Monday, December 1, 2014

A Student Asks About Electronic Fences

Today I received an email from one of my students who was considering installing an electronic fence system in their backyard and wanted to know what I thought.

I'm sorry to sound so negative (again) but I hate them.
I hate electronic (shock) collars.  For one thing, it is way to easy for the human to remove themselves from the act of shocking their pets.  This by itself is a big problem.  Did you know that their use is illegal in at least four European countries (Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany) and is restricted in three others (Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy)?

In a webinar by Kathy Sdao, The Seductiveness of Shock, I learned of an interesting Behavioral Study of Obedience by Stanley Milgram 1963  in which the participants were instructed to use different levels of shock ranging from "Slight Shock to Danger: Severe Shock" on their human "victims," no matter how much they protested and said it hurt, or even if they fell silent.  The victims were not actually being shocked but those pushing the buttons didn't know this.  My point is that even knowing that the level of shock ordered could be dangerous, some did as they were told, disregarding the poor man on the other end of the wires.

And now, back to the electronic fences.  Companies make them attractive by saying things like
"Your dog deserves the joy and freedom to run and play freely without the physical restraint of a leash always controlling their movement, ..."
"Electronic pet fences and kennels keep your pet safely in your yard"   Until they don't.
"... have won the hearts of over 2 million owners and their dogs & cats"  I think the dogs and cats would strongly object to this statement.
"Most Reliable, Humane electronic fences"  Shocking an animal is humane???

Unfortunately, what they don't tell you about are the problems using these systems can cause.  And electronic fences can cause quite a variety of issues where there would normally be none.

They can cause the dog to shut down and be afraid to be outside.

Not knowing where this punishment is coming from, or being able to understand why it happens, they can start relating the shocks and warnings to anything that is happening around them at the time.  An example is if a dog or human is approaching, and the puppy goes to say hi and gets the ZAP! or BEEP!   The pup can relate it to the approaching dog or human and then becomes fearful of anyone/thing approaching.  This will usually lead to your pup being "reactive" which is often fear based, and acting aggressive because they are trying to get the scary thing away from them since it causes bad things to happen (shock).              
Another problem with that is that the behavior doesn't usually stay in the yard.  The fear will go beyond the invisible fence lines and come inside the house, or while out on walks, in the car, etc.  
A person who lives in my area put in an electronic fence for their smaller dog who is an absolutely lovely sweet dog and loved everyone.. (past tense).  Now, whenever anyone walks past their house, he comes out like Cujo.  He even attacked an unsuspecting dog that was being walked and wandered onto his yard.  This could have gone very badly for him since the other dog was much larger.  My pups and I have always had a good relationship with him, so he doesn't do that to us.  Instead he cowers just at the imaginary boundary line.... wants to say Hi but knows he can't.  Sometimes I'll go over into their yard and bring him away from the boundary line and pet him. You can see the relief flood through his body.  They also leave him outside when they're not home, thinking he's safe.  He's not.  It would be very easy for a dog or other animal to come in and hurt him, for someone to steal him, or for him to break over the line either to chase something or if the collar is not working.  He has run through the line into the road, then he didn't want to come back when the owners were calling him.  Someone once told me that the fence doesn't beep or shock if he's coming back from the other side of it.  I guess they forgot to explain that to their dog.
I currently have two clients whose dogs are reactive to other dogs.. both have an electronic fence.  It might be coincidence, then again, it might not.

