Pretty Please, Pay Attention To Me? Look, I Have Treats!

"Please, leave the begging to me, 'k?"
“Please, leave the begging to me, ‘k?”

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I am just going to come right out and say that bribery can be the kiss of death in dog training.

If your dog needs to know in advance that you’ve got treats in your hands* in order to attend to you or to learn a new task, things have gone awry. You may soon find yourself saying, “But he’ll only do it if I have a treat in my hand!” or even one day, “She tears around the neighborhood and doesn’t even care that I am shaking the treat container!”

* Not to mention the giant Home Depot hardware apron that says loud and clear to your dog, “The moment I’m not wearing this in real life, that’s your signal there’s no point in paying attention to me.”

It’s not just about treats. If you have to work yourself into the right cheerful state to get your dog to look your way, you pepper your training sessions with a lot of encouraging sounds to keep your dog engaged with you, or if you routinely wait until your dog is “tuning you out” before you run or clap, chances are you are not rewarding your dog for attending to you. It is much likelier that you are coaxing, bribing, luring, or begging your dog to pay attention. It works to an extent. But not reliably, not long-term, and not when you need it most (like under distraction or for safety reasons). Experience tells me you may then get frustrated with the dog and say things like, “He knows this!” “He is being so stubborn!” “He is just not food motivated!” or “He does it fine at home!” Your frustration may even lead to using punishment.

There are other variables involved in why training is not always as effective as it could be, but today I want to focus on bribes vs. rewards. Rewards are very, very powerful ways to build behavior. However, a treat in your hand is not a reward. A treat dangled in front of your dog is not a reward. A treat (or toy, or activity) that is delivered as a surprise after your dog has done an action you prefer, that is so satisfying to him that he repeats the action in the future, is a reward. I know, it’s mind-blowing, right? But the cause-and-effect sequence of events is enough to make or break your efforts.

So it is worthwhile to take inventory and make sure that you are using your dog’s favorite things as rewards and not as bribes. Signs that you may be inadvertently bribing:

You are at home and feel like training, so you head to the pantry for the dog treats. Your dog hears the goodies and appears out of nowhere.

Better: Call your dog from wherever he is in the house. “Good boy! Surprise, you get to train with me!” Then hustle to the pantry together, reward the action of coming to you, then begin your training session.

Lesson Your Dog Learns: “Coming when called is one of my favorite things because I will be surprised with goodies! And a chance to spend time with my person, solve puzzles with my brain, and get even more goodies!”

You are in training class and it’s time to practice, so you get your dog out of his crate. As he looks around and sniffs the air, you dig around until you find some good treats or a toy so you can get his attention.

Better: Be ready to deliver your dog’s reward before you release him from the crate or rouse him from his mat. Otherwise you invite your dog to become engrossed in the fascinating things around him while you fumble around, and then attempt to coax his brain back to you with goodies, thereby potentially rewarding “being distracted.” (Remember: cause-and-effect.) Instead, ask your dog to come out of the crate by cuing a nose touch your hand or to look at you by saying his name, and reward those.

Lesson Your Dog Learns: “Ooh, paying attention to my person is fun, because it predicts a chance to do an action I already like, and then more good stuff happens as we play and learn!”

You want to teach your dog a new trick or action to do with his body, like “down” or “come.” After a few repetitions of luring him into position with a treat, your dog starts anticipating what to do with his body. Instead of eliminating the bribe from the picture, though, you continue to show the treat to start the next repetition.

Better: Don’t bribe the dog with food or toys to get him to do things. Instead, catch him doing a down (or heading toward you in the case of “come”) and surprise him with his favorite thing(s). Then start naming the action so you’ll be able to ask him to do it on your cue. It’s generally okay to “lure” 2-3 times if you swear on a stack of How Dogs Learn that you will switch from bribes to rewards thereafter. (If you are stuck, let me know and I will help. We’ve all been there!)

