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Reactive Dogs 101

We’ve all been there – out in the world with our precious pups. Walking along, minding our own business, breathing the fresh air, and then out of nowhere, your dog goes wild: lunging, barking, whining, growling, pulling at the leash. And why? They’re reacting to something. Maybe it’s a stranger, another dog, a skateboarder, a cat, a weird looking tree. It might seem illogical to us, but for your dog it can be scary, stressful, and even dangerous. 

If you follow me on Instagram – you know that I do themed weeks where I deep dive into different dog behaviors and how to begin to shift them. A few weeks ago I focused on reactivity in dogs, and here I’m compiling all of the best information for those of you who are parents to reactive dogs.

Reactive Dog 101

Reactivity is a response to a trigger. Like mentioned above, it could be any number of things and no two dogs’ triggers are exactly the same. So once you identify what your dog’s trigger is, your first step is to find SPACE.

Figure out how much room your dog needs to disengage from the trigger. It could be five feet, twenty feet, across the street, or even more. Once you know how much room is needed, you can start to build a more positive response. Your goal with creating this space is to be able to call your dog’s attention to you without them being too fixated on the trigger. Are they not able to return to you? You need more distance. 

Once there is enough separation between you and your dog and their trigger, the behavior modification can start. We play the “look at that” game – where with the appropriate amount of space, you give your dog the room to see or hear their trigger. When they’re focused on it (body upright, ears at attention), use your marker word (I use “yes”) and reward your pup. They’ll begin to associate their trigger with a reward. Make sure this is a high value treat (see this blog to learn how to make super high value DIY licky pouches for easy training). Continue to mark and reinforce seeing the trigger until it is out of sight. 

The goal here is for your dog to associate that rude skateboarder with delicious cheese or hotdogs. Or that dog behind a fence down the street with a peanut butter licky pouch. By doing this you’re conditioning your dog’s mind to be in a better, less reactive state overall when encountering one of their triggers. 

Continue to do this, and play with the distance and space needed to maintain this positive reinforcement. You will find that eventually your dog will see a trigger, then look to you. This behavior makes you more rewarding than the meltdown. They get a treat and they get to have a calmer walk. 

In our next blog we’ll talk a bit about other, unexpected factors that can affect your dog’s mental health and reactivity.  

Rachel Laurie Harris (CPDT-KA)

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DIY Dog Training Treats

Training treats are an essential part of changing your dog’s behavior and if you’ve done any training with me you know how many you can go through! While there are loads of great treats you can buy, I also like to be able to control the ingredients, which is why I like to make my own training treats.

The other amazing thing about DIY training treats is that you can work in nutrient dense materials like real chicken. I’m a big believer in real food for dogs (studies show reduces cancer risk, helps mental alertness and mood, and more!), and training treats are a part of that equation.

These pyramid pan molds are the perfect size and you can make hundreds or in my case thousands of treats with ease. You can find the molds I bought in my amazon shop.

I was first turned on to using tapioca flour in training treats from a great blog by Eileen and Dogs, it helps to keep the treats dense and prevents them from crumbling and gives them a spongy consistency. The treats are quite easy to hold and dispense which makes them ideal for training!

There is a lot of room for variation but these are the 2 recipes that I made. They yield enough to fill 2 pyramid pans. Play around with your dog’s favorite flavors to find the highest value reward for your dog.

Orange/ Pumpkin DIY Training Treats

  • 10 oz Pumpkin (about 3/4 of a 15 oz can)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1 TBS MCT Oil
  • 1 cup tapioca flour
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 5 drops orange essential oil (optional – great scent)

Chicken/Dill

  • 1 can chicken with water (9.75 oz)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1TBS MCT oil
  • 1 cup tapioca flour
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 TBS dried dill (optional – great scent)
Spraying the pans with oil made getting the treats out a breeze!

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. I sprayed my pans with oil to make it easier to get them out
  3. Blend wet ingredients in a food processor
  4. Mix blended wet ingredients with dry ingredients
  5. Spread batter into molds with spatula and be sure to wipe off excess batter. ( I found it easier to pour the batter in small amounts in all four corners and worked the batter inward)
  6. Bake for 15 minutes or until you can see the treats starting to lift. I made the mistake of not baking them long enough my first go which made a tedious task of popping each treat out individually. So if the treats don’t come out very well try baking it for longer)

I made a lot and then stuck what I wasn’t going to use in the coming week into the freezer.

Happy Training!

