Saturday, 15 September 2012

Puppy Dog Tales - Rewards for Training

Little Boy is responding well to all the basic commands - SIT, DOWN and STAND.  

Obviously I use only reward-based training, and so I have a treat bag permanently attached to my belt so that I can reward wanted behaviours whenever they occur.  It is very important to let young animals know what is a 'good' behaviour, and what is a 'bad' behaviour so continual and consistent guidance in the form of rewards for 'good' behaviours is very important.  I do use voice, touch and games too, but with food-motivated dogs such as Labradors, treats make the whole process very simple.  

It does carry its own problems in that I have to ensure that the treats do not make up a large proportion of the puppy's diet - a young, growing animal needs a well-balanced dog food suitable for his age and breed.  Similarly, the older animals are prone to putting to weight, so the quality and volume of treats has to be strictly controlled.

For the puppy I am using a mixture of his kibble pellets and dehydrated liver cubes.  The latter are available in little tubs from pet stores, have no additives or chemicals and come cut in to little cubes of about 0.5cm.  They are quite soft so I can break them up further with my nails and so can treat frequently using the tiniest of pieces.  The older dogs can have problems with sensitivity to wheat so for them I use gluten-free beef or chicken chomping chews.  These are made from 50% meat, and are soft, thin flat strips about 15cm long x 2cm wide.  As with the pup, I break the strips in to about 4 pieces to have in my treat bag, and reward with a small piece broken off one of these quarters.  The size of reward can thus be varied as appropriate for larger or smaller dogs.  

If your dog is very overweight you can measure out the dog's daily kibble allowance, and instead of feeding it all at one time in the dog's regular meal, you can put half of it in your treat bag and use that to reward behaviours.  If your dog is fully grown but is very stubborn, you could try not feeding a meal at all and instead put the dog's daily kibble allowance in your treat bag and reward desired behaviours constantly during the day so that he has to work for every piece of kibble.  However, if you try this approach you would need to be careful that you were consistent and fair in your rewarding, and that your dog was an adult, in good health, and no longer growing as puppies need a different feeding regime to adult dogs.  

For the older dogs, if I am trying to teach them something new or difficult, or trying to encourage them to do something they are worried about - such as getting Little Girl to do the Dog Walk at Agility - then I will use small amounts of a high-value treat.  High-value treats are exactly what they sound - a treat that is of high-value to your dog.  It could be a piece of cheese, or fish, cream, a piece of hot-dog sausage - whatever your dog adores and will do anything for.  Obviously, to keep their status as 'high-value' you must limit their use to those occasions when you are having problems otherwise they will lose their value. You can also use them to distract your dog when working on resolving behavioural issues such as inappropriate barking.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Puppy Dog Tales - Health Scare

Earlier in the week we had a health scare with Little Boy.  He had dinner as usual around 8.30pm, and pooped normally about an hour later.

I had decided to go to bed early and about 10.30pm was beginning to settle the dogs for the night when Little Boy wanted to go potty.  I took him out and was horrified to see he had what can only be described as 'projectile diarrhoea' - what seemed like a huge volume of liquid squirting out his back end as if coming out a hose.  There was no blood but he was horrified and very dejected-looking when he came indoors.  He sat looking thoroughly miserable as we tried to figure out what could have caused it, but as far as we were aware he had not eaten anything untoward either in the house or garden.  However, puppies put everything in their mouth as part of normal development so, although it was unlikely (as we have a dog-proof house) it was always possible he could have eaten something toxic without my knowledge.  

A short time later he vomited, and shortly after that he again had 'projectile diarrhoea'.  By now I was really quite worried so I called the emergency vet service and took him down to their hospital.  My main concerns were parvovirus - and the worry that even if it wasn't parvo that he could go downhill rapidly overnight due to dehydration.

He has had only his first set of vaccinations so is not yet able to go outside for walks, but in order to socialise him he has been carried on walks and met other dogs not only then but when taken to the Agility club - again for socialisation.  In addition my other two dogs, although fully vaccinated, meet many dogs when on walks, at Obedience and at Agility so they could have carried home a virus.  Foxes and cats also visit the garden so they too could have brought something in.

On arrival at the vet hospital he vomited all over their floor, but on examination his temperature and all other vital signs were fairly normal, although his upper gastrointestinal tract was very painful.  Because he is only 10 weeks old and so in the middle of the first developmental 'fear period' I declined their offer to keep him in overnight for observation as he didn't need antibiotics, rehydration nor a glucose drip. We took him home with a sachet of electrolyte solution and settled him down for the night.  He had liquid diarrhoea again overnight but no more vomiting and loved the electrolyte solution.  He kept drinking it and trying to dig through the bottom of the bowl as if he expected there to be food hidden underneath.  His stools started to return to normal by midday, and he was tired but otherwise quite normal.  He had another check-up with our vet that evening but given a clean bill of health and the incident put down to an unspecified 'virus' or ingestion of unsuitable material.  He was on a light diet of chicken and rice for the next day, then his normal food was slowly introduced and he has made a complete recovery I'm delighted to say. 

