I’ve recently adopted a shelter dog. She is just over one year old. The first evening I had her she defecated in my house 3 times! Luckily, we seem to have the house training under control. At first I kept her in a crate whenever I wasn’t home. I have two mini dachshunds and they are confined to one room while I’m at work. I felt bad leaving Lucy in a crate all day, so I decided to allow her to spend the day in the room with my doxies. Nothing bad happened, I THOUGHT! Well, Lucy had chewed a hole in a quilt that I had on the love seat. I moved that quilt thinking maybe it had a dog smell on it or something. But, then she chewed a hole in the quilt that covers the love seat. Then I discovered that she chewed holes in my dogs snuggle beds that are on top of another sofa. Okay, back in the crate for Lucy. She gets up on my bed occasionally but I pull back my comforter and cover it with my sheet so she doesn’t get the comforter (which is white) dirty. I always fold my pj’s and lay them on top of the comforter and guess what? She chewed a hole in them! What should I do? Should I somehow discipline her not to be on the sofa at all? She also chews on the bedding in the crate. She’s a very sweet dog and very smart, but I’m not sure what to do about the chewing. She also likes to sit on the back of the sofa in the living room where she can look out the window. What do you suggest?
It’s common for a dog to need some adjusting time when first entering a new home with a new family. In this period of adjustment, you can expect some nervous behaviors to occur, such as the defecation inside, which you fortunately have under control now. Focus on creating a safe place, such as a crate, for Lucy to know is hers and understand that nothing bad will happen to her there. This will help ease the transition into her new home, and you do not need to feel guilty at all for keeping her in her crate when you are not home. In fact, I strongly recommend you keep her crated during times you cannot supervise her. Cover the crate with a blanket (not one that has stuffing in it that she can pull through the crate openings and chew apart) to make it feel cozier, and put a long-lasting, safe treat in there, such as a fun-filled Kong. Keep the crate in a place where there isn’t much foot-traffic and where the other dogs can’t come find her and taunt her.
So now moving on to the chewing problem… Lucy has given you some very important information: She likes to chew and will chew anything she can get a hold of. She may be chewing out of boredom or nervousness, but despite the reason, there are several solutions. First, it’s important to realize that she’s not being a “bad dog” on purpose and so disciplining her would not do any good nor would it teach her anything. She’s simply communicating with you that she needs something to chew on.
The first part of the solution is going to be managing the environment and the situation. Do not put any bedding in her crate that she will chew on, especially if she’s ingesting what she chews. You may want to use an indestructible crate liner, such as Kong’s Durable Crate Pad (http://www.petsmart.com/product/index.jsp?productId=12089267) so that she has some cushioning. When she is in her crate, give her a safe and durable chew toy. Kong makes great fillable toys; the trick is knowing how to fill them in a way that your dog will love. I recommend putting some of her favorite hard treats in them, filling the remainder with sweet potato or chicken flavored baby food, and then sticking it in the freezer before giving it to Lucy. Make sure a couple biscuits are sticking out of the end so that she doesn’t get discouraged from the get-go. Another one of my favorite chew toys, which last seemingly forever, is the StarMark Everlasting Treat Ball (http://www.petsmart.com/product/index.jsp?productId=2750985). You can put kibble or hard treats in the middle of the toy, and then it comes with two flavored edible discs that cap the ends. I’ve found these can keep dogs occupied for hours and is made from very durable materials. Do not leave her alone with any of these toys until you’ve seen that she cannot tear them apart or choke on any small pieces.
Keep her crated when you can’t supervise her, and when she is let out of the crate, give her more appropriate chew toys. Go for the toys that have a tough exterior instead of plush toys that she can easily tear apart. Put away every household item she could potentially chew on, such as blankets and pillows, and give her something else to chew instead. If you can’t remove the blankets and pillows, close off access to those areas of the house with a gate or by shutting the door. The key is to always have something available to her that is appropriate to chew on.
Sometimes when we think our dog isn’t interested in a certain toy, it’s really just because we haven’t made it interesting for them. Some dogs are much more interested in playing with their toys if their human is using it to play with them instead of just leaving it out for them to play on their own. So find some good tug toys and make the playing interactive. (Playing tug is also a great opportunity to teach “Drop It,” since teaching opposing cues can reinforce each other).
Aside from closing off access to household items and giving her appropriate chew toys instead, you can help alleviate her boredom by training her. Spending 10 minutes at a time positively training behaviors like “Sit” or “Target” can not only be fun for your dog, but mentally exhausting. One of the great things about positive reinforcement training is that it encourages dogs to think on their own to achieve the desired results. Play some shaping games, such as shaping her to knock over a small traffic cone, to get the gears in her head turning. This type of training can provide mental exercise for dogs which physically tires them out so that they are less likely to do other things, like chewing your blankets.
