Homeschooling Your Dog: Inquisitive Canine Edition

Welcome to Fido’s Homeschooling DIY training program. Thank you for being an inquisitive dog guardian! As always, we are thrilled to share in your training adventures.

Why Homeschool your Inquisitive Canine?

inquisitive canine DIY dog trainingTraining is a lifetime endeavor – an important, ongoing part of the relationship between you and your dog. Whether homeschooling, participating in private training or online training , we want your learning experience to be fun, rewarding and successful! Both dogs and humans should enjoy working together as you practice your training exercises. So our approach focuses on setting your dog up for success, rewarding the behaviors you want, and using management to prevent unwanted behaviors from being practiced.

The Curriculum:

The upcoming series of posts will present some highlights from the Inquisitive Canine class curriculum. We’ll start by setting down the basics and then build upon these simple behaviors. We’ll also present explanations of important concepts to keep in mind while working with your pup not only during training, but also in ‘real world’ situations.

Learning Objectives:

Our goal is to offer you some homeschooling, DIY training exercises that are simple and doable.
At the Inquisitive Canine, we teach you to teach your dogs the skills they need in order to be happy, well-adjusted, well-behaved family members and companions. We do this through the use of simple, dog and people-friendly training techniques. We will share humane, positive reinforcement, reward-based training techniques, developed from the science of animal behavior. These scientifically based teaching methods are both easy to follow and effective. Plus they make learning fun and rewarding for all!

The FUNdamentals:

Inquisitive Canine Homeschooling Dog TrainingCreating positive learning experiences for both dog and guardian gets impressive results while also enhancing the overall bond you share. So, remember to take it easy and have fun with your dog! Just like us, dogs are individuals, and work at different paces. You’ll notice some lessons are easy to pick up immediately, while some cues may take a few sessions before you get to that aha! moment. A helpful tip here is to always go back to an easier level of teaching if your dog doesn’t understand what you’re requesting at first. With patience and consistency, you will help your dog build self-confidence. After all, learning new skills can and should be enjoyable and enriching. Think recess, not term paper!

Extra Credit:

Of course, if you’d like to go beyond the DIY approach with your Inquisitive Canine, we’d love to hear from you! Tell us about your needs, your goals and your furry friend and how we can help you. In our private and online training sessions, we focus on how you would like your dog to behave, and work towards those goals with guidance and encouragement. Contact us for more information or to get started today.

Tips for Adventuring Outdoors with Your Inquisitive Canine

While the world is continuing to change and present various challenges, many of us are going back to jobs or continuing to work remotely, caring for our human families, and keeping our four-legged loved ones safe too. In the midst of all this (and probably more), you may be looking for ways to maintain a sense of normalcy for yourself and those around you. The good news is that when it comes to our inquisitive canines, keeping indoor adventures fun and engaging, as well as finding fun in the great outdoors will be rewarding (pun fully intended!) for both of you. Here are a few helpful hints and tips to think about while adventuring with your best friend.

Set Yourself Up for Success Too!

First and most importantly, what we wish for you all is good health and peace of mind. For so many of us, things are difficult right now. If you’re making it through the day, doing your best to meet your basic needs -and your dog’s, please know that you are doing great! Now is not the time for perfectionism or self-criticism. Do the best you can. Ask for help when you need it. And remember, our dogs are still thrilled by our very existence!

Familiar, Yet Fun! 

If you’re looking to take things to the next level, it doesn’t require much to bring novelty to your dog’s world. Even if your walking route is familiar to your pup, you can still change it up. Think about what obedience and tricks practice you can add to your routine. For instance, consider cueing a “stay” or “wait” at every blind corner or crosswalk, or working on loose-leash walking for a block at a time, if not more. You can even ask your dog to spin or play dead at every third mailbox! How about a “royalty wave” as a way to say hello to others, from six feet away? If you’re not in the mood for new tricks and manners, what about a new dog walking harness, like the Happy Harness from our sister site, TransPaw Gear? The point is that your dog will cherish the time outdoors engaging with you, whether you’re following the same old neighborhood route or discovering new places.

New Places Can Also Be New!

Dogs don’t generalize especially well. That means it takes practice for them to learn that the behaviors you like are not context- or environment-specific. So, even if pup is rock-solid on obedience behaviors at your favorite park and around your neighborhood, those behaviors may need more work in unfamiliar places. If local guidelines and laws allow it, you can take this opportunity to explore new outdoor spots with your pooch. You can help your dog learn to generalize by going back to basics and rewarding desirable behaviors generously in a variety of locations. Keep in mind, you may need to lower your expectations a bit, at least at first. Don’t worry, you’ll know when your dog ‘gets it’ as you work back up to proficiency. For most dogs though, it won’t take nearly as long to teach a known behavior in a new context. And then, together, you can move on to discover your next new spot. Enjoy the exploration!

No matter if you’re staying put or adventuring outdoors, we wish you, your families, and the pets you love, peace, health, and comfort as we all navigate these unprecedented times together.

