Hey There!

my three pups

Please enjoy the following articles I’ve put together. They have been helpful for many and I hope they’ll be helpful to you, too.

Reliable Recall, Part 1: The How and Why of Training Recall in Dogs
Reliable Recall, Part 2: Emergency Recall and Preventing Escapes
Calming a High Prey Drive in Dogs
Overheating in Dogs: What to Do
How to Properly Use a Dog Collar: Do This, Not That
Infographic: How to Turn a 6ft Leash into a No Pain, No Pull Harness
Dealing with Picky Eaters: 9 Ways to Identify and Solve the Problem
The Secret to Motivating an Unmotivated Dog

I’m not able to update the blog anymore, but if you’re looking for new dog related content, you can find me on Facebook and Instagram. Get in touch!

Rachel

pups in the creek

Overheating in Dogs: What to Do

Public Service Announcement:

It’s HOT outside. Here’s a really helpful “hack” for summer activities with dogs!

cool your dog down on a hot day

Overheating is a potential problem for any dog, but it is a BIG DEAL for greyhounds, so I’ve (unfortunately) dealt with it a lot here in the Southeast. They get hot easily, and things can get very bad, very fast. Pay close attention to your dogs if you are out in the heat. Don’t wait until they start to show signs of overheating. Be proactive about keeping your dogs cool. Fans are great, but water works faster than air alone.

I have a one gallon garden spot sprayer that I bring with me to any outdoor activities. A half gallon sprayer will work just as well. I fill it with water and some ice to keep it cool. This is a great way to have a portable substitute for a hose!

Most important spots to cool first:
Inside of back legs
Chest
Sides of ribcage
Underside of neck

DO NOT spray the dog’s back or head unless you will be in the shade.

In an emergency, rubbing alcohol cools even faster than water. This should only be used as a last resort.

I also keep a box fan in my truck and a 200 amp inverter so I can run it from a 12v outlet.

I hope this helps! Keep summer activities safe and cool, and keep playing outside!

hot dogs

Calming a High Prey Drive in Dogs

There’s a line of thinking – incorrect, I might add – that a dog’s prey drive is set in stone. Some say that once a dog has killed another animal that there is no going back. This is also false. Today I intend to prove that to you.

When I adopted my first greyhound, Dazzle, the above is exactly what I was taught. “He has a high prey drive,” they explained, “and you’ll always have to watch out for small fluffies.” Only the first part of that was true. Indeed, Dazzle’s prey drive was sky high; he wanted to chase down and kill anything under 40 lbs. His prey drive contributed to a successful racing career, and watching that dog focus on a lure was an amazing sight to behold. But his drive was at a level that was unnecessary and potentially dangerous for a pet.

That’s Dazzle on the far right,  mingling with the hens after some training!

Calming a dog’s prey drive is a topic I’ve spent a lot of time analyzing, observing, and testing.

Unless you and your pup will be competing in dog sports together, it is best not to reinforce a high prey drive. If you encourage calmness and discourage excitement around small critters, your activities together will be less restricted, and your dog’s focus will improve, which will facilitate training. Calming prey drive is also the foundation to a reliable recall.

Plus, killing the cat next door isn’t really the best way to make friends with the neighbors.

The Process

I’ve done this with several dogs over the years, and had complete success with all of them. Five of them have been Greyhounds, which are bred with the specific intent to chase. With the right training, any dog can be taught to behave around small fluffies.

Let’s say there’s a squirrel in your front yard. Your dog sees it through the window, stands perfectly still, ears perked, and starts whining.

What NOT to do:

“Oh, you see that squirrel? Is that a squirrel? Is it? Is it? Do you want it?” Dog’s tail starts wagging excitedly. She starts drooling, whining, probably barking, and won’t break her gaze.

Unfortunately, a lot of dog owners do exactly this and don’t realize the effect it has.

So, what’s the best course of action?

Just ignore it.

I know, it sounds so simple, but it works. Dogs get really excited about enthusiasm, particularly your enthusiasm. If you get excited when they see the squirrel, they’ll do the same, ten fold. If you offer no response, their original reaction is much less likely to worsen. Your mentality is one of the most important parts of this type of training. With my own dogs, if ignoring it isn’t solving the problem, I’ll verbally correct them. Usually all it takes is a matter-of-fact “Hey, no. Go lie back down.”

The main goal here is to keep other pets and livestock safe, whether yours or someone else’s. So let’s work on the method to get there.

Before you do any introductions, make sure your dog is thoroughly exhausted. Throw the ball, run, hike, swim, set up a doggie playdate, whatever it takes to wear your pup out. A tired dog is a happy dog, but a tired dog is also less likely to disembowel your cat. I’m a huge believer in setting dogs up for success, and especially with this kind of work. Don’t ever rush this type of training. Faster progress is great, but a reversal of progress could mean a dead Fluffy and a satisfied pooch.

The best tool you can use for this type of training is a plastic basket muzzle. Do yourself and your fluffy pets a favor and get one. Accidents can happen in a fraction of a second, and a muzzle will minimize damage and save lives. It’s worth it for the peace of mind if nothing else. Greyhound style muzzles can be found here. For bigger or smaller sizes, get an Italian basket muzzle off Amazon (here’s a size chart).

Phase 1: The Introduction

I stated above that any dog can be taught to be calm around smaller critters, but every dog is different. Some need just a small reminder, and others can be quite challenging. Most dogs lie somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.