With the right chew toys and some management of the environment (i.e. closing off access to beds, putting away blankets, etc.), you can satisfy Lucy’s need to chew while keeping her safe and happy.
The Canine Clique
Informational cues differ from what we think of as a standard cue such as “sit” or “lay down” in that your dog does not have to perform any behavior when the cue is given. Instead, informational cues serve to let your dog know that something is going to happen to him or around him and there is no need to be scared or worried. We teach informational cues by choosing a word to let your dog know what is going to happen and then pair the event with something he enjoys, like a treat. By pairing the cue and the event with a treat, we can then shape his view of the coming event into a positive outlook. Here are three simple informational cues that can help your dog view potentially scary events in a positive light.
Lift: This one works for small dogs who gets picked up and carried a lot. The world can easily look very scary from a height that is five times your own. Let your dog know that you are intending to lift him by first choosing a verbal cue such as “lift” or “up-up” and then reaching toward him as if you were going to pick him up, then give them a treat. Practice this until you are eventually lifting him off the ground in increments until you are fully standing up with your dog in hand.
Touching of the Body: Some dogs are easily startled when touched by hand, especially if they don’t see the contact coming. Add a verbal cue such as “Got You!” or “Touching” to let him know that he should expect to feel your hand somewhere on his body. Give the verbal cue and reach toward him, then deliver a treat. Work toward being able to touch his fur with your fingers after he hears the cue. Practice touching various parts of his body for a treat. Eventually he will expect a human touch somewhere and will be ready for the contact.
What’s That?: This is a fun game to play with your dog that will help him deal with unexpected occurrences in the world later. Practice showing your dog various items he may not have seen before. Say the verbal cue “What’s That?” and reveal the item from behind your back. When he looks at the item click and treat him for being brave enough to make eye contact. Practice the “What’s That?” game with both visual and audible items. By practicing this over time, you can use the cue to let him know when something he may not expect is going to happen such as a bike rider whipping by him or prior to a noise like a vacuum or an aerosol can.
These cues are extremely helpful to avoid associating fear with unknown or possibly scary situations that your dog may not have experienced or may be uncomfortable with. Letting him know what to expect, and then pairing those outcomes with something he enjoys will only help when a real life situation presents itself. Examine the informational cues you may have already taught your dog and let us know some other great examples!
Chances are you’ve probably already trained your dog to do a hundred things and you don’t even know it. If you pick up the leash, does your dog come to you expecting a walk? When you go to bed, does your dog lay down in his bed, too? When your doorbell rings, does your dog bark? When you are preparing your dog’s dinner, does he come to you in anticipation? Picking up the leash, going to bed, ringing the doorbell, and preparing his dinner are all cues, meaning these things cue your dog to perform a specific behavior.
Dogs are learning all the time, responding to your unintentional cues whether you know it or not. Here are five things you can train your dog to do simply by bringing awareness to and/or naming the cues you are already giving your dog:
- Teach your dog to go inside on cue. Every time you come back inside from a walk, say “inside!” right before you step inside, and praise your dog once he’s inside. Doing this every time you and your dog return will teach your dog that when you say “inside” it’s time to go in. Once your dog learns what “inside” means, if your dog should accidentally get off leash while outside, say “inside” and you just might see magic happen when your dog willingly returns inside on cue.
- Teach your dog the names of his favorite toys. Every time you give your dog a toy to play with, say the name of the toy, then give it to him. This constant association between name and object will eventually start to sink in and you’ll see your dog start to pay attention next time you name one of his toys.
- Teach your dog that quiet behavior is favorable over barking behavior. When your dog is barking at something, wait until he’s quiet, and then reward him with praise and attention. He might very well go back to barking, but once he understands that every time he stops he gets rewarded from you, you will see a change in behavior. Most likely, he will then bark for shorter periods of time, then immediately come to you expecting praise and attention. Eventually, the barking behavior will diminish as your dog learns that coming to you is more rewarding. Just remember not to ignore the times he is quiet and giving you attention instead of barking.
- Teach your dog to stay off the couch (if that’s what you prefer). If you’re relaxing on the couch and your dog is relaxing on the floor close to you, praise him for being on the floor instead of the couch. He will learn that he doesn’t need to be on the couch with you to get the attention he is looking for, because being on the floor becomes just as rewarding. If this seems too obvious, you’d be surprised at how often we overlook our dog’s good quiet behavior by simply ignoring it
- Teach your dog to come to you on cue. Keep track of all the times your dog comes to you on his own. Maybe it’s when you get off the couch and are about to go upstairs. After you get off the couch, and right before you head up stairs (i.e. right before you know your dog is about to follow you), say the word “come.” Say “come” any time you notice your dog is about to come to you and eventually he will start to make the association between the verbal cue and behavior.
What other things have you taught your dog to do without realizing it?
Disclaimer: These are merely suggestions and we do not guarantee the success of your training from this small bit of advice.