It can and often does cause fear of other beeps and noises.  If the dog is in the house and the microwave or something beeps, it can cause the dog to now be afraid of receiving the shock in the house.  How can you reason that away with a dog?   You can't.  And he has just become afraid of being in the one place that he should always feel safe.
I had an 'almost client' that wanted to work on her dog not going over the threshold of the front door. When I arrived, I saw she had a shock collar on her dog. When asked why she said that she had the e-fence installed so he wouldn't go through the front door.  It was in the house!!  I had her remove the collar and got out my yummy treats and my clicker to go over my training methods with her.  One click and the dog ran into the corner of the kitchen and would not come back out.  The poor thing looked like I had beat him when just moments earlier he was so happy to see me.  My heart fell and of course the woman never had me back.  Before I had started I asked her if he was afraid of noises, etc., which is a standard question, and she said no.  Afterwards I talked to other trainers and one had suggested that maybe the collars warning 'beep' was more of a clicking noise or had a click like sound associated with it's activation. Or maybe it sounded like the latch on the door and suddenly that sound was in the kitchen which meant the zap couldn't be far behind.  I don't know and never will.

If you're saying that your dog would never be outside unsupervised, then why get one?  Besides training a great recall - which we do in class - having your dog on a 20 foot lead can be just as rewarding for him.  He'd probably rather have you out there playing with him anyway.

So those are my feelings about electronic fences.  My question to you is, is it worth taking a chance of traumatizing our dogs?

And the student that asked for my opinion?  I’m happy to report that I received this reply: “Wow, I am so glad I asked!!  Thank you so much for dissuading me”

Monday, October 27, 2014

What Are You Teaching Your Dog?

If your dog is pulling you to get to anywhere, everywhere, even if it seems like nowhere, and you follow, what have you taught him?

You have taught him that you'll follow him anywhere, everywhere, even if it seems like nowhere, whether you want to or not.

If your dog is pulling so you take his collar in hand and hold him close to you, practically lifting his front paws off the ground while you're walking and explaining to him that if he doesn't stop pulling he will hurt himself, what have you taught him?

Not one single thing that is good.  No, your dog does not understand you or your actions no matter how many ways you try to explain it.
If your dog is on leash and pulling you to get to anywhere, everywhere, even if it seems like nowhere, and you stop, only to continue the forward motion once the leash is slack, what have you taught him?

You have taught him that he can only get anywhere when the leash is slack.  Yes, it is easier said than done, but when you take the time, be patient and be consistent, it's worth it.  We want the leash to be the safety net, not the controller.  When we use it to pull our dogs or allow ourselves to be pulled, it's not an enjoyable walk for either of us.
If you're out for a walk, and your dog is walking nicely next to you so you slip him a treat, what have you taught him?

You have taught him that being next to you is a good place to be and the more it is reinforced (i.e. treated) the stronger the desired behavior will be.  In other words, your dog will want to be by your side.
If you yell at your dog as he pees or poops in the house, what have you taught him?

You have taught him that it is SCARY to pee or poop in front of you because you yell.  Then he may stop peeing or pooping in front of you anywhere.  Inside or outside.   Instead he may hide where he goes when he's inside, and never want to 'go' when he's out with you.
If you come home only to discover that sometime earlier your dog had peed, pooped, or done something else to upset you, and you yell at him, what have you taught him?

You have taught your dog to be scared of you when you come home.  Your dog will have no idea why you're yelling at him.  And that 'guilty' look?  That's just worry or fear.  Again, it may not be the lesson he learns the first time, but then again, it might.
If your dog poops in the house and you "bring" him over to it, pick up the poop, bring him and it outside, drop the poop then give your dog a treat, what have you taught him?

Lets try to break this down a little.

Your dog poops in the house and you "bring" him over to it, what have you taught him?  Most likely you have taught him to be to be very concerned when you come to him with 'that look' that you know is on your face, scared of you when you reach for his collar, and definitely to NOT want to come with you.
Then you pick up his poop, bring him and it outside, drop the poop and give him a treat.  Huh?  That just doesn't make any sense.  Do you think that the treat at the end would be telling your dog that if he poops outside, he'll get a treat?  The plain and simple answer is, no.  Being with your dog and giving him a treat right after he poops in the yard is what tells him that.

The true scenario above happened with an older puppy that had not had an accident in the house in a while.  It is quite probable that the dog was giving his humans signs that he needed to go and they weren't paying attention.  When you gotta go, you gotta go.
All of the preceding scenarios can be prevented or taught with management, training or both.  If you need assistance with any of them, please find a positive trainer to work with who can guide you and your dog down a path that will help you build a long lasting and trusting relationship.