Do this first on a leash at a distance. Correct any over-excitement, and correct it before it escalates to the drooling, barking, whining stage. If your dog is already at this stage, stop and start over later today or tomorrow. Trying to bring a dog down from this stage while the small fluffies are still in view is going to frustrate both of you and create a bad experience. Go get your dog some exercise and try again later.

Ears up, panting, drooling. Lots of training left to do.

Bring treats for distractions, but only offer them when your dog is calm. You can also position yourself between your dog and the small fluffy so that the small fluffy is out of her line of sight. Reward when she is calm and makes eye contact. Food makes a great distraction when you need to redirect attention. Toys are not an ideal reward here because they encourage excitement.

Once your dog can be in view of the fluffy critter at a distance and ignore it, training can progress.

Phase 2: Leashed, Behind Barrier

With a barrier separating the two, move the dog and the fluffy critter closer together and let them meet. Don’t use a crate in this case. They are too confining, and ideally you want to have some control over both animals. Let them greet and sniff through the barrier. If one ignores the other, you’re on the right track.

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Meeting the chickens and using the coop as a barrier.

Same rules apply as above. Encourage calmness and use food distractions if you need to (when appropriate).

Food for Thought: I’m using the term “small fluffy” very loosely here. It doesn’t necessarily have to be small. Or even fluffy, for that matter. It could be a horse, or a lizard. The “small fluffy” in reality is any animal that you want your dog to get along with. It’s just that most of the time that animal tends to be both small and fluffy. Carry on!

You’re ready for the next phase when the dog is calm and ignores the fluffy one.

Phase 3: Leashed, No Barrier

Remember the muzzle I mentioned earlier? Now it’s time to use it!

Take away the barrier and let the two get closer. Keep the dog on a leash so you still have control. As with the first two phases, be matter-of-fact and reward at the right times.

Important: It’s often best at this stage to keep them close together. If they are a few feet away, the fluffy will be more likely to jump or make sudden movements (or worse, run away) which act as an “on” switch for prey drive to kick in. You’d do best to avoid this rather than letting it happen and trying and reverse it.

Tip: Borrow a mean cat. There’s nothing like a good whop on the nose from a mean cat to deter an overly interested dog. Just be careful of sharp kitty claws!

Phase 4: No Leash

Don’t attempt this phase until you’ve fully worked through the first three. You’ll have to be extremely vigilant for the first few weeks. Keep using a muzzle for a while, because all it takes is a fraction of a second to lead to tragedy. This is why I love muzzles and use them frequently. It’s the best insurance for slip-ups.

Making good use of the muzzle, just in case.

Tip: One thing that is hugely helpful is feeding them together. There is a lot to be said for sharing a meal. How do you feel when you eat with someone? I personally feel a strong sense of connectedness, companionship, and belonging. Dogs are not very different from us, as they naturally share meals with their own pack members. When you feed your small fluffy the same goodies that you’re feeding your dog, he’ll read this as “Owner is sharing food with me, and same food with Fluffy. Fluffy must be part of the pack.” This is a great way to encourage bonding.

Calm, relaxed, and ignoring the birds. Exactly what we want!

A Caveat: Just because your dog is okay with your small fluffies at home doesn’t mean she will be good with all small fluffies in general. An inside cat may look like a pack member, but an outside cat can still look like a target. My own dogs are amazing with my goats and my chickens, but they will still chase squirrels in the woods and mean business when they do it.

Trigger and Dewty mingling with the chickens and the goats!

Have you had success with calming your dog’s prey drive? What other pets do you have at home? Need help troublshooting your training problem? Share the article with your friends and join the discussion below!

Reliable Recall, Part 2: Emergency Recall and Preventing Escapes

The whole point of teaching recall is so that we can have that perfect instant-stop-and-turn-on-a-dime recall in an emergency situation.

Right?

Yes. Sort of.

Some dogs will be awesome at this, and with training, can absolutely achieve it.

For the rest of us, our dogs aren’t always as willing to please. Sometimes they decide that the distraction is way more interesting than their panicked, screaming owner. And probably a whole lot less scary.

Before we get started, the prerequisite to this article is Reliable Recall, Part 1: The How and Why of Training Recall in Dogs. Make sure you read and understand the premise of recall training before you delve further into this next step.

So, in what types of situations is emergency recall beneficial?

The same situations where dogs get loose and go missing.

Here are the four most common:

  1. Open front door
  2. Open backyard gate
  3. Slipped collar
  4. Dropped leash

Here’s the secret: Emergency Recall is as much or more about taking steps to prevent the situation than it is about dealing with it when it arises. Worry about preventing the fire now so you don’t have to worry about putting it out later.

So what can we do, then?

Practice.

Testing mock emergency situations leads to less scary real emergency situations. Think of when you were in school. There were drills for all sorts of situations. Tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, and plenty more. Evacuation routes are marked in coastal areas. Radio stations test their emergency alert system all the time. The one we all know well is the fire drill. My point? We need to have a plan, and everyone needs to be on the same page about executing that plan. We run these drills because these are situations that we can see coming. They may not ever happen, but it’s better to be prepared than unprepared when something does happen.

So practice mock emergency situations.