Have you discovered new places or new ways to enjoy adventures with your inquisitive canine in these past few months? Please comment below or social share with us!

Fido’s Fall Semester Begins with Back to School Shopping

Here at the Inquisitive Canine when we think Back to School,” we think about four-legged students eagerly and happily learning new skills. Are you preparing for Puppy Pre-School or some DIY homeschooling with your Inquisitive Canine? Wondering what school supplies youll need? As both a certified professional dog trainer and dog mom, I have found the following items to be very useful when training dogs — my own included. Allow me to list and explain:

The All-Important Lunch Box

In this case, its a treat pouch that helps keep training fun, effective, and convenient. Consider investing in something reusable that lasts a long time and is handy for accessing snacks and supplies easily. My favorite, and the brand I’ve been using since before I was a professional trainer, is from the Doggone Good Clicker Company. Of course, baggies and plastic containers are usually lying around the house, and they work fine too in a pinch.

Healthy Snacks

Speaking of snacks, think yummy, but nutritious treats. Remember, using positive reinforcement involves rewarding dogs behaviors with something they find valuable and well, rewarding. In trainer speak, food is considered a primary reinforcer  (something your dog innately loves already). So why not use that to your advantage? Experiment with:

  • Small pieces of vegetables, such as carrots
  • Bite-sized pieces of lean meats
  • Freeze-dried veggies, such as broccoli and potato sticks
  • Whole foods off the ingredient list of your dog’s food
  • Small pieces of lean cooked meats, poultry, or fish

For best results, mix it up and try different things. You might be very surprised to discover what your inquisitive canine considers scrumptious. Reward-based training keeps learning engaging for you and your pet. So have fun and carry treats! (Note: When starting out, its a good idea to check with your veterinarian, especially regarding the number of calories your dog should have in a day. You can then divide training treats, snacks and meals accordingly to help your pup maintain a healthy body condition.)

Fashion Forward Outfit

TransPaw Happy HarnessNext up – exercise gear. As with all students, physical activity each day is just as important as good nutrition. When it comes to walking equipment, we want dogs to be comfortable and safe, so a no-pull harness is my go-to recommendation for outdoor adventures. Harnesses allow the leash to be attached to the body, diffusing pressure. Conversely, attaching the leash to a collar risks intensifying pressure around your dogs delicate neck structures, which is what you want to avoid.  The Happy Harness, available from our sister site, TransPaw Gear is not only stylish and comfortable, but also escape-proof, easy to fit, easy to clean and water friendly.

Games for Recess

Inquisitive Canine Enrichment PuzzleThink enrichment toys here. Dogs, by nature, are scavengers, predators, omnivores, and problem solvers. If we dont give them things to do to channel this energy and curiosity, they will, in all likelihood create their own entertainment” (sound familiar?). Plan ahead by providing better outlets for them. Have you tried interactive food toys? Instead of using a boring, old bowl for your dogs entire meal, you can place some (or all) of your dogs daily kibble in these toys. Encourage dogs to play with their food?? Yes! Absolutely!

A Safe Space

Now that you have snack time and play time covered, what about nap time? Dogs should have choices about where and when to relax and unwind from a busy day or take a cat nap between various activities. Whether training and caring for a new puppy, or providing a safe, sacred space for an adult dog, crates can be great options. For instance, a brief stay at the vets or groomers may require some time spent caged or kenneled. That can be stressful if your pet isnt familiar with this skill yet. And think about fun activities too.  When participating in dog sports, such as agility or K9 Nose Work®, dogs often need to be crated while waiting for their turns on the course. For that matter, crates are even good for safe transportation to and from the vet, the groomer, dog sports or any other adventures. So, even if you choose not to use one regularly, learning to relax in crate is a valuable skill for your dog.

Blankie From Home

Lastly, think cozy. You can use a dog bed, a nice beach towel or a bath rug with nonskid backing. Choose something comfy, easy to transport and easy to clean. Your force-free trainer can guide you through the steps to teach your pup to sit or lie down on a target using a cue such as Go to your place.” This is referred to as a targeting exercise, where dogs learn to target” (place) a body part -or even their whole bodies- on an object. Since dogs can learn to offer this behavior in a variety of places and/or situations, its great for when youd like your friend to settle. Whether youre hanging out at home or away – picture outdoor dining – your pup has learned a handy skill and you look like a genius! Lets hear it for the teachers pet!

Like everything else, back to school shopping may look a little (or a lot) different this fall. Just remember, when it comes to our inquisitive canines we already have everything we really need – the desire to both teach and learn and a relationship based on mutual love. The rest is just gravy!

The Importance of Teaching Dogs to be Independent – Part II

In the first part of this series, The Importance of Teaching Dogs to be Independent – Part One, we discussed broad concepts about teaching puppies and dogs skills that build confidence and promote independence. (In a nutshell, force-free training, enrichment, giving choices, and encouraging dogs to be dogs are key elements.) However, even with the basic groundwork in place, there are situations that can present more of a challenge for certain dogs and the people who love them.

