The Power of Silly!

The coolest thing about my job as a dog trainer is that every dog is different. There are those dogs that the usual routine doesn’t work for. Then we have to get creative. Some of those challenging canine pupils have helped remind me that sometimes, you just have to get silly.

Most pet owners quickly realize that their emotions are contagious. This can make changing behavior and training challenging for a new dog owner who is confused about the technique – now both dog and owner are confused. Fortunately, once you become aware of this, the solution is simple, blow it off and act silly. Laugh, be happy, training a dog isn’t a chore. Change gears, make funny noises, sing a goofy song. I promise, your dog won’t think less of you.

Acting silly can be especially helpful for fearful dogs, or for convincing dogs that hey, this really is a fun thing to do. With puppies, acting silly is a great way to build confidence and get your puppy to follow you around. It’s easy, in an enclosed space, use a happy tone of voice and encourage your puppy to follow you around.

You do not have to be super loud, crazy or hectic to be silly. You just need to convey happiness, fun and joy to your dog. Your version of silly may not look the same as the other person’s and that’s ok. The important piece is whether you feel happy and your dog feels it too.

For some people acting silly can actually be hard. Set yourself up to be relaxed when you practice if this is the case. Realize you probably won’t master this in training class or a public venue so practice it at home. Think funny thoughts, do funny things and go with it. You really need to feel happy as you do it. May be using a fun dog toy will help you get into it. Dogs are masters at reading our emotions! I know this sounds goofy but this is an important skill. All the great dog trainers I know of are naturals at silliness and they can do it anytime, anywhere. You’ll see silly playful behavior at many competitive venues by top performers – often just a few minutes before they get in the ring and right after.

Now am I saying acting silly is all it takes to fix hard core issues, absolutely not, but it can make a big difference. Also all too often, silliness is completely forgotten about…and what’s the fun in working with your dog if you aren’t actually having fun!

 

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100% Reliable

Every so often I’ll have a new client request that they would like their dog to be trained so he listens to them “all of the time.” Usually they don’t really mean that literally, they mean they want their dog to respond more reliably. Often they have a teenage dog that is behaving in a bit of an annoying way and they would like their dog to improve. However, sometimes the owner really wants their dog to do something all of the time. For instance, come when called off leash 100% of the time. This is where my job becomes harder.

I’ve trained dogs to really, really high levels. I’ve trained service dogs for people with various types of disabilities, I currently compete with my dogs in rally obedience and I’ve competed in AKC obedience as well and scored very well (first place ribbons are pinned up around my office). I deeply love my dogs, and work with them nearly every day. They are super highly trained –but in spite of all this, I would not claim that they would respond 100% of the time to a particular cue. Why? Well, because they are dogs, not machines.

Here’s the reality, even highly trained dogs are not infallible. This is why there have been legal questions about the use of narcotic detection dogs, and even a few news stories about bomb sniffing dog errors and occasional false alarms. I am not saying that working dogs are not wonderful at these jobs, but just like people who may be wonderful at jobs they are trained to do, occasional mistakes can happen.

Does this mean that a pet dog cannot be trained to be amazingly obedient, of course not. Simply put, we need to be realistic. We can’t expect a dog to live up to a standard that we, ourselves, could not live up to.

Ultimately, while great training is impressive, developing a great relationship is even more impressive and it involves more than just training. A great relationship requires understanding and being empathetic to what your dog feels, needs and wants too.

 

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Enjoying your Wild and Wacky Teenage Dog

Do you remember what it was like to be a teenager? I’m sure you can think of many times when your parents thought (or even said) “I never thought you would ever do anything like that!” In thinking back on my teenage years, I really hope no one holds some of the things I said and did against me permanently – especially some of my 80′s hairstyle and fashion choices.

Just as our teenage period is both fun, wacky, awkward and sometimes just plain old “yeesh!” this is true for our canine companions as well. The one really nice part when it comes to dog ownership, is that unlike for human parents who deal with their children’s adolescence for years, for dog owners this all happens comparatively quickly.

Individual dogs mature at different rates but for most dogs, they are “teenagers” at about 5-6 months and fully mature close to age 3. I can hear my clients with teenage dogs gasping –”is it really that long?” Well, yes and no. The toughest part for most pet owners is right around that one year mark. And many times, by 1 1/2 the most challenging period is over. But each dog is an individual so these time periods are generalizations. I’ve certainly met canine “late bloomers.”

