Photo Contest: And the Winner Is…


Announcing, the winner of the Photo Contest in celebration of National Train Your Dog Month! Kay Nellis has the winning entry and a free hour of dog training with her Airedale terrier, Capella Rose! Congratulations!!

The entrants were asked to describe how the photo depicts an action taught with reward-based methods and how it benefits both dog an person.

This photo depicts Capella in the position she arrives at when Kay calls her. Notice how close and straight she is positioned. To teach her to come so close and straight, Kay dropped treats straight down for Capella to catch (if she came in crooked or too far out, no treat). Kay also mixes this in with playing fetch with Capella’s favorite ball, to make a game of it and keep it fun for both of them.

The sitting so close and straight after being called benefits Kay because, as you can see in the photo, she gets great focus and attention from Capella using this method. Kay also competes in precision sports with Capella where this high level of performance is required. Even a half inch off from center would be penalized. It doesn’t look like Kay will have to worry about that! (And if memory serves, Capella is just shy of being 18 months old.)

It benefits Capella because it’s good exercise for her brain and body, she gets to play with and bond with her person, and she can be kept safer since Kay can easily reach her collar should she need to put her back on leash during off-leash play.

Again, hearty congratulations! I am looking forward to working with Kay and Capella in their free hour of dog training.

For information on scheduling appointments, please visit http://www.topnotchdog.com

National Train Your Dog Month–Is Your Dog a Top Notch Dog?

Here is your chance to show the answer is “yes!” This photo contest takes only about 30 seconds to enter, there will be three winners, and it allows you to show off how cute and smart your dog is. Someone has to win, why not you and your dog? Here’s how to enter:

Step One: Cue your dog to do something she already knows how to do.

Step Two: Snap a photo of it.

Step Three: Email it to me (barbara@topnotchdog.com) or post it to the Top Notch Dog Facebook page along with a sentence about how you used reward based methods to train what the photo depicts, and how it benefits both you and the dog. You’re done!

First place: $100 in dog training at Top Notch Dog

Second place: $50 in dog training at Top Notch Dog

Third place: a one-year subscription to The Bark magazine.

You have until January 20th. Any age, breed type, or training level welcome. Entries are already rolling in. If you’ve never taught your dog to do anything on cue, there’s no time like the present; see great training tips from the Association of Pet Dog Trainers in celebration of National Train Your Dog Month.

Here’s an idea by way of example: Submit a photo of your dog sitting, saying that you used treats to lure the dog into position, praising and feeding when the dog sat. The sit benefits you because the dog sits rather than jumping up, and benefits the dog because his calmer position means more quality time with his people.

Fine print: Winner will be notifed by January 30th and may put the prize towards basic manners or tricks training, no serious behavior problems, which will be at the discretion of Top Notch Dog. Prize must be used by June 15th, 2011. You can be a dog professional, but not a professional photographer. Limit three entries per family.

But that’s not all! Here are other ways to celebrate National Train Your Dog Month with Top Notch Dog!

15% off all dog and puppy training in the month of January.

Free access to the discussion of all things kids, babies and dogs hosted by Barbara at the virtual bookclub Dog Read starting January 16th. We’ll be discussing Happy Kids, Happy Dogs, which is recommended by childbirth educators and trauma prevention specialists at Duke Health and UNC Hospitals. Now available online, at The Regulator Bookshop and as an iBook.

Happy National Train Your Dog Month!

Tricks Contest Winner

The tricks contest inspired quite a few people to work on new tricks and even some to write in with questions. One person taught her dog to play the piano and I heard someone else developed a trick involving a rubber chicken. So that was the whole idea, to train your dog something new, to feel inspired and challenged and to do something fun for National Train Your Dog Month.

Here are the winning video submissions. Both are from the same owner, two different dogs (each is about a minute long). Enjoy watching the first session and the finished product for each trick, and consider trying these out with your dog. By the way, both tricks have practical applications; the first is called “Glue” and it can be used to give a fearful, reactive, or easily distracted dog something to focus on, and the second is great for building core muscle strength in dogs with “normal” length backs.

