Saturday, January 19, 2019

Making Leash Manners Fun for Your Dog

By:  Patricia McConnell, PhD

Here’s the thing about leash manners, people and dogs: Most owners don’t understand why it is so hard to teach dogs not to pull on a leash. Don’t we humans tend to walk at the same pace, shoulder to shoulder with our other friends? And aren’t dogs our “best friends?” But dogs aren’t primates, and they don’t come hard-wired to walk side-by-side like we do. In The Other End of the Leash I described walking politely beside a human from a dog’s perspective as “walking at the speed of death and ignoring everything interesting.” That’s why we need to teach leash manners as if it were a circus trick. Here’s how I do it; I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on the issue. I’ll keep you posted on Maggie’s progress as the weeks go on.

STEP ONE: Begin by doing what you can to prevent pulling in the first place. That means using the right equipment. I like body harnesses that attach in the front (not the top of the dog’s back), like SENSE-ation Harness and Easy Walker. These types of harnesses, as well as head halters, give you more control over the dog and prevent them from pulling you along like a hay wagon attached to a set of draft horses. (I should note here that I only suggest head halters if the dog is especially large, exuberant or the person needs extra help controlling the dog. It is possible to injure your dog’s neck if you misuse head halters, so one needs to be cautious. But they do give you the most control and sometimes are the best option in early stages of training.) A great article comparing different ways to attach yourself to your dog is still on Sophia Yin’s website. Bless her and her memory.

STEP TWO: Decide how you are going to reinforce this great trick your dog is going to learn. (Remember, it IS a trick to your dog–surely it makes no sense to them otherwise.) Food is always my first choice for reinforcing leash manners, because food is highly motivating and easy to deliver in small bits. I’m starting Maggie out with dried beef bits, because she loves them and I can put a handful of them into my pocket without them turning into mush. However, once the behavior is established I’ll add in other reinforcements, like a release to go play with Willie or a release to go run up the hill and find the sheep. Nothing will motivate Maggie more than access to the sheep, but on the other hand, nothing will be a bigger distraction for her. Thus, I won’t ask her to walk by my side on the way to the sheep until she’s mastered the behavior in easier contexts, and then only expect a few steps before I release her to the sheep.  Gradually I’ll ask for longer and longer periods in which she stays beside me while we walk up the hill to the sheep.

STEP THREE: As I’ve already noted, you need to be aware of how difficult it will be for your dog to concentrate on you. Think of it as a competition for your dog’s attention–you and the environment are competing and you need to know your competitor well. Always start when it will be easiest for the dog, and gradually work up to asking for walking by your side as the distractions increase. Last night I went outside with Maggie to begin working on leash manners, and quickly discovered she was too distracted to pay attention even to the fantastic food I had in my hand. So I moved into the garage (I also could have gone inside, I choose the garage because it was simpler, given that the other two dogs were in the house).  Problem solved, now I could easily get her attention. If you haven’t done a lot of this in other training, it is useful to write down training context as a hierarchy. Easiest environments first, then moderately challenging, then hardest of all. After you finish your list, break down what you’ve written into smaller and smaller units. Success is all about teaching your dog to win, and you have to make it possible for her to do so.

Have you noticed that Steps 1-3 are all about planning? That we haven’t even started training a dog yet? Ah, but those steps are critical ones. Thinking through how you are going to train a new skill is as important as prepping a house before you put on the paint. It’s taken me years to beat it into my thick skull, but the time you take to think through how you are going to approach an exercise can save you massive amounts of time later. Of course, you have to modify as you go along. I thought that working in the driveway wouldn’t be that distracting for Maggie, but it was, so I immediately moved into the garage. But I only was able to do so because I had a hierarchy of distractions already in mind, and knew how critical is was to create a situation in which Maggie could win right off the bat.