Situation #1 – Adjusting to a new schedule:

Foremost on many people’s minds right now is how to train a dog to stay home alone if you are heading back to the office after working from home for several months. That’s such an important question that there’s an entire previous post devoted to it. To review:

  • Practice. Consider implementing actual dress rehearsals of what ‘back to work’ will physically look like – right down to the “costume changes.” (Work-clothes vs heading-out-on-adventures clothes.) 
  • Every dog is different. So each should be treated as an individual. Dogs with a learning history of, “Oh, yes, I remember when the humans wore those different outfits and left me alone. That’s cool. I guess we’re going back to that routine again” might do better than dogs who have never been left alone in your home (“quarantine puppies,” etc.). But you never know — and we shouldn’t make assumptions without concrete data.
  • Go slow. Err on the side of caution and ease back into routines, no matter the dogs’ learning histories. Assume they might even freak out a little at being left alone again or for longer days. So, go slow; ease them back in gradually. Again, invest some time each day for practice. Leave your pups alone for short periods at first, lengthening the amount of time slowly, so they have a better chance to adapt more easily to the new schedule.
  • Be on the lookout for early signs of stress, so you can try to intervene before the situation escalates. Brushing up on reading your dog’s body language and getting fluent in dog-lish will really help out here.

Situation #2 – My dog hates being outside alone:

First, try to examine the situation from your dog’s point of view. Remember that not all attention seeking behavior is inappropriate. Sometimes our pets truly need us to pay attention! If we haven’t taught and learned specific cues, they only have a few ways of communicating their needs in a manner we notice and respond to (barking, pawing, whining …). The most important thing here is to make sure they’re not scared, hurt, sick, hungry, or thirsty. Are they left outside all day long? All night long? Do environmental factors play a role? Is it too hot or cold?  Too wet or dry? In these cases, it’s the situation and environment that require modification, not your inquisitive canine’s behavior.

Next step. Do some detective work. It will be easier to plan for helping your dog enjoy the great outdoors if you can determine why some dogs don’t like being outside alone in the first place.

  • Fear factor. Is it scary for them? Are they fearful? Is it just in your own yard or anywhere outside your home, as in agoraphobia? If your dog is scared for some reason, you’ll want to find out why. Strange noises? Did something happen that caused them to be afraid? If so, it’ll be best to work with a certified professional force-free trainer for help.
  • Doggy Psych 101. Is it the outdoors or is it that you’re not with them? Do they have FOMO (you are home, indoors, and they crave your company and companionship)? Or are they genuinely scared to be alone? If your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, then once again, your path to helping will involve seeking professional guidance. Otherwise, you can work on making time away from you (almost) as fun and stimulating as time with you. (Read on for tips.)
  • Are they bored? If your dog is bored in the yard, you can take measures to create a positive association with the space so they learn to love it. Make it like their own private amusement park — scavenger hunts, puzzle toys, a digging pit (as long as it’s in a safe area), shallow water features they can splash in without drowning themselves (it’s okay/advisable to check on them from time to time). In this context, so much fun happens in the yard . . . and they’re playing on their own!
  • Is it punishment- or banishment? Train it before you need it. Avoid a Cinderella scenario. Have you banished your dog to the dungeon (yard) because you have company and your pup doesn’t know how to greet guests politely? Rather than punish, or even ignore, unwanted behavior, you always have the (more productive, ethical, and humane) option of teaching a replacement behavior. For instance, why not use positive reinforcement training to teach your dog to greet people nicely? Do a bunch of dress rehearsals in preparation for the big event.

Situation #3: My dog doesn’t like being left alone at night:

Once again, first determine why, by asking many of the questions presented above. Go through the variables and look at things from an inquisitive canine’s point of view. Alone, as in a separate room of the house? Outdoors vs. indoors? Humans home but the dog is left outside to sleep? Is pup bored, frightened or lonely? Here too, are we dealing with a FOMO-type circumstance or is it separation anxiety-related?

  • Rinse and repeat. After you’ve assessed the situation and made the appropriate management adjustments, you can then move on to developing a training plan. As above, first, make sure their physical and mental needs have been met. For dogs who are bored, provide an enriching (but not overstimulating for nighttime) environment for them. Next, desensitize them slowly to being left alone in small increments, so they get used to it. If they do better with a light on and maybe soothing noise in the background, do what you can to create a tranquil, relaxing space for rest.
  • “Me time.” If your dog is frightened when you’re out of sight, you’ll want to work with a professional trainer to develop a more specific plan to help with resolving fear issues. Desensitization is a process to help teach the dog to enjoy being all alone sometimes, rather than fear it. Remember, dogs are social animals; they prefer company. However, with guidance, you can condition them to appreciate a little “me time” occasionally. This time might involve happily being on their own with interactive food toys and games, taking a nap or pondering life (awake but lying down, looking out into the world) or exploring in their own backyards (provided it is safe for them to be on their own in the yard). As being alone for brief periods during the day becomes less of a source of anxiety (and actually enjoyable), being alone at night should get a little easier too.

