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Well, similar to outdated, ineffective medical treatments, there are high-risk side effects of using aversive equipment, which are absolutely not worth it.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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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!

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.

inquisitivecanine-charley-comingwhencalledAs 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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Dog Safety at Memorial Day Barbecues

With Memorial Day on the horizon and summer festivities about to begin, Poncho and I thought we’d help set the stage for keeping inquisitive canines happy and safe when attending and/or co-hosting various events, parties, and barbecues.

Reward your pup for ignoring “forbidden items”, especially the barbecue! Say they walk by it and decides to stay away. Whether you’ve asked them to or not, they should be thanked. Acknowledge with anything they find motivating to reinforce that behavior. Use praise, petting, a game of fetch or tug, and even a yummy treat to make an impact.

Teach “down-stay” in one location: Train your dog to perform a settle down-stay on a bed, towel or mat. Reward for being on their “magic carpet” — all good things happen when they’re hanging out on their mat. If they start to wander toward the BBQ, you can ask to come to you and/or for them to “leave it!” – as soon as they come away from it, reward heavily. If they opt for pushing the limits, you can send them indoors (remove from the “fun”). After a minute or so, allow them to return to their special mat and reward for being there. They should soon learn this distinction: “Hmm, if I stay on my blankie, I get treats and I get to hang out. If I wander toward the hot thing with food on it, I end up inside … bummer.” Dogs are pretty clever, and soon learn what the better choice is.

A few additional BBQ Dos and Don’ts:

  • DO arrange your dog’s environment (enclose outdoors or use a barricade if needed) to prevent access to grill.
  • DON’T leave your dog unattended outside with the grill on at any time. Paws, muzzles, mouths and tongues can get burned easily – and badly!
  • DO keep your dog inside the house or tethered to those who aren’t manning the grill, if barricading outside isn’t possible.
  • DON’T create an unintentional “time-out” by sequestering your dog to an area without anything to do while everyone else is have fun.
  • DO spend a bit of time teaching and practicing safe grill behaviors with your dog before guests arrive.

Teaching your dog to be the #1 grill master, remember to combine the basics with an emphasis on rewarding any and all behaviors you want! Also keep in mind that dress rehearsals are key – especially since barbecues and daily-life chaos tend to keep us preoccupied.

Water Safety Tips to Help Make a Splash in Your Dog’s Life

Poncho Practicing his Breast StrokeFun in the sun and beating the heat often means playing in water – for both humans and their dogs. Whether it be you own pool, the ocean, or lake you’ll want to remind yourself of steps you can take to ensure it’s a fun – safe – and rewarding experience for all.

As an inquisitive canine who understands playing it safe around bodies of water, I thought it’d be a good time to send out a few reminders for other pooches and their parents about water safety:

Make Howl-een a Good Time for Your Dog

 

The BIG day – and night – is finally here! I can already smell the chicken… We began our howleen celebration early with pawtying it up Saturday night. Mom, dad and I dressed up and went to hang out with friends, visiting and eating lots of treats. My kind of night for sure!

Tonight’s affairs will be a little different though since we’re staying in to meet all the little ghosts and goblins that come to our door. This is one of our favorite pawlidays because we get to practice my door greeting skills.

Whether you’re heading out going door to door, or staying in to meet and greet, we wanted to make sure you and your inquisitive canine have a safe and happy evening too. For some quick tips and reminders, check out this post on making Halloween safe for your dog, and this one for how to use this eventful evening to your advantage!

 

Halloween Safety Tips for Pets, Making Fright Night Fun and Safe

Poncho as Mr. Stinky
Halloween Dress Rehearsal

Well folks it’s that time of year again when my dog trainer mom encourages yours truly to play dress-up. Yep, it’s Halloween! This means costumes – but it also means TREATS! And when it comes to being dressed as something like a skunk, it means  CHICKEN!

As much of a hippie as I am – cuz I’d rather be naked, when it comes to chicken I’ll do just about anything. I’m not sure what she ordered this year, or how many outfits I’ll have – I’ve been told I have more than Cher. Hmm, I wonder if she gets chicken too?

Anyway, as an inquisitive canine who enjoys this “fright night” as much as all the little ghosts and goblins, I thought it’d be a good idea to throw in my two cents on helping to keep your pets safe. Continue Reading “Halloween Safety Tips for Pets, Making Fright Night Fun and Safe”