K9 Nose Work:  One Sport Your Dog May Want to Sniff Out!

k9 nose work trainingWhat is K9 Nose Work?

In K9 Nose Work, dogs learn how to search for a specific odor or odors and find the source. It is a growing sport that is based on your dog’s natural instinct to hunt and sniff out prey. This fun activity will benefit your dog by building its confidence and exercise its mind and body.  You will enjoy watching your dog work and it will deepen the bond between you, even if you do not do it competitively.

K9 Nose Work was founded and developed by Ron Gaunt, Amy Herot, and Jill Marie O’Brien, all certified experts and highly accomplished in training K9 detection and tracking dogs for law enforcement.  Using their extensive experience in professional canine detection, these three K9 experts developed K9 Nose Work to give people and their pet dogs a fun and easy way to learn and apply scent detection skills.

How Do You Get Started in Nose Work?

K9 Nose Work is fun for any dog and the owner who wants to try it. Neither of you need any obedience or other training. This sport is a game that builds on your dog’s natural abilities. It is so easy to learn because your dog will love playing games that use its scenting instincts to find its favorite treat or toy.

Get started in this fun activity by locating a K9 Nose Work class or workshop taught by a certified Nose Work instructor.  Find the right trainer for you, your dog, and your goals. In Nose Work classes specifically, you should start by taking the Intro class to learn the foundational skills. The subsequent Nose Work class will introduce odor targeting.

When you begin Nose Work training, your dog will start the game by simply finding a treat or toy on its own, with no owner interruption. The dog will continue training that way for three months to one year, depending on the dog’s own pace of learning. During that period, the dog will develop confidence in its ability to achieve success in hunting and scenting. It also builds the dog’s mental and physical fitness, which is vital for your dog’s good health.  All the while your dog is learning new hunting skills in different environments, unimpeded by the owner.

As the dog progresses in its abilities, the search games become progressively more difficult.  They will include odor targeting, introducing multiple containers in the search and the concepts of exterior, interior, and vehicle searches, all of which are part of Nose Work competition events.

Nose Work Competition

If you are interested in Nose Work as a competitive sport, you should take regular classes to make sure you both have the skills needed to be competitive at that level. Once you and your dog become sufficiently advanced, you can participate in mock competitions to test both of your skills. Some owners use an experienced handler to handle their dogs in competition. You can get a lot of detailed information about the competitions time and location from the National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW™), the official sanctioning and organizing body for the sport of K9 Nose Work.  You should go observe them to see what is involved. These competitions are quite demanding. Observing a few of them will help you understand the etiquette and prepare for the challenges you and your dog will face.

Before you are eligible to compete in a NACSW™ competition, your dog must be able to identify the location of the target odor and the handler able to correctly call an ‘alert’ within a three-minute time period. This is called an Odor Recognition Test (ORT). To enter an ORT you must be a member of the NACSW™, and your dog must be registered with the NACSW™.  At an ORT at the first level of competition, you and your dog will have to search 12 identical boxes with one of the boxes containing birch odor.  You must be able to correctly identify when your dog has found the odor box.

After passing an ORT, you and your dog are eligible to compete at the Nose Work 1 (NW1) level. Please note that an NW1 trial is much more complex than an ORT.  At an NW1 trial, your dog must cope with distractions, environmental stressors, larger search areas, and the four elements of competition (container, interior, exterior, and vehicle). Also, your dog should be prepared to go from crate to work several times during the course of the competition.

The next level up is NW2. At that level, you and your dog should expect to find multiple hides in one environment, work through more challenging, less accessible “hides”, overcome food and toy distractions and alert only to odor, and manage a longer, larger search.

The highest level is NW3. This is a professional level of nose work. You and your dog will have to demonstrate that the dog can find an unknown number of hides in a search environment, you or the handler will recognize the search behavior in a dog when no odor is present (if there is a blank room), the dog and handler team can work through even more challenging, less accessible hides with varying heights and containment, the dog can overcome food and toy distractions in any environment and alert only to odor, the dog can manage much longer, larger searches, with the interior searches potentially being 12-15 minutes.

Whether you decide to compete with your dog or not, Nose Work training will enhance the relationship you have with your dog and your dog will become a more confident and happy inquisitive canine.

How to Be the Pawfect Guest — Getting Your Dog Invited Back

imgresWhether your inquisitive canine and you have been invited for a happy hour event at your neighbor’s condo, a weekend at your friend’s home, or a month-long stay at your cousin’s lake house, you want to ensure you get invited back. In the past, we’ve discussed how to help your inquisitive canine be the pawfect host so we thought we’d hit the other end of the spectrum and address ways to set your precious pooch up to be a poster dog for being the pawfect guest.

With holiday weekends around the bend and summertime on the horizon, we here at IC HQ’s wanted to share some of what we think are helpful tips to ensure that your dog is a gracious guest.

Tips For Getting Yourself — and Your Dog — Invited Back

Make sure everyone is on board with hosting a bow-wow! While the person you’re visiting may give you the thumbs up to bring your furry baby, consider others who may be in the mix during your visit. While Uncle Bob might be totally comfortable around dogs, little Sally may be afraid of them. Additionally, consider leaving your inquisitive canine at home if she or he doesn’t play nicely with other animals (or vice versa, with the pets that belong to the people whom you’re visiting).