Before you act or react, THINK   "What am I teaching my dog?"

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Three Simple Questions

There has been a new challenge going around called the World Dog Trainers' Motivation Transparency Challenge that is based on Jean Donaldson's three questions that you should ask any trainer that you are considering having work with your dog... and of course, you.

While I personally have not been 'challenged', I feel that these questions are important and ones that I'd like to answer now.

1) WHAT HAPPENS IF MY DOG GETS IT RIGHT?   If your dog gets it right, I am going to MARK IT, either using a clicker, a noise like a click with the mouth, or a word - such as Yip!, then I am going to REINFORCE your dog by giving him something he likes.  Usually that will be a food reward.  I use a lot of food in my training because it's fast and easy, and dogs love to eat good food.  Sometimes the reinforcement will be play, such as a quick game of tug or throwing of the ball, and other times it will be something the dog wants to do in the environment.  In other words, if they want to go sniff a certain spot, or chase a squirrel, they will either be off of the leash and released to go do it or we will do it together if they have to stay on the lead.  And yes, I have run to "sniff" with my dogs.

2) WHAT HAPPENS IF MY DOG GETS IT WRONG?  In a nutshell, nothing.  I will take a brief pause then give your dog something to do that he can do correctly, no matter how simple, and get reinforced for.  If I am having to many incorrect responses, I will stop training and go back over what it is we are trying to teach your dog, and figure what needs to be changed to make your dog successful.  Generally that will mean breaking it down into smaller steps and/or changing the learning environment.  However sometimes, and for whatever reason, it's just something that your dog cannot or will not do.  Your dog has the right to say "No"

3) IS THERE A LESS INVASIVE WAY OF DOING WHAT YOU DO?  Not as far as I know.  I promise to do my best to have everything set up so that your dog is having fun and is happy to be learning.  There is never a reason to say "No" or "Uh-uh" "Tzz" to your dog, to yell, intimidate, poke with hand or foot, do a leash correction (jerk the leash), use a choke, prong, or shock collar.  Nothing is important enough to warrant those actions.  And I mean Nothing.

So when you are looking for a dog trainer, please remember these three simple questions.  If you do not get the answers you are looking for, keep looking.  There are a lot of wonderful positive trainers out there.

Thank you,
Lisa Arant
Small and tall Dog Training
Rockville, MD

Related Post - Do No Harm

Monday, July 14, 2014

On The Subject of Grooming (part two)

So, now you've got your groomer picked out and your puppy is home.  Now what?  Now it's time to start getting your puppy ready for it's first grooming experience.  The following is a list to help you get started.  Take the time to work on all of these exercises every day and never continue on to the next step until you know that your puppy is totally comfortable with your current step.  For example, don't start holding your pups individual toes if he's not comfortable with you handling his paw.  
  • Begin getting your puppy used to being brushed.  How? Show the puppy the brush, follow with a little (pea sized or smaller) treat. Gently touch the puppy with the brush, follow with treats.  Gently brush the puppy, follow with treats.  You get the idea.  If your puppy is more interested in playing with the brush, slowly feed him the treats while you are brushing or let him lick something such as a small amount of canned dog food, meat baby food or fat free cream cheese that has been smeared on a plate while you brush him.  If the puppy chooses to move away from the brush, let him.  Don't ever force your puppy (or dog) to stay there.  Just try again another time.
  • Get your puppy used to blow dryers.  Turn it on, give the puppy some treats.  Do this a few times throughout the days (yes, I mean dayS).  Once your puppy is comfortable around it, after making sure it is on a low, cool setting, you can briefly have the air blow on him.  Then, you guessed it, out come the treats.  Again, do a few sessions of this and always follow it with treats. 
  • Touch your puppies paws and individual toes.  And just like above, follow it with treats.  We have to get them used to having their toes held since they will be getting their nails clipped.  After they are comfortable with you holding their paws and individual toes, touch the nail clippers on a toenail, then treat, touch, treat.  Then clip the very tip of one toenail, YAY! follow with treats.  Clip another toenail the next day and ALWAYS follow with some yummy treats.
  • To get your puppy used to the bath, we first have to get them used to the bathroom and the bathtub.  Have them go into the bathroom and let them eat treats.  You can sprinkle them about the floor and let them "explore" the room while finding the tasty treats.  Place your puppy in the DRY tub and give him treats in there, then take him out.  In tub, treat, then out of the tub.  In, treat, out.  run water in the tub while the puppy is out of it and again, feed treats.  You have just added a new element to the whole experience and that can be a scary noise!
  • Place the puppy in the tub with just a little bit of water in it and treat.  If they're enjoying the water, let them play in it for a few minutes.  They can even have their very own rubber duck. :-)
  • Once they are comfortable, they are ready for their first bath.  Remember to go slow, be gentle and treat, treat treat.