Lesson Your Dog Learns: “Hmmm, if I use trial and error to puzzle out what action I should do with my body, and I guess correctly, my person will surprise me with something really cool! Geez, training is engaging! And it is totally worth it to voluntarily offer behaviors to my person. I’m hooked!”

This morning’s paper happens to have an article on why bribing kids does not work to create lasting, reliable behavior. It advises to train behaviors incrementally, with surprise rewards after the dog (er, child) makes a choice, and to build games and social rewards like praise into the process. Sounds like doggone good advice!

How to Show Dominance Over Your Puppy (While Rocking a Pair of Leg Warmers)

 1_hungry_like_the_wolf_us_B-5195_duran_duran_discogs
It might make a lot of sense to ask the question, “How can I show dominance over my puppy?”

If it were 1983.

In 1983, dog owners, trainers and veterinarians based their understanding of dog behavior on wolf behavior. Problem was, back then scientists had access to information only about captive wolves. Captive wolves, we now know, do not act like normal, wild wolves. And this is important, because wild wolves thrive using cooperation, not competition. In other words, the model of a pack with a dominance hierarchy is much less relevant for understanding normal wolves than is the model of a family (think “mother” and “father” rather than “alpha”). The parents do not intimidate, physically dominate, threaten, bully or (literally and figuratively) need to stay on top of younger wolves to keep the family running smoothly. 

Sure, we all miss some familiar things that were popular in the 80’s. We may think back with nostalgia to leg warmers (like, totally) or Duran Duran. But not everything that made sense in 1983 has relevance any longer.

Now it is 2013. The updated science goes like this: yes, wolves are the ancestors of dogs. Wild wolves, that is, with wild wolf family structures and the behaviors that make those hum along. Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how dogs were domesticated, or if they domesticated themselves, or some other option. In any case, from scientific observation of stray dogs in a variety of countries and situations, we know that domestic dogs who live as strays without a human family may form temporary pairs or small groups, but they do not form packs with strict hierarchies. Further, dogs who do live with human families don’t relate to the people as two-legged dogs.

According to preeminent veterinary behaviorist Karen Overall, “By thoughtlessly using the word pack, we have assumed that humans must be the leaders of the pack. This assumption has caused us to behave badly toward animals. While we care for dogs, they know that we are not dogs, and their relationships with dogs and humans will differ. We can best understand the complex interdependent relationship between dogs and humans by letting go of the pack concept.”

(Read what other scientists have to say here,  here and here.) 

So, while it may have been logical based on what we thought we knew decades ago, it doesn’t make sense any longer to raise and train puppies or dogs using dominance as the model. Since that’s not how dogs operate, doing so would be unlikely to produce the training results you hope for and could even cause unintended problems, as I am sure you can imagine.

Instead, create boundaries, respect your dog’s needs, and cultivate a peaceful household using updated training techniques and information about how dogs communicate. To quote Karen Overall again from her article referenced above, “We can use this new scientific knowledge about dogs to help us address canine behaviors that we or the dog find problematic. Fixing problematic canine behavior is actually not about control, leadership or mastery of the dog—it’s about increasing the chance that you can signal clearly to the dog, that you have the dog’s undivided attention while signaling, and that you are actually rewarding the behaviors that you desire.”

This is the kind of communication and training, along with taking your dog’s natural needs and emotions into account, that you’ll find here at Very Fetching and in Puppy Savvy. You should accept nothing less from your veterinarian, groomer, dog walker, dog trainer or day care provider. They should know how to apply the new science. If not, seek out someone qualified who does.

Accepting the updated information means, among other things, the chance to appreciate things about dogs we didn’t notice before. Dogs have very complex relationships with each other and with humans. They have cognitive abilities we’ve not even scratched the surface of understanding, complex emotional lives, and abilities to do things only a dog can do. They are neither lemon-heads nor black boxes that we should train and control like robots, any more than they are captive wolves who need to be “dominated” in order to live in harmony with them.