Let’s go over in more detail some of the big reasons dogs go missing, and the steps we can take to prevent and practice them. But before anything, train your dog to come when called. Since you’ve read my first article on teaching recall (you have, right?) you’re hopefully working your way through those phases, teaching and learning more as you go. This article is about recall, as titled, but due to the nature of emergencies, this article will focus mostly on preventative measures.

1) Slipped collar

The ones most likely to slip out of a collar are spooks and “high-prey” dogs.

Spooks can back out of most any collar when terrified and trying to get away. This is a scary situation because now you have a loose dog who is frightened and in flight mode. Spooks are the hardest ones to recover because they will not approach strangers. They usually have to be caught with a live trap and many never return home.

Dogs with high prey drives can back out of a collar in the same manner when they are on high alert and frustrated with being held still. Now you have a loose dog who is after something, probably with intentions to kill it, and not paying any attention to his surroundings. This is particularly terrifying if you are near traffic, and if the dog’s target it someone’s pet.

Consider using a martingale collar. Sighthound owners are very familiar with them, but they can work for any breed. They are made of cloth, wide, and they tighten when pulled. If you want to invest in a martingale, check out Collar Town. Maggie’s collars are top notch quality, and she has tons of different fabrics to pick from, so you’re bound to find the perfect one for your pup! Make sure to familiarize yourself with the proper way to use any collar.

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Gizmo wearing his martingale collar

Determined dogs can still slip out of these, so what many have done is add a harness. Using the leash, connect the harness to the collar, and you will have a system that is much more secure. The only problem is that, if a dog is upset enough, he can still get out of this contraption. You can also temporarily turn your leash into a harness.

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Photo credit: Jennifer Ng

The most secure tool I’ve found for preventing slipped collars is a Spook Harness by Majestic Collars. I highly recommend using one of these if you are at all concerned about your dog getting away from you. They wrap around the dog at three different points, rather than just two, making it impossible for the dog to wiggle out of one.  A spook harness is one of the safest ways to walk a dog. It adds a measure of safety, and when you feel secure, you’ll be more likely to take your dog out. And I’m all about getting outside and walking together, because it makes for happier, healthier dogs (and humans!).

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Photo credit: Lisa Knight Unlu

2) Dropped Leash

As is the case with slipped collars, spooks and high-prey dogs are the main culprits here. Leashes get dropped most commonly when the dog lunges forward out of fear or excitement. Same scary story as above.

Soapbox time! Keep ID on your pet at all times. This should be non-negotiable. A microchip is great, but a collar with identification is a must. I just can’t stress this enough. Dogs without collars look like stray dogs. Stray dogs are seen as nuisances, and most people avoid them. If you want your dog returned to you, keep an ID and collar on the dog at all times. Consider adding “If Loose, I’m Lost” and a microchip number. If you want an ID tag that will never fail you, get one from Boomerang Tags.

Sometimes leashes will just come unclipped on their own when they twist a certain way. This has happened to me several times with two different style leash clasps, and I’m not the only one. Luckily in each case I noticed it before the dog did and I quickly put the leash back on the collar. Many dog owners use a carabiner to attach the collar and leash together as a backup safety measure.

The major thing here is to pay attention to your dog and your surroundings. If you see something that your dog may lunge toward or bolt away from, make sure you have a tight grip on the leash. Better yet, if your dog is prone to bolting, a waist leash may be a smart investment.

If you do any walking at dusk or dark, adding some high-vis gear to your arsenal would be wise. Mine wear orange, reflective vests during deer season. I’ve recently added small lights that clip to the collar so I can see exactly where they are at all times in the dark. A friend of mine keeps jingly tags on her dogs so she can always hear them.

3) Front door work.

This training exercise should rank as priority numero uno, especially if you live on or near a busy street. I have worked on this with my dogs everywhere I’ve lived. Teach your dog that he is not allowed to cross the threshold without your permission, ever. Be consistent about this rule.

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My old crew, respecting the front door boundary.

 

Follow my tips on teaching recall here, and practice walking in and out of the door, asking your dog to wait each time before he walks through it. Please let me be clear that if you are near any amount of traffic, I do not advise working off leash here. Use a on a long, loose leash, but don’t unclip it. Spend a lot of time in the front yard. The more familiar it is, the less interesting it becomes to your dog, and the less he will want to run off and explore.

4) Open gate

The same principals that apply to front door work apply to the gate as well. Teach your dog that he is only allowed through the gate with your permission.

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Photo credit: Tiffany Harden

Take measures to prevent escape. Always check the gate before opening the door to the yard. Use a padlock to make sure the gate isn’t accidentally opened. Discuss with all visitors that doors and gates are to remain shut. Put a sign on the outside of the gate. I’ve known several people who have built a second gate behind their original gate. This “airlock” system is the same one used at dog parks. It is highly effective at preventing accidental escapes, so it’s great for households that see a lot of foot traffic.

Don’t forget that fences can be blown down and trees can fall on them in storms. If you’ve had high winds, be sure to check the whole fence to make sure it hasn’t been compromised anywhere.

In General

Make home a happy place! You want your dog to look forward to coming home. Take your dog out on walks regularly to explore the neighborhood so he knows his way around and knows how to get back home. Home should mean family (pack), food, comfy bed, and an escape from the elements. The more you take your dog out, the more he will understand this. The more you keep him cooped up at home, the more he’ll want to go on a walkabout, and the less likely he’ll be to come back when you call. Explore more and your dog is less likely to bolt when he finds himself suddenly free.