-Rachel Laurie Harris CPDT-KA

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Mindset in Training: Cue — NOT Command

If you’ve followed my work for any length of time — you’ll know that I really prioritize your mentality when approaching training your dogs. Generally speaking I think if you have a positive attitude about training, and use reinforcements and rewards to shape behavior, you’re on the right path. I don’t always get bogged down by little details, but in this particular case, the details really matter. My beef is with popular terminology — the word “command” that we use to describe a behavior we’d like our dog to do — for several reasons. For one: our dogs aren’t our servants so there is no need to “command” them to do anything! Second, words matter. FULL STOP. Using certain words can affect your mindset of how you’re approaching training! The intentions you set and actions that follow are hugely affected by the vocabulary you apply to training. Third, I strongly urge you to view your training as a conversation with your dog. Good conversations don’t begin with a command.

Time with your dogs should be fun and rewarding – spend less time trying to control them and more time enjoying them as they are!

Dogs are emotional beings — and we are responsible for their emotional health as much as our own. Don’t buy into this outdated “pack leader” bullshit— I don’t. Controlling our dogs is not the goal, and commanding them has a hidden meaning of “control.” Utilize the science of how dogs learn to teach them in the most humane and effective way possible.

I am very intentional in my use of the word cue. I spend the time reinforcing a clear behavior, tying it to a cue, and continue working with my dog so their understanding of my ask is clear. I am also allowing my dog the space to not respond — consent is as important in human/dog relationships as it is in human/human relationships. Some people think consent is controversial in a lot of dog circles, but my goal is to work towards my dog willingly responding to a cue. If they don’t, that’s ok — just more information on what my dog needs going forward. Like, was my cue confusing? Were they distracted? Are they not quite to the level where they can do this consistently? Are they not being rewarded enough? All of these things are questions you should ask yourself if your dog is not reliably and willingly responding to your cues. Tough truth time: chances are that you haven’t done the work to get your dog to that success point.

Waylon + Tiva showing off their “wait” cue! This is a highly reinforced behavior!

Opening a “dialog” with your dog starts with understanding how dogs learn. Humans and dogs have a lot of similarities in learning behaviors (minus the spoken language part). Dogs do what works for them. That means that if your dog performs a behavior you like and want them to repeat, reward them. The more you reward for a repeated behavior, it is more likely that your dog will repeat that behavior again and again. Once you start to use this knowledge consistently you will see your dog start to offer behavior to earn their desired reward. That is the dialog that we hope to achieve with our pups. It takes work, but the results are very rewarding for human and dog alike.

I encourage you to intentionally choose to cue your dog to perform trained behaviors and discontinue commanding!

Happy Training!

-Rachel Laurie Harris CPDT-KA

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Boone the Labradoodle Learns Door Manners

What a good boy!

I’m really lucky that I get to work with amazing clients like Meghan and Alex, Boone the Labradoodle’s parents. We’ve been working together for a few months on some key behaviors to help Boone be a happy, well behaved boy. A few weeks ago, I followed up with the family to see what else we can work on, and this time we brought a camera to capture some tips and tricks for you to utilize at home to train your dog.

Want to work with me? I offer in-home visits for North Denver clients, and video consultations for anyone around the world! Email me to find out more!

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I couldn’t save him.

“Save them all” has long been a slogan for rescue groups and while I absolutely respect so much of the rescue community and all the blood, sweat and tears they put into saving countless dogs. There comes a point in which “saving them all” puts people in dangerous and draining situations.

I want to tell you about Hilo and how despite our best efforts surrounded by an insanely knowledgeable dog community we couldn’t save him.

Hilo came to us as a foster after living a rough life. His original owner admitted to putting him on a chain when he was just a pup and he spent nearly his whole life attached to it. Hilo’s rescuer relayed that she saw kids throwing rocks at him on several occasions. He was outside no matter the weather, and for a short coated dog I can’t believe he survived the winter. His rescuer begged and pleaded with the owner for weeks to surrender Hilo. When the owner finally agreed Hilo ended up in boarding, while the rescue group that agreed to care for him scrambled to find a foster.

In the boarding setting Hilo again faced harsh treatment from people. He was handled rough because he was a pitbull and he was not doing well emotionally or behaviorally. Then some fabulous people stepped up to get him out of boarding. (You know who you are)

He had and a huge network of people behind him before we became his foster home.Not just dog people, really skilled trainers working with him almost daily. I am so grateful to that team who supported us in so many ways.

When Hilo came to us, we took introductions with the other dogs slowly and his transition went relatively smooth. He got along well with the other dogs and people at first.It felt like we might have found our next full time resident. I think that all fosters consider adopting and we were totally in that boat. The first month was great, he went hiking with us. I started taking an agility class with him. It felt like everything was in order.