For teenage dogs, just like their human counterparts, adolescence is a time of experimentation. Teenage dogs often push buttons, may seem to have “forgotten” their previous training, and often exhibit new behaviors like jumping up. Statements that start with the phrase “my dog would never” are almost always proven incorrect during adolescence so do use your crate, leash, baby gates and supervise your teenage dog or be prepared to replace that expensive rug.

“Doesn’t he know better by now?” my clients often ask. Short answer, “no.” It really is the owner’s responsibility to manage their dog safely and prevent unwanted behaviors, or those annoying behaviors will become life long bad habits. And absolutely, training is very important during adolescence. Just remember to be patient, realistic and understanding. You will want to keep your practice sessions short and fun. Provide lots of outlets for your dog’s energy and be ready to go back and do refreshers on the basics.

Now, lest I put a total damper on dog ownership, I have to say more and more I’m completely loving teenage dogs. It’s important to enjoy this period. Have a sense of humor about it. Yes, it might be embarrassing  to have the dog you worked so hard training completely blow off a basic like “sit” in front of visitors. But one day, when your teenage dog is an elderly senior dog who has an unsteady gait, you will remember the days when he would leap and bound and decorate your work clothes with muddy paw prints and you will smile.  Just as your dog became an adolescence surprisingly quickly, dogs become seniors much faster than we want them to too.

Enjoy your canine wild child this New Year!

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A Barking Nuisance

Fairfax County is adopting a new sound ordinance that impacts pet owners. Barking is normal dog behavior, but excessive barking can be a nuisance and may create problems with neighbors. There are a number of strategies that can help keep the peace:

1. Supervise your dog if you leave him in your yard. Yards in Northern Virginia are simply not large enough-and the sound of a bark will carry. There are lots of other reasons to supervise your dog when he’s outdoors including for his safety but in terms of barking, supervision allows you to redirect your dog and interrupt unwanted barking.

2. Provide interesting activities for your dog to do in your yard. Set up some agility obstacles for fun, hide toys and treats, rotate the toys you leave available.

3. Block your dog’s view of the street and passers by if possible.

4. Use tools that help dogs be calmer and quieter. A body wrap such as a Thundershirt may help some dogs be quieter. Soft classical music may also help.

5. Exercise your dog, the cliche about tired dogs also can apply to barking.

6. Examine why your dog is barking. Is he tired? Stressed? Anxious? Frustrated? Some dogs are just more likely to bark than others but sometimes there are underlying reasons. If your dog has a behavior problem, separation anxiety or another issue, find a qualified behavior consultant to fully address the underlying cause.

I empathize with people who complain to me about barking dogs. I have three collies – a breed known for being vocal. I do not just use one strategy to keep the barking to a minimum. I find I often have to do a combination of providing exercise, rotating toys, supervising my dogs and interrupting them and bringing them back indoors if they bark. I also manage indoor barking by closing shutters and blinds to windows if there is a lot of activity in my neighborhood.

Notice one thing I do not do–I do not resort to an electronic bark collar. There are behavioral risks of using collars like this and having lived with multiple members of a very “barky” breed for well over 15 years now, I’ve always found other, gentle, less risky and effective ways to manage barking.

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Welcome Home!

Woohoo! You are so excited and happy, you just adopted a new dog! Time to celebrate, throw a party, take your dog out on the town to meet all of your friends right? Wait–not so fast. Getting a new dog is so exciting and your friends and family are sure to want to meet him. However, the period of transition to a new environment is really hard for the dog. Even if your dog is coming from a “bad” situation into a wonderful new home with you – he doesn’t speak English. Your dog has no idea what’s going on and just knows his living situation has changed dramatically. Take it slow! You will find that your dog’s behavior changes quite a bit over the first few months after adopting him/her. Here are a few quick tips for those first weeks with your new pet:

1. Don’t assume anything about your new dog. Yep, nothing. You are still getting to know your dog and he’s still getting to know you. Even if your dog came from a foster home where they told you that he loved all the other dogs and was house trained this does not mean that these behaviors will automatically transfer over to your home. I get calls all the time when new adopters tell us, “why does this dog growl at other dogs when he loved dogs in foster care?”  There are many reasons why this might happen but the simple reality is that takes time for a dog to show it’s true temperament and personality. Most rescue organizations do not have the resources to have dogs temperament tested by a qualified and experienced behavior professional. Even if the dog has been temperament tested, no one can guarantee that the temperament observed in the challenging shelter environment will hold up over time.