Picture from Dogs Naturally Magazine Facebook page

Thursday, May 8, 2014

I love you Little P

Oh my dear little Percy.  Little did you know that when we went to the MCHS rescue to see if there was a dog we'd like to foster, that it was the man that picked you out.  Not me.  My instincts said No.  I wasn't sure why.  But it was the man's turn to pick out our next foster and he thought..  "Cute - check, small - check, likes her (me) - check.  Should be easy to get him adopted"  You know the saying, Man makes plans - God laughs     But I'm glad he picked you.

I tried so hard to get you adopted. I  brought you to two adoption events, but you didn't do well at them.  You didn't like the other dogs there, nor did you particularly like the people.  You really didn't like people that came to the house either.  You went after our neighbors very gentle son, our kid's friends and in particular our daughters boyfriend, anyone that Doobie and Belle barked at - even if it was a happy bark.  You really didn't know what to do with those two.  When they acted like silly dogs you'd run over and bite at their legs as if to say "Stop It!  What are you doing?"  You even went after the man that picked you to come home with us.  Yes, he did trip over you, twice, but you blend in with the floors and the couch so well.
You were with us for 3 months before I ever saw you raise your tail in a happy wag.  And then the day came.  You were adopted!   We'd found out the day before you went home with her that you had kidney stones. And 5 days later, you were returned. It was going to cost the adopter $1500 that she wasn't ready or able to spend.
That was it.  I thought that would be the end of you.  The shelter wouldn't spend that kind of money and I didn't have it.  So I called our friend Mary, co-director of the rescue Hedgesville Hounds, and left a message of what I thought would be your demise.  I didn't expect her to do anything,  I just needed to talk to someone to help me accept it.  Lo and behold, Hedgesville Hounds offered to pay for your surgery!  They saved your life, Little P.  
I went back to trying to get you adopted.  On Facebook around Halloween I posted this saying your were desperate and trick-or-treating for a home.

And then I tried this post "Lisa found a lonely Little Dog.  Oh no!  Lisa was working when a lonely little Percy from who knows where appeared at the Humane Society.  She's worried that he may never find a new home because, well, he's a little different.  But he's cute" (This was a parody from a FarmVille post about a little cow or something)
Evidently you were meant to be with me.  Everyone else knew it pretty much from the start.  Everyone but me.  And finally one day, 18 months later to be exact, we realized we couldn't do that to you. We couldn't put you through getting used to another home.  You'd started to relax with us and make yourself at home.  Besides, who else would grow to love you as much as we had?  It finally became obvious that this was your home all along.

And I thank God for you. Even though you've been a pain in the butt at times, you have been such a wonderful blessing.  I believe that you were put smack dab in the middle of my life for a reason.  If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't have met the wonderful people that came into our lives.  I wouldn't have learned how to manage the issues that special dogs such as yourself, can present nearly as well as I have.  And I don't know that I would be able to relate to and help others with their own special dogs, without having experienced it all myself.  Or maybe someday I would have, but I don't think so.   Because of you and everything that led up to you, I have learned so much. 