As amazing as we already know dogs to be, we may be at just the beginning of our journey together. In 2013, let us be humble. Let us allow dogs to teach us something, about themselves and about us. Let us appreciate the complexity and the simplicity of what a successful relationship with a dog requires of us. Let us do our best to listen. Totally.

The Bowl of Happiness

The Bowl of Happiness
The Bowl of Happiness

I last left you with the advice to never let your puppy out of his confinement area, crate or tether without first having a specific answer to the question, “What will I give the puppy to do next that will set him up to succeed? What game, project, training session, edible toy or other ‘coloring book’ will I offer right off the bat?”

Yet it is one thing to remember to ask yourself this question, but how will you know how to answer it?

The answer to this question will depend on what your puppy likes, your mood, what you have time for, and even the weather. Perhaps you would like to teach the pup to play fetch or go to his spot. Maybe you would rather tether the pup with a stuffed Kong while you finish some emails. Or perhaps a puppy field trip would be a good choice to provide socialization and get you both out of the house.

Now, maybe you are like most people, who have a lot of things on their minds and don’t want to spend their days memorizing puppy games to pull out of thin air in a pinch. I’ve gotta say, that seems reasonable. I find it helpful to write each puppy-occupying game, skill or chew toy on a small piece of paper, put all the slips of paper in a bowl near the puppy’s crate, and fish one out before I release the puppy. I call this the Bowl of Happiness.

What’s that you say, you don’t have time to sit around writing down games on little slips of paper? Again, who could blame you! Not to worry, I have done it for you. Just click on the Bowl of Happiness image (above or on the Puppy Savvy page). You’ll find ready-to-cut-out tips to keep your puppy occupied. Draw one of these slips of paper from a bowl and you’ll have a plan before you risk letting the pooch run wild. These are things you may already have handy or know about; the rest are Magic Wand strategies, Life Lessons and Training Skills described in Puppy Savvy.

Presto! Even with a puppy in your house you can have peace, quiet and happiness. Ahhh…

Are You Puppy Savvy?

Scan 123170008It’s getting pretty exciting around here as we are just days away from the launch of Puppy Savvy. I thought I would offer a series of puppy posts to get us in the spirit of things. Starting with the secret formula to being truly puppy savvy:

a) Imagine what you wish your puppy would do.

b) Set up the situation to make that desired behavior likely, and then, when your puppy behaves as you wish,

c) Surprise! Present a reward that matters to your puppy.

The behavior you reward will become a habit.

One of my favorite restaurants, Elmo’s Diner, uses this approach to great effect (with humans, though I am sure they could teach a puppy to do anything). When you ask for a table at Elmo’s, if you have children the friendly host seats you with menus, crayons, and sheets of paper with the Elmo’s cartoon duck to color in. The Elmo’s staff thereby applies the same principles that will yield great results for you and your puppy:

a) They wish young kids would color instead of whine or tear around the restaurant.

b) They make this coloring behavior likelier by, right off the bat, presenting the opportunity to color in a way that makes it a special ritual (the stuff is not just sitting out on the table).

c) Surprise! In the middle of the coloring session, they deliver the pancakes and juice the parents have ordered. The kids are invited to hang their masterpieces on the Duck Wall.

This is powerful stuff. It is so peaceful (and delicious) a dining experience that I even have an Elmo’s t-shirt. But back to your puppy…

Will you let your puppy gallivant through the environment, letting his adventures and the taste of your favorite shoes be his rewards? Will you then unintentionally pile on more rewards in the form of attention, making these undesirable puppy behaviors even stronger by interacting with him (“No!” “Come back!” “Give me that!”)?