STEP FOUR: Now you get to start the fun part! Get your treats, easily accessible to hand out one at a time, and begin working in the context you’ve determined is the one in which it is easiest to get your dog’s attention and where you dog is 100% off leash. You may or may not work with the leash attached, but don’t hold onto it, lest you be tempted to use it instead of letting your dog decide on her own to walk beside you. Start walking around in erratic circles, and give your dog a treat every time she is on your chosen side (left is traditional and that’s the side I use just because…). When I begin I don’t say a word, I just walk around in sloppy circles and give the dog a treat whenever she is beside me. Be VERY generous with treats. For reasons I don’t quite understand, most owners have to be encouraged to give their dog a treat every time it is in the right place. (If you are worried about your dog’s weight, use part of your dog’s dinner for training.) The idea here is to let your dog learn to initiate the behavior by herself. At this stage I may prompt the dog on rare occasion (I smooched to Maggie when she first started to leave the garage before she got her first treat), but in general I let the dog learn on its own that it is really FUN to be beside you. There’s a video in my website’s Reading Room that illustrates Step Four. See Go for a Peaceful Walk  (and enjoy the sound of the crunchy leaves).) You can use a clicker when the dog is positioned where you want her, click yourself with your tongue (like I did on the video) or not say a word, just deliver a treat.

 I’ve described this process in detail in the book The Puppy Primer. Even if your dog is older I recommend reviewing the steps described here. (I did!)

STEP FIVE: After several sessions of this, you are looking to have a dog who pays a lot of attention to you, and chooses to walk beside you much of the time in a quiet, non-distracting environment. I’m too impatient to never use any prompts–if a dog seems to be losing interest completely I might smooch or slap my leg a few times–but guard against using them very often. You don’t want the prompt to become a cue, such that the dog never learns to initiate what you want by him or herself. Once things feel like they are going smoothly, increase the level of distraction, but do so gradually. A common mistake is going from the equivalent of kindergarten to graduate school in one step. Look at the list of distractions that you wrote out from smallest to largest, and increase the level of distraction (thus, of difficulty for your dog) only one step at a time. For Maggie, tonight we’ll walk out of the garage into the driveway, but only about 10 feet max. If she does well then, the next session we’ll go another ten feet toward the barn. At this point I still won’t have the leash in my hand and I won’t use a cue yet either. I’ll wait to use a cue once I know that the behavior is well established at moderate levels of distraction. However, if I didn’t live in the country and my dog could only be outside on leash, I’d have the leash in my hand and do all I could to move around in any interesting way (NOT straight down a sidewalk in one direction, how boring!).

STEP SIX: If you are ready to bet $10 bucks that your dog will choose to walk beside you 80-85% of the time in a non-distracting environment, it’s time to put the behavior on cue. I distinguish between a perfect “heel” and polite leash manners, so I’ll use a cue like “By Me” or “Left.” To put it on cue, get your dog’s attention, say your cue and move forward one step. If your dog moves along side, give her a treat instantly. Dr. Susan Friedman has a good article on Shaping a Behavior that includes good information about when to add a cue; check it out. Continue walking in an interesting way, and reinforcing your dog every time she is in the right position. Every time you move forward after stopping, say your cue and be ready to reinforce her with a treat if she walks beside you instead of in front of you. Pay attention to the context in which she succeeds and those in which you struggle, and continue to work toward helping her win. Remember that your job is to compete with the environment: It is always interesting and worth your dog’s attention. Are you? Remember too that people don’t have to be trained to walk side by side with you. Even if they aren’t paying attention to what you are saying (!), they automatically walk beside you because it’s what we primates do. No so with dogs; it is hard work for them to walk beside us and anticipate every move while ignoring everything else. I won’t expect Maggie to have great leash manners for many months. She is young and exuberant and doesn’t yet have the emotional maturity to be able to stifle herself for long periods of time in a stimulating environment. But she is also killer smart and fun to train, so I expect her to make great progress.

