Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Dogs Love Their "Place"

Teaching your dog a "Place" cue - in which your dog goes to its mat and lies quietly until released - has many benefits for dog and human alike.

For the dog, it involves increasing impulse control, teaches a dog to relax in one spot no matter what else is going on around him, and it can become a favorite spot that he chooses to go to when he wants to rest or play with a favorite toy.

For the people, it can come in handy in many situations. If you have a ton of groceries sitting about and want to put them away without Fido being in your way, you can ask him to lie quietly on his mat in the kitchen. If you want peace and quiet in the kitchen while eating, it is handy to have a "Place" cue so that Fido knows exactly what is expected of him. When you have company over, sometimes that company isn't as fond of dogs as you are, but yet you want him to be part of the social scene - well, then he can lay on his mat with you in the same room but keep the peace with your company (although if you are like me, most company knows this is the "dog zone" and the majority of visitors to the home also tend to be dog lovers!!). You can teach Fido that he gets special treats only in the bed and know he will stay in it instead of dragging food all over the house. And besides, it can be just plain fun!

It's great too, because you can also take a mat with you (you can get really neat thin material that you can fold up quite small) and use it in parks, at dog shows, if you are the company at somebody else's house and want to bring Fido along, or if you have to stay in a hotel room and don't want to drag the kennel inside.

Dogs who experience behaviour issues, such as fear, aggression, or just have downright poor door greeting manners, really thrive when they can follow a "place" cue and know what is expected of them. It takes the weight off the dogs' shoulders to try to make decisions (that generally end up being poor ones when they do make them), and to know that we humans have it covered. It can also be a way for more nervous dogs to see people from a safe distance and get rewarded for appropriate behaviour, without being forced to greet people at the door.

Teaching dogs a "Place" cue really does have an endless amount of benefits and will make life a lot easier, and simpler, for the Dogparents. And if you take the time to make it fun, dogs really come to love "knowing their place"!!

Below is a video of Zipper learning to go to his mat and lie down until released. It follows from the first steps right through to completion and performing the behaviour with his housemates. He is still "new" to the process of shaping in clicker training (a process in which you reward successive approximations - small bits - at a time until you end up with the desired behaviour - most of the steps are outlined in the video), so he looks to me for the next step a lot, but I let him work it out so he learns to try things out on his own.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Give a Dog a Job!

As I had briefly mentioned in my "Natural Career Path" blog post, I "employed" Gaci with various jobs at home as part of her treatment in some of the issues she was having. Giving dogs a job to do at home carries many benefits, many of which were what helped Gaci during her transition to the dog she is today.

It exercises the mind. This cannot be understated, as it may be one of the most important concepts. It has always been said that a "tired dog is a good dog". This is true, however a lot of dogs may get lots of physical exercise, but end up with a mind that still has not been stimulated and challenged. Thinking and interactive games ("jobs") really can calm down, and tire out a dog mentally so that they aren't left with pent-up stress and energy they need to release in more unappealing ways, such as chewing, barking, digging, etc. Even ten minutes of challenging the brain can be more effective than a drab half-hour walk on leash around the block.

It exercises the body. It can work to keep the body in shape as well, by focusing on muscles the dog may not use a lot in everyday behaviours. It is fabulous for exercising on rainy days or during storms when you just can't exercise in other ways.

It helps build good manners. Any form of successful training will help to build manners and impulse control, but doing it in the form of fun tasks where the dog can do something actively (like closing a drawer) really makes you relevant and makes it a lot more fun for the dog. This type of fun activity can also bleed over to some of the more mundane tasks like sitting, waiting, and laying down that dogs don't always enjoy quite as much.

It is a great relationship builder. Once again, we live in such a busy society now that any little bit of time you spend directly interacting with your dog will go far in improving your relationship. It can really strengthen relationships by working together to accomplish a task. This way too you generally know where your dog is more often, so that perhaps your dog is not off becoming self-employed in, say, the laundry hamper. It can increase your overall communication with your dog so that you learn to read each other better, and in the end it's just plain fun.

It can boost confidence. This is a bit harder to describe, but giving your dog jobs that she knows she can be successful at, can go a long way to building confidence in other areas. You can see the glimmer in Gaci's eye when she is doing one of her "jobs", and she does it with gusto, to the point where the more eager you get, the more eager she gets, and it becomes a game of how animated one can make the game.

It can help treat or prevent behaviour conflicts. This one applies to Gaci in many ways, in the "treating" part. I was able to use a lot of her fun "jobs" to work through her fears of strangers, her trust in me (that I would handle situations and not force her to make decisions that always ended up being the wrong ones!), her focus on me around arousing distractions, and to build better associations with those things she didn't like. Whenever we have small social functions at the house, generally somebody will ask about Gaci and whether I can bring her out to "visit". Now, their version of visit is generally different than mine, as Gaci does not overly enjoy busy social gatherings. However, I can put her to "work" and let her demonstrate what she can do, and then let strangers reward her, and it takes away often the need of people to want to touch and coo over her. For a dog that doesn't really "like" strangers, she seems to enjoy putting on shows for them!

Some dogs need a job to do. Not all dogs are created equal, in the needs that they have. Some purpose-bred breeds - often seen in the herding dogs, the working dogs (Shepherds, Malinois, etc), and some terriers - do best when they have jobs to do. Not only do they do best, but every inch of their being tells them they need to do something. The realistic part of it all is, if you don't help them by letting them know what appropriate jobs they can do, they can, and will, become self-employed, and find their own jobs to do. But you can prevent many common issues if you pre-empt that, acknowledge the need, and give them things to do before they make up their own games.

So take a few minutes, give your dog a job - she'll thank you for it!