Your Chihuahua may love Boxers and your Rottie mix may adore Dachshunds. But when little and big play together, keep close watch. Big dogs can unintentionally harm small dogs—and on the rare occasions when friendly play escalates into a scuffle, the smaller dog is at risk for serious injury or death. If you let your dog play with very differently sized dogs, supervise vigilantly.
Formal dog training as we know it originated during World War II. Before that, dogs had been working household members and their behavior was largely shaped through organic learning from older dogs. Only when soldiers needed to train large numbers of dogs to assist in warfare did compulsion training arise and, when the war ended, was developed into a recognized field by discharged military personnel. Back then, society as a whole accepted punishment as a valid teaching method. Typical training approaches involved physical corrections, leash jerks, and loudly yelling at the dog. This was difficult for puppies to endure, so the prevailing wisdom was to hold off on proper training until the puppy was seven months old (house-training was the exception).
In some places, these outdated methods are still used. But from the 60s and 70s and on—through the work of pioneers like Bob Bailey, Karen Pryor, and Dr. Ian Dunbar—positive reinforcement training has gained ground. Informed by behavioral science, this approach promotes force-free motivational techniques to teach dogs what we do and don’t want. The motivators can be anything the dog wants: Treats, praise, toys, a leash walk, or a ball thrown. Behaviors we don’t like result in no reward, the removal of a reward, or no attention, but never in punishment or coercion. Reward-based training principles soon won through in puppy training too, notably with Dr. Ian Dunbar’s puppy kindergarten classes.
We now know puppies learn every day of their lives, whether we teach them deliberately or by accident. We also know that positive methods encourage fast learning. Studies in both people and animals show that knowledge acquisition centers in the brain slow down or shut off completely when pain or fear is present. Positive training also strengthens the bond between you and your puppy. To a puppy trained with rewards, training is a game and you’re the quizmaster. The last frontier is expectations. Like human children who need years to learn to play the violin, puppies don’t retain all they need to know in life from a six-week puppy class. The lesson? Start early—and keep going!
The kid-and-dog combo can be a winner, but often presents a number of challenges—for example keeping everyone happily occupied at the same time. One way to pull that off is to arrange games and activities that kids and dogs can enjoy together. Here are some ideas to get the fun started.
If you think of the practice of dog sports as a competitive and fairly serious business, you’re only about 10 percent right. Just as in human athletic pursuits, the vast majority of dog sports enthusiasts are hobbyists; happy amateurs not much interested in ribbons or plaques. So what hooks people? The numerous benefits two- and four-legged sportsmen alike reap. For starters, a quick alphabetic inventory reveals something for every ability and temperament: agility, caniscross, disc dog, dock diving, earthdog, flyball, freestyle, herding, lure coursing, mushing, nose work, rally-o, tracking, treibball, and weight pulling.
Unless you happen to share your life with a born side runner (like Dalmatians, once bred to run alongside fire engines), you may have to teach your dog the human version of running. Dogs like to go faster than people, check out interesting smells along the route, and chase the occasional squirrel up a tree.
The risk of being bitten by a dog is low compared to other common causes of accidents, in or out of the household, but that’s no consolation to those who find themselves on the business end of a pair of canine choppers. Kids especially are vulnerable.
A game is a great way to exercise your dog’s body and mind, and spend a little quality time together. What’s in your repertoire? Here’s a selection of games you can play indoors or outside:
Homegrown agility. If your house is big enough, create a makeshift obstacle course for your dog from rolled-up towels, cardboard boxes, blankets hung between chairs, etc. Or, if the weather is good and you have a yard, build your course outside.
Hide-and-seek. Grab a handful of yummy treats or your dog’s favorite toy. Ask your dog to sit and stay, then you go hide in another room. Call your dog and when he finds you, reward him with a treat or a play session with his toy. Repeat until you have had enough—your dog likely won’t get bored anytime soon.
The name game. Get two of your dog’s favorite toys and remove all other toys and possible distractions. Say the name of one of the toys (keep names simple, like “moose” or “bird”) and throw it for your dog to fetch. Repeat a few times, then do the same with the second toy. After a while, test to see if your dog has made the name connection. Put the two toys down and ask him to fetch one of them. If he gets it right, praise and treat him. If not, go back to the name-the-toy-and-fetch-it game a bit longer.
Round Robin. Have the whole family (or a group of friends) grab treats and sit in a circle around 10 feet from each other. Each person then calls your dog, one after the other, and rewards him when he comes. If he catches on fast, try speeding up the game, having people call his name the moment the previous person has delivered a treat. When he has mastered this level, try spreading out further or taking the game outdoors.
One of the most frequent sources of frustration in dog training? Unrealistic expectations. Dogs’ intelligence shines through in so many ways that we tend to ascribe them decidedly human cognitive skills, such as the ability to understand complex sentences. It’s what some dog trainers refer to as “the Lassie syndrome.” If you often find yourself frustrated with your dog, here’s a primer on what it takes to create a Lassie:.