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Puppy Dog Tales - Time-Out

Little Boy is a very bold puppy, liking nothing better than a good rough-and-tumble with Little Girl.  However, he has still to learn self-control and does not like her gentle(-ish) reprimands in the middle of a play session.  He has a tendency to lose control when this happens and launch himself at her in fury - all snapping teeth and furious growls. She wisely ignores him, but when he catches her in a tender spot she can leap up, or thrash about in surprise - kicking him halfway across the room with her back legs.  She also starts to lose control when he starts mad labbie dashes and joins in, chasing him through the house or around the garden with the result that he usually gets stood on or run over.  Furthermore, in the last day or so he has started humping whatever part of her body is convenient when in the middle of an exciting tussle.  He has also been growling at us when we interrupt his game by picking him up (for his own safety), or if we interrupt him in the middle of something he is enjoying.  

All of these behaviours are related and simply mean that he is becoming over-stimulated and unable to control his level of excitement.  At the moment they are a minor irritation, but if I allow them to continue he could become a rather unpleasant adult.  For that reason we have instigated a 'Time-out' rule and when he becomes over-stimulated he is gently removed to his crate and the utility room where he can be safely confined away from Little Girl and allowed to unwind and go to sleep.  He is happy to go to into his crate with a hide chew as it is not a punishment, but rather about managing his excitement levels.

'Enforcing' sleep periods also stops him becoming grouchy as if he gets over-tired he is not only bad-tempered but cannot manage to get to sleep and throws himself around from position to position, trying to get comfy. 

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Puppy Dog Tales - The First Few Days

Little Boy is progressing well - and he has a new friend to cuddle!  

He is happy to go to his crate and be confined when necessary as he gets a Kong toy with a few pieces of kibble to keep him distracted as I leave.  He spends a happy few minutes rolling the Kong around the crate to get the kibble out then eating it.  The crate is covered with old towels so it is dark and draught-free, like a little den, and he can feel secure.  He is a clean pup and when confined alone he toilets mainly on the newspaper.   He performs on cue outside when given the command to Go Toilet and by watching him carefully inside, I can normally catch him and rush him outside.  He has a funny little walk when he needs to poo and he rushes around, nose stuck to the ground, circling, until he finds the perfect spot so that is always a useful sign for me to act quickly. If he remembers when playing, he will rush off to his newspaper to toilet, but he is usually too engrossed in his game to remember.

His training is going well, he knows his name, how to make eye contact, Go Toilet, Come, responds well to Leave and is learning Stand.  He is also learning by watching the bigger dogs that calm behaviour is rewarded rather than the hysterical, excited jumping up of puppies.  Jumping up to demand food or attention may be endearing in a little pup, but is extremely irritating in a full grown dog so we are not encouraging it and instead reward the instant he sits calmly and looks at my face. 

My main problem a the moment is trying to prevent Little Girl from hurting him accidentally.  They play a lot - she brings him toys and plays tug-of war, or lets him climb all over her, or they wrestle and play chases.  However she is also young (2 years old) so she can get over-excited very easily and starts charging about or play-biting him so he could easily be badly hurt.  Also all dogs need to learn self-control.  

We have all seen toddlers in supermarkets having a tantrum because they want a sweet or a toy and Mum has refused.  A very similar thing happens with dogs and puppies when they become over-excited and they start charging about, crashing into people or furniture, perhaps barking or nipping.   As with jumping up, this can be endearing in a little pup if no damage is done, and if children are involved they will probably find it great fun, playing chases with the pup, the children squealing and the puppy barking hysterically.   However, allowing this to happen without moderation is laying down trouble for the future as the pup is learning that out-of-control behaviour is acceptable and indeed fun!  However, when the dog is larger or fully grown it will still display these behaviours and that is when owners realise that the behaviour is no longer acceptable and that they have a problem dog.

Owners and their children should most certainly play with their pup - it is necessary for the pup's development and strengthens the bond between dog and owner. However, the owner is the leader in the relationship and must moderate the behaviour of the pup and those it is interacting with (be they adults, children, dogs or other pets) to ensure that play remains fun but if the pup does start to lose control and act hysterically that it is encouraged to calm down and play more quietly.  By gently restraining it and not allowing it to continue to play and telling it quietly to calm down, then allowing it to continue playing once it is calmer you are teaching it to manage frustration (at being denied play) and learn self-control.  It will learn that the appropriate behaviour to allow it to gain access to play is calm and happy and that if it doesn't moderate its own behaviour through self-control then play may be withdrawn.  If adults or children react to hysterical, out-of-control behaviour in a pup by squealing, laughing at it, chasing or egging on the behaviour (there are many videos online of owners doing this!) then the pup will see this attention as a reward and be encouraged to repeat the behaviour. 

It is easier to lay down boundaries and stop your pup from demonstrating unacceptable behaviours at this age so think carefully - do you really want your pup doing this when s/he is fully grown?   If the answer is NO then stop it now!