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!

Tricks Contest: Pick Your Trick

The beauty of training a trick is that you and your dog will get so much out of the attempt, and it is just so much fun, that it almost doesn’t matter which trick you choose. If you need help picking your trick, just post a question here (or email me at barbara @ topnotchdog.com—minus the extra spaces) and I’ll be glad to help. Here are some tips and resources to guide you in your choice:

Tricks will not be judged on their difficulty, so no need to try for something over the top. You only have until February 15th, so try something simpler than having your dog jump through a hoop of flames. Unless, of course, your dog already knows how to jump over fire and through a hula hoop, in which case you could probably combine those for a new trick in time for the contest. Many tricks take just a few days to teach, if you practice in two five-minute segments each day. Keep it simple, keep it fun, and enter the contest to win a free dog training session.

Consider teaching a trick that will help your dog. If your dog is shy, then big, bold tricks are best (like sit up, leap into my arms, high five, nose touch) whereas a very rambunctious dog might do well to learn calming tricks that require focus (like balance dog treat on nose, lie down with chin touching ground, roll over, go lie on your bed).

Consider size. Do you have a small dog or a large dog? It is often easier to teach a small dog to slalom through your legs as you walk than a large one. It can be easier to teach a large dog to shake your hand.

Consider your level of experience. Here are some good tricks to teach if you’ve never taught a dog a trick before:

  • nose touch (dog bops your hand with his nose)
  • spin (dog makes a tight circle in place, you remain motionless)
  • roll over (a classic)
  • shake (dog places his paw in your outstretched hand)

For more experienced tricksters:

  • sit up/sit pretty
  • back up
  • weave through my legs as I walk
  • hit it (dog whacks or targets something with her paw rather than her nose)

For more advanced trickmeisters:

  • schwing! (dog does a complete, tight circle around you, by backing around you from start to finish)
  • limp (Some trick humor: A dog walks into a saloon, limping, and announces, “‘I’ve come to find out who shot my paw!”)
  • flip (dog stands facing you from a few feet away; on cue the dog whips around 180 degrees in place, then backs all the way through your legs)
  • facial expressions on cue (ears or mouth are  good place to start)
  • two-dog tricks

Some videos and books to get you started:

The Everything Dog Training and Tricks Book: All you need to turn even the most mischievous pooch into a well-behaved pet (Everything Series) by Gerilyn J. Bielakiewicz

Remember, you must record your very first training session and the polished trick on cue in order to enter. Coming up: tricks video, different methods for teaching tricks, why the cue is the most important part of the trick, and how tricks can have useful, real-life applications.

Dogs on the Furniture, Oh Dear!

If you have a dog, you have probably had a furniture issue at some point. Maybe you’ve had trouble keeping your dog off the furniture when you’re using it, keeping him off it when you’re not at home to supervise, teaching him to use only a particular piece of furniture, trying to get him out from under the furniture, or keeping the furniture free of hair, not to mention free of teeth. We like our dogs, we like our furniture, and sometimes these two things together create problems.

In terms of teaching your dog rules about getting on the furniture, you have many choices. I provide a few options below, plus their effects on your furniture. Whichever way you decide to go, your dog will be neither deprived nor ruined. Just be consistent. Regular readers will recognize the recurring theme of preventing dog behavior you don’t want and rewarding behavior you do want:

Allowing your dog access to any piece of furniture, anytime

Training difficulty: Pretty easy to teach once they figure out how comfy it is up there. And no, allowing your dog on the furdogpileniture will not make him dominant, homicidal, or spoiled. But if you have a new dog or puppy, I do not recommend starting with this. That’s simply because you don’t know each other yet and you haven’t had the chance to establish any boundaries and rules. To help your dog develop into a polite family member, it is best to make sure your dog listens well, understands boundaries, and has the training and self-control skills that are important to you. Once that’s established, you’ll be able to make more places and activities available. I also recommend teaching a simple cue to get your dog off the furniture in case your Aunt Betty would like to have a seat. To teach that, say your cue word like “off,” then pat your leg to encourage your dog down. If he’s reluctant, say the cue then bowl a dog biscuit away from the couch. He’ll soon respond to the cue and hand motion that went with bowling the treat.

Keep in mind: If your dog growls or otherwise threatens people when he’s on the couch or bed, he is not a good candidate for this option. He is likely guarding the bed or anticipating being touched. Get professional help with any underlying pain or anxiety.

Furniture consequences: Hair, drool, claw marks, hair, odor, hair. Use a throw blanket that you can launder and easily remove when you have guests.

Keeping your dog off your furniture, all the time

Training difficulty: This is the second easiest option to teach, because it is one of the least confusing (“never” is pretty straight-forward!). If you have a dog with back pain or who is recovering from surgery, your veterinarian may tell you furniture is off-limits to your dog.

The idea here is to a) prevent furniture climbing and b) reward lying elsewhere (like the floor or a dog bed). It is incredibly useful to have an exercise pen handy for this. I find it speeds the transition for a new puppy or dog tremendously. Even if you don’t have an x-pen (as they are called for short), make sure your pooch has a chewy down on the floor before he is tempted to get on the couch. If he likes to lie down on a very soft surface, provideLyingbesideCouch him a cushy dog bed so the couch won’t tempt him as much. Initially you can tether him to a heavy piece of furniture within range of the dog bed (provided you’ll be present). If you do this whenever you are seated on the sofa, at the computer, or at the table, you will condition him to occupy himself quietly at those times. If you are consistent, it will become a habit for him.

