A blog about dog training and dog breeding…and other sundry matters

Posts tagged ‘Pet’

Before you call the dog trainer….

A few months ago someone called me frantically for help with her little dog.  Out of the blue, her reliably house-trained dog started peeing in the house.  She was at her wits end because the dog started doing this when she was off the island.  Now the dog peed in the house when left alone and during rain.  This lady was convinced the dog had developed a behavioral issue.

I thought otherwise.  When dogs, and other animals, start acting “weird” suddenly, the first thing to do is to take the dog to the vet and have it checked for medical issues.  Pain and illness in general will turn an otherwise sweet-natured dog into a shrieking banshee that will bare it’s fangs at the least provocation.

According to Dr. Debra Horwitz, a veterinary behavior specialist in St. Louis, MO, illness can cause behavioral changes in pets, particularly older dogs, that include soiling the house, aggression, destructive behaviors (chewing stuff), restlessness and “excessive vocalization.”

Old dogs, Horwitz points out, often suffer from Cognitive Disfunction Syndrome, similar to dementia in humans.  The disease manifests itself as disorientation, changed relationship to the owners, not recognizing familiar people initially.  Apparently the possibility of developing the Syndrome increases as the pet ages.

What are we to do?  Only a vet can best advice you on how to help your dog.  Supplements such as Sam-e and a diet containing medium-chain triglycerides can help.  As in aging humans, keeping the brain active also helps stave the effects of cognitive issues related to age.

In my friend’s case, her dog, a four-year-old small-breed,  had tick fever and a bladder infection.  No amount of training would have helped this dog.  It needed veterinary intervention, fast.

References

Horwitz, D. (2010).  Cognitive function in older dogs.  Clinician’s Brief.  Retrieved from http://www.cliniciansbrief.com/column/applied-behavior/cognitive-function-older-dogs?pyMBZBP3PA

Can Dogs Count?

There’s an old joke that if you want to figure out whether or not dogs can count, put two cookies in your pocket, then give your dog only one.

Earlier tonight I did a bit of training with Gretchen, my black and tan German Shepherd bitch.  I’m hoping she will be my next obedience champion, if only I had the time to consistently train her. Oh well…

Anyway, we rehearsed sits and downs, and I not only mixed up the sequence of the exercise, but varied the amount of treats that I gave.  So sometimes I’d ask for a sit, then I’d give Gretchen a treat when she complied.  Then I’d ask for a sit and down, and give one or two treats.  Next I’d ask for a sit–down–sit and give three treats.  In clicker-training parlance, that’s called a variable schedule of reinforcement, and it’s a powerful training tool.

Somehow during my training, I lost track of how I was treating.  Perhaps I inadvertently kept giving three treats for the tri-fold sequence, sit–down–sit.  At one point I asked for this tri-fold pattern, and gave Gretchen a treat.  Instead of gobbling it up, she dropped it on the ground between her paws and looked at me expectantly.  I released her from the last cue and encouraged her to eat her treat.  She didn’t budge.  I gave her a second treat.  She put it between her paws beside the other treat and looked at me as though I was rather slow.  Finally I relented and gave her a third.  She ate it and then proceeded to eat the other two treats.

Dogs are smart, and I’m beginning to wonder if they may have numeracy skills!

Desensitizing an Adult Dog to Strangers

It’s been a really long time since I’ve done any serious training, or trialling with my dogs, and I miss these activities.  The combination of my job, business, and graduate school keeps me very busy, and prevents me from doing what I’m most passionate about:  training dogs.

This weekend I returned to the show circuit by entering Tuvok, my 15-month-old white German Shepherd,  in a fun dog show sponsored by the Portmore Dog Owners Association, which was held in the Portmore Town Centre.  While the show primarily caters to owners of pitbulls and dogs trained in aggression, the advertisements announced classes for toy breeds, rottweilers, and working breeds.   Rottweilers, by the way, belong to the working breeds.  I entered Tuvok in the working class.  There was even a fashion show where dogs vied for the title of “best dressed.”

We arrived at the show VERY early.  The flyer announced show time starting at 9:00am; however, at 10:00am sponsors were still arriving to set up their booths.   Turns out the show didn’t start till 3:00 that afternoon.

Tuvok and I used the opportunity to do a bit of training.  This pup received consistent, focused training at 5 weeks old, along with his littermates, but once my work load got heavy, his training fell to the wayside.  I was pleasantly surprised, however, that Tuvok responded to simple cues, such as sit and down very quickly and enthusiastically, even among distractions.

It was the presence of strangers that made Tuvok very uncomfortable. Fortunately Classical Conditioning can be used to desensitize a dog to fearful situations, if done correctly.

Here’s how it worked.  I first clicked and treated (C&T) Tuvok each time we walked past someone and he didn’t show any signs of fear or alarm.  Next I sat in a chair in a shady spot and C&T Tuvok for relaxing beside.  Then came the crucial bit.  I C&T the dog each time someone walked towards him and he didn’t show any fear.  I kept rapid-fire C&T until the person passed us, as long as Tuvok didn’t get distracted and started growling or tried to get up.  The trick here was to start C&T before the dog reached over threshold, the point where the dog finds it necessary to react.

It’s also vital when desensitizing a dog that you carefully read the dog’s body language.  Fear does not always manifest itself by whinning, backing away, or trying to tie up the handler with the leash in an effort to flee the situation.  There are subtle signs, such as the look of the dog’s pupils, placement of the ears, and even lifting a paw.

Anyway, Tuvok did splendidly, and in no time he could remain lying down, relaxed as the world and its children passed him by.  He did not get C&T when people walked away from him, though.  I wanted him to have positive associations with people approaching him, and that’s where the clicker came in most useful.  Fearful dogs snap and lunge at people to get them to go away.  I didn’t wan’t to inadvertently strengthen this behavior by rewarding the dog when people walked away from him.

We remained at the show until dusk.  It was going on for 6:00pm, and by this time the working class hadn’t yet been called.  They were still judging the toy breeds “Rising Star” style where the audience voted for the dog they felt should get first place!  by this time Tuvok had become very tired; he’d lost his pep.  Furthermore, I noticed that he hadn’t peed since we left the house at 9:00am that morning.  We were both hungry, having not eaten anything all day.

We left the show grounds that evening without ever making it to the ring, and after paying the $500 entry fee (although the flyer stated that entries were $400 per dog).  I don’t know if they ever got around to judging the working breeds, and if they did, I’m not sure how they could have judged in the dark.

A few good things came out of the day, however.  I purchased a beautiful show lead from one of the booths, practiced obedience skills with my dog, desensitized him to strangers, and spent quality time with my big beautiful boy, which was priceless.

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