Recall and Timing

When it comes to timing of the recall command, there’s a point of no return, where calling your dog back to you is fruitless. You want to call him to you before he is overly interested in anything. This is where paying attention to your surroundings is important; you’ll be able to call your dog to you before he even sees the upcoming distraction. Be proactive, not reactive. Most dogs can be corrected and called back as soon as the ears perk up. If forward motion starts, it’s game over. Some dogs will stop dead in their tracks and turn around, but most dogs won’t do this reliably. Watch for signs early on. Don’t wait until your dog is too distracted to listen to you.

Remember that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Play down prey drive. If your dog has a high prey drive, there are some things you can do to calm this and make sure you don’t reinforce it. This will be the topic of a post in the future!

Edit: Here’s the post on calming down a high prey drive. Check it out!

Emergency Recall is about teaching the dog to come back, regardless of whether you call him back to you or not. You want him to naturally want to come back to you. When I am out with my dogs, I encourage them to go off and explore. They never go far. Sometimes they will take off after something and run just out of my sight, only to return seconds later, looking for their treats. This is the kind of response to strive for.

Remember that your attitude is a huge factor in your dog’s recall. Be calm. Practicing recall as much as you can will give you familiarity that will result in calmness. If you are anxious, scared, or mad, your dog will be hesitant about coming to you when you call. Not good.

Obviously you can’t be prepared for every emergency situation that you may encounter, but think about the most likely things that could happen and prepare as best you can. Training the Emergency Recall encompasses the same exact methods that I talked about in Part 1 of this article. The more you practice, the better you’ll both get. But if you don’t cover your bases and make an effort on prevention and test runs, there will be a slim chance at success when it really matters.

Have you lost a dog before? Did your emergency recall work, or do you have some refining to do? I hope you’ll share your knowledge and experience in the discussion below!

Reliable Recall, Part 1: The How and Why of Training Recall in Dogs

Of all the dog-related topics one can discuss, this is the one I am far and away most passionate about.

I’ve been heavily involved with greyhound adoption for ten years. Because of a greyhound’s exceptional ability and strong instinct to chase, the off-leash topic is a volatile one in the greyhound community. Those of us who are “off leashers” are often vilified for the practice.

Regardless of how you feel about letting dogs off a leash, there’s no denying that a strong recall is the number one most important thing you can teach your dog.

Some dogs will recall perfectly without training, but this is rare. The rest of us have to work at it and keep working at it.

So if you’re like the rest of us and you need some pointers on teaching a reliable recall, read on!

Why It’s Important

If you’ve been in dog adoption as long as I have, you’ve met a lot of dog owners. Nearly every one that I’ve met has watched their dog get loose at some point. Front door, open gate, slipped collar, dropped leash. Accidents will happen. Unfortunately a lot of these dogs take off on their own adventures, blatantly ignoring their owner’s panicked calls of distress. Too many of these dogs meet preventable, tragic ends.

Teaching even a semi-reliable recall will very likely save your dog’s life.

Before I get into the details, let me make it clear that I’m not suggesting we all burn our leashes and let our dogs run free near the interstate. I’m saying that recall is the most important command to teach, period. Even if you practice in the yard and never unsnap the leash, you’re still a hundred steps ahead of anyone who doesn’t, and you’re that much more likely to be able to save your dog if something does happen.

How to Get Started

Don’t run out the door just yet! There are a few things you’ll need before you start.

If you haven’t yet, sign up to receive 39 Ways to Bond with Your Dog at the top of the page. Success in recall training is heavily dependent on the relationship you have with your dog. A stronger bond means stronger recall. Work to strengthen your relationship with your dog as you move through your recall training.

Time, patience, and consistency. This is not an overnight transformation. There are steps to the process that must be followed, and they must not be hurried through. Like any dog training, teaching a reliable recall depends heavily on timely and consistent rewards.

A Positive Attitude. If you’re in a negative mood, skip training today. You want to take steps forward, not backward. It’s better for you and for the dog if you just wait until you perk up. Dogs are keenly aware of your emotional state and will be discouraged easily if you push it.

A Distraction Free Zone (at first). It is important in the first stage of training recall that there is nothing to break your dog’s concentration. We want him to get on a roll with learning. Be sure to end training sessions on a good note.

A long leash. NOT a retractable leash, as they have a constant pull and make distracting clicking noises. They will interrupt training more than they will help. My personal favorite tool here is a check cord or a lunge line.

Treats. Not just any treat will do. They need to be big enough to make coming back worth the effort, but small enough so the dog doesn’t spend too much time eating them. For my big dogs, I’ve found that the perfect size is about a cubic centimeter. The treats need to be chewy, stinky, and enticing as possible. I make a point to specify chewy because when a dog has to take time to focus on crunching, even with small treats, it takes his focus off of you and the task at hand. We don’t want to interrupt training. There are many types of treats sold in pet stores and boutiques that fit this description. You can also make your own treats.

Come up with a command and stick to it. If your dog doesn’t take “here” or “come” seriously, pick a new one. You can re-train the jaded command, but it will take more work. I always start with the dog’s name, followed by “c’mere.” I want my dogs to book it to me as soon as they hear their names, so that’s why I start this way. And “c’mere” is more natural for me to say than “come.” Born and raised down south, ya know! 😉 I also don’t like to feel like I’m barking orders at my dogs. Pun intended. I like for training to feel like a conversation.