Keep it clean and tidy. No matter how gracious your hosts are, creating extra work for them shouldn’t be part of your visit. Cleaning up after yourself is key, and similarly, tidying up after Fido is essential, too. Remember to follow the fur trail, and wipe down, sweep, use a lint roller, or vacuum as you go. This goes for dirt and other outdoor debris, and food and treat remnants as well. You’ll also want to make sure toys are picked up and beds/crates/dog mats are kept in a discrete location and are not tripping hazards. Lastly, ask your hosts how they would like you to leave the place before you leave. Check and double check to make sure you’ve picked and packed up everything, and restored order to any chaos you and/or your canine may have created.

Be like a stealthy Ninja! Are you up at the crack of dawn to take your dog out for a walk or to play in the backyard? How about moonlit walks before bed? Your host might have a different schedule, so keep this in mind when you and your inquisitive canine are roaming about.

BYOS (Bring Your Own Supplies). Pack what you need, without relying on your host to provide anything for your dog — including towels! Dogs are, for the most part, simple creatures, but through domestication, it seems their “essentials” list has grown. Depending on the type of visit, you’ll want to remember to pack what you need, including a leash, harness, collar, bowls, food puzzles, toys, food and treats, medications, grooming aids, waste bags, a bed or crate, and towels.

Reinforce your host’s behavior. Ya gotta love folks who welcome guest dogs into their homes. Show your gratitude from the get-go by giving them, and perhaps even their pet, a little gift. You can also express your appreciation by taking them out for a meal or to some place they enjoy. Lastly, follow up with a handwritten note. (These never go out of style, no matter how hi-tech our society gets). You might even include a photo of your dog at their place as a remembrance, letting them know your inquisitive canine appreciates them, too.

Skills fit for cotillion! Now’s the time for your dog to be at the top of his or her manners game. Being well-versed at sitting, lying down, going to his or her bed on cue, being quiet around distractions, leaving things alone when asked, and politely greeting people (and other animals) should be rock solid. This is no time for teaching new behaviors; this is, however, the perfect opportunity to demonstrate how wonderful your dog is. I would add in leash walking and coming when called too, as these behaviors are always needed, no matter where you go.

Know the boundaries. Make sure your dog and you understand where his or her “bathroom” is, as well as sleeping quarters and lounging locations. Will your dog be allowed on furniture? Even if he or she is, designating a special blanket or towel for your inquisitive canine to use will protect the environment while also subtly conveying to your hosts that you respect their home. When it comes to house training, take your dog to the requested outdoor spot to do his or her business, and then positively reinforce the appropriate behavior — so that he or she knows where to go. You’ll also want to keep a close eye on your dog to help prevent unfortunate incidents.

Visits should be fun and festive for everyone — including the host. A well-mannered inquisitive canine and self-aware guest set themselves up to be invited back every time!


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

Veterinary Nutritionist Dr. Cailin Heinze’s Recipe for Dog Feeding & Treating Success

Ringo-Chewy-2Having a conversation about the best choices for dog food and treats is an invitation to open up Paw-ndora’s Box. So before I begin, let me first make it clear that I am not a vet, vet nutritionist or dog nutrition expert. However, I am a certified dog trainer and dog-mom who happens to be passionate about what she feeds her dog and what she uses for training.

For our new dog, Ringo, hubby and I wanted to start out on the right paw with his dietary needs. Poncho, the original inquisitive canine, had many dietary issues during the last few years of his life. Because of this, we admittedly had some emotional baggage when it came to choosing Ringo’s new diet. But instead of making decisions based on our own learning experience, friends’ opinions and what Professor Google says, we went to the experts.

First we checked with our local veterinarian, whom we adore and respect. She provided us with her recommendations and rationale behind her choices. Because she knew our history with Poncho, she was fully supportive when I asked for a referral to a board-certified veterinary nutritionist with whom we’d worked in the past, Dr. Cailin Heinze. Dr. Heinze is a specialist who teaches at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.

In addition to our formal consultation, I approached Dr. Heinze about being interviewed for this post. The following are highlights from our conversation and include some fantastic tips to help you make informed food and treat choices for your inquisitive canine.

Inquisitive Canine (IC): Mealtime is a convenient time to train, but what about other times during the day when someone wants to work with his or her dog? How important is it for healthy dogs to be on a specific feeding schedule?

Dr. Cailin Heinze (CH): Once a dog is house-trained, then it doesn’t matter all that much when meals are given. The biggest exception would be for dogs with a medical condition, such as diabetes, and for those pets that require medication that must be given either with food or on an empty stomach. While a routine can be nice for the household, most dogs will adjust just fine to variable meal times/training. If a dog’s regular food is used for training, I would suggest measuring it out every morning to avoid over or under feeding if the training schedule changes. Anything left at the end of the day can then be fed as a meal.

IC: When it comes to food labels, there seems to be a lot of confusing verbiage out there — everything from valid statements to marketing garbage. What should dog parents be aware of when they read a label on a can of food or on the side of a bag of treats?

CH: There is actually very little information on labels that tell you about the quality or usefulness of the food. We have a lot of stuff on the Tufts Vet Nutrition website about labels and terms. “Natural” is an absolutely useless term that is commonly used for marketing purposes only. It has a legal definition – not synthetic – but that doesn’t mean anything because there are lots of very dangerous natural things, including arsenic, lead, yew and mycotoxins, to name a few. There are also plenty of safe synthetic ones, including some vitamins and amino acid supplements.