Choose a better way. Harness the power of rewards to your advantage and to help your puppy. Use rewards consciously and strategically. Use a baby gate, a crate or x-pen, an indoor leash known as a dragline and an indoor tether to keep your pup out of mischief, and always give him the equivalent of a coloring book to keep him occupied (a game or a stuffed Kong are often good options). Get in the habit of never taking your puppy out of his crate (or off his indoor tether) without first having a specific answer to the question, “What will I give the puppy to do next that will set him up to succeed? What game, project, training session, edible toy or other ‘coloring book’ will I offer right off the bat?”

Have you tried this approach with your puppy? What questions do you have about how to make this work? Let me know! Up next…ideas for keeping your puppy occupied with the right kind of “coloring book.”

What to do with a Kong

(This puppy is licking goodies out of her Kong instead of fussing during down-time at puppy class.)

If you have a new dog, especially a puppy or teenage dog, I bet everyone is telling you to get a Kong. Dog trainers are wild about Kongs, your veterinarian may even sell them in the waiting room, and every pet store stocks them in all sizes.

But let’s be honest, you have looked at a Kong and wondered what the big deal is. Maybe you even purchased one and brought it home. You put it in front of your pooch expecting a small miracle to occur. But your dog just sniffed it and walked away. You can’t help thinking, “Now what? Why all the hype?”

The truth is, the Kong is just a hunk of hollow rubber, unless you start thinking like a dog. Dogs like games and puzzles that engage their amazing brains. They need to use their powerful sniffers, their paws, and their jaws to scavenge and extract food from tricky places. The Kong is designed to make all of this physical and mental challenge happen in a way that does not involve your furniture, rugs, shoes, undies or other potential objects of fascination.

If your dog could talk, he or she would ask you to please stuff the Kong parfait-style: some smelly, gooey stuff in the tip (like cheese or peanut butter), layered with some kibble, then something globby like part of a banana, layered with a few dog biscuits or leftovers from last night’s supper (veggies are great, no cooked bones or toxic stuff, please), topped off with something easy to get started, like more peanut butter.

Now you’re on to something!

That should keep your dog quiet in the crate, or occupied while you prepare dinner or watch Dancing With the Stars (in which case you obviously cannot lower your eyes from the TV, even for a moment). You also get Good Dog Owner points for providing an outlet for your dog’s daily behavioral needs.

Fancy versions of this (because I know your dog is above-average smart):

  • Jam everything in as tight as possible by using the back of a knife
  • Prepare the Kong, then freeze it
  • Prepare the Kong, then nuke it for 15 seconds or so
  • Feed all regular meals as stuffed Kongs (use just a dab of PB mixed in to hold everything together)
  • Make multiple Kongs ahead of time (refrigerate) and hide them around the room/house before you leave

Yes, it’s gross, but your dog really will get every last morsel out (if not, adjust the difficulty by stuffing looser and using less goo). I put mine in the top rack of my dishwasher and, voila, they are sterilized and ready for another round. And I’ve had the same bloomin’ Kongs for 15 years.

If your dog has mack daddy chewing power, get the black Kong. If your dog is a girl, or boy, and color-coding is important to you, get the pink or blue Kong. But please, get a Kong. Your dog will love you for it. While your dog is munching away, please share your recipes, success stories and questions and comments below. There is likely another dog owner out there who would learn from your experience.

Where in the World to Take Your New Puppy

I am excited about how many of you read the previous post on when to take your puppy out into the world! Here is the what, where and how of introducing your pup to new experiences.

What kinds of experiences do you need to provide your puppy?

Introduce to your pup the sounds, sights, smells, touch, people, other animals, situations and surfaces he or she is likely to encounter in life. Consider your lifestyle and make a list of common activities your dog will encounter. Many lists will include “vacuum cleaner,” “a visitor to our home,” “grooming appointments” or “running children.” One list may include “riding elevators,” while someone else’s list may include “horses and chickens.”  Perhaps a trip to a shopping center, playground, puppy play group, public library, or cafe would fit the bill (here are more ideas.) There is no way to introduce everything the puppy will need to feel at ease about, but the idea is to at least come up with the most common things and provide happy exposure to those.