After a few months things started to come up. Hilo and Sunny got into a fight, which happens but there was minimal damage and they were able to coexist again after the fight. Then another fight happened a few weeks later and there was more damage this time. There was a lot of blood, but thankfully it only turned out to be one puncture wound on an ear but this time Sunny and Hilo couldn’t go back to co existing. . Now, Hilo and Sunny couldn’t even look at each other without trying to fight. I can vividly remember having to slam a door in Hilos face because he saw Sunny and was ready to attack. That is when we transitioned to full time crating and rotating and if you’ve ever had to do it, I commend you. It really fucking sucks, constantly having to be vigilant that the dogs don’t see each other. Not to mention the toll it took on my relationship with my husband, the toll it took on my relationship with all the dogs and the toll it took on my ability to function in my day to day. Then Hilo attacked Tiva, which was such a shame because they had played some nicely together before. I didn’t want Tiva to get hurt so now Hilo had to spend more time in closed off rooms or in a crate.

Hilo came to us with intense resource guarding issues that we worked day in and day out to change. Hilo would bite anything that tried to touch his food bowl, or anything he perceived to be his.We got to a point where he would let me take the food bowl away, it felt like we made progress at first and then it started to get worse. One day my husband went to feed Hilo and before he could get the food down, Hilo had bit his hand. Thankfully I was able to intervene with a gate, if i hadn’t been there it would have been much worse. But still we pressed on, hoping the perfect home would be available to Hilo.

Then one day when I was going to feed Hilo, he bit me. He looked me in the eyes and it seemed as if he left his body and some inner demon took over. He bit my hand and if i hadn’t slammed the crate door in his face, it would have been much worse. Tears are streaming down my face as I type this because I knew what it meant. I knew that we couldn’t be his foster anymore.

The rescue didn’t have any other foster options and we knew how quickly he would deteriorate in a boarding setting and deep down I think we all knew that it wasn’t safe for Hilo to live anywhere.

After so much agony, guilt, feelings or failure and consulting with trusted dog professionals, we then made the choice to humanely euthanize Hilo. On his last day with us he got steak, and ice cream, both of which he guarded from me and bit me one last time. He was surrounded by many who loved him and he went peacefully.

I tell you his story because while it feels like we should be able to save them all, we can’t. Hilo lived with us for 9 months and in that time he had an amazing life but too many humans had let him down before he came to us. There was something wrong with the wiring in his brain and no amount of love, training or medication could fix that. While I still long for him in so many ways,(he once told an animal communicator that he wished it could be just him and I, we really adored each other ) I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we made the right call.

So I think we need to empower rescues to save dogs that deserve loving homes, that they can safely live with people and empower them to know that some dogs aren’t safe to live with. It’s not the dogs fault, it’s not the rescues fault, it just is.

-Rachel

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Train your dog to stay in 10 minutes a day!

Training a “stay” or “wait” for your dogs is a super useful skill for them to have. It comes in handy at home when you have guests coming over and don’t want them to be tackled by your dog, or if you want to lounge on a coffee shop patio with your best friend in tow on a sunny Sunday morning. A wait helps keep your dog by your side.

A huge component to successful training is breaking down the skill into really manageable pieces. If you’re not having success, you might be asking too much and need to break it down even further. This tutorial on how to train a wait breaks it down into digestible segments to help make sure your dogs are seeing rewards for waiting.

If you want to see more training videos like this, make sure you follow me on Instagram (@agoodfeeling_inco). You can also sign up for virtual training with me to get this kind of instruction on your schedule.

Training a Wait

  1. As always, start in a lower distraction environment.
  2. Cue a sit or a down and reward.
  3. Cue your “stay” word. I like “wait” but of course it’s up to you.
  4. Back up a few steps. If your pup stays in their sit or down, mark the behavior (“yes” “yay” “good” are all good mark words), and return to your dog and reward them in position.
  5. If they get up or follow you, reset their sit or down.
  6. Cue your stay, and back up a few more steps.
  7. If they stay in position, mark and reward them in position.
  8. Gradually increase distance and distraction, and keep repetitions low.
  9. This is also a great way to practice recalls!

If you’re struggling and your pup won’t stay in position, email me! I now offer 30 minute mini virtual sessions for $30 bucks to address issues just like this.

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Your dog’s ideal day!

Have you ever wondered what your dog’s ideal day would look like?

Naps on the couch, a stroll through the woods?

While every dog is different, there are few things that I believe all dogs would like to do on an ideal day.

Using their brains

If you are familiar with me and my work you have heard me preach on enrichment. What I mean by enrichment is using your dog’s normal meal time and even outside of that to give them a chance to use their brains to get their food. Basically all mammals (and especially dogs) would prefer to work for their food versus getting it for free. The phenomenon is referred to as “contra free loading”.