The first video is of a 12 year old Golden retriever named Dreamer learning and then performing a trick called “Glue.” (So you see, “young-at-heart” dogs can learn new tricks!).

The second video is of a 6 and 1/2 year old Golden retriever named Trotter learning and then performing a  trick called “Say Your Prayers.”

Congratulations to Dreamer’s and Trotter’s owner, Chris O’Connor, who has won an hour of dog training at Top Notch Dog. In her submission she said she’d like to use the session towards polishing heeling and teaching more tricks; that is the thing about teaching tricks, once you’ve tried it, it is so much fun for both you and the dog, it is hard to stop at just one. Happy training!

The Big Trick Contest

Top Notch Dog Presents…

The National Train Your Dog Month Trick Training Contest!

This contest is going to have one winner, but it will be a group effort to help that person (and dog!) win.

At any time while working on your trick, you may post to the blog and ask for help. I’ll be your virtual coach and help you as you go. You are welcome to upload video to YouTube at that point to show where you are stuck, but it’s not required. There will be a tricks workshop at Top Notch Dog on Wednesday, January 20 at 1:00 if you’d like in-person help or if you wish to enter but don’t have video access (see below).

You will win: one hour of free dog training for you and your dog at Top Notch Dog ($100 value). Two other finalists will receive a book on dog tricks training and a special surprise for their dog. The winner will be chosen when you and everyone else votes on the finalists. It will be *just* like American Idol.

Here’s how it works:
Each contestant will choose a trick to teach their dog. It must be a trick your dog has never before learned. You have one month to teach the trick. It may be very simple or very complex, as tricks will not be judged on their level of difficulty. Over the course of the month, I will post blog entries that provide the following:

  • Ideas for tricks to teach
  • Different methods of teaching tricks (luring, capturing, shaping)
  • Practical uses for tricks in everyday life
  • Troubleshooting your challenges as you work on your trick
  • Suggestions for books, dvd’s and links to help you choose and teach the trick

Your finished trick must be on cue. Using ‘sit’ as an example, your cue can be a verbal cue (i.e. “sit”) or a hand or body signal (your hand sweeping upward), but your video must show the trick being cued. You must use reward-based methods (so, you would be ineligible if you forced the dog’s butt down to the ground for the ‘sit’). Luring, capturing or shaping are all acceptable methods (more on these later).

To enter: you must video tape the first training session and the finished product and upload your approximately one-minute clip to YouTube. Once the clip is uploaded, send an email to barbara @ topnotchdog.com (minus the spaces) with Tricks Contest in the subject line. Your email must contain the following:

  • Your name and your dog’s name and age
  • The town in which you live
  • The YouTube link showing the first training session and final product
  • The goal you would have for your free, one-hour training session if you won

Fine print: the winner’s free training session will be at Top Notch Dog within 3 months of the announcement of the winner. It may be used only for basic manners or more tricks training (no serious behavior problems like aggression). You will be required to sign a standard waiver and info sheet on your dog.

Happy training!

ABCs of Dog Safety at Fox 50 Family Fest

What a fun crowd! Dozens and dozens of kids and their parents visited the Durham Regional Hospital booth, where Buddy the Dog and I taught them the right way to meet a dog. Each time a child was able to state the ABCs of Dog Safety and role playIMG_1632 them with me and Buddy, they earned a sticker, a hand stamp, or a toy for their dog at home. And I got to hear stories from kids about how they had been bitten by dogs, about their favorite dogs, and about their dog friends at home, like China the red nosed pitbull and the blue heeler rescued from the shelter. I even learned how to ask, “May I pet your dog?”  in Chinese. One of the babies pictured in Happy Kids, Happy Dogs visited the booth with his parents and younger brother; how time flies. Older kids and their parents got a kick out of reading Don’t Lick the Dog, and soon I will contact the winner of the raffle of Happy Kids, Happy Dogs.

If you didn’t have a chance to stop by the booth, here are the ABCs of Dog Safety:

Ask permission.