Those of you with dogs who are underwhelmed by food rewards may find that, as you get more excited about a positive response (and more generous with your praise), your dog will become more interested in the reward, and more motivated to do what you ask. Enthusiasm is contagious!

Lastly, remember that every dog is different. Tweak this guide to suit your style. Not every dog can be let off leash safely, and even if your dog does have perfect recall, not every environment suits practicing.

So, are you ready to get started?!

Phase 1: In the House

Start in the house in a quiet, distraction-free area. Call your dog to you, and reward promptly with a small treat and physical praise. When he walks away, call him back, and treat. To move this stage along, you can toss a treat on the other side of the room for him to go get. Every time he comes back to you, use your cue and call him as he’s on the way. Treat immediately and praise, praise, praise.

Tip: Set the dog up for success. Make it easy for him to do the right thing. Dogs learn better when they are rewarded, not punished.

When you have reliable recalls in a distraction-free area in the house, it’s time to move to the next phase.

Phase 2: Leashed, Structured Walk

The next step is to go on an on-leash, structured walk. Avoid distractions if possible. When your dog is walking calmly forward, use your command. As soon as your dog turns his head, offer a treat and say “good boy/girl” and then say “okay” to release him and let him go back to moving forward.

The release is important and often understated. Dogs want to explore and sniff and move around. Make sure your dog knows that he is always free to go back to what he was doing after he checks in with you. Obviously there will be situations where you will need him to stay by your side, as this is the whole point of teaching recall. But when training, always release him.

Any time your dog checks in with you without being prompted, offer a treat immediately and praise. Let the dog figure out that coming back to you is rewarding, whether you call him to you or not. This will encourage him to pay more attention to where you are and what you are doing even when he is really interested in something.

Tip: Don’t do this too frequently or your dog will never leave your side. We want him to focus on walking forward so that you can practice diverting that attention back to you.

Tip: If your dog doesn’t get that excited about coming back, make it a game by running backwards. Dogs love games! When you run away from them, they’re more likely to chase you.

When the dog does come back, it’s your job to praise, praise, praise. This is especially true for dogs who don’t show much motivation. As the dog’s trainer, you need to make it clear to the dog that he did what you wanted. Make a big deal out of it! Use a high pitched voice, clap, pet vigorously, and jump around. Get excited about it!

Tip: Jennifer at Never Say Never Greyhounds recommends touching the collar every time you treat. I don’t do this because my non-treating hand isn’t always free, making it a bit impractical. If your dog starts to develop a habit of bolting as soon as he takes the treat, start touching the collar. All this time spent on training recall would be for naught if you can’t get your dog to stay long enough to grab the collar and keep him safe.

Phase 3: Long Leash Walks

When he’s reliably coming back to his name on a short leash, give him more leash and let him get farther away from you. Repeat the process. Treat immediately and consistently. Remember it is just as important to reward when the dog comes back on his own accord, without being called.

Tip: Make sure the leash doesn’t get tangled up around the dog during the release. This is an aversive stimulus you’ll want to avoid.

Take gradual steps and go slowly with training. If you don’t, the whole process will fail. There’s an old adage in the dog business: “rush them and they’ll make you wait.” This is especially true with recall training. If you move forward before the dog is ready, there will be a miscommunication, and your training will either go backwards or fail entirely. Take things slowly and you will both benefit from it.

Tip: Vary the amount and type of treats you use. Loss of interest is the quickest killer of snappy recalls. Give one treat one recall, three the next, two of a different type the time after that, and so on. It should be like a lottery with 100% win chance, just different value rewards. Make it interesting.

Phase 4: Add Distractions

Once you have reliable on-leash recalls, it’s time to add mild distractions. Local parks are perfect for this, but you can also invite a friend or a neighbor over to help. These distractions should only be mild at first: nothing that would evoke a prey drive response. Just small distractions. To reiterate, we are still using a leash at this stage.

First, you want to just wait with the dog and reward for checking in with you. Stand still at first, and any time he looks at you, offer a treat and praise. Once he’s more focused on you than the distractions, you can move forward by giving him more leash. The timing of recall at this stage is important. You’ll want to say your command right after the dog notices the distraction, but before he has tuned everything else out. It can take some practice to find this threshold.

This is the beginning of the Emergency Recall. It’s extremely difficult to call a dog off something they want to chase after, and some will never be fully reliable, but this is the way to lay that foundation.

Tip: Is this starting to sound like a lot of work? That’s because it is. Remember that the freedom and peace of mind you gain from this training is more than worth it in the end.

When you are able to redirect your dog’s attention at a standstill with distractions, move to a structured walk, and after that to a longer leash. And once you’ve mastered those exercises…

Dewty coming when called and looking forward to his treats!

 

Phase 5: Off Leash, Fenced Area

When your dog is reliably coming back to you from 15-20 ft away with moderate distractions, it’s time to move to off leash within a distraction-free fenced area.

By this point, your dog understands the command and what you expect of him. Take your time transitioning to this phase, because this will be the most freedom the dog has had so far during the training. Again, it is essential to set the dog up for success.

