Common Sense Dog Training (+ video)

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We interrupt the regularly scheduled blog post to bring you much wiser, much more insightful, and much more interesting content 😉 I began watching this and was instantly hooked. If only all dog owners would take the time to learn this information! Enjoy. I would love to hear your thoughts!

Safety First

We feel right in tune with our friends at Doggerel, because they wrote a great post last week that has been on our minds for a while. We want to know… how did you train your dogs to have a solid recall? Do you have any tips or tricks you could share with us? And what do you think contributes to a dog having a really solid or easy acquired recall?

Tonka has the most consistent recall of our group, and was also the easiest to train. He is a dog that doesn’t need much in the way of treats during a training session… he is happiest and most focused when his reward is just attention and praise. He is the dog that can be in hot pursuit of a rabbit, and still turn on a dime to come running if he hears his name being called. On top of that, he’d really rather never be out of sight range from his mama, so I never have to worry about our boy. Have I mentioned lately just how awesome he is? If not, let me remind you… we shared a photo last week of a water excursion.

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What we did not share was that we encountered a black snake in the water! Never in my 23 years of existence has this happened. Not only that, but it happened again this past weekend on our own farm! Both times, Tonka was within a few feet of the snake. Scary, right? Thanks to his strong recall, we were able to call him quickly to safety.

What scares me, is if it had been either of the other girls, the results may not have been so positive. I’m not sure if it’s because they were added to the pack later on (both later in their lives, and later as far as our multi-dog pack), or if it is because they are females, but they just really can’t seem to get the recall thing down. It doesn’t matter what treats we use, how excited we pretend to be, or how often we work on it… recall just isn’t their thing, even if they are both food-motivated! We feel like we have tried it all (the games, the treats, the works!) While Gaige is the more consistent of the two, sometimes her disobedience is just that… a nah-nah-na-booboo sass that she doesn’t wanna listen! As for Georgia, there’s no attitude, but I swear some days it’s like the girl just doesn’t hear us!  IMG_1459 IMG_1460 IMG_1461 IMG_1462 IMG_1463

So we wanna know… do you have a Top Secret training tip or idea that we could try? Maybe something that isn’t the run of the mill sit-stay-come-treat? We have faith in our readers! While we are responsible owners that leash our dogs when out in public or on public trails, we’d rather our girls not be relegated to on-leash living for the rest of their lives, or worse yet, experience a safety issue while roaming free. Because of that, we are open to any and all advice!

Ambassadog, Extraordinaire: Vivian Peyton

Because we exist to celebrate all things pit bull, we wanted to take a moment to talk about a special little dog that you may or may not have heard of (no, not Georgia!)

Photo courtesy of https://www.facebook.com/VivianPeytonDog?group_id=0

Photo courtesy of Vivian’s facebook page

Her name is Vivian Peyton, and her story is heart-warming. What we know of her past began at the Animal Care and Control facilities in Philadelphia, where she was rescued from a life that suggested a history as a bait dog. Her scars may bear witness to her past, but her heart is even more noteworthy. Thankfully, a special group called New Leash on Life USA saw that much in her, and pulled her as a student in their three month prison dog-training program, where inmates work to socialize and train the dogs in preparation for adoption. In this novel program, prisoners help dogs gain a second chance at life, both simultaneously working to redeem their reputations, all while learning from one another.

Upon graduation from the training program, Vivian Peyton was adopted by Michele Pich. Michele is a veterinary grief counselor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital, where she comforts grieving pet owners who are working to overcome the loss of their beloved family members. On her own time, Michele visits children at the Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia. Michele knew from their first meeting that Vivian Peyton would make a great partner in both of these endeavors, and so she worked to achieve further accomplishments with her. Vivian soon became a Penn Vet VetPets therapy dog, and soon thereafter passed her Therapy Dogs International (TDI) certification.

Vivan’s touch offers an opportunity for healing when it comes to grieving pet lovers at the veterinary hospital, who gain so much comfort in having an animal to hug. She also provides an outlet for children who are subjected to treatments and extended hospital stays. Her owner tells a special story, ” There was a little girl who, since she had some surgery, had some scars, and used to get picked on in school,” Pich says. “We used it as a teaching point to say Vivian used to get picked on by bullies, and even though she has some scars, she has been able to rise up beyond that.” The young girl took comfort from that, and was grateful to just be around Vivian.

Photo courtesy of Jack McMahon Jr.

Photo courtesy of Jack McMahon Jr.

