Heavy Heart

Yesterday was a gloomy day for me, not just because of the gray, cold, fog-ridden weather outside, but because I was witness to two dogs being humanely euthanized. The first a young, very well-loved dog that was having exploratory surgery after a mass in his abdomen had been discovered. Upon opening him up, it was determined that the tumor was to massive and connected to too much to be removed. His owner opted to have him euthanized after weighing all the options and ultimately wanting him to go before his spirit was taken by illness. This handsome dog was only two years old and lived a rich and happy life. His owner is broken up and in despair for she lost her best friend yesterday.

If that wasn’t heavy enough, I then did a compassion hold for a dog who’s behaviors yielded her unadoptable. These decisions are never made lightly and are always excruciating for me.

With a heavy heart, I played one last round of fetch with her, provided her with a tasty meal and held her as she passed out of this world.

Many people ask what compassion holds are and why I do them. Compassion holds are just as they sound, it’s being there for another living being as they die. Showing that animal a gentle touch and love even when it seems the rest of world has given up on them.

Many animals that enter shelters come in as strays, their past unknown. In some cases, it seems obvious that the animal lived a hard life prior to arriving the shelter. They may not have known what a good meal was, what a gentle touch was or that people can be loving and caring.

In my profession, I always try to rehabilitate dogs to where they are adoptable, but there are some I can’t reach. Some that are to far damaged from previous experiences or faulty genetics and I can’t risk rehoming them where they may injure others or themselves.

Again, I never make these decisions lightly. So when the decision is made, the least I can do is be there for this creature who was brought into this world because of humans, who had the cards stacked against them from the start and where this is not their fault. This lovely creature deserves to feel compassion, even if it’s for the first time in their life.

 

Please go hug your family members (this means furry and feathered too), show them love and compassion, and treasure the time you have with them.

Clicker Training with Cats

I know there may be some skeptics out there who say cats can’t be trained. I am here to tell you otherwise. Cats can be trained and they actually thrive at it. Not only is it fun for both human and feline, but it’s a great way to develop and strengthen the bond between a person and their cat(s). Plus, it’s wonderful enrichment for the cat, both mentally and physically.

Why a Clicker: It accelerates the learning process and makes training more clear cut for your cat.

Reinforcement: a primary reinforcement is food. Keep treat sizes very small, half or quarter of a pea size. Make sure they are high value, tiny pieces of tuna or cut up chicken works well. Baby food (meat purees) works well too, just let your cat have a brief lick. Secondary reinforcements can be petting and playing.

Charging the Clicker: This is making a positive association between the clicker and the reinforcement. To do this, Click the clicker and then follow it up with a treat within one second of the click. Repeat this exercise for at least 15-20 repetitions. Now your cat will be classically conditioned that when he hears the clicker, good things will come his way.

Remember to reinforce your cat EVERY time you click him, even if it’s by accident because we don’t ever want the clicker to loose its value.

Now you can use the clicker to mark behaviors you want.

You will be using lures, shaping, and capturing behaviors you want your cat to repeat or offer more of. In most cases you will have to break the end goal behavior down into several steps, these are called approximations.

Let’s say we want our cat to learn to sit.

  • We can first lure the behavior by showing the cat a small treat and then raising it above their head and then slightly towards their back so that they will naturally want to sit back on their haunches.
  • As soon as their rump touches the floor, Click and give them the treat.
  • Do this three times in row, clicking and rewarding for each successful Sit.
  • Then try the hand motion without the food lure.
  • If your cat is successful, click and then immediately grab a treat and feed.
  • We want to move away from food lures quickly because otherwise it becomes a bribe and your cat will only perform the behavior when food is present.
  • After your cat is predictably sitting in position with your hand signal, now you can add the verbal cue, Sit.
  • Here is the sequence of events: Fluffy Sit-pause-hand signal-cat sits (Click)-Reward!
  • Another way to teach the Sit, is to capture it. Wait for your cat to naturally sit, then Click and reward. Once you can predict when your cat will sit again, you can give the verbal cue right before they offer the behavior.

If you’d like to teach your cat to walk on leash, the first step is getting the cat acclimated to wearing a harness. This can be done through approximations. It’s best if the cat will naturally harness themselves.