STEP SEVEN: And Step Eight and Step Nine and … This is the tricky part to write about, because it varies so much depending on the dog and the environment. This is also the stage at which people most often need help, so don’t hesitate to get a coach if you can. At least have a friend observe you–it is hard to know what you are doing while you’re doing it (if that makes any sense!) These next steps are all about gradually increasing the difficulty of the exercise while not going so fast that your dog simply is unable to succeed. For example, I’ll use a body harness for Maggie next time we go to the vet clinic, no matter how far we’ve progressed in her training. That’s one of the contexts that will be especially hard for her, so I’ll avoid a set back by using equipment to keep her from pulling on the leash. Basically, you want to gradually increase the difficulty of the exercise. As you do, remember to increase the frequency of the treats. Say your dog has been doing really well in the back yard, and you give her a treat every 12 or 15 steps. You should increase that to a treat every 2-4 steps for the first session in the front yard, at least until you are sure you still have her attention.

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Friday, January 4, 2019

Hounds About Town


Calling all pet families!

Have you ever wanted to have more fun with your dog? Do you hesitate to take your dog with you in public because you don't know how he or she will behave? Does your New Year's resolution include spending more quality time with your dog? Do you enjoy learning while meeting fellow dog-lovers?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then we have just the answer! Join Robin with My Best Buddy Dog Training's newest program: Hounds About Town. In this program you will go on fun outings in public places and learn how to have your dog enjoy it just as much as you do. Each outing will last about an hour and take place in local, dog friendly locations where Robin will show everyone how to improve or practice their dog's manners away from home.

This program will differ from traditional dog training classes in that it will operate in an on-going, drop in basis. Meetings will be held weekly and the time will vary with the seasons to allow for hot or cold weather.

Some of the things we will learn: good leash skills, refining skills outside with distractions, learning to settle down in public, learning how to ignore other dogs in public, learning left and right signals, waiting to cross the street, waiting to enter/exit vehicle, back up/go forward, slow down...and so much more!

Each meeting is $15 for one hour of socialization for dogs and humans, dog training, exercise and fun! Meetings can be paid for one at a time on the day of the meet up, or purchased in a block of 10 plus one free!

January schedule will be offered at noon on Fridays, beginning January 11 at 12:00.
Each month one extra meeting will be held on a weekend for people who can't come on Fridays. Keep up with all the latest via our Facebook Group: "My Best Buddy Hounds Around Town". This is a closed group, so you just request to join and we will add you! The Group will keep you up to date on the goings on, updates and training information.

Hounds About Town is open to all people and dog friendly dogs who are fully vaccinated. No previous class requirements! If your dog is fearful or is aggressive while on leash or is not comfortable around other dogs, we will evaluate for the best training program for you.
Our first meeting will be held Friday, January 11, noon at Drake Field, located next to the library in Peachtree City. (weather permitting, watch here for updates!) All dogs will be required to attend in a harness and regular leash, no flexi/extendable leads, please. We will meet in the parking lot to get acquainted.
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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

New Staff Member!

Please join us in welcoming our newest staff member, Becky Hall, Robin's new assistant!

Becky Hall is a lifelong animal lover and "dog mom" who enjoys learning about animal behavior and training methods. Her involvement in dog training grew in 2012 when she became involved with the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind (GDF) as a Puppy Raiser. Becky continued working with the GDF as a Puppy Raiser through 2015, during which time she was excited to see the positive reactions the puppies received while working in public. This led her to become interested in raising a puppy to become a therapy dog. Shortly after her last GDF puppy graduated, Becky began training her own puppy, Libby, for therapy work. 

Becky met Robin Sockness in 2016 at a CAREing Paws Therapy Dog information meeting and was impressed by her positive training methods. With Robin's help, Becky was able to fine tune Libby's training and prepare her for therapy work. Libby and Becky sometimes join Robin in training sessions to provide a calm canine presence for the other dogs. 
When Becky isn't training dogs, she works as a remote camera operator for, where she has worked for the past six years. She's had the opportunity to work on camera feeds that show a variety of animals, including future service dog puppies. Watching the puppies on the Explore cameras has helped her learn even more about how dogs communicate and interact with humans and other dogs. 

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Monday, December 3, 2018

New Puppy?