Why is a “happy exposure” so important?PSCoverWEB

Many people say they “mess with” the puppy while she is eating or “mess with” or touch her paws and tail to accustom her to that. This may work out, or what they may be doing is teaching the puppy to find that kind of touch rather annoying (and then, paradoxically, they punish the puppy for reacting in annoyance). If your goal is not mere tolerance of human touch, but rather you’d like to have a dog who actually wags her tail when you take a food item away or trim her nails, why not build in the right kind of association from the start? Teach the pup to happily accept human hands coming at her by pairing it with some of her meal. It can mean the difference between a big battle over these issues and helping the dog feel at ease (if you were the pup, which would you prefer?).

 

We used to think we had to “alpha roll” puppies to teach them who was “dominant.” But like every field of knowledge, dog training and behavior has evolved. There are some approaches we continue with and some areas where we find a better, more up-to-date solution. Now we know that there is just no good reason to intimidate a dog in order to help him fit into your family or your life, or to show leadership. You certainly can do it, and many people do, but why go that route when there are alternatives? I think it is much more respectful of the dog, allows kids to be part of the training, and allows you to avoid unintended fallout of using physical intimidation in the name of teaching. It is easy to get started; just get one of the books listed to the right or use this list, and find a puppy class that uses modern, reward-based methods. You can still show leadership, create boundaries and meet expectations for good behavior. What have you got to lose by training in a way that works for both of you?

How to help your puppy if the exposure turns less than happy

Stress is part of life, so it’s okay for your pup to learn what happens when things get dicey.  If your puppy balks or resists at any point, take it as information that you need to back up a step and pair an easier step with some of his meal, praise and/or a favorite toy. It is best to create trust with your dog rather than fear. Be patient and upbeat and go at your puppy’s pace. (Think of it this way: if the sight of a spider panicked you, I would not tell you to get over it and then put one down the back of your shirt. Not very effective, nor very kind.) Of course if your pup has a very strong reaction, contact your class instructor so you can pick the best plan of action for your particular puppy.

Don’t allow anyone to overwhelm your puppy (or pick him up without explicit instructions), especially if they are unfamiliar. For many reasons, well-meaning people you know and random strangers alike will mimic what they see on TV, what their neighbor told them, or what they remember about having a dog from 30 years ago. You will get all manner of unsolicited advice. The main thing to do is always allow your puppy to approach the person at his or her own pace, tell the person to pet under the chin or on the chest (they can feed treats, too, as can you), and if necessary be prepared to cheerfully say “let’s go” and encourage your pup to move away from the person. Most encounters go fine, but it always helps to have a plan in case you run into that extra enthusiastic person. (If you see a cute puppy or any dog, please ask the owner for permission before touching or interacting with their pooch.)

How often should you provide a happy exposure for your puppy?

I recommend your puppy have a field trip, new visitor, or new item from your list at least five times per week. That factors in a couple of days when you may be extra busy and gives the puppy a chance to have some calmer days. An outing doesn’t have to be any longer than 5-10 minutes, and it’s a lot less work than trying fix problems that otherwise might crop up later. An added bonus is that your puppy will likely behave like a dream the rest of the day, as the excitement of something new tends to wear them out a bit.

Puppy class certainly counts as a happy exposure, just be aware that, by itself, attending puppy class does not mean you have socialized your puppy. Class is a great way for you to learn about appropriate greetings and play between puppies, house training and bite inhibition, and basic training, and I highly recommend it. Going to the same class each week, with the same people and dogs, however, clearly only begins to help with your list. So do attend class and then practice what you learned the rest of the week in novel surroundings.

Remember, each person will have their own list depending on what they think life will have in store for their growing dog. Plan a happy new event at least five days a week. Make it fun by being encouraging, going at your puppy’s pace, and pairing encounters with meals or a favorite toy. Enjoy your curious little fuzzball, because adolescence is not far behind!

