was plainly obvious why his dog would not come back to him.  That I knew exactly why he had to endure the embarrassment of chasing her around Central Park in front of dozens of shocked onlookers.  To tell him that she was scared, not disobedient.  To explain that he only made it worse for next time.  To tell him it was quite possible his dog hated him as much as she loved him.

But I decided this was not my place. Not here, not now.  The man and his dog were completely stressed out. I didn’t think he’d be open to any sort of listening or further embarrassment.  I figured the last thing he wanted was for some strange dog trainer to come over and start teaching him about a personal interaction he just had with his own dog, who he had to chase down from a wheelchair in public.  I let it be.

For the rest of the walk with Grayson, and for the rest of the day, I kept thinking back on whether I should have said something to that man.  Maybe I could have changed the way he interacted with his dog in the future.  Maybe I could have just given him my card and said “Let’s talk at a later time.”

I do believe that most people, even those who scold too much  – and at the wrong times – are more clueless than malicious when it comes to their dogs.  This guy was certainly clueless, to say the least.  If you were in the same situation, would you have gone up to him afterwards?  If so, what would you have said?

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Who is the Pack Leader – Defining Factor #3: Timing

May 26, 2010

This post can be found at the new CATCH Canine Trainers Academy blog!

Click here to read: Who is the Pack Leader – Defining Factor #3: Timing at CATCHDogTrainers.com

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Gone in a Flash

May 4, 2010

This post can be found at the new CATCH Canine Trainers Academy blog!

Click here to read: Gone in a Flash at CATCHDogTrainers.com

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A Dad’s Dream

April 22, 2010

If you are a father and a dog parent, it doesn’t get any better than this.  I love how my son, Isaac, is enjoying the food puzzle toy as much as my dog, Hazel, does.  Even better, I love that Hazel is being patient, respectful of Isaac’s space, and totally NON-possessive.  After all, this is her breakfast, and he did pick it up off the floor where she had it first.  You could understand if she tried to be a little more controlling in such a situation.  But she’s super chill.

Hazel is 8-months-old and I just adopted her from a shelter last week.  So I wasn’t the one who raised her during early puppyhood.  But, I’m SO THANKFUL to the family that did.  All I know is they had kids.  I’m willing to bet that the lovely scene in the video is a result of positive social experiences with children when Hazel was very, very young.

The tag-team breakfast game went on for a while, with Isaac intermittently shaking the toy and picking up kibble to feed Hazel.  It was a beautiful, peaceful, joyful interaction.  My first time as a dad experiencing kids and dogs in this way.  Wow.  Made my day.

~

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Primitive Instincts

April 21, 2010

The Myth: Your dog is smarter than you.

Here are common phrases I hear from dog owners:

“I’m telling you, this dog is really smart.”

“I want my dog to listen to what I say, but he’s smarter than me.”

“My dog knows better, she’s smarter than that.”

"Um, Ow. Yeah, I know, believe me, I feel even dumber than I look. It's hard to explain. I just couldn't help myself."

Okay, so maybe dogs aren’t THAT smart.

A dog trainer friend of mine was in upstate New York over the weekend.  She was deep in the woods with her dogs when she realized she hadn’t seen her retriever-malamute mix for a while.  She whistled a couple of times and he didn’t respond.

“That’s weird,” she thought, expecting his usually trustworthy recall.

Then her brother and boyfriend heard the sound of breaking twigs.  They all walked quickly in that direction to find the source.  As they got closer to the noise, there was the big golden dog, about 30 feet away, digging furiously at a hollowed log.  Pieces of soft bark were falling to the ground as his bear-like claws pounded the wood.  You could hear him sniffing obsessively as his nose burrowed into the log, inching closer to the mysterious treasure inside.  They all stood behind the big dog, wondering what he would find.  Then he raised his face and turned.  They saw the needles. Porcupine.

“Huhhhhhh,” they all inhaled big, with wide eyes and dropped jaws.

Scroll up and look at that picture again.  Needles in his muzzle, nose, nostrils, lips, tongue.  He’s lucky he didn’t get any in his eyes.  That is serious.  Porcupine needles aren’t poisonous but they aren’t easy to remove.  Let’s just say a dog can’t knock them out with a few swipes of the paw.  My friend had to bring her dog to the emergency vet where he was completely sedated.  Then they pulled out each quill, one by one.

I often wonder why some dogs are so stupid about this sort of thing.  I’ve heard many stories about dogs who have had this experience and then do it AGAIN.  Are you kidding me?  Again?  My own husky-shepherd mix used to get sprayed by skunks over and over and over.  Despite the fact that he would come back to me whining, wincing, and half-blind with his eyes and nose full of putrid stinging skunk-spray.  Dude – duh.

The Real Deal: When it comes to self-control, dogs can be pretty stupid.  Maybe oblivious is a better adjective.  Many dogs are guided by the instinctive hunting desire of their wolf ancestors, but they don’t have the thoughtful pursuit of prey that wolves do.  No control.  Just, “Yaaaaaa – there’s a CRITTER!   Yah!  Let’s get that f–ing critter, Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!”

Strong prey drive is a survival instinct for a wolf.  But many dogs did NOT inherit the other part of being a good hunter – thoughtful, prudent pursuit.  I see this kind of impulsiveness in other animals.  Survival instincts from the far distant past get blown out of proportion.  Like, with humans.  There was a time when our human ancestors needed to eat a lot of fat in order to survive harsh winters.  That doesn’t apply anymore.  But, many people still can’t say no to french fries at the drive-through or ice cream tubs in the freezer (me included on the ice cream).  Or even worse for some people, the most powerful instinct of all – SEX.  There was a time when a male human was hard-wired to spread his genes to as many females as possible, to be obsessed with sex.  That’s not as productive in modern times.  Just ask Tiger Woods.