Ask, “May I pet your dog?” before you touch a dog. Always ask, even if you know the dog and even if you think the dog looks friendly.

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Stand still with arms at your side. If the dog does not come closer, do not touch. If the dog comes close to you, then the safest place to pet is the chin or chest.

Chin or chest is where you should pet.

Do not hug or kiss a dog or hold your hand out toward his nose (the dog can already smell you). Those motions can scare a dog and lead to a bite. If the dog comes close to you, stroke under the chin or on the chest. If he doesn’t come close, count his spots or admire his collar, but don’t touch.

It was an all-around great day. Next year I hope to make it over to the face painting booth…

Coming When Called Tip #3: Put Some Pep In Your Dog’s Step

A big priority for most dog owners is to be able to get their dog to come to them when they’re called. It’s actually not that hard to teach, if you go about it in a way that takes advantage of how dogs learn.

For this behavior (which is really a series of small behaviors, or actions), I have a high standard of performance that I strive for. I want the dog to come immediately, quickly, and on one cue. After all, it’s just not all that useful to train it such that the dog responds eventually, approaches slowly, or does so only after multiple cues or threats. With that in mind, the next few Top Notch Dog Blog entries will offer some tips to improve your dog’s responsiveness to you when you call. It is not so much a “how to” series as pointers to keep you successful as you go.

Some principles to keep in mind: Behaviors that are rewarded tend to increase in frequency, intensity and duration. This means you should make it worth it for your dog to come when called. Reward your dog’s effort, and be generous. Make him really glad he came to you. The flip side of this is to avoid punishing him when he does come to you. That may sound obvious, but many people punish their dog’s behavior without even realizing it, and then continue to struggle down the line, wondering why the dog won’t listen to them.


Coming When Called Tip #3: Put Some Pep In Your Dog’s Steppuppycome

Ideally, your dog should run toward you with enthusiasm when you call him. If your dog comes when you call, but meanders over to you rather than charging full speed in your direction, then these tips are for you:

  • Call, then run away. Dogs love to chase things (they are predators, after all), so let him chase you and he’ll get into the habit of showing a burst of speed when you call. Reward once he catches up. (If kids are helping, make sure they are older and won’t get knocked down. Only let them play this if you have a fairly calm dog–not a puppy or overly excitable dog. And always supervise the game.)
  • Sneak away. Play it up, crouching away on tip-toes. Even a distracted dog will key into a sneaky creature trying to make its getaway; he’ll come bounding after you once you call.
  • Mix it up. Don’t always reward with food. Use “real life” rewards that your dog loves, like a car ride or a game of tug.
  • Surprise him. Dogs are incredibly intelligent and thrive on novelty. Use a new toy, a new type of treat, a new game to reward him and he will try to get to you twice as fast.

Train with enthusiasm and that’s likely the response you’ll get from your pooch.

Coming When Called Tip #2

A big priority for most dog owners is to be able to get their dog to come to them when they’re called. It’s actually not that hard to teach, if you go about it in a way that takes advantage of how dogs learn.

For this behavior (which is really a series of small behaviors, or actions), I have a high standard of performance that I strive for. I want the dog to come immediately, quickly, and on one cue. After all, it’s just not all that useful to train it such that the dog responds eventually, approaches slowly, or does so only after multiple cues or threats. With that in mind, the next few Top Notch Dog Blog entries will offer some tips to improve your dog’s responsiveness to you when you call. It is not so much a “how to” series as pointers to keep you successful as you go.

Some principles to keep in mind: Behaviors that are rewarded tend to increase in frequency, intensity and duration. This means you should make it worth it for your dog to come when called. Reward your dog’s effort, and be generous. Make him really glad he came to you. The flip side of this is to avoid punishing him when he does come to you. That may sound obvious, but many people punish their dog’s behavior without even realizing it, and then continue to struggle down the line, wondering why the dog won’t listen to them.