For all of her contributions to her community, Vivian Peyton was recognized at the 2012 National Dog Show Presented by Purina, where the sweet little Staffordshire Terrier mix was honored as one of three Purina Therapy Dog Ambassadors. It is clear to anyone that Vivian Peyton is an amazing ambassador of the pit bull type dog, and we hope that her achievements will encourage others to give an unlucky shelter dog a chance to do something special.

Slone, Ernie. “A Champion for the Underdogs.” Dog Fancy. 01 Apr 2013: 24. Print.

 

Dogs and Dominance

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This graphic pretty much says it all, so I will try not to muddy up their message with excessive wordiness. However, I think it is important to convey that dominance is one of the most misused and misunderstood terms in the worlds of dog training and behavior.

Just as most individuals who are educated in dog behavior can recognize that displays of ‘aggression’ in dogs are often based in fear, the mentality that we must utilize dominance to train our dogs was also originally rooted in fear. After a study of wolves in captive that originated in the 1940’s, it was suggested that if owners did not ‘establish dominance’ then their dogs would physically harm them. However, these early wolf studies were seriously flawed, in a variety of ways. First, the animals were held in captivity, in small enclosures, which is obviously far from their natural environment. Further, the wolves came from varying packs, which created a group structure that was volatile and unnatural. According to one biologist, these studies would be relative to evaluations of human behavior carried out in concentration camps.

Furthermore, while scientists agree that dogs have evolved from wolves, observations of free-roaming dogs have shown them to be scavengers as opposed to predators. They often exist in solitary groups, as structured pack-life does not prove to be beneficial to them when it comes to sharing resources. Rather, they may form loose groups that fluctuate as animals come and go frequently and with random duration (hmmm, sounds kind of like life in a human home, doesn’t it?).

Most importantly, aggression in dogs rarely comes from issues with dominance. Rather, we see aggression in dogs due to any combination of factors that may include lack of proper and early socialization, pain or illness, mismanagement including lack of training and use of aversive methods, traumatic experiences, or genetic predisposition (poor breeding). Most commonly, we will see aggression in a dog that has a lack of confidence such as fear or anxiety. This lack of confidence may come from any of the above situations, but it is obvious that it would only be exacerbated by an owner or handler that manages their dog through intimidation or force, thereby damaging the dog’s confidence even further. Unfortunately, those who believe in a dominance hierarchy when it comes to training our dogs, feel that the best way to utilize this phenomenon is through the use of force.

The behaviors we see in our dogs, whether positive or negative, are a result of the dog having found what ‘works’ for them. For example, a dog will jump up on a person not because they are being dominant, but because it is a natural greeting, where they are then rewarded by what they perceive to be attention and play-time… if you wave your hands at a jumping dog and ‘bark’ back at them, this mimics play and gives the dog attention. However, by ignoring the behavior, you are not providing any reward, which will cause the dog to eventually extinguish the behavior. If you can also teach the dog the proper way to greet people, and reward them for it, you are going even further as a responsible owner.

Our dogs recognize us as being different from other dogs. While we can gather clues from dog behavior by watching the way they interact with one another, the relationship we share with our dogs is so unique… after all, isn’t that one thing that we love most about it?

From personal experience, most of you know that Georgia came to us a nervous and fearful dog. She did not interact well with other dogs or with new people. However, by creating a structured environment for her, as well as slowly introducing her to situations where she could gain confidence at low thresholds of exposure, she has become a confident dog that thrives on the companionship of adults, children, dogs, and cats. I shudder to think what may have become of her if I had taken popular advice of utilizing force-based training or even just eradicated her exposure to other animals. Georgia is one of my greatest accomplishments, and her presence in our home is a favorite part of our lives. We are so glad that we did not fall victim to the myths of dominance, and we hope that you can say the same!

Catching Flies…

As pit bull advocates, we often find ourselves in a position where we need to stand up for the dogs we have come to know, and thereby, come to love. In fact, this can be true for many things in life. When we have a passion for something, be it political stances, social policies, child welfare, or religion, we are occasionally thrown into situations where our loyalty is tested. In what circumstances are we willing to defend that which we believe in?

It is important to me that people judge my dogs as individuals.

It is important to me that people judge my dogs as individuals.

For me, I believe loyalty to be one of my best qualities, and this is something that I am very proud of. I am a devoted friend, wife, sister, daughter, and pet owner, sometimes to a fault. I am not a fighter, I am certainly not intimidating or imposing, I don’t have a celebrity status to influence those around me… but because I enjoy writing and am always honing my abilities, I carefully choose my words as my greatest defense against those that try to tear down the people and things I care most about. At the same time, it is important to me to maintain a gentle approach. I am a firm believer in the old saying that ‘you catch more flies with honey, than you do with vinegar’. Because of this, even when faced with someone who disagrees with me, I try my best to remain calm, yet assertive, and to avoid accusations. I do not believe that anyone is going to absorb what you say, if you are offending them while you are saying it!