2. Keep things low stress and low key. Complex environments and situations (i.e. lots of people, traffic, animals) are stressful for most dogs. For the first few days in your home keep routines simple. For instance, try a walk in a quiet park or play in a fenced in backyard, just one or two visitors. Take safety precautions, we receive many phone calls when the new dog slips out the yard or front door the first day or week after being adopted.

3. Incorporate strategies that help dogs relax. Soft classical music, the scent of lavender, long lasting chews or dog toys that can be filled with dog food (i.e. KONG) may help some animals relax.

4. Supervise. Take your dog outdoors to relieve himself/herself very frequently. Do not assume your dog knows not to chew up furniture or not to house soil. Prevent problems rather than react to them. Your dog is under stress from the transition to a new environment and is still learning to trust. Yelling and getting angry are never good training strategies but can certainly do lasting damage to a relationship with a dog that is still getting to know you.

5. Create a warm, supportive and relaxed home environment. Yes, dogs do pick up on the emotions of people around them.

Many times adopters call me and share with me their plans for their new dog. They want it to become a therapy dog, an agility dog or visit the local dog park. It’s great to be excited about your future with your new dog, but keep in mind that your dog may have different ideas for what he/she enjoys. Not all dogs enjoy interacting with lots of unfamiliar people, running up and down obstacles or playing with unfamiliar dogs. It’s much better to view your first weeks with your new dog as an exciting opportunity to learn about what your dog would really enjoy doing.  Respecting your dog’s needs is a surefire way to start building a terrific relationship with your new dog.

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Teaching Your Child How to Behave Around Dogs

When I grew up, most of my friends had extensive experience around animals. I didn’t grow up on a farm, I was in a suburban setting. However, there were often stray dogs and loose dogs, we walked to school and encountered dogs on a regular basis. We all knew what to do. I never remember seeing a child try to touch a growling dog or even approach a stray. I also never saw children running away from animals nor did I see children squeal excitedly at the sight of an animal. We all knew it was important to be calm around dogs. Yes, bites did happen but adult’s reactions to them were also different. People would simply say “dogs are dogs” or scold the child “I told you not to mess with that dog!”

Times have changed dramatically! Now expectations for dogs are extremely high and often unrealistic. Some people think dogs should tolerate behavior from children that no human would tolerate without becoming very angry. Even more challenging is that many children and adults have had limited experience around animals and do not know how to interpret animal behavior. I also see parents sometimes at a loss about how to effectively communicate to their child how to behave around the dog. As an elementary public school teacher, I worked with children with very diverse needs and behaviors for seven years. Here are a few tips from my classroom experience:

1. Set expectations up clearly immediately. If you are adding a dog/puppy to the home, conversations about how to behave around that dog/puppy need to happen before the dog/puppy arrives. A new dog/puppy is a living sentient being, that will be under stress from the transition to the new living environment and will need quiet and calm in the new home.

2. Please do not surprise the kids by suddenly showing up with a new puppy. That might be fun for you but will create too much excitement in the home and risks scaring or over-exciting the puppy. Also it sends the message to the children that the puppy is an object for their entertainment – not a living being with important needs. Instead get a large box and gift wrap a leash, collar, training book and food bowl and surprise the kids with the news that a new dog/puppy will be joining the family in a few weeks. This allows you to prepare your children and home for a calm reception for the new arrival and sends a message that a puppy is a living being that has needs everyone in the family will take time to learn about and respect.

3. Emphasize the importance of understanding, empathizing with and respecting the dog/puppy’s needs. Children need to wait for the dog and puppy to indicate that it wants to interact. No hugging/kissing dogs! Model this behavior yourself for instance say, “the puppy is taking a nap, I’m going to use a very quiet speaking voice and give him space to rest.”

4. Keep instructions simple and brief. The younger the child, the shorter instructions need to be. For instance: “Wait for Rover to come to you.”

5. Phrase things positively – instead of saying “do not run around Rover,” say “walk when you are near Rover”

6. Use multiple modes of learning to help children learn how to behave around the dog. Have children repeat back to you expectations to ensure understanding. Write one or two reminders and post on the refrigerator. Or better yet, have your child create a poster with a short list of reminders on how to behave around the dog himself/herself. A young child could also draw a picture of himself/herself behaving appropriately around the dog/puppy. Role play challenging situations – take turns with one family member pretending to be the dog/puppy. The more different modes of learning you incorporate, the more likely it is your child will remember!

7. Notice and praise when children are doing the right thing. If your children are calmly ignoring the dog/puppy as they arrive home from school and focusing on their homework, notice that and praise them.