Coming When Called Tip #2: Control Consequences Carefully

Imagine you are a dog, and you are enjoying a good sniff outdoors or playing with one of your friends. Maybe you just found something excellent and really dead to roll in. Then your person calls you. Now you have a choice to make. What might increase the chances you would leave what you’re doing, and go bounding to them? You may be much more likely to drop what you’re doing and fly to your person if you had no doubt there was something good in it for you. In other words, if you had been trained to assume that the consequences would be really good.

So when you are teaching a dog to come when called, be careful that your consequences affirm in your dog’s head that it is best to come to you without hesitation. Good things should happen to your dog when he comes when called. Really good things. Like his supper, dog play date time, a walk, a car ride to a favorite spot, or a raucous game of tug.comingma

Sometimes when we are training a dog to come when called, we think we are providing good things, but we are really providing consequences that are punishing. It’s the dog’s opinion that counts as to what is a “good thing.” So it’s best to avoid calling the dog and then:

  • Using unpleasant touch or body language (see Tip # 1)
  • Putting the dog in the house (if he was enjoying being outside)
  • Putting him in the car (for example, at the dog park)
  • Putting him on leash (if he’d been running free)
  • Doing something boring or annoying (like checking for a tick or cleaning his ears)
  • Sticking him in his crate and then leaving
  • Scolding the dog (if he had just been doing something you didn’t like, so you call him and then punish him)

Of course, it is practical to be able to call your dog to be able to do all but the last thing on the list above, and eventually, after a long history of rewards, doing so should not ruin your dog’s responsiveness. (Especially if you occasionally surprise him by calling him, putting him in his crate, and letting him right back out again! Dogs love games like that.) While you’re in the training phase, when you need to do something other than provide wonderful consequences, just go get him. Or teach a different cue from his recall word, like “inside” or “kennel up.” If he’s doing something naughty, instead of calling him, think in terms of what you could have done to prevent the naughty behavior to begin with.

Speaking of consequences, you might be inclined to punish a dog who does not come when called. That may work if you’re exceptionally skilled and know exactly what you’re doing. You still might get some unintended fallout with that approach. Personally and professionally, I prefer to put my energy and training into getting the dog to come with confidence and enthusiasm, rather than getting him to come because he is afraid of what I might do to him if he doesn’t. If I called a dog in the learning stage and the dog didn’t respond, I would be sure to note in what way I had made it too hard for the dog to be successful (was he too far away or too distracted compared to where we were in our training?). With a well-trained dog, who had carefully been taught to come under great distraction, I would promptly and quietly collect the dog by the collar, ending whatever fun he was having, and then work on a training plan to brush up that gap in his education.

When your dog chooses not to come when called it sure can feel like he is giving you the bird (that one was for all the retrievers out there). But if you examine the consequences you’ve been providing, you may well find the key to turning things around.

When Dogs Play: The Good, The Bad, and the Funny

DSC_0160The first Thursday of each month is Puppy Social Hour at Top Notch Dog. It is an opportunity for young puppies to do all sorts of important and fun things. They get to venture out to a new place, meet new dogs and people, practice coming to their person out of a group of dogs, calm down nicely between play periods, meet a friendly stranger or two, and get a little worn out. The puppy owners learn what normal puppy play looks like and how to help their pups out if they need it. My job is to make sure all the puppies leave the social hour better than they arrived. I want them to have a good experience, with both the puppies and people they meet.
DSC_0147Therefore it is not a free-for-all; I match play partners carefully, use gates or even a drag line on an individual pup if needed, and coach the owners when they need some assistance.
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Last night featured a wonderful group of puppies and people. It was a perfect example of a mix of play styles, and the puppies adjusted to each other beautifully (despite some huge size differences!).

So what is good dog play? Here is a list of some of the good, the bad and the funny things that dogs do when they play together. This time we saw only the Good and the Funny, I am happy to say.