And now, it looks like we are on our final chapter together.  You have prostate cancer.  It's been a few months since diagnosis and, all things considered, you had been doing fairly well up to now.    
You will be so missed when you are gone.  You're our special Little P!  I'll miss having you glued to my side every second that I am home.  How, with those same teeth that you'd threaten to take a bite out of someones ankle,  gently and tenderly you take treats. The way that you snort then flop over on the bed for a belly and butt rub in the mornings is so cute.  That so very sweet and loving side that only a few got to see.  And of course there's your "Yay! I pooped!" run through the yard.  I've never seen a dog get so excited and happy about it.  
This morning I watched and you yelped while trying to poop.  You've done it before but not like this morning.  This morning there was no "Yay! I pooped!" run afterwards.  I promise I will not let you suffer.  We will try some things with your diet and see if it doesn't help.  But if or when you've had enough..  be sure to tell me.  I'll know the look.  I promise.  I hope.
You will always have a special place in my heart.  I love you more than ever Little P.  We all love you.

Until we meet at the Rainbow Bridge - R.I.P little Percy  2001 (?) - May 21, 2014

May 21, 14
It's now been almost two weeks since I originally wrote and published this but it never felt quite right so it has been edited a few times.  I guess that some things just never feel right. Like having to say GoodBye to those we love.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

On the subject of grooming.. (part 1)

You should have seen Doobie the first day I met him.  The poor thing was so matted that he looked like an afro with feet.  His ears stuck straight out like the wings on an airplane only they were about 2 inches thick with matts and you couldn't see his eyes at all.  I was at his original humans home (I have an aversion to the word "owner") so there was nothing I could do except to try to explain to the woman that those matts hurt and he needed grooming ASAP!  Unfortunately Doobie didn't come home with me that day, but his mother Annabelle did.  She looked more like an old fashioned mop that had been through the ringer a few times too many.  But don't fret, it took a couple weeks, but we were finally able to get the rest of the pups out of there and into foster homes.
Annabelle after her first grooming
Doobie after his first grooming.  He looked like he had never seen
the sun - and he probably hadn't.

 Because of the condition Belle was in, the only thing we could do was get her groomed right away.  There wasn't any time to worry about conditioning her to like it - it had to be done.
Fortunately,  I know the groomer.  I used to work with her so I knew first hand how great she is with dogs.  And 10 years later she is still the only one I trust with our dogs.  God forbid she ever retires!
She is the first one I recommend when people ask, usually because they don't know who to go to or they've had a bad experience or, I should say, their dog has.

If your new puppy is going to need grooming, the time to start looking for a groomer is before the puppy comes home.
Not all groomers are alike. Start asking your friends that use groomers who they use.  Then ask them why.  Exactly why.  While I do like the dogs to look good, I'm not picky.  The most important thing is how they are taken care of while they are in someone else's care.  So get specifics.  How is the dog when they go there?  Is he afraid?  Have they ever found any mysterious cuts or problems that should have been brought to their attention by the groomer or receptionist when they picked him up? and so on.  If you like what you hear, see if you can make an appt to go and check them out.
Here is one person's experience with groomers.  I have edited out parts to shorten it.
We first started taking our dog to the groomer at our Vet and I would usually drop him off. Our dog would shake and be scared until he saw the groomer walk up and then his tale would wag and he would go right to the groomer and I just felt like that was a sign he liked the groomer (and not the pokes and shots from the vet!). Long story short the groomer disappeared and the vet said they weren't going to have a groomer anymore.So we started taking our dog to ____ (based solely off of reviews on and location) and my husband would usually drop him off. One time though (and the last time), I dropped our dog off and he was crying and clinging on to me and shaking when the lady tried to take him from me. So, I called my husband and asked him if that was common... he said yes (husbands! grrrr!).        Anyway, that is when we asked you if you had a recommendation. You said that you took your dogs to Susan at Kenhaven, and since it's right near my husbands office we figured we'd give it a try. Our dog isn't crying and clinging to us when we leave him and I love that the staff lets us know everything.
Before (just need a little clean up)

Here is another person's experience with grooming
"I changed groomers because the former groomer was recommending some training techniques that I didn't quite think were appropriate.  It made me feel uncomfortable to think if these behaviors were suggested, then perhaps the groomer was doing them to our dog while he was there.  I also noticed that he would come home from the appts very wound up!  I thought that if he was acting different after each of the appts, then he may have been under some stress during those appts.  If only dog could talk!"