With all of that being said, I learned a valuable lesson last week that I would like to share with all of you.

Our friend J. over at Peace, Love, & Fostering shared this post on their facebook page last week. If you are interested in dog training, as well as the changes in perception our society is making in regards to dogs and dog ownership, it is certainly worth the time spent reading it. I would be interested in your honest, respectful, perspectives. (If you plan to do so, I would appreciate it if you would read it before you read the rest of this post, so as not to be influenced by my opinions!)

My reaction to this post was multi-faceted. I read it and felt such a strong relation to many of the points the writer introduced. She shared many important thoughts that are, in my opinion, so necessary to convey to well-meaning animal lovers. At its most elementary, the piece was about the science behind force-free dog training, why it is more effective, and how many of those who claim to love dogs and advocate for them, are really just muddying the waters when it comes to what is best for the dog, and conveying that to the public.

For those of you that do not know, force-free training is essentially just that: an approach to dog training that enhances your relationship with your dog, avoiding physical manipulation or intimidation, while reinforcing behaviors through positive association.
 
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What upset me so much was not the content, but the writer’s approach. In my perspective, she has this incredible opportunity to convey a point. She is obviously intelligent and talented as a writer, and please understand that I respect her for this. She put a lot of effort into this article, as was evident by her extensive source list. She has a unique perspective on the subject, which could produce positive waves of change in the worlds of dog training and ownership. However (and perhaps, BECAUSE of how valid her argument is) I absolutely shudder at her approach and tone. She continually criticizes and downright ridicules anyone with a different perspective than the one she feels is ‘right’… even if their perspective just comes from a naive and uniformed lack of knowledge or understanding. She is essentially condemning anyone that utilizes force or tools of punishment in an attempt to produce changes in a dog’s behavior. While I absolutely agree that there are better ways to train our dogs, and that our dogs DESERVE a better approach, my question remains: What dog owner would *ever* went to take advice from someone so condescending? And, with such a valid argument and the unique opportunity of a vast audience, shouldn’t that be her goal? I respect her perspective, but I worry that those who may be on the fence and considering a transition to force-free training, will read her article and be so turned-off that they refuse to remain open-minded. To me, her approach simply was making the rest of us who are proponents of force-free training look like judgmental wackos!

In one particular selection, she criticizes those that support forceful training: “but they seem thoroughly intent on attacking anybody who suggests otherwise”… which is exactly what her article does. It attacks anyone that disagrees with, or misunderstands, force-free training. If she believes that a forceful approach is ineffective with dogs, why does she employ such force when communicating with her own kind??

My stance is this: Whether the topic is politics, racism, poverty, etc… If the point of a diatribe is to truly bring about change in the uninformed or ignorant masses, why would you ever take a position of judgmental arrogance? You are not going to change any minds with that approach, and are then effectively just talking to hear yourself speak, or to hear others who already agree with your position, compliment you for it. Whether or not your argument is valid, if you take a judgemental and aggressive approach, the intended audience will never be open to receiving it in the manner in which it was presented.

At the same time, I found myself wondering if perhaps the writer’s purpose was not primarily to evoke a change in readers’ perspectives, but instead to garner attention and inspire conversation. And if in fact that was her goal, perhaps that is not all bad. If she can get the attention of the masses, perhaps some of them will be more willing to listen to the more moderate, respectful arguments that support and share her same perspectives.

Furthermore, there is something to be said for blogging, in that it is an emotional release for writers. Sometimes we have something on our hearts, and we need to express it. Occasionally we need to open up the floodgates, and let the words organize our thoughts and our hearts, without censoring every emotion or editing every accusation. While I believe that when our blogging has a purpose, we have a responsibility to put that goal first at all times, I also know that sometimes we need to write what is on our hearts, as it comes to us.

The bottom line is that when we blog for advocacy, regardless of the subject, we hit a strange paradox: while our blogs serve as an opportunity for self-expression and self-discovery, I believe that we also have a responsibility as advocates for the cause. Certainly, some of us more than others (we will get there someday!), are standing under a spotlight as the poster children for our causes. All we can do is keep our missions in mind, and hope that our words are received in the way that we intend them… I have certainly made mistakes and omissions in things that I have written, but I am sure to stay open-minded, while processing all of the feedback I receive.