All dogs squabble occasionally. Dogs who live together mostly get into scraps over stuff they both want: Food, bones, toys, human attention, and sleeping spots. Like us, they have individual preferences and moods, and might be having a grumpy day or a headache. If the fights don’t result in injuries (i.e. you’re not at the vet’s following each fight having one or both dogs sutured), you have a number of options. Fights often happen as a result of a particular situation and if you can uncover the triggers through a little detective work, you can prevent most altercations.
Trigger: Who is this new dog in my house?
Remedy: Supervise your new dog closely for several days, especially when he interacts with your other dog. Praise your dogs for polite behavior.
Trigger: My sister is too close while I eat!
Remedy: Feed your dogs in separate bowls at opposite ends of a room, or in separate rooms.
Trigger: That is MY nyla bone/stuffed monkey/tennis ball/etc.
Remedy: Carefully manage access to objects your dogs might fight about: Bones, toys, beds, etc.
Trigger: When mom is not around, I find my sibling hard to take…
Remedy: Keep your dogs in separate rooms whenever you are not available to supervise.
When to get help.
When is it time to call your dog trainer? If the dogs seem stressed in each other’s presence (won’t eat, pant, avoid each other). If the fights happen more often or get more serious. If you can’t break up the fight with noise. If the fights cause injury to either dog.
Is the doggie sweater (jacket, snowsuit, raincoat, etc.) really necessary? The answer boils down to what your dog is naturally equipped with, coat-wise. Double-coated dogs with high coat density like Akitas, Malamutes, and Siberian Huskies were bred for harsh conditions and are uncomfortable with outerwear of any kind. Double-coated dogs with lower coat density like Collies and Shepherds are fine in most bad weather. They need clothes and boots only if exposed to extreme cold.
However, single-coated dogs like Yorkshire Terriers and Papillons must be dressed well for any rough weather. Ditto dogs with a hair coat, such as Poodles and Maltese. And regardless of breed, older dogs and dogs with weak immune systems may benefit from the extra warmth clothes provide. If in doubt, check with your veterinarian or simply watch your dog. If she shivers, she’s too cold.
Why do dogs dig? Because it’s fun. Dogs love to bury or recover bones, dig out prey like mice and rats, or make a nice cooling pit when the weather is warm. Digging isn’t a behavior problem, it’s normal canine behavior and thoroughly enjoyable for the dog. But it can still be a problem for you and your rose beds. If you have a digger on your hands, give him a place to indulge his hobby.
Training Healthy Digging Habits
Step 1: Break the habit. Is your dog digging in all the wrong places? If so, prevent his access. Your dog won’t learn new ways while he has free access to his old digs—digging is just too much fun!
Step 2. Supervise. Early on, don’t use the yard for alone-time. Give your dog ample time to learn where he is allowed to dig before you leave him out there unsupervised. Otherwise it is too easy for him to make mistakes.
Step 3. Create a digging area. Make a dig pit or use a large pot with loose potting soil. A dig pit can be a sandbox or a 3-by-6 foot area in your yard. Loosen about 2 feet of earth, and remove any nails or wire or such. A little sand mixed in helps drainage when it rains. Then:
- Step Let your dog see you barely hide a Kong or Nylabone or some other treasure. Encourage him to find the toy and praise him when he does.
- Gradually cover the toys with more dirt every time. Keep praising.
- Every now and then hide something new and exciting to keep your dog coming back for more.
Step 4. Interrupt mistakes. Calmly stop any unauthorized digging, then lead your dog to his dig pit or digging pot.
Training Tip: Digging is often a symptom of boredom—too much time spent in the yard alone. Make sure your dog is getting enough exercise and interaction.
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The highest-performing dogs in this sport are typically dogs bred for water work—Newfoundlands for water rescue and Portuguese Water Dogs (PWDs) for working alongside fishermen. But all water-loving dogs can participate at some level. Both water work activities—rescue work and assisting fishing vessels—form the basis for a set of water trials.
A successful outing with your dog is one that’s safe and enjoyable for both of you. As natural and easy as that sounds, it often doesn’t happen unless you prepare for and practice it. Here are some tips for making the most of your time out and about with Fido.
It’s a rare dog that never partakes of a tender stalk of juicy grass—and some dogs practically graze. Dogs are omnivores and it’s likely their diet in the wild would include fruit, berries, seeds, herbs, and a variety of grasses (despite lacking the enzyme to digest grass). On occasion, grass-eating is an attempt to induce vomiting or otherwise soothe a digestive issue, and it’s speculated that dogs also instinctively seek out certain herbs as a cure for other ailments. Because of the connection with gastric upset, it’s always worth paying extra attention if your dog suddenly develops a ravenous appetite for grass. Look for vomiting that lasts more than a few days, blood or mucus in the stool, and lethargy. Any of those should trigger a visit to the vet for a full checkup.
Absent any other symptoms, don’t worry if your dog snacks on the foliage—and perhaps a bit of soil in the bargain. If nothing else, it’s good roughage.
