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Safety and Dangers

In many ways, our dogs are like perpetual children. Many of them never mature, and unfortunately, they never learn to avoid certain dangers.  Therefore, it is our job to protect them. I don’t want to scare anyone unnecessarily, but you always need to be aware of possible threats to your dog’s well-being.

Many dogs eat things that could be very harmful. Some will eat nearly anything (rocks, pantyhose, electrical cords, safety pins, etc.), some breeds seem more prone to the desire to eat non-food items, a condition known as Pica. In particular, retrievers can make a snack of anything they can manage to swallow. This may have to do with the fact that they’ve been bred to use their mouths extensively in their work. If you have a dog who is prone to Pica, you will learn to become very neat and tidy.

Many dogs die from ingesting poisons. Anti-freeze seems to be particularly attractive to dogs. It has a sweet taste, but just a small amount can kill a dog in a very short period of time. The same is true of many pesticides. Even lawn chemicals can do damage over time. If you use lawn chemicals, make sure you keep your dog off the lawn for at least twenty-four, preferable forty-eight hours. The chemicals from lawn treatments stick to the dog’s paws and then the dog licks them. Always wash off your dog’s paws after is has been on a treated lawn. Human medications, such as Tylenol and Advil, can be deadly for dogs, even in small doses. If you ever suspect that your dog has eaten human medications, or anything toxic, call the veterinarian immediately. Every dog owner should go to the ASPCA website and look at all the things we use and eat on a daily basis, and all the things that your dogs can come in contact with that are Toxic.

“Leave it” and “Trade it:”
A very useful exercise that may help you control what your dog puts in her mouth is the “leave it” cue. You teach the dog that “leave it” means to move away from the object she is approaching. You begin teaching this cue by showing the dog a piece of food. As the dog starts to take the food say, “Leave it” (in a pleasant tone) and wait for the dog to stop trying to get the treat and looks up at you. Say, “Yes!” when the dog looks up at you or looks away from the treat and give him the treat. The idea is to offer your dog something better than the object you’ve asked your dog to leave alone. Once your dog knows what “leave it” means, you can use it for anything you don’t want her to touch. Trade it is a similar command. I use, “trade it” when the dog already has an object in his mouth I want him to give up. I wave a tasty treat under the dog’s nose as I ask, “trade?’ Usually the dog will drop the object to take the treat. You can then give your dog the treat and move the dropped object away.

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How Dog’s Learn

This month let’s talk about how dogs learn.

To be successful in your training efforts, you need to understand a bit about how dogs learn. First of all, dogs are not machines. You can’t just flip a switch and expect the dog to do what you want. Dogs are very individual in their responses to training. Some dogs learn very quickly, even with poor instruction. Others require lots of patience and repetition in order to understand basic ideas. Just like people, some of you pick up on instructions and ideas very quickly; while others will need more time in order to understand the information.

I caution you very strongly against comparing the progress that you and your dog make against the progress of other dogs you may know. There are always teams that make phenomenal progress. Then there are those who come along a little slower at first. Certain breeds are known for being easier to train than others. However, any individual dog within that breed may not conform to that expectation. So be wary when someone makes a generalization such as, “Everyone knows Goldens practically train themselves,” or, “It’s absolutely impossible to obedience train a Scottish terrier.” All dogs have the capacity to learn and to become excellent companions.

Don’t expect your dog to learn in an organized, orderly fashion. Just when you think she understands something one day, she’ll give you a completely blank look when you ask for the behavior the next day. For another exercise, you may really struggle and be ready to give up when suddenly your dog “gets it.” Learning occurs in fits and starts, not in a straight line.

Above all, PATIENCE, PRACTICE and CONSISTENT EFFORT will go a long way towards achieving your training goals.

Finally, never, ever say, “This dog is stupid.” I have yet to run into a moronic canine. More likely, your training skills aren’t well developed. You may be making mistakes and blaming the dog. As you learn to become a better trainer, your dog will become better behaved.

Remember, training should be a fun time for your dog. Getting frustrated with your dog only upsets you and your dog. Several short training sessions a day works much better than 30 minutes to an hour of trying to keep your dogs attention on repetitive commands. Keep your sessions to 10-15 minutes max.

Don’t yell at your dog. Louder is not better. Repeating the command a hundred times does not work. The dog needs to be shown what you want him to do and then immediately rewarded for that behavior.