Good things to see when dogs play:

  • Taking turns (equal time on top in wrestling matches, trading off who has the valuable item like a toy or stick)
  • Inefficient movements (flopping around, falling down, rolling over, leaping, Viszlagoldencloseupexaggerated head movements like giant biting and snarling with plenty of teeth showing)
  • Play signals sprinkled throughout (there are many; play bows and paw raises are examples)
  • Reading the signals of the other dogs and adjusting accordingly (backing off if there is a short yelp or cessation of movement, and then trying again more gently)
  • Breaking off from play of their own accord to sniff, explore, rest, check in with a person, or get water

 

The Bad when dogs play together:

  • Bullying behavior in which a dog relentlessly targets one or more dogs (which may include standing over them motionless, body slamming, or targeting a body part)
  • Terrified behavior (i.e. tail tucked, trembling) from which a dog does not recover, but rather cowers or hides
  • Non-stop, obsessive play without breaking off 
  • Consistent failure to read other dog’s cues and moderate intensity of play accordingly
  • Drifting into true predatory mode, with emergence of quiet, efficient movements, like staring at and intensely stalking another dog (play signals will be absent)
  • Misunderstandings arising from mismatched play styles, possibly leading to fights or DSC_0171feeling overwhelmed (for example, in general dogs like labrador retrievers and pit bulls often engage in body slamming, whereas a border collie may prefer to chase and be chased, while terriers may like to bite hard and wrestle)

 

The Funny:

Funny things always seem to happen when dogs play with abandon. Like lazy play, which is what I call it when dogs lie on the ground near each other and wrestle only with their mouths. There was plenty of that in this group. We also had a comedian in the bunch, who liked to get the others going by biting their tails. And the little sheltie, the lone herding breed, wanted to play chase games, but couldn’t get anyone to run away from him. At one point he stood five feet apart from another dog. They were just staring at each other in a game of puppy chicken. Then he stamped his tiny foot, trying to get the other puppy to spook and take off. He tried again. “Where is this other puppy’s go button?!?” he seemed to be asking. And then there was Miss Stop Drop and Roll; she would get all the other puppies chasing her, and then, as they converged on her, would flatten herself, roll over multiple times as they passed over her (psych!), and then start the whole thing over again. Big fun.

 

 

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What’s Wrong with this Picture?

Despite the photo to the right, I have faith in humankind. It is time, though, to start collecting photos of kids and dogs engaging in happy, respectful interactions with each other. Anything from the “dos” list would do the trick. I also happen to have a few copies of Happy Kids, Happy Dogs: Building a Friendship Right from the Start that I got when the book first came out. I’ll send a signed copy to the first five people that submit photos that I can use for my collection. I’ll post your photoschildallowedtostandondog on the Top Notch Dog Facebook page, here on the blog, and as an email so as many people can see them as they see photos like the one to the right. Please email your photo to me and let me know the ages of both child and dog, and any other info you’d like to share about the photo. Dogs or puppies of any age welcome, pictured with babies or kids. (Hint: photos taken outdoors, and in which the child and dog take up most of the photo, are usually best.)

If there is anything about the photo to the right that bothers you, you may well already be coaching your child and dog through lots of appropriate interactions. But here are some ideas to get you started. These are all ways that are great for kids to interact with dogs; they encourage respect and empathy and allow adults to make sure things are going well. 

  • Watch adults interact with, touch and greet dogs in the safe, correct way 
  • Help an adult teach or show off the dog’s tricks (high five, spin, roll over, take a bow, go night-night, the list is endless!)
  • Help an adult teach or show off the dog’s obedience cues (sit, down, come, etc.)
  • Under adult supervision, offer gentle, slow petting on the side of the dog’s face and under the chin
  • Kiss their hand and then slowly pet the side of the dog’s face to “give” the kiss
  • Play find-it games under adult supervision
  • Help adult bake dog cookies
  • Help adult groom the dog
  • Help adult feed the dog
  • Help adult fill the dog’s water dish
  • Feed treats while adult grooms the dog
  • Help adult play fetch with the dog
  • Help adult take the dog for walks (adult holds the leash)
  • Sing quietly to the dog 
  • Count the dog’s spots, feet, ears, tail, eyes, and legs
  • Draw pictures of the dog