IC: When choosing foods or treats for training, is it best to just use the dog’s own food as the first choice? What if that doesn’t motivate him or her? What other options work without having too much of a negative impact on the dog’s overall nutrition?

CH: If a dog will work for his regular food, that’s great. For otherwise healthy dogs, lean meats normally work well because they are lower in calories and of course dogs usually love the taste. There are also perfectly fine options for “tiny” training treats that are only a calorie or two.

Human foods, such as egg, meat, cheese or peanut butter, may also be good options. Just be careful about the salt, fat and total calories! Human baby food can also work, but keep an eye if there is any onion or garlic in the food or too much fat or too many calories.

IC: Are there ways to enhance or “dress up” a dog’s usual foods? Can you add or change anything or will this throw off the quality of nutrition?

CH: If you keep within a treat allowance of about 10% of the dog’s daily caloric intake, then you should be fine. For a healthy pet, you can add meats, fat and definitely fruits and vegetables to the main diet without much risk of causing big issues. This is assuming you are feeding an appropriate amount and type of regular food that is within the range of the feeding orders for your dog’s ideal body weight.

IC: You mention adding “fat” to the diet. Are you talking about fish oils or nut butters?

CHPretty much anything, as long as your dog does well with fat (some dogs can get upset stomachs or even pancreatitis if they eat too much fat) – chicken fat, lard, olive oil, flaxseed oil, tallow and even coconut oil. Keep in mind that a little bit goes a long way – about 135 kcal per tablespoon. There really aren’t healthy vs. unhealthy fats in dogs because they don’t get heart disease related to saturated fat like people do. As for fish oils, I generally give specific amounts.

IC: If a person needs to change up the treats in order to keep their dog motivated, what is the best approach? Keep within the same protein? Or is it better to stick with the 10% rule and watching for signs of tummy upset?

CH: The latter is fine. It’s probably good to use something for as long as it works before switching, just to avoid exposure to too many protein sources. That could be an issue later if any allergies develop. There is no real evidence that rotating or not rotating food choices makes a difference health or nutrition-wise.

IC: Are there any treat recipes that you would recommend? Or is it best to just go with simple commercial items that are easily accessible?

CH: Most treat recipes that avoid things like onions, garlic, raisins and undercooked animal products are probably fine, so long as you keep within the treat allowance.

IC: What top tips do you want owners to know when it comes to treats/foods for their dogs?

CH: Don’t overdo it. Outside of training, treats are often more important to the owner than the pet. Smaller is better! As an example, the first few bites of that cheesecake you eat usually tastes the best. If you stopped there you’d be thinner and healthier.

***

Well, inquisitive pet parents, as we’ve discovered, dog treats, food and training can create a recipe for success, not a disaster. And thanks to Dr. Heinze’s sage advice, we’ve also learned that less is more, keep treats to 10% of the daily caloric intake, and use your dog’s meals to your advantage. And finally, it’s okay to ration out portions and use them throughout the day for training.

When choosing the types of foods, it’s important to read between the lines of the labels and consult with your vet. If you feel like you need additional guidance, connecting with a vet nutritionist like Dr. Heinze is a great option to consider. For additional information, check out their website and Petfoodology blog where you can find a lot of information and resources for making informed decisions about your dog’s dietary needs.

Here’s a question for you, my inquisitive dog friends. How do you use your dog’s food for training? Do you turn mealtime into training time? Take it on the road with you? We invite you to join the conversation below.


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

Don’t Speak Woof? Understanding Your Dog’s Body Language

Have you ever wished that you and your dog spoke the same language?

While we don’t share the same vocal language, when you really think about it, we can very effectively and successfully read each other and mutually communicate our needs nonverbally, using body language.

In fact, most of what your dog has to “say” is communicated through her facial expressions, body poses and postures. Some of the key areas of your dog to watch are her head, eyes, mouth/tongue, legs, and tail.

For the most part, canine body language is predictive, universal throughout the species, honest and reliable. Sometimes the expressions can be more subtle, but even with an untrained eye, it won’t take you long to learn what your dog is saying.

You probably spend a fair amount of time watching and observing your dog already, like when she’s playing and frolicking about, having a grand old time. This is a wonderful thing to do. This gives you insight into what she looks like when she’s relaxed. You might notice things like her ears are in a neutral position, her mouth is open and tongue may be hanging out, her tail is down in a loose position (not rigid or tucked), and her gaze is easy.

How about other times? What about your dog meets someone new? Goes to a new place? When she sees something she’s never seen before? Or hears something she’s never heard before?

It’s important we observe our dogs during these times as well; their body language will tell you what they’re thinking. For example, if your dog is on alert but not necessarily behaving in a manner us humans would interpret as fearful or aggressive, you’ll notice numerous signs that she’s assessing the situation. In this case, her ears might be pointing forward, as if trying to pick up a sound, her mouth might be closed, her tail up but not necessarily bristled and maybe even moving side to side, and she may also be leaning forward – all of the things people do when we are trying to make a judgment call about the safety of our surroundings.