  • The initial step is get your cat to Target onto the harness by himself. Have the harness, clicker and treats ready.
  • Sit near your cat.
  • Hold the harness up, if your cat looks at the harness or better yet touches it with his nose, Click and reward.
  • Take the harness out of view from the cat immediately after clicking.
  • Then present the harness again and wait for your cat to target onto it. Repeat several more times.
  • Through approximations you can get your cat to put his nose in the head hole, then his entire head. In those steps, be sure to click when the cat’s nose or head is through the opening and treat in that position. You can also lure your cat into sticking his head through the opening on his own. Only allow him access to the treat if he sticks his head through the opening, as soon as he does, Click and reward.
  • Eventually you’ll be able to clip the harness into place.
  • Next attach a leash and let your cat drag the line.
  • At the first movement, click and reward. Try tossing a treat for the cat to walk to, when he does, click right before he gets to the treat and eats it.
  • Then the next step is to encourage the cat to follow you. You can use a food lure at first or a toy to drag.
  • Click when he’s following and then reward.

You’re now on your way to having a cat that walks on leash. These steps may take several days to weeks to accomplish. It depends on your time, dedication and patience.

There are endless things you can teach your cat: roll over, lie down, jump over obstacles, high five or shake, come when called etc…Remember to break behaviors down into easy to teach steps. Don’t rush your cat and keep sessions short, 1-5 minute sessions, no more.

To add value to your cat’s reinforcements, keep your cat on a regulated diet and keep some high-value toys in reserve for special training sessions.

Happy Clicking!!!

 

 

Rocket Recall: Part III

If you haven’t already, get started with parts I & II:

Rocket Recall: Part I
Rocket Recall: Part II


This is the final installment of Rocket Recall. This week we will talk about pressure and distractions with our dogs. Even with all the best preparation and practice, there will be times when your dog will not want to come away from something. This is where pressure comes into the equation. It is very important that our dog comes when called, like previously stated, this could save his life someday.

Again, we want to make sure our dog is ready for this next step before we get started. If your dog has not accomplished the first two levels of Rocket Recall, then they are not ready to begin this level. Each level can take weeks to accomplish, so don’t be in a rush. Be patient and practice, practice, practice!

Have a long-line attached to your dog when training this next level. 30-40 feet is an appropriate length for the line. Be sure the line isn’t to heavy for your dog. If you have a small breed dog, you may need to make your own long-line, which is easy enough to do*.

You’ll be enlisting the help of another person for this training as well.

Refresher:

  • Have your helper distract the dog with some low-value treats and then call your dog to come.
  • Your helper will stop treating and ignore your dog.
  • You will reward your dog with higher-value treats when he comes to you.

To step this up.

  • Have your helper open their hand with treats, when you call your dog this time, your helper will keep their hand open.
  • If your dog doesn’t respond within 3 seconds and come off your helper, you’ll pick up the long-line and gently reel them in. Again rewarding heavily when your dog comes all the way into you.
  • Do not yank your dog away
  • Do not scold him for not coming on his first try
  • Do not repeat the cue to come multiple times.
  • DO reward your dog heavily when he comes to you–with treats or toys.
  • DO be animated with your dog so that you’re more appealing to them–cheerful voice, clapping hands, kissing noise, and running away from your dog will elicit more attention.

For adding distraction, build on the Running Game.

Refresher:

  • Have your helper run away from your dog and entice them to follow.
  • You call your dog to you, your helper stops and stands still, ignoring your dog.
  • When your dog comes to you, reward.

The next step is to have your dog come even when your helper continues to run. For this, you’ll use the long-line again.

  • Have your helper run at a slower pace or a brisk walk, so that your dog won’t be following at a fast pace.
  • Call your dog, your helper will continue moving forward, but will stop enticing the dog to follow.
  • You’ll give your dog 2-3 seconds to respond, if they don’t, pick up the line and reel them in.
  • Reward your dog heavily when he comes to you.

We can’t stress enough how important it is to use high value treats, such as cut up pieces of meat, as reinforcements for your dog. Or to use high-value toys that your dog doesn’t get to play with on a regular basis. You have to be more interesting and rewarding than the other distractions in your dog’s environment.