8. Plan and set up the environment to prevent difficult to control situations. Have leashes, chews, crates and tethers ready and easily accessible. Also guide your child on how to behave pro-actively. Anticipate challenges rather than waiting for a problem and reacting.

9. Remember lots of noise and movement agitates animals and triggers unwanted behaviors. Give kids and dogs breaks away from each other. Make sure the dog’s crate or confinement area is in a quiet part of the home away from lots of noise/activity so he gets enough sleep.

10. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Yep, trainers tell owners “say your cue one time only.” That’s right for dogs but for children the more you repeat your expectations the better.

If you have trouble controlling your child’s behavior, then for your child’s safety and for the dog/puppy’s welfare, address your child’s behavioral needs first, before bringing a dog or puppy home. Ask your child’s teacher, pediatrician, school guidance counselor or other qualified professional for support or local parenting resources if needed.

There are a number of resources online for parents and children that can help. Here are a few of my personal favorites:

Be a Tree Program – helpful information on dog behavior, reading dog body language and preventing bites to children

Living with Kids and Dogs – parenting information with guidance on dog training, managing the dog safely and much more

Family Paws - Dogs and Storks and Dog Baby Connection program for new parents

Doggone Crazy – Board game on dog behavior and body language for families and children

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Beyond the Dog Park

Dog trainers hate being the “bearer of bad news” but sometimes I find myself in the position of telling pet owners that their dog is just not the right fit for dog park play. There are many reasons this might be the case for instance:

1. The dog may show aggressive behavior to other dogs.

2. The dog may show aggression to people (there are people in the dog park too!)

3. The dog may be fearful and easily overwhelmed by the dog park environment.

4. The dog may be exhibiting some overexcited behavior around other dogs when on leash and the dog park visits may be contributing to this behavior.

5. The dog may be too small, delicate, and easily injured.

6. The dog may simply not be enjoying dog park visits.

7. The dog may be practicing bad manners at the dog park and may need more training.

Regardless of the reason, this really and truly is not bad news. Why, well simply put, there is a whole wide world outside of the dog park and many things to do. Here is a short list of dog park alternatives that, depending on your dog’s behavioral needs, may be appropriate for your dog:

1. Go on a hike, in Northern Virginia, there are many, many options for great hikes with your dog.

2. Use a long line, you can get long leashes of various lengths to give your dog more freedom in an open space. Of course be aware, if your long leash is very long, make sure you aren’t in a situation where you could lose control of your dog.

3. Go out on the town, there are many dog friendly shops and even outdoor dining areas. If your dog is well trained and calm when in close proximity with people and dogs, this may be fun for you and your dog.

4. Set up a play date with  a dog your dog interacts peacefully with.

5. Play games with your dogs, for instance fetch, or hide a toy, or teach your dog scent games by hiding treats in containers and letting your dog figure out where they are.

6. Massage your dog and relax together.

7. Set up an “at home” agility course and teach your dog to run it.

8. Train your dog a cool trick.

Think of something else fun to do? Please feel free to share and have fun exploring the big wide world outside of the dog park!

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Is it the right time to get a new dog?

Many times, clients approach me wanting to expand their canine family. This is a very personal decision and the circumstances of each situation have a huge impact on when it is the “right” time. However, there are some cases when it is better to wait before getting a new dog.

1. When you are having a new baby, it’s usually better to hold off on getting a new dog.  Parenting is a major life change and new parents are exhausted just meeting their babies’ needs. A canine family member will also be demanding of your time and energy.  While every child matures at a different rate, it is generally better to wait until the youngest child in the home is elementary school age before adding a new dog to the home.

2. When your current dog has a severe behavior problem such as separation anxiety or aggressive behavior, you need to fully address your current dog’s behavior problem first. Adding a new dog will bring its own set of challenges and the new dog’s behavior can be impacted by the behavior of the current dog in the home.  Sometimes people ask me if a dog with separation anxiety would be happier with another dog friend.  Most dogs with separation anxiety will not be calmer if there is another dog around. Infrequently, with some individual fearful dogs, another confident dog may help the fearful dog feel more comfortable. However, I’ve worked with many cases where people found that adding a dog to the home created more problems than it solved.

3. If your current dog is aggressive with other dogs he or she may be happier living without another dog in the home. However, depending on the severity of the dog’s aggressive behavior, the dog may be able to adjust or even enjoy living with certain individual dogs. Some dogs that show aggressive behavior to dogs are able to get along with some individual dogs if the match is made carefully and the dogs are introduced slowly. A skilled behavior consultant or trainer can help in providing guidance on whether this would be true for your dog.