And there are several telltale (telltail?!) signs that can help clue you in when your dog is alert or aroused, scared or defensive; these may include hackles raised, tail either straight up in the air like a flag (more alert) or tucked under her legs (more concerned), lips curled and perhaps showing teeth, ears either forward or flattened back, and body shifted forward slightly or lowered. Some of these signs indicate defense, whereas others are more friendly. Raised hackles doesn’t necessarily mean the dog is being “aggressive.” On the flip side, a wagging tail doesn’t always mean “happy.” Remember, each dog is unique and different, so the more you get to know your own inquisitive canine, the better you’ll become at reading his or her emotional state – and the message your pet is trying to communicate.

Learning how to sharpen your canine-human communication is easy when you know what to look for.

THE BIG PICTURE:

  • Take a mental snapshot of what your dog looks like (how she acts) when relaxed. This is a great way to establish a baseline of your dog’s friendly behavior.
  • When observing your dog at any given time, look at the entire picture, not just a piece.
  • Be aware of your dog’s surroundings and the possible effects it may have on her behavior. Anything new? Different? Something she might be afraid of?
  • If and when your dog shows any change from that baseline-relaxed appearance, try to determine what the trigger might be, then take note. You may want or need to do some pleasant association training to help your dog relax. The more familiar you are with how she expresses herself, the better able you’ll be able to help her alleviate fear and anxiety and remove her from situations that make her stressed and/or aggressive.

To help you keep track of the various body language your dog displays, please click here to download our DIY Inquisitive Canine Body Language Chart. And, to go further into the world of canine communication, check out the iSpeakDog.org website where you’ll find an assortment of resources to help your communication skills.

What does your dog’s body language tell you? Is there something specific he or she does that you know means something special? Let us know what your inquisitive canine is saying!


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

No Dog Left Behind: Making the Case for Canine Education

Education is important — so much so that it’s written into our law… for humans.

CanineEducation-4In the United States, there are compulsory education laws, which mandate that children attend school (public, private or home) by a certain age, and state they are not allowed to drop out (should they decide to) until a specific age. These laws were developed to help literacy rates, protect against child labor, and to better the population as a whole.

If we, as a society, promote the importance of education for people, then I propose that it’s high time we advocate for a similar system for inquisitive canines. Dogs (and other non-human animals) are becoming more a part of our everyday culture. I submit that we will only benefit if we establish similar requirements for our canine companions in order for them to not only adapt, but also to contribute in positive ways and gain wider acceptance.

According to a 2015 Harris Poll, 95% of Americans consider their pet as part of the family – I know I certainly do! So if this is the case, then why not go above and beyond the birthday present, special homemade treats and spa sessions by giving our dogs an education that not only enhances their home life, but also allows them to become an upstanding member of society?

One reason I became a certified dog trainer was because I wanted to be able to bring my own dog to as many places as possible. My rationale was that if all dogs were well-mannered, then they would be welcomed by more people and into more places, and eventually would help change our “no dogs allowed” culture to “courteous canines welcomed.”

How great would that be? (Bark once if you agree, twice if you enthusiastically concur!)

DogIndoorRestaurantI know there are some naysayers out there gasping as they read this, and I realize that some places might not be appropriate for dogs (i.e. commercial kitchens, operating rooms for humans, etc.), similar to certain places not being appropriate for young children. However, I believe with the right kind of training, many places that are currently considered off-limits for dogs could be perfectly fine, and even preferable with their presence.

But was does “well-mannered” look like? And what education would be necessary to achieve it?

In my opinion, the same guidelines used for therapy dogs would be a great starting point. Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs must hold an actual certification. This is not to say that service dogs don’t perform specific tasks – most do. However, owners aren’t required to show proof. Therapy dogs, on the other hand, go through detailed training with their handler and then have to complete a certain number of supervised visits where they are observed and given feedback. (Yes, this is a test!) Once these steps have been completed, they provide references and more to complete their application. And, therapy dog handlers are required to carry their membership card whenever he or she is “on the job.”

There are several organizations devoted to supporting canines and their humans in the therapy dog certification process including, Love on a Leash, Therapy Dog International, and the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen. Each of these programs require dogs be proficient in specific skills in order to perform duties to help make people feel happy, relaxed, and safe. These include:

  • Being able to sit, stay, lie down, and come when called around a variety of distractions, and without the use of treats to reinforce them
  • Allowing strangers to pet and handle them, including tugging on ears and tails
  • Being approached by strangers, including those behaving erratically
  • Being tolerant and accepting of loud and/or unfamiliar noises
  • Show no signs of being fearful or aggressive

Wow! Imagine a world where dogs were better behaved than us humans! It seems to me that if these skills are good enough for therapy work, they would be more than sufficient for general public interaction.

And just as children respond best to education with the support of their parents or other loving adults, dogs also thrive when we humans work with them – and in the process, we become better trained ourselves.

CanineEducation-2Many businesses have a “no dogs” policy. However, some might reconsider if the canine in question held a certificate stating he or she has gone through significant training. That might be a good first step for changing our culture. While I’d envision this as a “private school” type of education initially, imagine if there were public options to help teach all dogs how to become more upstanding members of our society. Now that would be something to howl about!

So here’s my question to you inquisitive pet lover: What do you think about mandated canine education – and if we get people and their pups to participate, should society as a whole welcome dogs into places they weren’t previously allowed? I say, no dog left behind!


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

Say NO To Weapons of Mutt Destruction – Choose The Best Dog Walking Gear

There is significant controversy over the use of aversive dog walking equipment such as choke, prong,
electric, and Citronella collars. Although research confirms that there are many negative side effects created by using this kind of punishment-based gear, the use of inhumane training equipment is unfortunately pretty common. Even large pet stores that claim to be animal advocates continue to sell aversive walking and training equipment.