*For long-line help, please contact me.

Rocket Recall: Part II

Be sure to check out Rocket Recall: Part I!

Now that you’ve established with your dog that hearing their name and coming when called is FUN! You can move on the next level of training a Rocket Recall. Just as stated in the last article, there will always be competing motivators in your dog’s life. “Should I go to my person or go smell this really interesting bug over here?” We want our dog’s answer to be “go to my person” every time.

During the first level of Rocket Recall training we didn’t want to call our dogs off anything fun or call them to us and then do something non-fun with them. We wanted to build a very positive association with coming to you. We are now going to up our game with our dogs.

In this next level, we will be adding distraction and arousal. It’s important to move onto this next level ONLY if your dog is ready for it.

We will now set our dogs up in controlled environments, practice in fenced in areas or have our dog on a long-line to prevent them from running away.

  • Have a friend or family member assist you for level II training.
  • Your assistant will have some treats on hand (preferably of lower value than your treats at the start).
  • They will lure your dog away from you and feed some of the treats.
  • Then you will call your dog’s name, when you do this, your assistant will stop treating and ignore the dog. This means no eye contact with the dog or motion of any sort.
  • Repeat your dog’s name once more if needed, as your dog turns towards you, use encouraging body language and sounds to get your dog moving in your direction (squatting down, open arms; kissing noises, squeekers).
  • As s/he does, use your Recall word.
  • When your dog reaches you, praise lavishly and give small, high value treats for a solid 30 seconds.

Your dog learns in that moment that coming to you even when there are other distractions is more reinforcing!

We will now do the same exercise but, in addition to distraction, we’ll be adding some arousal too.

  • Have your assistant encourage your dog to chase them, maybe have them entice your dog with toy if they aren’t interested in the chase.
  • As your dog is chasing your assistant, call your dog’s name once.
  • In that instance, your assistant will stop and freeze. Toy goes away and the person ignores the dog.
  • Call your dog’s name once more if needed, encourage your dog to come you using body language and sounds (squatting down, open arms; kissing noises, squeekers).
  • As your dog moves towards you, use your Recall word.
  • When your dog reaches you, praise lavishly and give small high value treats for a solid 30 seconds.
  • Note–If your dog seems to enjoy chasing people, you can run the opposite direction of your dog to encourage him to come into you at a faster pace.

Next: Rocket Recall: Part III

Rocket Recall; Teaching a Dog to Come: Part I

Rocket Recall; Teaching a Dog to Come: Part I

Having a dog come to you when called is one of the most important cues for any dog to know. This cue can save a dog’s life. Yet, many dogs have what we like to call “selective hearing”; they come when they want to. The reasons behind a dog refusing to come when called depends upon the competing motivators and the dog’s previous experiences. For instance, if you are at a dog park with your dog and you call for your dog, you have the competing motivators of the other dogs around him. Plus, if the only times you call your dog to come to you is when it’s time to leave, which is no fun for your dog, you have previous experiences that your dog perceives as negative. He’s going to continue to play with his buddies and ignore you. We have to reinforce coming HEAVILY at the start and always make sure we’re keeping it fun for the dog.

Here are some pointers to follow when first teaching a rock-solid recall:

  • Do Not call your dog away from something that is fun for them. (e.g. playing with other dogs, eating a meal, chasing a toy etc…)
  • Do Not call your dog to you to do something they don’t like or is non-fun; such as: nail trims, bath time or being crated.
  • Instead go and get your dog, because you’ll probably have to anyway if they haven’t had proper recall training up until this point. We don’t want to poison the cue.
  • Always have reinforcers on you when you’re working on recall training. Reinforcers are what the dog likes, not what you think the dog likes. Food is always a great choice because it’s a primary reinforcer for all animals.
  • When practicing in open spaces, always have your dog on a long-line for safety.
  • I do not advise using shock collars or other aversive training devices, since many dogs develop behavioral issues when such items are used on them.

Your dog should know his name well, which is the first step for recall training. Practice the Name Game with your dog to develop a strong association between their name and good things happening!

Name Game:

  • Grab some treats or do this at meal time and use your dog’s kibble.
  • Toss a treat to the floor, once your dog eats the food, say his name once, when he turns his head to look at you, say YES! and toss another treat to the floor.
  • Continue this game until your dog is whipping his head around to look at you.