On leash recall should be rock solid before you unsnap the leash. If you call and the dog doesn’t come back, he’ll learn that there are no consequences for ignoring you, which leads to less reliable recall. At least with a leash you can reel him in. So, don’t call the dog to you unless you are sure you he will listen.

You exit this phase when you have a snappy recall even when the dog is distracted.

Take Note: Many dogs, despite excellent training, will never get to this point. There is nothing wrong with that. If you make it this far in the training, congratulations! You are now leaps and bounds ahead of those who didn’t take the time to train, and you are that much more likely to be able to save your dog’s life if he does accidentally get loose.

This is Trigger’s expression literally every time we work on recall.

 

Phase 6: Off Leash, No Fence

This is the final phase, and fairly self explanatory. Before you dive in, There are a few precautions to take:

  • Make sure the area is safe. Ideally distractions will be minimal and there will be no traffic nearby.
  • Check and obey leash laws. If dogs are required by law to be leashed, there is probably a good reason for it.
  • Know that any new area is distracting. Make sure you explore it thoroughly ON a leash before letting the dog off leash.
  • Be considerate of others. There is a certain etiquette that you should practice with an off leash dog. Don’t let your dog run up on other dogs (especially if they are leashed and yours is not) and be considerate of other people in the area who might be afraid of dogs.

That’s it! Have fun, and be safe and smart about it.

Additional Tips and Tricks

Practice, practice, practice. When you teach commands like “sit” and “stay,” it’s expected that you’ll wean the dog off of treats and he’ll perform the command without a food incentive. Recall is not that way. It must be reinforced generously throughout the life of the dog, as enthusiastically as if you were just starting to train for it.

You can use your recall command when your dog comes inside from the backyard, accompanied with treats, of course. Another great time to practice your command is at breakfast or dinner. Put your dog in a sit stay on the other side of the room and then call him to you. A whole bowl of food is a pretty good reward!

Only use your recall command if you know that you can reward immediately and generously. Don’t ever call your dog to you if you are going to do something to the dog that is unpleasant. This might be the fastest way to undo all of your training. If it happens too often, it will prevent moving forward altogether.

Play Hide and Seek. While the dog is off leash, hide behind a tree or other obstacle. You can call your dog to you, but waiting until the dog turns around to seek you out is the goal here. Reward generously either way.

Stash treats along your route in advance. I remember hearing one account of a girl who would hide an entire hamburger along the trail ahead of time for a major jackpot reward. I haven’t gone this far myself, but I can see how it would be encouraging!

If you’ve tried all of the above and your dog still won’t give you a good recall, it is possible to try a shock collar. They have been used with great success, but if you doubt your precision in timing with regard to either reward or punishment, don’t go this route. Shock collars are too easy to abuse and, if used improperly, can undo training and harm the dog, both mentally and physically.

Some Afterthoughts

“How do you teach them not to run away?”

I hear this question often, and my answer usually goes against what most people want to hear: I don’t.

Using all the techniques I’ve presented in this article, I condition and teach and prove to my dogs that walking with me is much more rewarding than going off and doing their own thing.

No dog has perfect recall. Many dogs can get good at it, but even the best ones will slip up from time to time. Expect mistakes, but make it as safe as possible for your dog to make those mistakes.

Ready for part 2? Read it here!

Further Reading
The Secret to Motivating an Unmotivated Dog
How To Train Your Dog: “Come Here!”
Introduction to Recalls
Teaching a Reliable Recall
Dog behavior solutions: Not coming when called
13 Simple Steps to Improve Your Dogs Recall

Have you been successful in teaching a solid recall? What tips do you have to add? I want to hear from you, so get to posting in the comments below! If this article helped you, please share!

The freedom and fun that recall work provides!

Infographic: How to Turn a 6ft Leash into a No Pain, No Pull Harness

I’ve found that a plain ol’ leash makes a better training tool than any of the harnesses or haltis on the market. No need to spend money if you already have what you need!

Here are three ways to turn your leash into a no pain, no pull harness:
  1. Drape the excess leash below the dog’s chest in front of the legs.
  2. Loop the leash under the chest and up through the collar.
  3. Loop the leash under the dog’s chest and back up over itself.
Happy Walking!!


leashharness

How to Properly Use a Dog Collar: Do This, Not That

Here’s a really simple trick that all dog people should know. This trick is particularly helpful if you have a sighthound-type dog with a small head relative to body size, but can benefit all dog owners.

So here’s the trick to use if your dog tries to bolt or back out of the collar:

Pull down on the leash, not up, to position the D ring correctly.

The instinct is to pull up on the leash when a dog pulls backwards. Don’t do it! The top part of the collar will come right over the top of the ears. Even martingale collars and other choke collars can come off this way. Pull the leash down, and the collar will get caught behind the ears and stay in place.

Remember: pull down, not up!


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Please share this infographic with your friends!

Dealing with Picky Eaters: 9 Ways to Identify and Solve the Problem

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There’s a statement I hear all the time that makes me cringe a little each time I hear it.

“Oh, my dog won’t eat that. She is such a picky eater.”

Aaah! Nails on a chalkboard. Dogs should be tail-wagging, enthusiastic, meal-finishing eaters, but we have made them into the opposite. Poor appetite is often indicative of an unhealthy dog. Not in every case, but in a lot of them. And it’s not necessarily a physical malady that is causing the problem. Most of the time the cause is psychological.