Ultimately, while it’s great when dogs “check in” with us, it’s also nice to see them being independent, showing us that they know how to make these life choices. You’ll know they are good with being alone when you’re heading out the door and you ask them if they’d like to go with you and they stay put — as if they’re saying, “Nah, I’m good right here. Bye!” It’s almost as if they want us to know, “We’re good right now. Go on and do your own thing.” What a gift! And please don’t feel unneeded. After work -or when the guests leave -or first thing in the morning, you’ll be unleashing adventure and harnessing fun – together! (If that’s what your independent, inquisitive canine chooses, of course.)

The Importance of Teaching Dogs to Be Independent — Part I

As a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer (CSAT), I frequently face questions about clingy puppies and Velcro dogs. Devoted pet guardians want to know how to help their dogs have confidence and learn to be more independent. Certainly, some are concerned that their pets may be experiencing separation anxiety.

Fortunately, not every pup that struggles to see the value of “me time” is truly, clinically suffering from separation anxiety. For those who are, the safest, best approach is working with a certified professional. But, any pup can get a bit stressed at times if no one’s home or no one’s paying attention to his needs. In this two-part series on shaping confident, independent puppies and dogs, we’ll explore training and management options (with an emphasis on fun and games!) that will set you and your Inquisitive Canine up for success. In Part One, you’ll find general tips for life skills and confidence building first in puppies, then in adult dogs. The second part will address specific situations such as being outside alone, being alone at night-time and will review tips for preparing for transitions like back to school or heading back into the office after working from home.

To begin, let’s say you’re the proud pet parent of a new puppy – or are planning to be. As with most things, preparation is key. Plan ahead. Ideally, consult with a force-free trainer and start thinking about the skills you might want your pup to learn, so you can help your new family member start off on the right paw.

  • Teach your puppies well. Puppies are like sponges, learning everything they can to get more — or less — of what they want. Use this time to your advantage by lovingly teaching them what you want, what you expect, and the skills they will need to be able to thrive in our human world.
  • First things first. Keep in mind that not all attention seeking behavior (whining, pawing, mouthing, jumping) is for emotional needs (“I’m bored!”). First make sure they’re not scared, hurt, sick, or have a biological urge that needs to be met — hungry, thirsty, need to potty, for instance. If you want these needs to be communicated differently, those cues can be taught in time.
  • Good ol’ Life Skills (aka: Manners, aka: “Obedience”) can work wonders. Think about how many times and places you want your puppy to “sit” instead of jumping up, running around, barking etc. Take the time to teach these skills, and in a variety of locations. My favorite go-to outline for list of skills are those that Therapy Dogs need to learn. Love on a Leash outlines their requirements here.
  • Build Confidence. Explore enrichment toys for meals and treats. Chew bones are great, just make sure that they are safe and don’t cause tooth problems (check with your vet). Puzzle toys are problem-solving toys, which help build confidence. Remember, besides scavengers and predators, dogs are problem-solvers — if we don’t give inquisitive puppies “problems” to solve, they’ll find their own — sometimes this can backfire. We all have stories… (Care to share in the comments below?)
  • Socialize them so they learn to like other people and dogs — and other animals too. This way, they’re not always relying on you for everything fun, interesting and stimulating. It’s important that these brand-new interactions are positive and not scary. Consult with a force-free trainer if you have any questions about puppy socialization.
  • Gradually teach them to be alone in a safe place. Start with small amounts of time with you in the same room, but with pups in their own beds. Then move on to you being in another room of the house, building up to longer periods of time with you out of the room and eventually, with you out of the house. Go slow and steady, so puppy learns to trust being home alone. (More on this process in previous and future posts.)

Now, what if you’re not starting from puppyhood? Can adult dogs still learn new life skills? Can they “unlearn” old habits? Of course! As you’ll see, much of the approach to teaching adult dogs to be more independent is very similar to teaching puppies.