Editor’s Note (8/30/2012): As of 9/1/2012, the Nature Nanny will no longer be servicing the Maryland area.
We have the privilege of knowing some great people in our line of business, and Kelli Rosenberg (aka “The Nature Nanny”) is certainly one of them. If you live in the Baltimore area and need a dog walker or pet sitter, there’s no one more attentive, caring, and nurturing as Kelli. We know this personally because she is Debbie’s own pet sitter and she doesn’t trust just anyone with her critters!
We wanted to know more about Kelli’s experiences with positive training, so we asked her a few questions and here’s what she had to say:
On your website, you say you “also [have] experience with positive reinforcement training methods and it is the only method used for her own animal companions as well as others people’s pets.” Please describe some of the experiences you’ve had with training.
I have three dogs of my own with very different personalities. I also have a parrot! All have benefited from positive training methodologies. I have attended numerous training classes with the Humane Society and at the Oriole Dog Training Club. Both utilized clicker training which I found worked quickly and effectively for my companion animals. I also learned from a trainer that without a clicker you can use a word as a marker which I also utilize A LOT. As soon as the animal performs the desired action I say “YES!” in an excited voice and smile. Works beautifully! I have also done a lot of research and reading on the topic: Karen Pryor, Pat Miller and Jean Donaldson to name a few.
You get to see lots of different pets, some of which I’m sure are trained traditionally, and others probably positively. What kinds of changes do you notice between dogs who have had one type of training over the other?
When I see a choker or prong collar I cringe! I have seen some things done with a choker collar that were shocking. I do not feel that fear and pain should ever be used in training an animal. Positively trained dogs, I notice, are very happy and trusting dogs! They have joie de vivre and offer well-mannered behaviors on their own all of the time. It is much better than seeing a dog that cowers from you if you move too fast or thinks it’s being punished when it’s crate time. That is really heartbreaking.
How do you incorporate positive training in your pet sitting services?
I incorporate positive training with all of my pet friends (unless the client requests otherwise of course)! It not only makes the animal happy to receive positive encouragement and treats, which they LOVE (ha-ha)! It also helps the human family to have a happy and well-behaved animal. I focus on leash-walking skills and sitting quietly while having their harness and/or leash put on.
What factors in your life led up to the start of the Nature Nanny business?
I have always loved and had a natural affinity with animals. My first job at 13 years old was in a dog kennel! After leaving Bark!, I knew I still wanted to be around animals, it is very rewarding and fulfilling for me to make a positive difference in animals lives. I decided to start my dog walking and pet sitting business. It felt like a natural progression from being in the natural pet food and supply industry to a solely positive service model.
What is most rewarding about your job now?
The most rewarding thing for me is making a positive contribution everyday in an animal’s life. When I see their eyes light up and their tail wag when they see me, that completely makes what I do rewarding and wonderful. I love what I do!
What makes you “earth-friendly?”
I only use certified biodegradable plant based poo bags that meet ASTM D6400 specifications. I use grain-free organic treats that are US sourced and made, preferably local whenever possible. I am an avid recycler of everything! I purchase carbon offsets for my travel. I use reusable tote bags. I compost and grow veggies! I Use compact fluorescent light bulbs in my home. I only use safe, non-toxic earth friendly cleaning products, including animal grooming products. I keep my cats indoors. I am a vegan. That’s all I can think of right now, there might be more!
What advice would you give to the average pet owner so that they can keep their pet happy and healthy?
Good nutrition, play, love and exercise! I would also recommend consistency. When positively training your dog always maintain consistency in what you ask. Make sure everyone in the household is doing the same thing. Animals like the security of routine and consistency, I think. They know what is being asked of them, which make them more confident and happy.
Please visit Kelli’s website, www.thenaturenanny.com, for more details on her services.
My dog won’t go to the bathroom in the rain or wind!! I can walk him for 10 minutes or an hour and he will not go to the bathroom. If I let him out in the backyard and I go outside with him, he will sit and look at me. If I let him out there without me, he will ram his head into the door until I let him in. Any suggestions on how to solve this issue?
Maggie is a very “Excited Dog” and I think she has separation anxiety. It starts when:
1. We leave the house and leave her home. She will bark & bark & bark, with some pacing in the backyard. But our neighbor says once I leave she stops barking.
2. When I leave her at a friend’s house for the day for a “Doggie Play Date.” I see her pacing again in the back yard. When I pick her up at the end of the day she does this “Excited barking scream.”
3. If my husband or I leave the car and she stays with one of us in the car. She will do the “Barking scream” like we are killing her.
I try to be calm when I leave. I offer her treats when I leave. I suggested to my husband that we take a day and just practice leaving and coming home. She gets walked every day, sometimes twice daily. Every night we play keep away with tennis balls for 30-45 min. So she has a lot of opportunities to get her energy out. What am I missing?
How do I get my dog, Sassy, to ALWAYS come to me when I call her to come?