The next step is to only say the word Come when your dog is moving towards you. (Note: If you’ve been using the word Come in the past for your dog and he hasn’t  responded, I suggest you start teaching the recall using a new cue word, such as: Here, Front, Pronto, Hurry etc…)

  • Again you can toss a treat, only a little further away this time.
  • Your dog will go out after the treat.
  • This time as he finishes, say his name, when he gives you his attention, take few steps backwards whilst kissing to him or patting your leg, encouraging him to follow you, when he does, say Come.
  • When he gets to you, say YES! and directly hand feed him a treat.
  • Then repeat.

Check out the whole series:

Rocket Recall: Part II
Rocket Recall: Part III

The Jumping Canine

The Jumping Canine

We’ve all been there, you walk into a room and bam, paws are assaulting you. Sometimes this is welcomed, but more often than not, it’s considered rude and can even be dangerous if the dog is large and knocks you over.

So why do dogs insist on jumping on us? Don’t they know it’s rude behavior?! Well, to them it’s not rude and if they’re not taught how to appropriately greet people, they will continue to jump on us.

Dogs jump up on us for multiple reasons, most often out of excitement to see us and wanting to be closer to our faces to smell and lick us like they might do to a dog friend.

If we don’t teach dogs an alternative behavior and just reprimand the jumping behavior, we may not get through to the dog what we want or worse our dog may start to fear us.

We don’t want to punish our dogs for being excited to greet us, but we also don’t want to reinforce a behavior we don’t like. That’s where teaching desirable behaviors to our companions is favorable for both humans and our canines.

The first step is preventing the dog from jumping on us at all; we need to be proactive with our dogs. If they are able to rehearse the action of jumping, they will continue to repeat those actions. And if they are repeating those actions, it is because they find the outcome rewarding.

Preventing the jump is simple, but not always easy. Here are a few tips to help with jump prevention.

  • Keep a leash on your dog when you’re home, so that you can easily step on the leash or take up the leash when people come into the home.
  • Tether your dog when guests arrive and tell your guests to approach your dog in an appropriate manner, if your dog starts to jump, have them turn away from your dog immediately. Turn back towards the dog when he has all four paws on the floor. Do this yo-yo approach until the dog is keeping all fours on the floor to receive a greeting.
  • Keep some of their meal set aside with a few goodies added, when you arrive home or when guests arrive, toss the food on the floor to keep your dog’s attention directed downward whilst creating a positive association with guests coming into your home.
  • Make use of baby gates. If you get home and fido loves to jump on you, use a baby gate or exercise pen to keep him from greeting you right at the door. When his feet are planted, you’ll greet him, otherwise ignore him.
  • Teach him to retrieve a toy. Then keep a few special toys stashed away and only bring them out when people come to the door. Toss a toy to direct your dog’s attention to do something other than jump.
  • Teach a reliable Sit or Down. Known as an incompatible behavior, dog’s can’t be jumping if they’re sitting or laying down.
  • Teach your dog to “jump” on cue. By teaching them to jump, you can easily teach them an “off” cue as well. Not only that, but after dogs learn to jump on cue they are less likely to offer the behavior unless it’s cued up.

Last, but not least, be sure to heavily reward and at a high rate for when your dog is offering other behaviors besides jumping. By rewarding what we like, our dogs are more likely to repeat what we’ve rewarded in the past.

Many of the above tips can and should be combined to increase the chances of your dog succeeding.

For more details about training, please contact me to set up a training or behavior session.

 

Fundraiser for MN Pit Stop

Come join us for an evening of worldly affair and to support our friendly canines. Proceeds support MN Pit Stop, a local rescue group dedicated to educating the public about the “bully” breeds, helping dogs in need and providing people support for their dogs through training, behavior work and medical care.

Guest Post:
SUTRA FAIR TRADE WORLD BAZAAR comes to Winona
to support Pit Bulls and MN Pit Stop a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public about this sweet breed! Affordable Art ~
most priced under $50!
scarves, clothing, home décor,
prayer flags, zen banners, baskets, jewels, and more!
All unique, original, beautiful!

