Canine Enrichment: The W’s

Enrichment is a new buzz word in the dog community. It began awhile ago in the zoo world because the animals were being put in an unnatural environment and needed to satisfy some of the needs that are not met in captivity. Its slowly making its way into pet households and the results are speaking for themselves!

Why have we dedicated and entire month to enrichment on our Facebook Page and why should it even be on your radar as a pet owner?

two dogs on bench in the park
One of my favorite enrichment activities is a good long walk in the woods!

What is Enrichment?

Think about a feral dog or a stray dog in the woods. When they wake up in the morning, their first thought is “I must find food” They use their nose to track where the food has been, and finally catch sight of the food. Then they chase the food, catch the food, shake the food, tear the food apart, then eat.

How does your dog eat their food? I imagine that path is a little different for your house dog. The problem comes when we remember that dogs are still genetically wired to these behaviors. Enrichment allows your dog to satisfy those needs in a way that is socially acceptable. (Read: not releasing bunnies in your yard)

Why do you care?

Most of the phone calls we receive are from dog owners who are battling behaviors they don’t have a solution for. Its our job to get to the root of your dogs misbehavior and give you a path for improvement. Most of the time, enrichment helps satisfy many of your dogs needs, and helps to “fix” the misbehavior. Often, the root of the behaviors that need fixing, are boredom, stress, and lack of clear communication. Enrichment solves two out of three of those needs! By giving your dog something to do that taps into a need that their brain is searching for many of the unwanted behaviors disappear.

If your favorite stress relief activity is a hot bath, and your hot water heater is busted, you are going to get more stressed out. The same with runners who have to rest an injury. They are not always pleasant to be around because their mode of stress release is gone.

big black dog laying on the floor
After a little play time, and a good chew, Ayla is resting peacefully.

Dogs need to sniff, chase, catch, and tear to satisfy the need that their brain still thinks they have to do to survive. Hounds need to sniff, Malinois need to bite, Huskys need to run. Enrichment gives the dogs an appropriate way to satisfy those needs.

How do you start?

For starters sign up to get our free e-book on enrichment here! Inside is a calendar so you can follow along with us through the month of February, and post videos so we can also enjoy your dogs! If you need some ideas, we’ve already gotten started on the Facebook Page. Just scroll through and take a look!

The one thing you need to know about bringing home puppy!


Jon wrote our blog this week! He’s become our puppy guru and has a great tip for all the new puppy folks out there!

The one solution for most of your puppy problems!

For many, the story of a puppy being “hard headed” and obstinate is all too familiar:

“She just keeps jumping on me for no reason”

“He doesn’t ever seem to run out of energy!”

“It just seems like he’s ignoring me at times”

“It’s dog ADHD!”

These situations appear to be our puppy being disobedient, but what If I told you that it is more likely that your dog is too exhausted to even realize you’re talking to them?

Our puppies are learning everyday about life, the household’s daily routine, family dynamics, friends in the neighborhood and if you’re doing training, obedience commands. All this interaction with their environment combined with the processing of the surrounding stimulus is hard work! And not just for the physical exercise involved in going on walks, or playing with other dogs, or going to the dog park. The mental exercise coming from processing their experiences and environment is much more taxing on our dogs. It’s perfectly normal for our puppies to be tired from all this.

So what happens when our puppies get tired? Some go pick a nice spot on the couch, or their comfy bed and doze off. But there many puppies that cannot. They cannot because they are so overly tired they begin to function on basic instinct and essentially have shut off their brain. When puppies shut of their brain but don’t go to sleep, they usually make these bad decisions, like shredding you blanket. These behaviors are your dog’s attempts to tell you the following:

“I AM EXHAUSTED. PLEASE HELP ME GET SOME REST”

Our puppies most definitely need rest. Throughout our puppies development stages, it’s imperative that our puppies receive around 16 hours of sleep a day, and this could be well into the 8-14 month range before they are able to function with less sleep. So when our dogs are getting tired, how do we help them? It’s real easy.

Get started early to prevent unwanted behaviors!

Put them in their crate for a nap. Our crate should be in a quiet, neutral area where our puppy won’t be disturbed. These naps can be anywhere between 30-45 minutes, 60-90 minutes or even 120-180 minutes. You want to let your puppy wake up naturally, and to coin a phrase “don’t wake the sleeping puppy”. These naps to happen throughout the day. It’s especially important to have at least one of these naps being while you are still in the home. Even more so if you have guests over for a long time and your dog has been interacting with them. As soon as you see your puppy begins to show those “trouble behaviors”, ask yourself this.

“When was the last time they’ve taken a nap?”

If it has been some time, it’s a good call to get our puppy in the crate to help them settle down enough to finally get the rest they didn’t know they needed.

If you thought this tip was helpful, check out our Prepared for Puppy Program only available for a few more days! Get this great tip in our Prepared for Puppy e-book, and two in home sessions with one of our trainers for individual attention and personalized tips to get you through puppyhood!