AllisonColetteLamminen_DogTrainerAs an inquisitive dog mom, animal advocate, and certified dog trainer, I often wonder how and why gear that causes, as the ASPCA puts it, “physical discomfort and undue anxiety,” is considered acceptable. Haven’t we figured out that animals (which include us humans!) learn better in an environment that is friendly, trusting, and filled with love — not one that is ruled by anger, frustration, and pain?

Some may ask, “What’s the big deal? Haven’t those kinds of collars worked for decades now? Does it really matter how you get your dog to walk easily by your side, without pulling?”

Well, similar to outdated, ineffective medical treatments, there are high-risk side effects of using aversive equipment, which are absolutely not worth it. According to well-respected industry groups including The Humane Society of the United States, the American Veterinary Society for Animal Behavior, and popular high-profile dog trainers like author and on-air personality Victoria Stilwell and Karen Pryor, world renowned animal trainer and author of Don’t Shoot the Dog, the use of aversives for training purposes must be avoided at all costs.

InquisitiveCanine_Sarah-Penn-LeashWalkingThe implications of using such equipment are enormous: from physical damage and unwanted behavioral problems including aggression to shutting down, learned helplessness and destruction of the human-animal bond, the negative consequences are both likely and also very serious. There is no reason to continue to use aversive gear for dog walking and training, especially now that we know better — because we have better information and better tools to use.

Now, I’m not saying that getting to the desired goal of getting your dog to behave nicely and appropriately while on leash is easy for everyone. It’s clear to see where challenges arise.

First off, dogs weren’t born knowing how to walk while leashed up. Secondly, humans weren’t born knowing how to operate a leash. Thirdly, add up point one and point two, and you often end up with a scene from a Three Stooges episode — but not as funny. With all the frustration coming from both ends of the leash, even I can understand why some of these aversive tools came about and why people continue to turn to them for help.

But wait! Just because I say I get it on some levels, doesn’t mean I think using punishment-based gear is a remotely good idea.

Refining walking on leash is a relatively simple and easily trainable activity that doesn’t require an iron fist. When you get a cold, do you treat it with rest, fluids, and over the counter medicine that takes a little time and patience to work – or do you turn to bloodletting to cut to the chase and get it over as quickly (and brutally) as possible?

We first need to remember that any walking equipment should be considered management tools, not training tools. Empower yourself and your dog to walk together nicely using the bond you share, communication, and a clear message — as opposed to the equipment.

InquisitiveCanine_NellieTeaching your dog to walk on leash is a simple, straightforward process. Our Leash Walking 101 post outlines some helpful tips to get you started.

As for useful dog and human-friendly equipment, I’m a proponent of the harness-leash system. For dogs that tend to pull unnecessarily on a regular walk (so I’m not talking about more complex activities like sports, Search and Rescue or Nose Work), harnesses where the leash attaches to the front is my first choice, as they tend to help reduce pulling. For dogs that don’t pull, or for specific sports and activities, a harness where the leash attaches to the back is ideal. Our TransPaw Gear™ dog harness, which will be introduced in the coming months, has both – and I have designed it such that regardless of your canine’s situation, you will always have your harness bases covered.

In terms of leashes, I prefer regular four to six-foot leads — cotton, leather, nylon or whatever you prefer. Your dog and you should be walking together, so longer leashes should be necessary. Where leashes that are more than six feet long come in handy are for specific training exercises. Even retractable leashes can do the trick, but I’d only recommend them for very specific purposes and places, such as an open field with nothing the leash would get tangled on — including people, other animals, trees, bushes, etc.

As for collars, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: collars are like wallets — they’re meant to carry I.D. and complement your outfit. That’s about it.

I’m not here to chastise and point fingers. I will admit firsthand that when I adopted Poncho, I was taught to use a variety of training approaches, including collar-corrections. I never felt comfortable doing this — ever. And this was a primary reason I ended up becoming a trainer. To learn better and ultimately, do better. Instead of ignoring this dilemma, I trusted my gut instinct, questioned it, investigated, and turned to using better options that were actually easier to implement AND more effective. Talk about a win-win — for everyone, especially our beloved BFF Poncho. (That’s Best Fur Friend), but also for all of the inquisitive canines that I’ve had the pleasure of working with since then.

A recent L.A. Times article reported that the cancer rate has dropped by 25% compared to that of a quarter of a century ago, due to better diagnostics and treatment. This is a prime example of humans recognizing the treatment was as bad as the problem itself (maybe worse!), doing the research, checking old assumptions, and ultimately rejecting the status quo in order to make better choices and pursue more humane and effective treatments.

So my question to you, inquisitive animal lover, why do we continue to use and promote equipment we know can cause harm — these weapons of mutt destruction — when there are much better options out there for achieving the same goal?

A good friend mentioned there’s an update with one of the Golden Rules. It goes beyond treating others as you would want to be treated yourself. Instead, it now says we should treat others the way they want to be treated. I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say that dogs would prefer to be treated with a kind, loving hand over any other kind of handling.

In other words, you don’t have to be “ruff” to get the best out of your dog – humane and kind trumps ruthless and aversive any doggone day.
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Wanna join the conversation? Just head to the comment section below. Care to share pics and videos of your inquisitive canine? We invite you to post on our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter – Tweet to us and we’ll Tweet ya back!