  • Think outside of the bowl. The emphasis of meal delivery should be with training or food enrichment toys. We know that bowls have their place, at times, but when possible,  feed meals outside of the bowl. It doesn’t have to be for every meal, but food can be used to allow them to use their predatory skills in a safe and productive way. As with puppies, popular activities such as enrichment toys/interactive food toys/scavenger hunts and games where they have to figure out how to get the food out can help promote independence.
  • Reinforce behaviors you want to see repeated. Reinforcing “independent” behaviors such as playing on their own and just generally being by themselves can also help. If they are constantly pawing at you for attention, do your best to ease up on returning the attention they’re seeking. You don’t want to be cruel or rude, but encourage them to spend time by themselves — even if it’s just in a dog bed in another room, or even the same room- just not your lap or at your feet. (At least all of the time! We get it – we love and appreciate the companionship too!)
  • Teach (and learn) alternative behaviors. If your dog is always in your lap, teach them an alternative behavior such as resting in their bed. Of course, you’ll still want to bond with your dog, but be aware of your own behaviors. It’s nice to have an interruption now and again, a furry reminder to step away from the computer and take a break. However, constant coddling can likely result in an increase in your dog relying on you – for everything – all the time.
  • Dogs are problem solvers. So, give them the opportunity to solve problems on their own sometimes. For instance, let’s say a toy is under a piece of furniture just out of reach. But you can see that if your inquisitive canine attempts at a different angle or uses their body in a different way, they could reach it. Let them figure it out — be their cheerleader! If you just go and get it, your dog has just trained you to do the work for them. Give dogs opportunities to grow and thrive on their own. Constantly hovering, fixing things for them, “doing their homework” for them, and being a “helicopter dog parent” interferes with their own thought processes and problem-solving skills. Trust your dog! They can do it!
  • Give dogs choices. As humans, we gain confidence through life experiences. We learn from them and grow. Being allowed to make decisions and have control over our own choices is what helps us to develop confidence. Even though dogs aren’t human, they are sentient beings, with emotions and a zest for life. Based on this, I would say that giving dogs opportunities to make decisions and have control over outcomes will help them build confidence as well. Even if your dog is well past being a puppy, continue to teach “life skills” that encourage decision making under different circumstances.
  • Unleash adventure! Allow dogs to learn on their own too. Encourage exploration (as long as it’s safe for them and others). Consider “hunting” games or sports that allow them to be dogs — meaning, the types of activities where humans aren’t telling them what to do all of the time. K9 Nose Work, herding, and tracking encourage dogs to use their doggy skills. We are there to give them a ride and make sure they don’t get injured (and marvel at how perfect and brilliant dogs can be).

Teaching skills for confidence and independence are essential to your pet’s emotional and physical wellbeing. However, remember to enjoy your quality time together too. There’s no substitute for unleashing adventure and harnessing fun with your Inquisitive Canine.

Stay tuned for Part Two of this article, where we troubleshoot specific situations that can be challenging for some pets and their people.

Heading Back into the Office? Help Make It a Smooth Transition for Your Dog

As many of us start thinking about venturing back into the office after months working from home, there seem to be more questions than answers. One of those questions for loving pet guardians is, “Will my dog have separation anxiety after quarantine?” While every situation is different and hopefully most pets may not suffer from true, clinical separation anxiety, the transition is likely to present some challenges for the whole family, including your Inquisitive Canine. Here are a few tips to prepare your dog for when you go back to the office, ways to reduce stress, toys to provide, training concepts and advice about when to reach out to professionals.

Practice, practice, practice

A great approach dog guardians can take is to begin planning and implementing dress rehearsals sooner rather than later…as in now. Even if you are still working from home, pretend you’re going to the office sometimes. Go through all the motions as if you are leaving home. Each detail is important – your dog picks up on every cue -that’s what being an inquisitive canine is all about! So, think of all the sights (office attire? uniform?), sounds (car keys clanking?) and even scents (perfume? or- let’s be honest -freshly showered?) associated with heading off to work. This will help get the routine established, giving your dog time to transition gradually to the upcoming changes. Invest some time each day for practice. Leave your pups alone for short periods at first, lengthening the amount of time slowly, so they have a better chance to adapt more easily.  

Expect the unexpected

The truth is, even with advanced preparation, you may need to make some adjustments along the way. This is why it’s important to “train it before you need it.” By accessing remote cameras when you are away from home, you can witness your dog’s reaction to your absence. This information will help give insight into any training steps you may need to take. Your pooch may enjoy the “me  time” at home, without any issues during the work day. On the flip side, he or she might begin to stress out, realizing you’re not around all the time. Again, dress rehearsals can help identify and address some potential issues. 

Harnessing indoor happiness

Using enrichment toys, whether a dog is home alone or not, is key for building independence and self-confidence. For more on enrichment such as nose games and interactive toys, check out this post from TransPaw Gear

It’s okay to ask for help

If a dog truly has separation anxiety, toys and other distractions may not help. Pairing food puzzles with being home alone might even make it so your dog doesn’t want to eat at all when you’re gone. For true separation anxiety, seek out professional help (force-free only, of course).  If you intend to leave your dog home alone for longer periods, consider doggy daycare or a dog walker. Make time to introduce your dog to these outside resources before heading back to the office. This way, you are not rushed and can intervene if your dog seems stressed. Finding the right match for your situation is another place dress rehearsals can make a big difference, both for your pet’s comfort level and your own. 

Remember to have fun

Lastly, pet parents should make sure they are still providing for their dogs’ physical and mental needs at every opportunity. Down time is key, but so is bonding time. Who knows? A little fun and adventure with your bestie might be great for you during this transition too. So, when you are not in the office, here’s to unleashing adventures and harnessing fun with your Inquisitive Canine!