This is important for young dogs, active dogs and senior dogs alike. Weather that’s a slow bowl feeder at meal time or a frozen kong when you leave, every dog would include enrichment in their ideal day if they could talk! For ideas on enrichment, check out my EBOOK, and my DIY Enrichment Blog. Another great way to give your dog a chance to use their brain is through positive reinforcement training. You can teach simple behaviors such as sit and work up to teaching them more advanced tasks like stay! Critically thinking during training is a great outlet for dogs who seem “bored” or for dogs that seem to be finding their own ways to critically think!

This is important for young dogs, active dogs and senior dogs alike. Weather that’s a slow bowl feeder at meal time or a frozen kong when you leave, every dog would include enrichment in their ideal day if they could talk! For ideas on enrichment, check out my EBOOK. Another great way to give your dog a chance to use their brain is through positive reinforcement training. You can teach simple behaviors such as sit and work up to teaching them more advanced tasks like stay! Critically thinking during training is a great outlet for dogs who seem “bored” or for dogs that seem to be finding their own ways to critically think!

Using their noses

While we humans rely on our eyesight as our strongest sense, your dog’s strongest sense is smell. In Alexandra Horowitz book “Being A Dog” she describes how humans have a measly 6 million olfactory receptors while our dogs have hundreds of millions. We can’t even begin to understand what it must be like to take in the world through their nose. When you know that so much of your dog’s experience is smell, it makes sense to utilize that!

I am a huge advocate for allowing dogs the space and time to sniff and explore. This requires patience from you, you need to be willing to stop every few feet as your dog takes in the world through their nose. An even better way to allow your dog to smell as much as they choose is allowing them to be off leash and follow their nose. Smelling new and exciting things is absolutely a part of your dog’s ideal day. Check my Instagram feed for more reasons to let your dog sniff!

Using their bodies

Dogs aren’t meant to walk at your side in the same repetitive motion. Dogs should be allowed to move freely and at their pace. This is best accomplished in an off leash setting. You should make the time to let your dog move freely. By allowing your dog to move freely you allow them to use their bodies in a much more productive way. Running, changing directions and trotting at their desired pace. I assure you that if your dog could talk they would tell you moving as they wish off leash is part of their ideal day.

Swimming counts!

Want to know more about your dogs ideal day, follow us on Instagram for daily inspiration and training tips! https://www.instagram.com/agoodfeeling_inco/

Happy Training!

-Rachel

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DIY High Value Rewards

I can’t stress it enough! Dogs do what works for them. High value rewards can be different for each individual dog, but it’s worth finding out what your dog values most in training to get the behaviors you want.

I focus on high value rewards because these are tools in your kit to work on more challenging, more important skills with your dog. People have asked me “Why won’t my dog come when called at the dog park?” If you’re carrying basic kibble — that might not be enough of an incentive to leave off interesting smells or play buddies over in the corner.

I recently picked up a few Bark Pouches which are a great way to reward your dogs but keep your hands from smelling like hotdogs, chicken, or cheese! (Unless you’re into that sort of thing). What’s great is you can also make your own! Why might you make your own?
Waste reduction – customize to your dog’s high value treats – special dietary needs for your pup – add supplemental nutrition – lots of reasons!

DIY DOG TREAT POUCH

Materials You Need

  • Reusable Food Pouches – Like These or These.
  • A food processor or high power blender
  • Any combination of the following:
    • Canned or pouched Tuna
    • Canned or pouched Salmon
    • All beef hotdogs
    • Cream Cheese – Plain
    • Greek Yogurt – Plain
    • Kefir (Goat) Yogurt – Plain
    • Peanutbutter
    • Bananas
    • Cheddar Cheese – use real cheese, not “cheese product.”
    • Other meats or treat that your dog goes wild for
  • Spatula

Steps to make your own DIY Dog Treat Pouch

  1. Pick a combo of a main protein and binder. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
    -Peanutbutter, bananas and greek yogurt
    -Salmon and Cream Cheese
    -Hotdogs and Cream Cheese
    -Tuna and Greek Yogurt or Kefir Yogurt
    -Cheddar cheese, hotdogs and Cream Cheese
  2. Add your chosen ingredients into the food processor or blender and pulse till well chopped up and mixed.
  3. Play with the proportions until you get a thick but squeezable consistency (think baby food).
  4. Using a spatula or spoon, scoop your mixture into your reusable food pouches.
  5. These will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days, longer in the freezer.
  6. Use when training high complexity skills and see if your dog responds better!

Are you on Instagram? Follow me at @agoodfeeling_inco and let me know what you fill your reusable pouches with! Also, sign up for my mailing list by going to my home page. You’ll get a free e-book on canine enrichment with lots of tips and tricks.

Stuck on a particularly difficult behavior modification for your pup? I offer remote sessions via Skype and Google Hangout. Email me to find out more!

Sincerely, Rachel