Are you getting a puppy for the holidays?  Now is a good time to prepare!  Here is a great book by Dr. Ian Dunbar that will help you get ready: Before You Get Your Puppy

We offer private in home appointments welcome the puppy home and to help you through the first days.  We serve Coweta and Fayette Counties.  Call for details:  78-292-8960.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Training and Your Lifestyle

By:  Robin Sockness
My Best Byddy
In order to get your puppy to respond here, there and everywhere, you need to train here, there and everywhere.  With total integration, your puppy should see no difference between playing and training. Fun times will have structure and training will be fun.

  • Train him in small sessions, perhaps fifty a day, for a few seconds each. The secret is to totally integrate training into your puppy’s lifestyle, and into your lifestyle.

·        Integrate short training interludes (quick sits and releases) into your puppy’s walks and off leash play. Each quick sit is immediately reinforced by allowing the dog to resume walking or playing—the very best rewards in domestic dogdom. 

·        Integrate short training interludes into every enjoyable doggy activity—riding in the car, watching you fix their dinner, lying on the couch, and playing doggy games. For example, have your dog sit before you throw a tennis ball and before you take it back. Progressively increase the length of sit stay with each repetition.

·        Insert short training sessions before all your puppy’s enjoyable activities. For example, ask the pup to lie down and rollover for a tummy rub, or to lie down and stay a while before invited for a struggle on the couch. Have it sit before you put it on leash, before you open the door, before you tell it to jump in the car, before you allow it to get out of the car, and before you let it off leash. And be sure to have it sit for its supper.

  • Watching television offers a wonderful training opportunity. Put your puppy’s bed plus a couple of stuffed Kongs in front of the television. During the program it is easy to keep an eye on your puppy as it settles down, and commercial breaks are an ideal time for short training interludes. Alternatively, have your puppy settle down while you’re on the computer and then periodically have a short training session of a few seconds with your puppy.

  • Every time you open the refrigerator, make a cup of coffee, read a page of the newspaper, or send an email call your puppy for puppy pushups/sit/stay, etc. This way you can train your puppy over 50 times a day without changing your normal lifestyle.

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Monday, November 19, 2018

Are you a Bully?

By:  Drayton Michaels, CTC
Urban Dawgs

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about people who have a “bully mindset” with dogs. Some people may not even know that they’ve been program to be a bully towards their dogs. This is due to the Milgrim Effect and people being intellectually lazy.

The definition of a bully for me is somebody who knowingly causes someone stress, fear or pain because they have in one way or another an upper hand and they can manipulate that person‘s behavior through fear and pain.

Dogs have the cognition of three-year-old kids by the time they’re 2 years of age, this cognition level remains roughly the same for the rest of their life.

Sure dogs can learn new things and some dogs are smarter than other dogs, but there is no dog on the planet that’s smarter than a two - maybe a four-year-old kid. Ever.

That simple fact should be enough for people to find the strength, patience and understanding and stop causing dogs fear and pain. However, I think the problem runs much deeper and the problem has nothing to do with dogs, types of dogs, or canine behavior issues, it has to do with the types of brains, brain chemistry, and cultural conditioning that a person has when they come into their life with dogs. Can the person change is the question? Can the person move their thinking past the fear and pain paradigm and into the safe, unsafe kind consequence modalities of thinking?

It’s an easy intellectual leap for humans to want to address conflict with conflict. If It’s in the act of defending oneself from physical harm sure go for it. However, life with dogs and the troubles, challenges, and stressors that occur on a vastly macro level for all people with dogs are not life-threatening nor will result in grievous injuries. Add in too many events where the humans administer fear and pain to a dog and those safe events can take a dangerous turn for sure, remember the underlying cause for aggression is fear.

The other problem that exists with humans is that far too many of them lack the actual physical abilities and mental acuity in order to execute legitimate Dog Training on a consistent basis, i.e daily in the moment implementation is crucial, so people rely on tactics which include yelling, hitting, shocking, choking, pinning down forcefully, and blaming.

This lack of physical abilities and poor mental acuity extends to professionals as well, be they pain trainers or force free, at least the force free crowd is not adding in any fear and pain by way of protocols, but lack of skills still result in poor education, hence a main reason why the education of the general public about dogs, dog behavior and dog training is so completely discombobulated with lies, myths and allegories which really have no place in the teaching of dog training.