GIFTS with HEART for those your love!

SUTRA global by design is owned by Kim Hammer of La Crosse & Dakota, MN. Kim travels the globe to bring ethically sourced Asian beauty to your home! SUTRA purchases directly from artisans and fair trade organizations in India and Bali, and supports grass roots organizations locally via home-based fundraisers!

Interested in traveling to India this winter? Contact Kim now!

SUTRA is proud to support MN PIt Stop, who provides education to the public about pit bull type dogs, specifically the American Pit Bull terrier (APBT). They also provide advice and training for Pit Bull owners.

Learn more:
http://www.facebook.com/sutraglobalbydesign
608.792.7641 SUTRAglobalbydesign@gmail.com

READ KIM’S BLOG! www.kimdhammer.wordpress.com

SUTRA accepts VISA/MC/American Express/checks/cash

The Myth of Temperament

Recently there has been a video circulating on the internet about a “temperament test” that was performed on a pit bull in MI.

After the test, the pit bull was deemed un-adoptable and fated to be euthanized. There has been an uproar about the test and the results it yielded. Rightfully so; I agree that what I saw on the video would not have deemed the dog un-adoptable at the shelter I work with, nor at the Pit Bull Rescue I run. But the comments posted as a result of this video have been very negative towards assessments in general and that is where I would like to set the record straight and address some common misconceptions.

Aggression Assessment vs. Temperament Test

Before I go into any more detail, I want to clarify something: temperament tests and aggression assessments are two completely different animals! Temperament, by definition is something that can not be changed; it is more or less innate to the animal. Behavior, on the other hand, is influenced by environment, experience and genetics and can be influenced and modified by all of those factors. Aggression is a behavior, not a personality or temperament trait. Aggression can be influenced and changed depending upon circumstances and environment. There are, of course, some degrees of aggression exhibited in individuals which can be to difficult to manage and therefore make the animal un-adoptable, or at least unmanageable for the average owner.

Assessments can be–and have been–very useful in predicting the likeness of a dog aggressing once it’s in a home, but much depends upon the assessment that is used and how it is performed. To my knowledge there are only two aggression assessments that have any research and data to back up their usefulness and probability findings. The one I am most familiar with–and certified to perform–is the Safety Assessment For Evaluating Rehoming (SAFER) that was designed by Dr. Emily Weiss.

More often than not, though, people refer to aggression assessments as temperament tests. The flaw is that, again, temperament can’t be changed. Behavior–such as aggression–can be. Temperament tests usually have a pass/fail scoring with no in-between. For true aggression assessments, such as SAFER, there is no pass or fail. It is simply a tool to give the assessor information about that dog in that given time and environment. The assessment looks at the probability that dog has of aggressing under different stimuli. EVERY dog is capable of biting; we want to know–when given the choice through body language–if the dog will choose to “tell us” they are uncomfortable with something we’re doing, and how they will let us know.

A universal assessment language

The SAFER assessment was designed after many hours of work, research and data were complied to find out if certain things we do with dogs are more likely to yield aggressive behaviors. The dog is always given a choice and is never forced to do anything they don’t want to or like. Assessors should have a knowledge of dog behavior and body language before performing SAFER. In fact, it’s best if assessors are certified to perform SAFER first. By having a certification process, it’s ensured that the handler is consistent in their handling skills. It also gives consistency to the program by offering a universal language of behavior and information.

The information gathered during each assessment is purely objective. There is no subjective language, such as:

“the dog seemed relaxed or playful”

because everyone’s definition of “relaxed and playful” will be different. Compare that to the description,

“the dog’s body was loose, his mouth was open, eyes were soft.”

Or,

“the dog went into a play bow and did soft huffing and popping of body motion.”

These provide a clear image of what the dog was doing, leaving individual interpretation out of the data.

A consistent environment

There are guidelines that need to be met by the assessor, the room and items used for the assessment as well, so that everything stays consistent and gives the dog a fair shot at showing natural behaviors.
Because there is no pass/fail, each organization that incorporates a true aggression assessment into their programs can then take the information obtained from the assessment and determine what resources they have to aid that dog.