When Can I Take My New Puppy Out Into the World?

New puppies are curious, inquisitive little sponges, soaking up experiences and information about the world. They also, it is widely held, have a so-called “critical period” of social development up until approximately age sixteen weeks. So when should you take your puppy into the world? The answer is, right away!

You may be wondering about advice you’ve heard regarding vaccinations. Most veterinarians now recommend early and frequent socialization opportunities, even if the puppy has not finished all vaccinations. Veterinarians who are board certified in behavior, in fact, say the risk of your puppy dying from exposure to a virus is far less likely than death from euthanasia due to behavior problems later on that might have been prevented through planned exposures to novel people, places, other animals, and things.

Here is the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior position statement on puppy socialization and vaccines. In a nutshell, they say that puppies can attend puppy classes starting at 7-8 weeks of age. They say pups should receive a first deworming and a set of vaccines a week before they attend class. They should meet as many new people, dogs, and environments as possible. For complete instructions on how to socialize your puppy correctly and exactly what do do if he is bold or bashful, see the new book recommended by veterinarians, trainers, shelter experts, breeders and behaviorists, Puppy Savvy: The Pocket Guide to Raising Your Dog Without Going Bonkers. In the meantime, here are some tips to get you started.

If you are uneasy about making the change to the new recommendations, I advise taking the pup with you and just not setting him on the ground. You can keep him or her on your lap, in your arms, or on a huge blanket so the pup can take in the sights, sounds and people you encounter.

Your job is to make sure the puppy is not merely exposed to new things, but rather that that her little puppy tail is wagging out of happiness most of the time you are out. To achieve this, don’t stand by and watch your puppy. Be involved. Pair her interactions with others with a cheerful, confident, upbeat attitude, along with plenty of treats and a favorite toy.
PSCoverWEB

I don’t recommend letting strangers pick your puppy up, or even pet her until they agree to do so in a way that will most benefit the pup: only if the pup comes to them, and then only under the chin or on the chest. Not everyone will do it right, so if someone comes on too strong and your pup should need encouragement, be quick to say, “What a brave puppy!” in a happy tone and if necessary be on your way.

Here are some more reasons to take your pup out into the world with you as soon as you bring her home at 7 or 8 weeks of age. Doing so will provide a chance to:

  • create happy associations with the types of experiences your pup will need to take in stride as an adult.
  • tire your puppy out. Mental stimulation is just as important as physical exercise. You’ll be amazed how much calmer your pup is after a field trip or visiting with new people.
  • get your puppy to the veterinarian’s office, just for fun.
  • teach your puppy how normal, and even fun, car rides can be.
  • have a mildly stressful experience or two and bounce back from it, just like will occur throughout your dog’s life.

Next up: ideas for where to take your puppy, how often you should go, and whether puppy class will meet your little fuzzball’s socialization needs.

Want a Green Dog? Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Recently I cleaned out a closet and afterwards had a nice pile of gently worn clothes to donate. But I also had a pile of old t-shirts and items that were too worn out or stained to pass on. Then I remembered that I had an extra dog bed cover, so I fluffed the old t-shirts a bit and stuffed them into the dog bed cover, zipped it up, and voila, instant dog bed. Unlike most commercially made dog beds, this one is fully washable, not just the cover. And if you make one like this, it has your scent built right in, which may comfort some dogs who would otherwise worry in your absence. If you have some old t-shirts or clean rags and want to make a dog bed like this, you can get covers through many online catalogs, including Greener Pup, LLC.