If your dog at home is at her ideal weight and a great eater, excellent! Keep up the good work. If you have a picky eater at home, this article is for you. I want to share some probable causes along with refreshingly simple and effective ways to restore your dog’s appetite.

A Nation of Picky Eaters

People love to be caretakers. As pet owners, we are responsible for the daily care and overall health of the animals we take in. It is our duty to make sure they are better off with us than they would be on their own. Animal husbandry is a beautiful thing. It’s just that some of us unintentionally take it too far.

Another thing pet owners love to love are supplements and feed additives. I’m guilty of this one myself. It makes us feel good to give our dogs some extra goodies so they don’t get bored eating plain ol’ boring dog food. They are our best friends, after all, and they deserve it. Right?

Here’s the thing. Commercial feeds with an AAFCO statement are complete feeds, which means they are nutritionally balanced. The average dog shouldn’t need anything extra in her diet.

Over-supplementation can be particularly troublesome when it comes to fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) and some minerals, such as selenium. Feed additives often add palatability, which is great for getting picky dogs to eat. But once they get used to the extra tasty stuff, going back to the plain ol’ boring stuff becomes even harder to do. Convincing your dog to eat by adding tastier toppings is not healthy or effective in the long run.

My own dogs have all been ravenous eaters, but they didn’t all come that way. I encourage my dogs to get excited about food. I think it’s a fantastic training reward and a great motivator. Several of my dogs over the years have started off as picky eaters, but none have stayed that way. If you want to find out how I fixed it, read on!

Troubleshooting

Now, before taking any of my advice, take your picky eater to your vet and verify that there’s nothing awry with her health. No healthy dog will starve herself. Most appetite issues have simple behavioral fixes, but it’s very important that we rule out anything serious first. This is especially true if the decrease in appetite is sudden. Consistently picky eaters can be fixed, but a dog won’t lose her appetite overnight unless something is wrong.

If you have a picky eater, answer the following questions:

1. Is your feeding schedule irregular?
2. Do you feed treats in between meals?
3. Does your dog live a sedentary lifestyle?
4. Do you panic and worry every time your dog refuses food?
5. Is your dog new to the household?
6. Have you recently had a big change in your household?
7. Is your dog overweight?
8. Do you free-feed?
9. Is your dog an only dog?

If you answered yes to at least one of the questions above, that is probably your best starting point for correcting course.

Correcting the Problem

Let’s explore the points above in a little more depth.

1. Regular Feeding Schedules
Dogs crave routine, just like people do. Personally, I prefer feeding once a day, but my dogs eat so much and are so active that I don’t feel comfortable with them eating all of it in one sitting. So I split it up and feed them twice a day. Another perk: when dogs are fed on a regular schedule, they also eliminate on a regular schedule. Pick whatever feeding schedule works best for you and stick to it.

2. Treats Between Meals
Ever heard of a mother who worked tirelessly for hours preparing a meal, and then let her kids eat a pint of ice cream just before dinner? Didn’t think so! I can’t tell you how many times my mom told me to stop snacking right before dinner when I was growing up. She didn’t want me to spoil my appetite, and she would rather I fill up on a healthy dinner rather than junk food snacks. It’s no different with dogs. If they know they’re going to get delicious tasty treats or dog food, they’ll pick the tasty treats over the boring stuff every time. So feed less treats between meals. If treats are a necessary part of your training regimen, either look into low calorie treats, use dog food as a reward in lieu of treats, or feed smaller meals (so you can afford to continue rewarding with treats).

3. Inactivity
Exercise breeds hunger. This is true for humans as well as dogs. The more energy you burn off during the day, the hungrier you will get. The opposite is also true: if your dog is mostly sedentary, she’ll have no reason to have a healthy appetite. Give her more exercise during the day and her appetite should increase.

4. Owner Panic
Dogs pick up on this energy. The detrimental effect it has on your dog’s mentality cannot be understated. Your worry and concern will cause your dog to worry and be concerned. Worried and concerned dogs don’t become healthy eaters. It’s also very common for concerned owners to dote over their dogs more than they normally would. Dogs love this attention, and quickly make the connection between not eating and more attention. Worry and panic will only exacerbate this problem.

5. New Dogs
Dogs need an adjustment period, just like we do. Moving into a new environment can be a huge shock to a dog’s system. Some dogs just need space and a little quiet time alone. Other dogs need interaction and playtime. Every dog is different, so be sure to read your dog and come up with a plan to help her adjust. Time is often the best medicine in this case. Take a step back, get to know each other, and reevaluate in a few weeks.

6. Big Changes
Things like marriage, divorce, new pet, new job, new kid, kid moving away, moving to a new house, etc. can be a difficult challenge for many dogs. These don’t even have to be big changes. Sometimes small changes can throw dogs off their routines. Usually the dog’s behavior will change. Some will get snarky. Others will become lethargic. Many will start having accidents in the house. Some will stop eating. As in the former example, often the only thing that will ease this transition is the passing of time. Make sure you spend some quality time with your dog and make sure she is happy and has some excitement in her life. Think about the things she enjoys most, like going on walks or snuggling or playing with you outdoors, and do as many of those with her as you can.