What to Look for When Choosing the Best Dog Trainer for Your Pet

Recently I was on a run with a friend, and we were talking about how many dogs we saw along the way, as well as the people who were leading them. It was easy to spot the professionals, as they often had several dogs on leash.Inquisitivecanine_PrivateClient

Still, by observing how the animals were being handled, it was apparent even to my non-dog-trainer friend that not all “professionals” are created equal. Knowing that I’m a certified trainer, she innocently asked, “Is it me, or does everyone think they can be a dog trainer?”

In my experience, my friend’s observation was spot on. Many folks out there think that just because they’ve had dogs, grew up with dogs, love dogs, know dogs and/or watch TV shows about dog training, they know all there is to know about training canines.

That would be the same thing as me saying, “I love to bake, and I live for watching the shows on the Food Network. Once I even won a blue ribbon in a brownie baking competition. So I’m clearly a professional baker.” While you might encourage me to donate treats to your bake sale, there’s no way you’d hire me to make your wedding cake.

InquisitiveCanine_LouisVinnyWhen you work in a specialized field, in order to elevate your status from amateur to professional, training and education is a must. To help you make an informed decision about who should train and otherwise care for your inquisitive canine, here are a few tips about how to make the best selection:

  • Ask about training techniques and approach.

Humane, force-free methods for training are the best and only techniques a trainer should use. These go beyond “positive reinforcement,” as there are some trainers out there who use both positive reinforcement (i.e. treats, petting, praise) and “positive punishment” (i.e. collar corrections, alpha-rolls, aversive training collars). This is a contradiction in terms AND in approach, and also sure signs that your pet will at the very least get mixed messages, and possibly be subject to inhumane treatment. Ask specific questions as to which training methods the prospective trainer uses, and under which circumstances.

  • Inquire about education and certifications.

Whether you’re looking for private training for behavior specifics, puppy or basic manners classes, sports-related courses such as agility, Nose Work, and Canine Freestyle, or specialty Therapy Dog courses, professional training is a must. What schools or programs has the prospective trainer attended? Do they belong to groups or organizations that are respected across the industry? Keep in mind that not all dog training organizations are created equal – there are some that anyone can join, whether they are a trainer or not. Others, such as the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, literally certifies people in areas of both training and behavior. They require exams and letters of recommendation, along with continuing education credits for maintaining certifications.

If someone says they became a trainer because they love dogs and are good with them and/or got their DIY training from YouTube videos, you really should think twice before hiring that person for professional services. Also, be aware of the self-titled “dog behaviorist.” A true animal behaviorist holds a graduate degree in that field. This is an important distinction to make – and if your pet requires sincere behavioral modification, be sure that the person you are hiring to work with him or her has the education and experience necessary to truly help your pet.

  • Check that your trainer has both transparency and integrity.

Trust and honesty are important in any relationship, amiright? Trainers worth their salt will admit if a specific case is outside their scope of practice, or they are unfamiliar with the situation presented. For instance, when clients ask me about issues that might have an underlying medical origin, I always refer them to their vet. I often get questions about foods a particular dog should eat. Again, this is a question for that animal’s vet. While I can offer up tips for enrichment activities and how a dog should have his or her meal delivered (i.e. food toys, scavenger hunts, training), I refrain from advising what a dog should eat, since dietary concerns, age of the pet, and so on really influences what is best to feed a particular canine.

  • Similar to choosing any professional that you’ll work closely with, personality, graciousness, and communication are key.

While you want to choose someone your dog likes and trust, you have to share the same sentiments as your pet. It’s not the dogs that call for training needs (although sometimes we wish they would speak up!), it is the people. Just like you wouldn’t choose a nanny to watch your child without seeing how well she or he meshes with your family, you should definitely be conscious of how you get along with the prospective dog trainer, as well as how clearly he or she communicates with you, not just your dog. The goal is to have someone in place that you enjoy and can rely upon but who also makes sure you have all the information necessary to reinforce the work she or he has done with your dog.

My tips are just a starting point; here are a few additional resources for you to consider when hiring a dog trainer:

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What do you, or would you, look for when hiring a dog trainer?

Just head to the comment section below to join the conversation. And remember, we invite you to share pics and videos of your inquisitive canine on our Facebook page. Or, follow us on Twitter – Tweet to us and we’ll Tweet ya back!

A Pawsitive Attitude is the Only New Year’s Resolution Needed for You and Your Dog

Inquisitive-Canine-Vinnie-LouieHello inquisitive pet parents, and welcome to 2017! I can’t believe we’re starting a brand new year. Time flies when you’re having fun… especially when hanging out with inquisitive canines.

When you think New Year, what’s the first word that springs to mind? If you couldn’t help but jump to “resolutions,” you’re not alone. Because who among us – human or canine – doesn’t desire and deserve a fresh start?

The key to getting your year off in a pawsitive way is to come at your goals with a dog trainer’s perspective: changes in behavior come from acting in a consistent, rewards-based, loving manner, NOT from sporadic, negative, punishing action.

My goal is to motivate, make it fun, and set everyone up for success — humans and dogs alike. So my New Year challenge for you is to shift your attitude towards your dog, and along the way, you might find you can apply some of these strategies in other areas in your life that can use some positive (pawsitive?!) adjustments.