Do Social Distancing and Severe Weather Look Alike? Dog Trainers Weigh In

Since The Inquisitive Canine is based in California, we realized we don’t really deal with many of the things that keep folks stuck indoors during the winter months. For those who are not as fortunate (in our opinion), we were curious to learn how they are able to find new adventures indoors, when the outdoors is not cooperating. While we recognize that self-isolation during a global pandemic is not exactly the same as inclement weather, there are probably some overlaps!

Could this sheltering-in-place be less challenging for those who endure long, arduous winters every year, since they might be used to having to be indoors? We reached out to colleagues and asked how they got through the winter blues, in the hopes that it will inspire you to soldier on during this more challenging time.

Here’s what we learned:

Maya Kolankowska

Student, The Academy for Dog Trainers, Quebec, Canada

TPG: What type of activities do you engage in with your dog when stuck indoors during the winter? This could be things you do with your dog, or enrichment activities to keep them busy on their own.

dog training fun outdoorsMK: My Boston terrier has arthritis in both front legs, so I cannot do lots of high-intensity play with lots of direction change indoors. We have to resort to training and mental stimulation. I have a lot of Nina Ottosson puzzles, interactive toys that are stuffed and frozen and given each day. I also do mini-training sessions, and I prepare surprise treat/kibble boxes, and up the level of difficulty gradually. Another favourite thing of mine is having her “go find” her food, which I hide. She is really good at it now. Finally, we also do tug sessions where we practice cues like drop, leave it, and take it.

TPG: What are some of your favorite things to do throughout the year?

MK: We enjoy hiking, either on a long lead or off leash, walking in the woods, meeting new doggy friends and practicing positive interactions. I have amazing neighbours who are more than happy to work with me and our dogs.

TPG: Are there any types of activities you save for this time of year? How do you change up your routine, if at all?

MK: I tend to do more mental enrichment during winter months since my dog does not enjoy winters. Once it is nicer, we practice outside with more distractions and do some refreshers on those behaviors.

TPG: How are things different with COVID-19 isolation compared to winter conditions where you are?

MK: We do not frequent dog parks due to my dog’s arthritis, but we are definitely missing out on social doggie interactions on our walks. At other times, I would usually tend to walk with neighbours, especially if their dog is “reactive”; this helps my dog and theirs.

Jennifer Pratt, CTC, CSAT, CPDT-KA

Owner, Wag the Dog and Company, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

TPG: What type of activities do you engage in with your dog when stuck indoors during the winter? This could be things you do with your dog, or enrichment activities to keep them busy on their own. 

Wag the Dog Puzzle ToyJP: I up the food puzzle rotation even more than we already do otherwise, and find new ways to teach him new tricks that are variations of using hand targeting as a base. 

TPG: What are some of your favorite things to do throughout the year? 

JP: Teaching him new tricks that I make up and find entertaining!  Working on husbandry training to up my game for both my dog and my clients.

TPG: Are there any types of activities you save for this time of year? 

JP: Honestly, no. There is just more time to devote to indoor use of feeders.  (We use them outside in the yard to up the hunting factor when it is nice out!)

TPG: How are things different with COVID-19 isolation compared to winter conditions where you are? 

JP: With me having less work coming in, Ed and I have been able to take longer sniffaris. 

TPG: What have you considered doing once the snow melts and you’re able to go outside? If you’re still under quarantine, how will things change for you? Will you keep up the same routine you use in winter, or do something else? 

JP: My dog loves being outside when it is nice out, so we will be adding in trips to go and find new sniffari locations for him to explore, and spending more time outside with me gardening and him sunbathing.

No matter where you are, or the conditions you may be experiencing, you can see that both physical and mental enrichment are important for your dog’s well-being. Maybe now is a great time to set up that indoor obstacle course, train that trick you’ve been wanting your dog to learn, or clean out your t-shirt drawer and make a new toy for them to play with.

Wanna join the conversation? Just head to the comment section below. Care to share pics and videos of your inquisitive or adventurous canine? We invite you to post on our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter – Tweet to us and well Tweet ya back!

Tips for Staying Sane (and Staying Indoors) With Your Dog During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Over the past few weeks, planet Earth has spun into a surreal state. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, countries around the globe have been affected, leading many humans to transition into self-monitored quarantine status. This happened quickly, which meant we did not have time to plan. Now that a few weeks have gone by, we’re starting to settle in to our new normal. But, what does that mean for our relationships with our canine companions?

Fortunately, in many areas of the world, we’re still allowed to take our dogs for a walk outdoors. But what about indoor entertainment? For those of you who are spending more time indoors with your dogs, it can still be fun. Why not turn lemons into lemonade and go through that “If I only had more time…” checklist of some of the things you’ve been wanting to do with your dog.

Here are a few ideas to get you started!