Another thing that you can save for your dogs are people food containers (first, rinse well) to use as toys. Dogs thrive on novelty and love to explore new smells and textures, so it can be a big treat for them to get something unusual to play with like:

  • Round lids (like from a buttery spread container) make good targets for training your dog to run away from the door when visitors enter. How-to: Teach him to nose touch the clean lid by holding it in your hand, then affix it somewhere away from the door at nose level. Stand near him and practice until he gets the hang of it (you may need to hold it in your hand first, then attach it to the wall or chair leg). When he is nose touching the lid with gusto on cue, increase your starting distance from it until he will charge over and bop it even if you are both standing near the door. Then add in the doorbell sound before you give your verbal cue, and your dog will hear the  bell, then run to the target instead of leaping on your guests.
  • It’s also great exercise to run back and forth to a target, so consider nailing a lid to a tree at nose-level, teach him to target that and call him back to you. When you call him back and reward, you are working on his come-when called cue as well.
  • Orange juice cartons, rinsed, dried and with a few small holes cut in the sides, make great low-cost food dispensers. Throw away the plastic cap and fill the container with your dog’s kibble. Your dog can enjoy his meal by tossing, nudging, and biting at the container. He may even rip it to shreds, which is what dogs were built to do, so let him have at it as long as he doesn’t ingest any of the pieces of the carton.
  • Plastic water bottles make great interactive toys. Fill one about a third full with water and put the cap back on, then put the whole bottle into a sock. Tie a tight knot in the sock and you’ve got a novel toy to keep a (up to 12-16 week old) puppy occupied. (Older dogs may puncture the bottle through the sock and then you’ll have a leaking toy, but you could use an empty bottle, several socks, and create a tug toy.) Freezing a plastic bottle of water can keep a puppy cool on very hot days, they like to lie right next to them.
  • Pizza pizza! If you have a high-energy dog who enjoys problem solving, offer him the empty, closed box after you’ve ordered a pizza (take out the paper that is sometimes in the bottom). As long as your dog is not the type to eat what he shreds, this is a safe, fun way to tire him mentally and physically under your supervision. And when he’s finished, what remains of the box will fit in the trash much easier (most places don’t allow recycling of pizza boxes). Toss a handful of dog treats into the box before you close it so he can hear and smell the goodies inside. The short video clip shows an older puppy’s first time with a pizza box: first I surprise him with it for coming when called, then he tears around with it, rips it, and makes the goodies come out and eats them. When I decide not to add more treats, he turns the box into a fetch toy, and then finishes by ripping it up some more. He is tired by the end.) Providing this kind of outlet for your dog’s normal mental and physical energy needs will help prevent him from wreaking havoc with your patience and possessions.

Finally, you can make a terrific, low-cost tug toy from a pair of old jeans. Just cut the legs off and knot them every 8 inches or so. Or you can cut the legs into strips and braid the strips, with knots on each end, for a super tough, long-lasting toy. I found a pair of high-waisted jeans (I swear I haven’t worn them in years!) in that closet I cleaned out, and they are now destined to become tug toys.

If you are not a person who likes to make things (or clean out her closet!), not to worry. Green doggie items are now all the rage; you can find eco beds made from recycled soda bottles and leashes, head collars and toys all made from recycled materials. Some of the proceeds from sales of these products go toward helping homeless dogs, so consider having a green dog!

January is National Train Your Dog Month (and how this could affect your dog)

The Association of Pet Dog Trainers has designated January to be National Train Your Dog Month. It is a brand new year…help your dog dog kick that troublesome habit he has! Special events at Top Notch Dog during the month of January include:

Receive 10% off your first training appointment

Win a free training appointment by winning the Trick Training Contest ($100 value, details to follow)

Participate in any of three upcoming workshops at a special rate of $25 (or attend all three for $60):

* Tricks to Calm Your Dog (Wed Jan 20 1:00)

* Say Goodbye to Pulling on Leash (Sat. Jan 23 10:00)

* Teach Your Dog to Come When Called (Mon Jan 25 4:00)

Email barbara@topnotchdog.com to register or find out more. Or call (919) 493-4560. For oodles of dog training tips, see the National Train Your Dog Month website. Enjoy your dog more, starting today. Happy training!