The starting point is to first consider what you’d like to change about your canine, because
even though most of us have our dogs on pedestals and often think they can do no wrong, there’s usually one (or two) things they do that we might find annoying. And then once you hone in on what you’d like to adjust, you have to decide what’s realistic… and what’s not.

For example, do you ever have these thoughts about your pooch: “Do you have to bark at everything?” “Is it really necessary to jump on people?” “Why do you constantly have to chase everything you see, smell, and hear?”

These dog-specific behaviors are common and considered normal for the species, so for most of us, we tend to look the other way when our pets act as expected. But when these behaviors are so pronounced that we find ourselves constantly losing our tempers with our dogs, then it’s time to make a change. Because if we don’t teach them what we want, the annoyance level is likely to escalate, making us more sensitive and shortening the fuse each time they repeat the unwanted actions.

The main downside of this cycle is when you are focused on the negative, you get tunnel vision about your dog and forget all of the wonderful things he does the rest of the time. You also may forget that sometimes you actually want, expect, and appreciate some of the specific behaviors (i.e. barking) that you think you want to eliminate completely.

Here are the steps to take when modifying canine behaviors:

1) Watch what you wish for: This may sound ominous, but it’s actually a literal piece of advice: observe the behaviors you think you want to eliminate in your pet so you can honestly access how you feel about them, and also realistically, what you want to do about them.

We need to remember that these “annoying” behaviors are often what we find cute, endearing and funny. And, it’s also these behaviors that make dogs, dogs! Recognizing these factors can help bring us back to reality.

Conversely, we may be living with behaviors that aren’t serving our pets or us, and it’s then on us to take decisive steps to improve the situation.

inquisitivecanine-levi2) Make a list of realistic resolutions: Once you’ve taken some time to consider your dog’s normal behaviors, write them down divided into two categories: those that are wanted and those that are unwanted. For example:

  • Wanted: Sit, down, stay, come when called, leave things alone when asked, go-to-your-place.
  • Unwanted: excessive barking, jumping up on people (unless cued), pulling when on leash (unless cued), counter-surfing, chewing on forbidden items, digging around inappropriate areas, marking

For all the wanted behaviors, think about where and when you want your dog to perform these behaviors, for example, when sitting at doorways or to greet someone . Now’s the time to re-up your rewards game, and remember to say “thank you” when your animal makes good choices. Barking only once when the doorbell rings, keeping four-on-the-floor when meeting others, using appropriate greeting skills with fellow canines, walking nicely on leash , and eliminating in appropriate places are all worthy of acknowledgment and positive reinforcement. Give her a treat, a loud “GOOD GIRL!” and a snuggle when she is a model canine citizen.

As for the less desirable behaviors, let’s figure out if they are truly unwanted and need to end altogether, or if you need to teach your pooch when it’s okay – and when it’s not.

inquisitivecanine-dogtoyinmouthFor instance, barking. When someone is at the door or too near you personally or on your property, it can be very helpful for your dog to call your attention to the intrusion. My dog Poncho, for example, liked to alert me to “stranger danger,” when I would be loading things into the car and was a bit distracted. In this case, I appreciated his vigilance and would say “Thank you” when he did his job. On the other hand, during the more annoying bark fests, I’d ask him to be quiet, and positively reinforce him for staying silent. If he continued, I asked him to perform a more acceptable behavior, including picking up a toy and holding it in his mouth.

Other examples for teaching alternate behaviors to help keep that positive attitude might include: four-on-the-floor instead of jumping, laying on a bed or mat in areas where there are counters loaded with enticing items, and providing appropriate chew items your dog finds motivating.

3) Cop an attitude of gratitude – when you’re pawsitive, your pooch will respond in kind: What it comes down to is catching your dog in the act of doing what you want, make sure you say thank you. Express your gratitude! This alone could be one resolution that you could easily achieve. The other benefit of it is that when you stay consistent with your positive behavior of reinforcing the positive behavior of your pooch, you are engaging in what TIME magazine calls a “prevention goal.” Prevention goals are all about duties and the things that keep you on track versus “promotion goals,” which are the big, lofty, aspirational goals that are easy to dream about but are much harder to achieve. Your refreshed, pawsitive attitude, clarity and consistency around those canine behaviors that enhance, not detract from, your household are resolutions that are much easier to keep, all year long.

From all of us here at IC HQ’s, we wish you and your inquisitive canine a happy, healthy, doggone great New Year!


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Make Your List (Check It Twice!) To Prepare Your Pooch for Holiday Guests

imgres-1The weather outside might be frightful, but that doesn’t mean your inquisitive canine’s holiday entertaining skills — or lack thereof — need to be.

As a certified professional dog trainer, I am well aware that pet parents’ stress levels go up this time of year as they worry about how their dog is going to behave during the holiday hullabaloo. Will she jump on guests? Is he going to tackle grandma (again!)? Will the pup push over little Paulina? Help herself to the delectable prime rib roast left to rest on the counter? What about the ever-popular neighborhood exploration adventures that happen when arriving guests leave the front door open for a second too long? And then, of course, there are those visitors who just aren’t “dog people.”

What’s a pet parent to do?

In a nutshell: plan ahead, prepare and dress rehearsals!

imgresLet’s start off with planning ahead. When you’re expecting guests, you should consider who are the folks that are coming over, how they feel about dogs, and what reasonably they might be able to do when they arrive at your home to help keep your canine thinking clearly from the first “hello.”