We all want our dogs to play nice with other dogs—and shouldn’t it come naturally? Dogs are social, after all. So why does an otherwise sweet-natured canine buddy turn into a killjoy at the park? Well, dogs can be introverts, too. Like humans, they can have bad days and they occasionally form instant dislikes to new dogs. But where we get to choose our friends and are free to avoid anyone we can’t stand, dogs pretty much have to go wherever we take them. What’s more, they are territorial creatures, protective of their favorite things, their home turf, and us. Adding another dog to the equation, familiar or not, always holds the potential for fireworks.
Some dogs don’t appreciate a good lie-in—or know the difference between workdays and weekends. Young puppies and senior dogs can’t be expected it to hold it all night and are legitimately excused, but adult dogs should know better. If your dog has taken it upon himself to be your personal alarm clock, here are some tips.
As the name suggests, seizure-alert dogs can detect an oncoming seizure in people and warn them so they can take precautions. To people with epilepsy or other convulsive disorders, a seizure-alert dog can mean the difference between a normal life and isolation.
Some dogs are born jumpers. If you have a champion jumping bean on your hands, the first thing to remember when muddy paws land on your favorite pair of slacks is that your canine companion isn’t jumping on you out of rudeness or in an attempt to dominate you. Rather, it’s a case of misplaced enthusiasm. She is overjoyed to see you and this is how she shows it. That said, a jumping dog is tough on the wardrobe and can be downright dangerous when the dog is big enough to knock you down, so here’s a look at why dogs jump and what can be done about it.
Why dogs jump. Jumping up on us is canine for “hello, gorgeous!” It’s a greeting and a way to get close to our faces, the source of good stuff like eye contact, kisses, and enthusiastic noises. As it happens, dogs greet dogs with much less jumping—scientists speculate that jumping evolved in dogs specifically as a greeting of humans. Too bad they didn’t develop an automatic sit, right?
The remedy. The good news is that dogs can learn polite, human-style greetings. The trick to a harmonious life with a dog who thinks she’s a kangaroo is to teach her a new way to greet you. First, let your dog know that jumping doesn’t work as an approach to get attention. Don’t push her away, yell, or bring your knee up—those responses are more than enough attention to keep your dog jumping. Instead, ignore her. Turn your back and walk away. Only give her your attention when she has all four paws on the floor. If you do this consistently, your dog’s greetings will change (and your dry cleaning bill will shrink accordingly).
Does your dog jump on houseguests and strangers? Contact us to get help!
You’re not imagining it.
Your dog really does understand what you’re feeling. Dogs can’t read our minds,
no, but when it often seems like they do, it’s because of a special connection
between our two species that’s increasingly well understood. Dogs don’t just
seem attuned to our emotions. They are. Eye-track studies of dogs have shown
that they read human faces for emotional cues in the same way we ourselves do.
No other species do this, not even chimps. Scientists speculate that this skill
has evolved in dogs to enable them to communicate with us on an emotional
level. To better understand us. Which makes sense. When you rely on humans for
your survival, there’s obvious biological advantage to reading their moods for
signs of intentions, impending danger, etc.
The same goes for barking. Wolves rarely bark, and when they do, it’s to warn other pack members. Dogs, on the other hand, possess an impressive vocal repertoire that spans yowls, yelps, grumbles, whines, acoustic sighs, and many types of barks, suggesting another trait dogs may have developed exclusively to strengthen their teamwork with humans. This goes beyond utilitarian purposes like herding and protecting our livestock. Arguably, dogs have learned to speak a second language specifically to support their bond with us.
And the connection goes both ways: We’ve become skilled interpreters of barks. In experiments in which researchers played recordings of dog barks to dog guardians, they were capable of distinguishing between request barking, anxious barking, territorial barking, and other kinds, without seeing the dog’s body language or the situation. We use the tonality, frequency, and interval of barks to decode the message.
So, the science backs us up: We do indeed have a special bond with dogs. It’s so strong that we mostly take it for granted and lump dogs in with the rest of the family—because they are family. But dogs are not human. They are remarkable, adaptive creatures that have evolved in partnership with us in a way no other species have. And that’s pretty special.
The crate is a marvelous tool: Good for short stints of alone time and for getting your dog to settle down, great for house-training and travel. Worried a crate is just one step up from imprisonment? No need. Like coyotes and wolves, dogs are den animals that enjoy close quarters. That said, it would be unkind to simply deposit a dog in a crate if he’s never seen one before—it would also likely trigger loud and long-lasting objections. Here are some tips for making the great crate a success:
Use irresistible treats. Treats, comestible and in toy form, are the way to get your dog to fall in love with his crate. Stock up on liver treats, Natural Balance, chicken bits, or whatever makes your dog sit up and take notice. Make sure you have a favorite toy or chewie set aside for crate training time, and don’t break out that particular goody for anything else.
Go slow. Only gradually increase the amount of time you ask your dog to spend in the crate during crate training. Likewise for the amount of time you leave him alone in the crate once he’s used to it. Going slowly is the key to success. Remember, you’re building a positive association to last a canine lifetime.
Exercise first. Make sure your dog has had a good workout before each crate training session. Crate training goes faster and works better if your dog has worked up an appetite and—for when you get far enough in the training program to leave him alone in there—is nice and tired and ready for a snooze.
Note: Never leave your dog in the crate for more than 3–4 hours at a time, except for bedtime.