 

I’m a dog trainer who doesn’t walk her dogs!

Its true.

brown dog sniffing grass

Sniffing is so important for dogs!

I don’t walk my dogs. I have 3 dogs, and I don’t walk them.  Most dogs don’t enjoy walking in a neighborhood, and mine are certainly no exception. When I tell this to many of my clients their jaws hit the floor.

“You have to walk your dog for them to be happy!” 

“He’s so excited to go for a walk! I can’t take that away from him!”

Both of these statements are probably false. (There are those dogs who are emotionally and physically stable enough to enjoy a walk around the neighborhood. Those dogs are the exception to the rule!)

Let’s take a look at a few things I’ve learned to look for to determine if your dog actually enjoys their walk in the neighborhood.

She is not Reactive

Can you get through a whole walk without your dog barking at anything? Not a dog behind a fence, not a person coming out of their house, not a goose on the sidewalk. I find that dogs who bark at stuff are actually prepared for something to come and get them. They are terrified to be on their leash, tethered to you and unable to escape the things that are going to eat them alive.

He can take food while on a walk

There is a bit more to this than just eating food. Can your dog eat kibbles or lower value treats while out on a walk? Is he taking treats gently? If you drop food on the ground, can he use his nose quickly to find the food? If your answer is no, then maybe reevaluate how much your dog actually enjoys your neighborhood. He maybe feeling a little overwhelmed.

She knows you exist at the other end of the leash

Does your dog check in with you while you are out? Do they look back to see if you are coming too? If you talk to them do they respond? Do they respond to leash pressure? Most people find they are just an anchor at the end of the leash, preventing their dog from exploring all the really interesting stuff in the middle of the neighbors yards.

You can put on their leash or harness without drama

Do you find that you are chasing your dog around in circles or dealing with a bunch of barking before you go out? Is your dog trying to climb the walls while you get them dressed? This might be a temper tantrum because they actually don’t want to go, and they know you are going to make them go. This often looks like excitement to leave the house, when really they are scared and trying to tell you they would rather not.

Why I don’t walk my dogs. Case Studies:

Pixie: Is terrified of life. I have tried numerous times to get her comfortable being on a leash in many different environments, and she can’t do it. She has soft stools, can’t take food gently, stress pants, and otherwise wants to get back in the car as fast as possible regardless of where I take her. She has also been attacked by numerous loose dogs while on walks and approached by terrifying people. At this point, the experiences she would gain from going for a walk, would just make her aversion to being on a leash that much worse.

Opie: Opie is the best boy, and he can go for a walk, but for him they are boring. There are no people who want to pet him, no critters to chase, and no dogs to be friends with. He can take food gently, he responds to leash pressure, and puts his harness on without much drama. He would rather play some training games with me, visit with people at a trial, or go swimming at the park than walk by my side down the street.

malinois on trail

Cargo in the park

Cargo: Some of you may remember that I forgot to teach this puppy how to walk on a leash. That’s been our training goal the last few weeks. While she still finds walks boring and a bit stressful because the other dogs bark at her, neighborhood walks are becoming a “job” for her and she is falling into “work mode.” If we were in “work mode” every day we would lose it. (Vacations are necessary!) Same with our dogs.

Note: these are not all the things I observe, but the most common.

So what do we do instead?

Our walks are hikes in the woods where they can go swimming, chase skinks and sniff all the grass they want to sniff! (Pixie doesn’t leave the house and she’s fine) We play training games, and puzzle toys. They each have a conditioning plan that we try to stick to to make sure no one gets too fat and lazy. On the surface this seems really difficult to get in. Truthfully, after a little tweaking and planning ahead it becomes automatic. Give it a try! Replace your neighborhood walks with a puzzle or a hike in a park or big open field. Let us know what changes you have observed!

I have a little secret for you!

No one wants to hear it. 

It can’t be true. 

The winter holidays are right around the corner y’all!

Are you are telling yourself, those pool parties were a disaster because of the crazy dog? Then the time to come up with a plan for your holiday get togethers is NOW.

Yes, your puppy will be a little bit older and wiser, but we have a short 7 weeks until Thanksgiving, and lets be real, that last week doesn’t count.

So what can you teach your pup in 6 weeks that can prevent a winter meltdown? Thankfully, quite a few things if you get started now!

Here are a few free tips from us at The Freckled Paw. Three things to work on to keep your sanity!

  1. “Go To Mat”

    This one is especially useful for a number of situations. The most common use of “place” in my house, is while I am cooking, when people come in my house, and today, while I am soaking Opies foot because he wanted to chew it off. (Cargo wants to “help”)

  2. Nose Touch

    A cheap behavior that can quickly be rewarded and can quickly redirect your dog to something more appropriate. We emphasize telling your dog what you want them to do instead of telling them “No.” Since “no” doesn’t give your dog any information on an alternate behavior, come put your nose on my hand is an easy way to keep your pup out of trouble.