4. If your current dog is young it is often better to hold off on getting another dog. I recommend waiting until the youngest dog in the home is no younger than 1 before adding another dog and it is even better to wait until the youngest dog is over 2 1/2. Simply put, young puppies need their owner’s time and focus. Raising young pups together can result in serious behavior challenges. Dogs become adolescents at around 6 months and their behavior can change significantly during this time period until they fully mature (around age 2-3). “Teenage” dogs, just like young puppies, require their owners’ time and energy.  It is better to focus on meeting your dog’s changing behavioral needs during adolescence to ensure that he develops into a well behaved adult dog.

Similarly it is important to think about whether you can truly meet your dog’s needs if you are adding a puppy when you already have a geriatric dog. Senior dogs who like to play with young puppies are the minority. Most older dogs like to play with their owners and prefer a quiet home environment. Imagine having a toddler move in with a 90 year old.  If you really want to add in a new dog when you have a senior dog in the home, plan ahead to make sure you are meeting your geriatric dog’s needs. I brought in Firefly when my dog, Phaser was geriatric. It was challenging and I kept them in separate areas of my home most of the time in order to allow Phaser plenty of quiet rest time.

5. If you have life circumstances that can make it difficult for you to meet a dog’s needs it is best to be realistic and hold off on getting a dog.  Jobs that require frequent relocations or travel, very long work hours and financial restrictions may all impact your ability to meet a dog’s needs.  Animal shelters are always looking for volunteers if you need a short term “dog fix” until your life circumstances allow you to be in a position to care for a dog.

If after giving your life situation a lot of careful thought, you’ve decided you are ready to meet the needs of a new dog, make sure you continue your careful research as you decide, just which dog is right for you.

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Dog Lawns

I love spring, it’s my favorite time of year with gorgeous cool days, flowers and beautiful weather to enjoy time with the dogs. And for the first time ever, I’m happy with my lawn. I’ve spent years experimenting with lawn products, constant reseeding and “pet urine repair” products to no avail. My lawn was always a mess of mud patches, bare patches and tons of crabgrass. So it has been an especially nice surprise for me to find my lawn actually looking pretty nice. It’s not perfect, there are a few areas in need of repair where my dogs decided to perfect their excavation skills. However, it’s much better than in years past and many of my clients are asking me questions about it, so I thought I would share what seems to be working.

My lawn, looking green and happy.

Last fall, we seeded our entire yard with a mixture of clover and grass – we literally just tossed it over our existing weedy and patchy lawn using a seed spreader. I had to buy the clover seed separately because it normally is considered a weed and we mixed it in with a bag of grass seed. I did a bit of research and learned that clover does not burn as easily as grass. The down side to clover is it also isn’t as tough in terms of handling trampling as grass so we opted to do a combination. The clover has made a huge difference. It looks great, and is handling the conditions in my backyard very well.

A close up of my clover/grass lawn

We mow once a week and keep it pretty high. We leave most of the clippings in the yard. That’s it for our lawn care. Now I’m not under any delusions, August will be the real test. Keeping fingers crossed that it holds up.  Happy spring everyone!

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Playing Fetch

Retrieve games are fun and an easy ways to exercise your dog. Frankly, it’s always nice if you have the flu or are just plain feeling lazy, to toss a ball to tire out your pooch instead of walking the dog yourself. Also, if your dog loves to play, you may be able to use fetch as a reward for training, so you’ll have more options to reward behaviors. Most dogs can learn to play fetch, but many pet owners aren’t sure quite how to start:

1. Many dogs nowadays spend more time indoors than outdoors, so the outdoors is full of excitement and distractions. It can be easier to start fetch games indoors. However, you may be able to start outdoors if you can find a quiet spot. I often start in a hallway and I close all doors and try to leave only one path for the dog to move. That way the dog is already set up to move in a pattern of bringing the toy back to me.

Video link – Puppy Firefly plays fetch

2. I personally try to avoid using food when working on retrieve games if at all possible. Sometimes food treats will distract the dog from the game, also I really want the game itself to be the reward. It’s hard to work away from using food to reward fetch after using food rewards. That said, if the dog has some issues with guarding – for instance, the dog plays keep away with the toy or clamps onto the toy and will not release, then food may be needed initially. If you do find yourself needing to use food, I suggest using the lowest value treat that the dog will work for (the dog’s own kibble if possible). Also try to move away from using the food reward as quickly as possible.