But if you think about it, her dog was talking.  And thankfully she listened!

There are a lot of groomers out there, but not necessarily all of them are good ones.  It is important for you to pay attention to how your dog behaves when you bring him and when you pick him up. Also trust your gut.  If you don't have a good feeling, then find someone else.  You also have the options of finding a groomer that will come to your home or learning to groom your dog yourself.   Just remember, always be an advocate for your dog. Because if you're not, who will be?

Stay tuned for part two… Preparing your puppy                  On The Subject Of Grooming - Part 2

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Thank you

I worked as a kennel technician at the old Montgomery County Humane Society Animal shelter on Rothgeb Drive in Rockville, back in the mid 90's.  Even back then the building was, well, it was old and desperately in need of updating and they were talking about building a new shelter.  As time wore on, I would go back to visit the shelter now and then and when I left I had such a feeling of sadness for the animals that were there.  It's not that I thought they didn't receive the care that they needed or that the employees and volunteers didn't do everything that they could for them.  It was the setting.  To me, it had such a feeling of dread throughout it, like a cloud was always over it.

This morning I had the pleasure of seeing the new Montgomery County Animal Services & Adoption Center at the Ribbon Cutting ceremony.  All I can say is it's about time and Thank You.

Thank you for finally giving the dogs, cats, birds, ferrets, chinchillas, fish, turtles, horses, pigs, cows and every other animal that may need temporary housing a place that will keep them warm and as comfortable as possible until they are either reunited with their owner or their new forever home is found, or until...

Thank you for being a force-free facility with enclosures nice and bright with windows, plenty of grounds for the dogs to get exercise and rooms for the cats to relax and lounge in.

And a big Thank You to MCPAW for all the work you've done raising funds that helped to make the center what it is and the continuous support for the animals.

If you wish to visit the new center it will open on March 2nd, 2014.  It is located at  7315 Muncaster Mill Rd, Derwood, MD.

Here is my adopted boxer Mitzy with a foster kitten.  
The top picture is me & Larry a Dane/Lab mix

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Your New Dog Is Not Your Old Dog

So please stop comparing and change your expectations.

It's funny how I see trends in the calls I get for training services.  I don't know if it has something to do with the time of year and a lot of people brought new dogs into their home over the holidays or what, but for the past month or so, during at least 50% of the calls, I've inevitably heard the person say "My other dog was a  fill in the blank  , and he never did this, or that, or anything wrong - ever "

To be fair, most of these people had only had a dog or two that had passed away after living a nice long life.  They are remembering how nice and calm their previous dog was.  Their dog never chewed on things they weren't supposed to, always let them know when they had to go out, etc.  It sort of reminds me of child birth…  you remember the joy and blank out on everything that came before hand.

Whether you're bringing a new puppy or adult dog, purchased or adopted, into your home, remember that this is a living, breathing being.  It is it's own entity and should be treated as one.
Your new dog has no prior knowledge about you or your habits and rules.  But given time and gentle guidance and training, he will learn them and you will learn about him.  Together you will develop your own special bond.
 Mitzy, my boxer, loved the kittens I fostered but chewed through the baby gates and destroyed  couches.
 Doobie has always been such a calm and gentle soul and makes a wonderful therapy dog
 Annabelle, Doobies mother, is a little shy of strangers but has a heart of gold
Percy hates cats, doesn't care much for people, but is very loving and sweet in his own special way.