Some organizations will have greater resources for working with dogs exhibiting aggressive or potentially aggressive behaviors, others will require outside resources and, in some cases, dogs may be too aggressive to responsibly adopt out. Humanely euthanizing them is always the last resort.

One case at a time

Aggression assessments offer rescues and shelters a means to individually evaluate each dog that comes through their organization, and determine what resources are required to find the dog a home. Failure to assess dogs in shelter situations can mean missed behaviors and problematic adoptions.

Lastly, dogs are dogs, no assessor properly performing aggression assessments should say that a given behavior is expressed because the dog is a certain breed. Every dog is an individual case and fate should never rest on breed alone.

Last Note

In regards to the video posted above of the MI pit bull-type dog. Nothing is this video met the guidelines for the ASPCA’s SAFER assessment. My personal opinion is that this dog was not given a fair assessment at all and was extremely stressed during the “test”. Yet the dog chose to move away and act appropriately many times.

Pets, Independence Day and Safety

Picnics, fireworks, outdoor games and family festivities is what usually comes to mind when 4th of July arrives. Although this holiday is often a fun time for humans, it can be a very scary time for our pets. Here are a few tips for making your holiday weekend less stressful for your pets.

  • Take your dog for nice long walk before festivities begin to exercise them and tire them out.
  • Keep your pets indoors, do not take your dog with you the fireworks show.
  • Give your pets a safe zone away from noisy activities, such as a nice bed in the lower-level of your house.
  • Use D.A.P. or F.A.P. in your pet’s room to help soothe them. (Dog Appeasing Pheromones and Feline Appeasing Pheromones)
  • Use Thunder Shirts or T-Touch wraps to ease your dog’s anxiety.
  • Turn on a fan or some classical music to help muffle the sounds of fireworks outside.
  • Cover the windows, close blinds and shades to cut down on visual stimuli.
  • Please make sure you have a fitted collar or harness on your pet with proper I.D. Tags on it in case your pet escapes and flees.

Have a safe and happy 4th of July everyone!

Dog Play

Play is a diverse subject and is starting to gain more attention among scientific researchers. Recently I attended a seminar by Pia Silvani discussing the topic of play with dogs. This two-day seminar offered some of the latest data surrounding play. Although most dogs owners would not argue that their dogs play, many may not be skilled in understanding what play body language looks like and the benefits to play. There are benefits to playing with our dogs and for dogs to play with other dogs. Play can be used as a strong reinforcer for some dogs. Through play, dogs can learn calming signals and coping mechanisms for greeting other dogs and people they are unfamiliar with.

In order for behaviors and actions to be constituted as play, individuals involved must all be active and willing participants, otherwise the behaviors and actions could be something entirely different, like bullying. Most often you’ll see the following behaviors and actions amongst dogs during good play:

  • Role reversal e.g. dogs will take turns chasing one another or rolling on their back
  • Mirroring one another’s behaviors e.g. play bows towards one another
  • Open mouth, neutral tail positions and relaxed ear set
  • Self-handy capping e.g. large dogs laying down to play with small dogs
  • Start-Stop action e.g. dogs will run, then freeze, run, then freeze.

For play between humans and dogs, certain guidelines should be followed:

  • The human starts and ends the game, this prevents a dog from becoming pushy and helps in instill leadership without force
  • No teeth on skin is allowed, this will immediately end the game
  • Teaching impulse control by having a dog “sit” or offer another behavior before receiving a toy, game of tug or fetch
  • People should avoid rough physical contact with their dogs and chasing their dogs
  • Play everyday! This will enhance the bond between people and their dogs
  • All family members must follow the same guidelines

Play is a great outlet for energetic dogs and/or unruly dogs. Teaching a dog to grab a toy and redirect their energy onto it rather than a guest can be very useful! Play can also be a useful tool for helping dogs with aggression. Teaching a dog to “play-bow” on cue can help to diffuse situations where two dogs may escalate into unfavorable behaviors. Teaching dogs to look away, paw lift and/or turn sideways are other useful body language cues to diffuse situations. Lastly, play is enriching for dogs and, I believe, people as well. So get out there and PLAY!!!

(pictured: Katie Kelly from K-9 Karma with Rusty, Pia Silvani, Aditi Terpstra with Chance)