3. Do not leave your fetch toys out. Put them away, make them “extra special” so the dog only has access to them when you play. I use a variety of different toys for fetch, anything the dog really likes. I often will combine fetch and controlled tug games. Tug toys with a tennis ball at one end are great. You can often later transition to just a ball. I often use more than one toy in each session, switching off right in the middle of the game.

4. Keep your initial play sessions very brief. For some dogs it may be 2 or 3 tosses and then ending the game. Ideally you are ending the game before your dog wants to. Your dog will remember how much fun that was and be eager to start again the next time.

5. As with many things, fetch games are often easier to teach when you start with a young puppy, I usually start fetch games with my own pups as soon as I get them – yes at 8-10 weeks of age. That does not mean it is impossible to teach an older dog.

6. Act silly. High pitch, repetitive noises can get puppies to move. So for instance, saying “hurry, hurry, hurry!” or clapping as the puppy brings the toy back may help. Use your movement as well. For instance, toss the toy then as the pup starts to run back with it, start running away from the puppy yourself to build some distance.

7. If your pup plays tug, you can use that to encourage the pup to bring the toy back to you. Tug a little bit, then interrupt the tug game with a strong “sit” cue to prompt the dog to drop the toy and sit. Then toss the tug just a foot or two away. When the pup goes to get it, grab the end of the toy and prompt the pup to move towards you for another short tug game. As you repeat this process many dogs will start to move in that very same pattern. If your dog has trouble dropping tug toys or gets too excited by tug games to the point of not dropping the toy when you tell him to, or showing some unwanted “over the top” excited behavior, then your pup may need more training before trying this technique or this technique may not be appropriate. See this article on teaching your dog how to play controlled tug games.

8. I like having dogs give me the toy or ball right to my hand. First, it allows me to be even lazier when I exercise my dog since now I don’t even have to bend to get the toy. Secondly, I like to train my dogs to hand me their leashes and other items later on, and starting with the dog in a pattern of handing the ball to my hand makes this easier to teach. I simply start this by setting my puppy up to hand the toy to my hand. At the beginning I will make sure my hand is right there, ready to receive the toy under the pup’s mouth right when the pup approaches. When the pup gets better, I slowly make it a little harder by moving my hand away right as the pup is about to give it to me so the pup has to work a little harder to bring it right to my hand. I will not toss the toy until the pup hands it to me directly.

While I will sometimes interrupt the game with a command, such as a sit, or down and rewarding with a toy toss, I also am careful not to interrupt the game with too many commands. I really want this to be about having fun. Dogs that tend to get too excited may do better with more training interruptions than the dogs that are hard to motivate.

In a multiple dog household it is best to separate the dogs when you are teaching them how to play. Then when you try to play with more than one dog at the same time, do not let them steal from each other mid game – you may trigger a conflict or may end up with dogs playing with each other rather than with you. Or you could even end up having the dog that usually loses the toy lose interest in playing fetch entirely.  Each dog needs to play with the toy you throw for them. Any switching or stealing makes the game end for a few minutes for the dog that was “the thief.” This can get pretty tricky, as you may have to give verbal feedback from a distance. In my household Firefly and Louie used to try to “steal” the other dog’s toy. With a lot of practice Firefly has learned that the toy I give her is for her, and the one I’m throwing for Louie is for him to bring back. If it is hard to prevent the dogs from stealing or interfering in the game it is perfectly ok to confine the dogs you are not playing with.

Make sure fetch is not the only game you play with your dog. Some individual dogs may be prone to developing compulsive behaviors or may start to demand that you play with them to the point of becoming annoying. Other dogs may become a bit obsessed by the ball or other item you use for fetch games. Mixing up activities that your dog engages in on a daily basis, making sure you use a variety of different objects to play and making sure that you are initiating play sessions rather than responding to pushy behavior can help keep fetch games a healthy way to have fun with your dog. I start and end all the games at my house. When I say “all done” my dogs know I’m really done, I say it one time and it means the game is over and I put the toy away.

I’ve found that the majority of dogs are able to learn how to play fetch, but there are some individual dogs that really are not interested and may do better with other games or activities. Also fetch games are not appropriate if a dog gets so excited that the owner cannot control the dog, if the dog exhibits unsafe behaviors, or guarding behaviors like “keep away.” If this is the case, the owner to first needs to work on addressing these behaviors with a professional before trying to play fetch games.

Have fun playing with your dog!

Feel like taking your fetch games up to a competitive level? Check out the local disc dog club: http://www.aircanines.com/

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