To prevent him from leaping onto the sofa when you first enter the room, have him drag a lightweight line or light leash for a week or so. Be ready to step on the line to prevent him bolting for the couch, and then direct him to his bed or place near the couch he can work on his chew toy.

If you are already seated and he enters the living room, be ready; don’t wait to see what he’s going to do next. Call him to you with a treat held down near the floor. You can also teach him to nose touch—-ask him to do that before he has a chance to consider the couch. Try having your dog do a couple of sits and downs to help him get the ants out of his pants before encouraging him onto his dog bed and tethering with a chewy. You can also imagine you are a soccer goalie, and physically block the couch with your body. Slide or move left and right if your dog tries to get by you (no need to say anything, it will just distract him). Many dogs get the message after a few attempts and decide it’s less trouble just to lie beside the couch.

During the training process, which depending on the dog might be a couple of weeks or less, prevent access to the furniture when you can’t supervise. Crate your dog, close the living room door, or use baby gates to prevent access.

Furniture consequences: Your guests will hardly know you have a dog.IMG_1359

Allowing your dog one piece of furniture

Training difficulty:  This is the trickiest option to teach. Follow the guidelines for never being allowed on the furniture, but with the following exception: Teach your dog to ask for permission to get up on the allowed piece of furniture. Have him sit, and release with “Ok!” as you pat the sofa. Just to keep things clear (which always smoothes the training process) make sure he never gets on the designated couch or chair without permission at first. Self-control and manners first, then furniture time.

Furniture consequences: Most of your furniture will be hairless, except of course for the chair he’s allowed up on. Consider using metal cookie trays spread out on the off-limits pieces in your absence (store them under the cushions) until he’s in the habit of using only the chair you’ve selected.

I don’t recommend booby-trapping furniture. I know of dogs who have become wary of the entire living room as a result, or fearful of whomever was standing nearby when they were spooked, which are much bigger problems than a little dog hair. Just use a throw blanket and call it a day.

How to teach a nose touch

What is a nose touch?

 You say, “Touch!” and your dog swiftly bops the palm of your hand with his nose.

Why teach a nose touch?

  • allows you to position your dog any way you want (like beside you on  a leash walk, away from a toddler if they get in a tight space, lined up for the vet to examine him, for a photo, or to teach a trick like “twirl in a circle”)
  • gives your child and dog a great game to play together
  • helps a puppy to learn to come at your hands with a closed mouth (self control is a delightful thing)
  • gives your dog something to do when he might be nervous (like in the waiting room at the veterinarian’s office, waiting his turn in group class, or in between ears when you’re cleaning them)
  • refocuses your dog on you if he is staring at another dog, a cat, or something else that is none of his beeswax
  • helps dogs feel happy about people’s hands near their faces
  • can be transferred to other objects, like shoes, so you can teach your dog to nose touch people’s shoes instead of leaping on them in greeting
  • helps dogs who are nervous about objects (like a vacuum cleaner or wheel barrow) feel more confident (it becomes a nose touch game rather than a “what the heck is that thing!?” encounter)
  • zillions of other uses

 How to teach a nose touch (please read brief instructions below first; the video moves fast)

The video shows only Session One. In subsequent sessions, you will build up greater understanding, put a cue word on the touch behavior (“Touch!”), and incorporate the nose touch into the above uses. It only takes a few 1-minute sessions to master this.

For your first session, keep one hand clean and keep treats in the other. The clean hand is the hand your dog will touch with his nose. Use tiny, non-crumbly treats. 

Step one—Hide your clean “touch” hand behind your back. This will pique your dog’s interest. Your dog may nuzzle the other hand holding the treats.  Just ignore that and make a fist around the treats.

Step two—Present your rigidly flat palm out to your side, roughly nose- level with your dog. Say nothing. Just wait. Make sure your thumb is parallel to the ceiling.

Be ready! Many dogs will immediately bop your palm (or at least sniff it) the first few attempts. This is sheer luck (see video) but you still want to be ready to reward.

Step three—The instant he bumps your hand with his nose, keep your touch hand right where it is as you say “yes” and deliver a treat with your other, treat hand. Ideally, reach over and place the treat as close as possible to the spot where your dog bopped your palm and let your dog take the treat at the spot. (In the video I keep the food hand separate because that happened to be easiest for this puppy.)

 Repeat 5-6 times in a row. If your dog gets stuck:

·            look at your touch hand, not the dog

·            hide your hand and then make it reappear (“flash” it); works for most dogs

·            just be patient and let them puzzle it out

·            reward “almost” touching to help jump-start the process

 Congratulations! You’ve completed your first touch training session.


Tips to note: In the video, there were a couple things I would do differently had I not been working in grass, and with a stationary video camera on a tripod. 

For each new attempt, back away from your dog a step or two to encourage them to stand (rather than them getting stuck in a sit position). It is not a “sit” exercise and will only complicate things during later sessions.

If your dog tends to sit rather than stand, say “yes!” when their nose bops your palm, but rather than reward the dog in a sitting position as I was often doing, toss the treat onto the floor. That way your dog will go after the treat and be “reset” in a standing position for the next attempt (note: does not work well on grass because the training session turns into a treat hunting expedition).

Please let me know what you think of this video attempt; one of my clients requested it and I think it’s a great idea to post a video from time to time. (The text came out awfully small—I will make it more legible next time.). Thanks for watching and happy training!