I am genuinely interested in hearing you reactions to this article! I would appreciate it if you would all stay respectful, but I do want to know… did you agree with the writer’s opinions? What about her approach? What was your initial reaction, and how did that compare with your perspective once you’d read my own? As advocates for pit bulls, how do you think we can best approach those that don’t understand our dogs? I value your opinions!

Hang in there... it's almost Friday!

Hang in there… it’s almost Friday!

Let’s Play a Game…

It’s called; What’s in My Hand?

It’s no secret that being a pet photographer (like, a legitimate one. Not like what we try to do on here!) is no easy task. You can’t exactly just request that the animal look patiently into the camera with devotion! That’s why most of us who have a passion for pets and an interest in photography, have to have some tricks up our sleeves. We learn what elicits adorable expression from our pets, and we use it to our advantage!

We’ve talked on here a bit about what our dogs Favorite Things are. Our most devoted readers might know that each of our dogs is MOST motivated by a specific type of item, which is different for each of them!

So, in this series of pictures, we want you to guess, based on the pups’ expressions, what is in the hand of the photographer! (That would be me) Items used include food, toys, or just plain, old-fashioned attention.

There might be something special in it for you 😉 Bonus points if you can tell the black dogs apart!

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B) DSC_0006

C) DSC_0017

D) DSC_0068

E) DSC_0004

Hey, Get Outta My Way!

From a reader: “I would like some suggestions with our having a dog that herds me down the hall or is always right under my feet. I am always telling her , “I can’t walk when you are walking on my shoes”. Thanks!”

This is a great topic! I think it is so important for our dogs to respect our space, as much for their safety as for our own! Remember, we want to approach issues with our pups by asking “What behavior do I want to see?” as opposed to “How do I make him stop doing this?” There are two commands that I think work really well for these types of issues.

Go Lay Down

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This is a cue that we use any time our dogs are under feet or being little pests (who, them? never!) and also if they are begging. It works especially well when I am cooking or cleaning, and need to do something without the dogs ‘helping’ me every step of the way. We have dog beds in many of the rooms they frequent (our bedroom, the living room, and the basement). We began by simply rewarding the pups with treats and praise anytime they chose to lay on their beds themselves. “Good lay down!” Then, we would start at short distances. Say that we were sitting on the couch, and the dogs wanted to join us, but we wanted some human-only cuddle time… we would point to their beds and say “Go lay down!” If they didn’t quite grasp it right away, we would lead them to their beds, and put them into a ‘down’. Of course, they would receive treats for responding appropriately. Then we worked on their stay. If the dogs tried to get up before we released them, we would repeat the process all over, and ask them to ‘stay’. Of course, this cue works best if your dogs have already mastered some other basic commands, but I think that even if they don’t specifically know ‘stay’ they can still figure this out pretty quickly. We slowly but surely would increase the distance from where they were underfoot, to where we wanted them (the bed), always being sure to praise and reward them for understanding our requests.

Back up!

"Am I doing it right, Mom?"

“Am I doing it right, Mom?”

This is one of my favorite ‘tricks’ our dogs know… first, because it is adorable, and second, because it is also incredibly useful! We ask our dogs to back up when they are underfoot in the kitchen, but also for example, if we need to get in or out of the car, move safely through a doorway, or if we are throwing a toy and don’t want them jumping up at us. I am always surprised that more people don’t teach this trick, because it comes in so handy in a variety of circumstances.

To start, you can have your dog sitting, standing, or laying down, but they should be focused and facing you. Walk directly towards them, into their space, and say ‘back up’. You should also use a hand signal, such as pointing over their heads, or waving your hands towards them, palms up. (Note: You should not be scaring or startling them to move, but you want to invade their space just enough so that their natural inclination is to scoot backwards.) Once they take even a few steps straight backward (not turning around or to the side) give them a treat. Clicker-training works really well in an instance such as this, because you can instantly reward them so that they associate the specific behavior with the praise. Repeat this successfully three times, so that each time you say ‘back up,’ step into their space and signal, they are moving backwards. Once they seem to understand your request, you should start making the verbal and hand signal without moving your feet. It may take a few minutes, but try to refrain from moving your feet… give your pup a chance to use their brain to figure out what they have to do to earn that treat! As always, use their body language to determine how quickly you proceed… every dog learns at their own pace, so if your pup requires a little bit more assistance, that’s ok! Just try to get to the point where they are offering behaviors on their own, rather than needing you to walk them through each and every step.

Tonka is the master of this command… while laying down, he will scoot backward, then crawl forward, scoot backward, etc etc. It is a crowd-pleaser 😉