    • Make your own dog toy. This is especially handy for folks who are cleaning out their closets — old socks and T-shirts make for good materials. Need some inspiration?
      • Here’s are a number of DIY dog toy ideas from care.com. When making my own toys, I prefer using old T-shirts, socks, water bottles, etc. Stay away from any items that could hurt the dog, like small pieces of things they can choke on. Always observe your dog with a new toy to make sure they don’t harm themselves.
      • Consider making a DIY snuffle mat. This wonderful toy encourages your dog to use their sense of smell to find treats hidden within the mat. It’s a great indoor energy burner for any dog since scent games are so mentally tiring for them.
    • In addition to toys, there are lots of indoor enrichment opportunities for your dog. These activities to keep them physically and mentally busy. Here are some ideas to get you started, or you can Google dog enrichment and find lots of information.
  • Read up on dog behavior and training! Dogwise is a publisher with tons of wonderful titles available for all interest levels. One of our favorites is The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson. Inquisitive Canine trainer Joan Mayer calls it her bible!
  • Stock up on some new goods! Need training supplies to help get your game on at home? We love a supplier called Doggone Good Clicker Company.
  • Let the training games begin! Brush up on those most-needed skills at home — maybe it’s basic manners, such as sitting at doorways, down-stay on their bed while you eat dinner, sitting on a mat when the front door opens in order to welcome company politely, coming when called, or leaving things alone when asked
  • Get your groom on. Teach your dog to be comfortable having their teeth brushed and nails trimmed. Check out the Nailed It!! Program, where anyone can sign up and learn how to give their dog a pedi-pedi.
  • Create an indoor obstacle course. Set up stations throughout the house — sit in the bedroom, down-stay in the office, fetch in the hallway, tug in the kitchen, their favorite trick in the living room. Make a list of behaviors your dog knows, and set yourself a course. It’s like circuit training for dogs!!
  • Get fit with Fido. Looking to amp up your own workout routine? Pair up with your dog and become workout buddies. Have your dog do one behavior while you do another. For instance, you do sit-ups, push-ups, or squats while your dog does a sit-stay, down-stay, or puppy-push-up (sit to down to sit to down.). You do a burpee, your dog does a spin or jump. (Make sure you both are cleared by your respective medical professionals for your exercise program.)

Although these are difficult times for many people, and we are finding ourselves in largely uncharted territory, it doesn’t have to be difficult to keep your dog occupied when you’re stuck indoors. Comment to tell us what you end up choosing to do with your pup!

Top Tips to Make Training Your Dog a Breeze

Sometimes dogs can seem like alien creatures to us. They eat things we find gross. They don’t speak our language (even though it sometimes seems like they do). Dog training can look like sorcery to the untrained eye. Here we’ve provided you with key tips to decode your dog and get better results from your training program!

  • Know what you want your dog to do. Picture it as clearly as you can. We often focus on what our dogs are doing wrong, but it’s much more helpful to focus on what we would like them to do Is your dog jumping on guests? Perhaps a sit would be better? Begging at the table? Wouldn’t it be lovely if the dog lay calmly on their bed instead? Focusing on the positive, and actually visualizing exactly how you want the finished behavior to look, will help in several ways. First, it will give you a clear goal to work toward. Second, it will let you notice what your dog is already doing right, which you can then proactively reinforce so it happens more.
  • Know your dog. Dogs are individuals, with varied likes and dislikes, and distinct personalities. Knowing your dog really well allows you to create a training plan that caters to their strengths, making it easier for both of you. Seeing what really gets your dog jazzed – liver treats, a game of fetch, a trip to the dog park – can help you select the most motivating reinforcers when you’re working on new behaviors. Knowing your dog well will also help you have realistic expectations for what they can achieve. Your terrier (bred for barking) may never be totally silent at the sound of the doorbell, but three barks followed by a stay on their mat is totally feasible! Your hound may always walk with their nose to the sidewalk, but they can do that while at your side instead of pulling on their leash like a freight train.
  • Reward what you like. It’s easy to miss it when your dog is behaving perfectly, but it’s important that you “catch them in the act” of making good choices or minding their manners. As you reinforce the behaviors you like, they’ll happen more often. When your dog is getting good at certain behaviors, cue the dog to perform those behaviors instead of engaging in behaviors you don’t want.  A solid down-stay on a dog bed can keep a counter surfer under control, and a strong sit is, again, a great way to keep a jumpy greeter from jumping.
  • Set your dog up for success. Dogs are so incredibly adaptable that we often forget how confusing our human world can be to them. We can make things easier by setting clear rules and showing our dogs what is and is not appropriate canine behavior, rather than expecting them to guess. Managing the dog’s environment is also critical. It’s important that a dog’s world is interesting and enriching, but we also need to do what we can to prevent unwanted behaviors. This can include creating a safe area for a new puppy while they’re learning the ropes regarding what to chew and where to eliminate, clearing off kitchen surfaces to prevent counter surfers from succeeding on their quests, and anything else that staves off an unwanted behavior by changing the environment rather than trying to change the dog. In short, make your dog’s world as conducive as possible to helping them “get it right the first time.”
  • Plan ahead! Think about what behaviors you would like your dog to perform, and in what environments it will be important for the dog to perform them, and then practice those behaviors in those environments well ahead of time. Dogs need time to synthesize new information before it is solid, and even once they’ve got it in one context, they will likely need to relearn it in a situation that looks totally different. Have patience and plan ahead to make sure your relationship with your dog remains harmonious.
  • Think hard about the question: “Why is my dog doing this?” First, consider whether what’s happening is a normal behavior for the dog. Dogs eat, eliminate, chew, dig, and bark, and all of that is entirely natural. That doesn’t mean you must throw up your hands and accept whatever is happening. These behaviors can and should be directed to appropriate channels. The next thing to think about is whether an unwanted behavior is being reinforced, either by you, someone else, or the dog’s environment. Understanding the “why” behind a behavior from a dog’s perspective can help you sort this out. If your dog barks for attention and you yell, they may see that as good enough or “better than nothing” attention, and bark more often. Finally, ask yourself if you have taught your dog what you want them to do instead. Your dog may simply be doing the unwanted thing because no one has presented another option! This brings us full circle back to our first tip, figuring out what you want your dog to do, and then teaching them how to do it.