If somebody already has in their worldview of dogs that human behavior has little to do with the process and it’s all about the dog, then it’s already an uphill battle because we have to turn the focus on to the humans and have them change their behavior. If the human thinks that the dog is imbued with some sort of cognition to formulate moral imperatives the proverbial hill gets even steeper in the educational climb towards legitimacy.

Now, add in cultural reinforcement from parents, neighbors, friends, chosen professionals that resonate with the person‘s worldview on dogs that they need to be “taught who’s leader, boss, respect”....and now you see where the divide Is and will always be. The problem is in people’s thinking, in their conditioning and their programming. Yes programming. I don’t believe people naturally and organically want to cause their dog fear in pain. It’s been programmed.

Sadly I think a lot of people over the last two decades have been programmed to be bullies toward their dog and they haven’t been taught to be guardians and caretakers and to have empathy as their overall concern. It might be part and parcel to our throwaway society, at one time dogs were so highly valued that dogs were protected as if they were children. Now people get and toss away dogs like shoes. Now people are by so-called celebutard could think their dog trainers to cause the dog fear and pain to teach the dog a lesson. Yeah the last of the dogs learning is that some humans are scary. Remember dogs cannot formulate and dissect abstract concepts like respect and dominance. Dogs view of life as safe, unsafe or neutral. They have an agenda but it’s quite simple safety first food water second phone with dogs and humans third. That’s it.

I’ve been working with dogs for 19 years and I’ve worked with all manner of people from every socio economic background you could possibly configure from the poor to the ultra rich, and the one through line that I have noticed from every person I’ve ever worked with is that they really don’t want to yell, hurt or cause their dog any form of fear or pain or stress. But they’ve been programmed to do so and reinforcement comes at them in subtle and not so subtle ways. For those of you reading this who understand social programming watch two hours of television sitcom’s the news sports you name it at some point someone is going to say something about a dog or dogs that is completely fabricated based in math personal bias and has zero validity of tested the actual applied behavior analysis. Or just stand around quietly and observed conversations out of dog event.

Once the people have proper information they pay for, and that part is crucial and they are told they don’t have to be forceful or startling, and they are shown in the moment that they don’t have to use fear and pain, and they are told and shown that they have to train their dogs “as they go”, “every day”, every step of the way, once they’re told and shown that their dog is innocent and they don’t have any moral imperative to transgress them, people have a huge weight lifted from them. Yes; the dog still has Behavior and Training challenges to be dealt with; but now they can be dealt with in a way without adding any fear or pain, thus the proceedings stay safe, the humans don’t feel terrible after interacting with their dog, and the dog is not having their trust eroded from the main people in their life; which is where all of their trust will be starting from with every other person or thing in their life.

There will never be a unification and Dog Training because as long as there are humans making decisions based on their programming based on their cultural morays etc. people do to dogs what they do based on those metrics.

I think it extends far beyond people being “lazy” and wanting a quick fix, that’s a big part of it, though that is also programming.

What’s the fix? There isn’t one, that’s the rub, ignorance is like a leak that never gets fixed, it’ll just get bigger with time, and we’re at an all time high.

There will always be some abuser, bully, inner coward, insecure, intellectually weak human that gets a platform for spreading ignorance about dogs, after all that’s mainly what’s been done to dogs they’ve been grossly mis represented. This is because 99.9999% of the people on this planet are confused about dogs and behavior.

All that can be done is get out the legit info, info based in training with out fear and pain.  Get this out as far and wide possible, daily, this way perhaps it resonates with people’s empathy, and the motivation is to do better, simply because dogs deserve our best, because after all, dogs are and always will be our best friends, with the cognition of toddlers, who can land 25 bites in 4 seconds, so please treat them with respect and kindness, and Get Your Skills Up!

The Dirty Little Secret in Dog Training is; it’s all about the humans. Stay Force Free and teach with empathy. Pass on Post up.

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