  3. Puzzle toys

    My current collection of puzzles is a little larger than this

    Okay not a training tip, but we are all busy during the holidays. Make life easier, by having your dog work for his meals. We are lazy dog trainers. (Meaning we want the shortest path to our goals with the least amount of resistance) A bored dog makes our lives harder. If putting kibbles in a $10 toy everyday makes my life easier, I am all for it! (Pro Tip: it does make my life easier, you should try it!)

Give these quick tips a whirl. If you find that you are in need of a little more assistance getting ready for the busy winter season, let us know! We can get you squared away! Just don’t wait until December to reach out. By then it will be too late!

Birthday Party for a 4 year old: A comparison to Dog Training

I was lucky enough to attend my favorite four year old’s birthday party last weekend. This post is not about dog safety tips or parenting with dogs. These two are the best parents I have ever seen. (No unwanted parenting advice. I’ll call you out.) This friend and I have many conversations about behavior and it’s antecedents, its consequences and manipulating all of the above. She is not a dog trainer, she’s a teacher and a parent. I know that dogs are not children and should not be treated as such, but the similarities are there.

As a dog trainer, it is my job to observe and note all the things. This is how I avoid getting bit by my clients, and design training plans that work for the individual in front of me. Just because I have an idea of what should happen in a situation, does not mean that it is going to happen if my contingencies are not there. As a parent, it is also your job to know your child. What motivates them, what drives behavior, and how to manipulate the antecedents to get the behavior you want or avoid behavior you don’t want. The other, most important aspect is to look at what is actually happening in front of you.

Back to my birthday party.

Now, it’s difficult not to trigger stack a 4 year old. 4 year olds also think they want to do things that maybe they aren’t quite ready for. (sounding familiar?) There was an inflatable water slide at this birthday party, complete with a hose at the bottom. (where was this stuff when we were kids?) Now, this 4 year old was really excited to play on this slide. I watched her run outside with her friends, and climb the ladder to the top. Once at the top, I could see the mood change. Suddenly, the slide was a long way down, and that pool didn’t look quite so inviting. Her friends were there cheering her on and after some hesitation down she went, straight into the hose spraying water in her face. And we were done.

Now the fabulous parents that my friends are, unemotionally, swooped in and asked her what was wrong, settled her into a towel, and she sat and watched the slide happen for a good 20 minutes. Once she was in a better state of mind, playing inside with her new toys was a much better way to spend her party.  Everyone is happy again.

Now let’s look at how this could have gone differently.

These parents could have forced her down the slide again to “get her over her fear.”

They could have done nothing and let her continue her meltdown in the pool.

Instead, they chose to treat her fear as something legitimate at the moment, but address it in a way that she could learn from. Meltdowns don’t happen for no reason.

What does this look like in our dogs? (This is a dog training blog after all)

Let’s operationalize what a meltdown for our dogs looks like. This would be the barking, lunging, spinning, and otherwise embarrassing behaviors that we as owners work very hard to avoid.

Face your fears: This is the “lets get closer” approach.  Your barking, lunging, dog is now forced to approach the scary thing to see that it is in fact, not scary. Think about something that you are afraid of. For me it’s snakes. If you dragged me over to see a snake to prove that it was not scary, I would punch you in the face. This also would do absolutely nothing for my fear of snakes.

Do nothing: This is what most people opt for because they have no idea what to do in this moment. (Keep reading! I’ll be giving you some tips!) Just like the birthday girl, ignoring the meltdown is going to break the trust that she has in the people who are supposed to protect her. Her fear is real to her in the moment. So is the fear your dog is feeling. It’s real in the moment, and he needs you to tell him that you are going to protect him.

So what do we do?

First, we pay attention! Get really good at reading stress signals. Walking your dog is your time to bond, it’s not the time you catch up on phone calls, and emails. If we wait for the embarrassing behaviors, we are too far gone. When your dog is worried about something, he’s going to look at it for a bit longer than normal. That is when the reassurance kicks in. Talk to your dog and when they turn to look at you, there you are with a snack. Can your dog take the food? Yes? We are okay, can we look at it again and move on? Yes. Great!

Can’t take the food? Uh-oh, we are drowning a bit and need to get away. Happily move your dog farther away from the thing. Here he can process from a distance that is comfortable for him. Once we can take the food and dismiss the thing, then we can move on.

Now, this is a very simplified way of looking at fear and counter conditioning. This seems simple, but I work with people for months to get their dogs to a point where they feel confident walking down the street.

Every dog is going to meltdown at something at some point in their life. Have a plan in place to deal with it. Always have your food on you, always be paying attention. These two quick tips will help you avoid a much more embarrassing moment later on.