These strategies are the foundation of any good behavior program, and in fact, they are the true foundation of a strong human-canine relationship. If you’re stuck at any point along the way, contact us for help! We want you and your dog to succeed as a team! When you do, everyone will benefit.

Dealing with Cujo Canine, How to Make Dog Walk More Manageable

Dear Inquisitive Canine,

I adopted Isla (German Shepherd mix) from a shelter about a month ago.  She’s approximately 9 months old now and she’s very sweet…95% of the time.  However, despite some prior exposure in her young life, to walking on a leash, we can be out for a walk or on a potty trip and for no apparent reason she will go all Cujo on me.  Writhing, bucking, and biting…anything that might work to free her from the restrictive nature of the leash.  There are no other dogs present, no people, no stimuli to warrant Cujo showing up.  She’s just royally ticked off that she’s on that leash and by golly, she wants to be free of it.

The best I can do at this point is to get a death grip on her collar, which affords me some protection from those pearly white, sharp teeth, and calmly talk her down off the ledge.  Sometimes that works on the first go, sometimes not.  Even if I have treats on me, for other pursuits (sit, down, stay), I feel like giving her a treat, once she’s calm from the meltdown, will give her the wrong idea.  I even bought a muzzle, but I’m 64 years old and getting that sucker on her is simply NOT happening.  I am in the process of de-weeding a fenced area in my back yard and giving her the supervised opportunity to burn off some pent up energy, but that may make it worse when she is leashed.

Any suggestions, short of getting one of those padded suits (which won’t bode well in a Texas summer) and toughing it out?

Thanks,

Isla’s Worn Out Mom

Dear Isla’s Mom,

Sounds like you’re both getting quite the workout! It also sounds like there are a few challenges that definitely need to be addressed. We’d be happy to provide a few dog training tips.

  • Triggers – although you mention there’s no apparent reason, if the “Cujo behavior” keeps happening, there is likely a trigger somewhere. Even if it’s an internal trigger such as, “We’ve been out here for X amount of time and now I’m bored and frustrated.” Consider the time-factor. Is it immediate? After she has gone potty? Is it the overall pace of the walk? Would she rather run than stroll?
  • Function of the behavior – Keep in mind that all behaviors have a function – to either get something or avoid something. Does Isla enjoy the Cujo game with you? If she does, and you don’t, then switch up the game. Reinforce the behaviors you like and want, before she goes into her whirling dervish mode. Walking nicely on leash is what you want, yes? Teach her that skill and reward her with treats, petting, praise, and anything else you can give her while out in public. (A game of tug or fetch perhaps?) If you teach and practice those skills first, then she’ll know what the right choice is.
  • Treats – what types of treats are you using? For a situation as challenging as leash walking, you might need to up the game. Higher value such as little bits of boiled chicken or steak might be more motivating for her. Isla will let you know what she prefers. And, make sure she’s hungry. (Not starving.) If you’re feeding her a big breakfast, then going on a walk, she’s less likely to want food. So, use her meals to your advantage while training her.
  • Shape her behavior – because of her age, and this particular challenge, you might want to start out with shorter but more frequent training sessions. Instead of 30 minutes, go for 2-3 10-15 minute sessions. This is especially true if she starts going Cujo at a certain point. For instance, if she’s fine up until the 12-minute mark, then go for 10 minutes. Give her a break then go again. This might be a bit more inconvenient for you, initially, but once she’s trained you’ll be able to venture out for longer periods. It’s also good to practice in lower distracting environments – around your home and yard, before heading out to the streets.

Remember to reward behaviors you like and want, teach Isla what you want, and set her up for success so she learns what the right behavior is and can make better choices.