Let’s face it.  It doesn’t matter what species you are.  Sometimes core instincts take over regardless of the big picture.  Primitive drives can be hard to control, even when acting on them is incredibly stupid.

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Read Part 2 of this story.

By the way…  If you or a friend have an interesting dog story to share, please email me about it.  It might be great for The Real Deal on Dogs.  Thanks. -David   davidmuriello@gmail.com

Sunshine on a Rainy Day (Hazel’s Story Part 3)

April 17, 2010

It’s dawn.  I hear the sweet sound of a Cardinal singing outside our window.  My heart leaps before my eyes even open.  A smile crosses my face as I remember.  For a few seconds I work on going back to sleep – slow, deep breaths – I want the sleeeeep, neeeed the sleeeep.  But I’m not going back to sleep.  I’m way too excited.  Every day is a gift but today is one of the special ones.  That way-too-cool-to-be-true-pointer-mix I’ve been telling you about, she’s gonna become a member of our family today.  The one who takes a treat from my child’s fingers as gently as a butterfly lands on a flower.  Her name is Hazel.

Somehow the man who had her on hold, who had the first option to take her before me – his wife opted out when the decision was on the line.  She brought the grandkids and everyone to meet the dog.  And they liked her a lot, saw how sweet she was and were keen on her smallish size.

Then the resident cat came out from behind a desk.  They saw our little pointer get a little too perky then.  I’ll tell you what they saw.  They saw a wild child kick in.  They saw her chase that kitty around the room in sporting-dog style, zig-zagging with moves like Michael Jordan gliding through an entire defense.  They must’ve imagined their own cats trying to stop Jordan.  They could hear Marv Albert calling the game in their heads, “Oh!  Slam dunk!  Michael Jordan is on FIRE!  OH!  Look at the moves, slicing through defenders with ease!  Oh!  MJ’s TOO-TOUGH-to-STOP!”

The wife started to look worried, nibbled her fingers, talked about her cats, voiced doubts, looked at the pointer pouncing around the room, and then back at her husband, “So you definitely haven’t found anyone with a Shih Tzu?”

That’s when the shelter manager dropped the guillotine, “I don’t think this is the dog for you,” she said, and sent them on their way.  I love that cat.

Let me tell you what I saw when I later watched Hazel interact with the cat.  I saw a super-playful adolescent with a lot of self control.  First she invited the cat to play, with lovely play-bows (butt in the air, front end down), with adorable side-shimmies, and with an excited bark that was low-pitched and not too loud (oh, so acceptable).  When she did chase the cat she always stopped a foot or two away from it, she never touched it.  I let Hazel keep going, wanted to see her get worked up.  Then came the best part.   As she was dancing around the cat, percolating in the predator game, I made myself heard.  “Hazel STOP.  Get over here.” I said firmly but not loud.  She ran right over to me and sat at my side.  Too good to be true.  I tested it again.  “Ok, go play with the cat,” I said.  She got back into it quickly.  Ran right to the spot she left off and started her predator play dance again.  Then I called her.  And again she came right away.  Just lovely.

Here is a video of how I began bonding with Hazel when we got home.  Play is the name of the game.  Look at how respectful she is of my space.

The people who had the first shot at this dog saw a feisty hunter getting wild over a cat.  I saw a playful 8-month-old with a lot of impulse control.  To each their own.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  And we all see differently.  It’s what makes life interesting.  I’m so grateful this dog lasted two weeks without anyone seeing what the shelter manager and I saw in her.

Now it seems kind of crazy for me to put it out there, to say I found a wonderful dog, a great fit,  just by spending a couple of half-hour sessions with her over two days.  Especially crazy to put it in writing here.  I mean, I could be wrong.  I could be eating my words right here on this blog in a few months if this dog turns out to reveal traits I’ve overlooked, or couldn’t see.  It’s quite possible, I assure you.  She’s certainly not going to be perfect.  There will be issues, of course.  For example she pulls on leash like a bat out of hell.  And she’s REALLY distracted outside.

But I feel as good as you can feel about our decision to adopt Hazel because I defined exactly what I wanted before going into this.  Then I did a thorough behavior evaluation.  Comp – re – hensive.  That’s how I roll (most of the time, anyway).  Is it dorky or cool to show up at the shelter with a clipboard and a checklist?  I say cool.  There is no place for self-consciousness in big life decisions.  I followed my behavior eval checklist with pride.  In the next post I’ll tell you exactly what I did to evaluate Hazel.  I know it will help you and many others to find a great match next time you are looking for a dog.

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Dogs Cast a Spell on Us (Hazel’s Story Part 1)

April 15, 2010

There is real evidence to support that dogs truly do have a natural power to connect with humans, draw them in, create a bond. But the science of that is for another day. I’m running out the door to visit a shelter. I just hung up with a woman there who told me she has a dog that could be a great fit for my family. A medium-small yellow lab-pointer mix with a super sweet disposition.  A persona that might fit right in with my 20-month old son.  The description SOUNDS great but I have to see her and do my own eval.  Which I will right after I speed over there in my car.  This is one of the very first rescue dogs I am looking at.  I should be very practical and calm right now, but I’m not.  I’m excited, wide-eyed, and hopeful.  A pro trainer shouldn’t be this vulnerable.  But I’m human.

Read Hazel’s Story, Part 2