Next, you’ll need to consider how you want your dog to act around company and what outside resources you might need to aid you in getting your desired outcome. For instance, say your dog is an enthusiastic social butterfly and wants to say hello to anyone and everyone, but doesn’t care how he gets the job done: jumping up, licking, barking and, with some especially energetic dogs, the hockey player hip check. As fun and entertaining that can be to some, many might find it annoying.

The solution? Ask your dog to greet people nicely. If you’ve done that training with your pet, then you’re already a winner in the holiday entertaining reindeer games.

Another option is to use the “Go to your place” cue, where your dog goes to a bed/mat/rug when the doorbell rings or there’s a knock at the door. Guests enter, and the reward for your dog is to say hello after you give the release cue that it is okay to do so. The second part of this behavior scenario is having your dog keep four paws on the floor. They can remain on their “place” while guests come to them, or you can give a release cue where they politely go to your visitors. Remember to reward your dog for behaving politely. A chin scratch, toss of a toy, praise, healthy treat or anything else your pooch finds motivating.

For those times when you don’t have time to teach your dog new skills or you’re concerned about the welfare of guests, think about bringing in some help to allow your dog to stay at home while you entertain and/or consider outside resources.

Is there’s a friend who’s happy to host your dog at his her home? Do you have access to a reputable doggy daycare facility that your pup would enjoy going to? Another option is hiring a certified training, petsitter, or responsible family member to come over and be in charge of your dog while you’re entertaining. We did this for our dog Poncho when we hosted an office party, and it worked out perfectly. He was included, taken care of and enjoyed himself, while my stress level was reduced so I could enjoy the festivities, too.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: failing to plan is planning to fail. So make your list and check it twice to ensure your plans to entertain holiday guests don’t go to the dogs. Keep in mind that it’s best not to train a behavior or scramble to make other arrangements for your pet the day you’ve got a party planned. Begin training your pup sooner rather than later, and if necessary, locate and lock in necessary resources ahead of time. I can speak firsthand, as can , that the holidays are some of the busiest times of the year for pet sitters, boarding facilities, and trainers.

Here’s to a pawsitively happy holiday season to you & yours from all of us at the Inquisitive Canine!

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Hello, Doggy: Teach Your Dog to Come When You Call

Has this ever happened to you? You call your dog by name over and over… to no avail. Then you open a can of food and voilà! Out of nowhere, you hear the pitter-patter of paws heading toward you at top speed.

As a certified trainer and also a dog mom, I feel very strongly that when it’s “recall” time, ALL dogs (yes, ALL dogs) need to be taught how to respond. It’s not just about manners – there are definitely times when getting your dog to come to you is for his safety. And it’s best to teach your pup before you need the behavior – not during. You wouldn’t teach someone a fire drill during a fire, right?

BUILDING A SOLID RECALL

Step 1: INDOORS (with few distractions) 

  • Start by backing away from your dog using your happy voice, clapping and praising as he approaches you. Stop, ask your dog to sit (optional), reach in and grab his collar with one hand, and give him a tasty treat from the other.
  • Repeat this several times, until your dog is almost chasing you around and not allowing you to start over again.
  • Now try this at the same distance in a different location, still with few distractions.
  • Repeat the first step, but from 8-10 feet away, even if your dog is doing something else. Reward with the process outlined in the first point (happy voice, clapping/praise, etc.) If your dog doesn’t come to you right away, go to him, lure him back to where you called to him from, then reward using the above steps.

Once your dog has become skilled in these steps, repeat the same exercise in different rooms of the house, especially when he isn’t expecting it, and reward in the same manner. This way, he continues to associate coming to you with wonderful things! After he has mastered this, you can move outside.

Step 2: OUTDOORS 

  • Practice the routine as described above in the same way in a fenced yard or secure outdoor area, keeping your dog on leash for safety reasons if necessary.
  • Begin just a few feet away, progressing to a farther but safe distance.
  • Practice the backing-away recall while out walking your dog on leash. Give the cue when your dog is facing forward, not looking up at you.
  • If you want, you can get a longer leash (long-line*) and practice the same exercises from a farther distance.

*For safety reasons only. Be cautious not to get your dog tangled up in the leash. Do not use this leash for pulling or dragging your dog away from something. 

RECAP: THE RULES OF RECALL

  1. Only call your dog for something pleasant.
  2. Only call your dog if you know he’s going to listen and follow though with your request.
  3. If you misjudged on rule two, save the recall by going and getting your dog yourself, and bringing him back to where you called from, then reward.
  4. Use the cue word once and only once, but be a cheerleader, using additional methods of communication to help get the message across: body language, whistling, clapping, happy talk.
  5. ALWAYS give your dog a huge payoff whenever he comes to you: praise, petting, play and/ treats! (Use higher-value treats during initial training steps, and periodically once the behavior is established.)

Is your inquisitive canine already for an advanced level of recall? Try practicing the Round-Robin exercise: Send your dog back and forth between two or more people in a room or outdoors (in a safe environment). Each person takes a turn calling the dog, performing the reach-for-collar/treat-with-other-hand game. If at any time your dog chooses not to come, the person who called him/her should go over, lure him/her to where they called from, then reward.

Once you’ve achieved total recall with your inquisitive canine, you’ll be the star of the dog park with the most obedient pup around. Now if he could just learn how to change the oil and perhaps run a vacuum cleaner every once in a while…!

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