7. Overweight Dogs
Sometimes picky eaters are overweight. Sounds strange, right? How could a picky eater be overweight? This phenomenon is described best by Leslie Turnbull in “Your dog is not a human being. Stop treating her like one.” Here’s an excerpt:

“A friend recently asked me to advise him because his dog had become seriously overweight. I watched him feed her dinner, and I had to bite my tongue as he poured cream and gravy and hid treats in the food, said a big ‘I love you!’, and gave her the bowl. I asked about all the added yummies and extra affection, and he explained that if he did not do this, she would only eat a bite or two and leave her food.

“The poor dog was actually trying to self-limit her consumption, but he was doing everything he could to lure her to overeat! … Feeding your pet into illness and discomfort is hardly kind.”

If you aren’t sure if your dog is overweight, it’s likely that she is. Find out using this chart and verify with your vet.

So the solution to this one is pretty simple, and comes in two parts. You can probably guess what they are. 😉

The first: feed less. If your dog is overweight and being picky, listen to her! That is a healthy reaction to an unhealthy situation. In almost all cases, this is as simple as reducing the amount of food you put in the bowl. Check with your vet about the best healthy eating plan to follow.

The second part of the solution is exercise. Sorry to make you slump in your chair, but it’s good for both of you! A healthy, safe place to start is walking. All it takes is small, incremental steps to drive big results. Again, if you aren’t sure how to start, make a phone call to your vet and discuss the best plan of action.

8. Free Feeding
Free feeding is a poor practice all around. Although convenient for the caretaker, it does not set the dog up for success. This is true in single-dog households and especially true in multi-dog households.

As a pet owner, it’s your responsibility to keep your dog at a healthy weight, which means to control how much and what type of food your dog eats. You can’t do this while free feeding in a multi-dog household. Some dogs will get more than they should when others will get less. Not good.

If food is always available in a single-dog household, the dog knows she can eat whenever she wants. No one will eat it if she walks away, and it will be there whenever she decides to come back to it. This practice rewards dogs for having a low appetite and turns them into picky eaters.

Dogs are not designed to be grazers. Food needs to be perceived as scarce and valuable. The solution to this one is simple: stop free feeding. Feed once or twice a day. Pull the bowl when your dog walks away from it, and don’t give it back until the next meal. It won’t take your dog long to catch on.

If you put the bowl down once a day and don’t pull it when your dog walks away, you are free feeding.

9. Only Dogs
This one ties into the example above, and is usually fixed in the same manner. Sometimes dogs who live in a house with no other dogs decide that finishing a meal is not that important because there’s no one around who will eat it.

So here’s the solution. The excuse you’ve been waiting for. You finally have a reason to get a second dog! 🙂 🙂

I’m only halfway kidding.

Dogs will often “compete eat” as soon as it appears their food is in imminent danger of disappearing. When they’re afraid their food is going to get stolen, they become more inclined to eat what is provided for them.

Now, as much as I’d love for it to happen, not everyone can just go out an adopt another dog. However you can replicate the effect of “compete eating” at home using the same tactic discussed above: pull the bowl when your dog walks away from it, and don’t put it down until it’s time for her next meal. If she still doesn’t eat, rinse and repeat until she does.

Remember that dogs are not grazers. No healthy dog will starve herself. It usually only takes 2-3 days of pulling the bowl for the dog to understand that they need to eat when food is provided.

Overall Fulfillment Leads to a Good Appetite

In short, when a dog’s needs are being met, they will have a healthy appetite.

We, as a society, often look at the things we have amassed and see them as fulfilling. This is often amplified when it comes to our dogs. Top shelf dog food, fluffy beds, an outerwear collection, and toys galore. Dogs are here to remind us to come back from the rat race. Life is about more than the things we own. Dogs don’t care about “things.” They crave a life that engages their sense of adventure. They need an outlet for their curiosity. They need exercise, boundaries, and adventure over a bunch of fancy collars.

And this is how I want to live my life, too.

The tips I’ve mentioned will set 95% of picky eaters straight if you follow protocol. For the 5% that don’t change, It might be worth a trip to the vet. You may be dealing with a pain issue. Dogs are often very stoic about masking pain, and loss of appetite is often the first sign.

Do you have anything to add? Do you have a picky eater? What methods have you tried to reverse it? Were you successful? Please share in the comments! I read and appreciate each one. And as always, if the article was a benefit you in some way, please share with your friends!

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The Secret to Motivating an Unmotivated Dog

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It’s easy to train a dog who is food motivated and willing to please. Many dogs fall into this category, but the ones that don’t can be a challenge to train. Does this sound like your dog?

I believe every dog has something that motivates them. And as caretakers, we have a responsibility to find it.

So here’s how it’s done!

Make a Game Out of It

Find something your dog likes a little bit and push it to the limit.

I like to start with food. It’s the best place to begin, in my opinion. All dogs are wired in a very primal way to desire food above almost everything else, making it a highly effective reward.

When I adopted my newest Greyhound, Trigger, he was very food motivated and loved treat rewards. But now he’s over-the-top excited about them and will do anything I ask him to do in order to get them.

Why?

Because I get excited about giving him the treats, and I interact with him in a way that enhances that existing desire for food.

Let’s say your dog likes toys a little bit. When they pick up a toy, encourage playing with it! Clap and get excited. Talk in a high voice. If the dog drops the toy, pick it up and move it quickly along the ground. Give it to the dog when they reach for it and get excited again. Enthusiasm is contagious! Your dog will get the idea that you’re eager to see her play and she will be more inclined to do so over time.

I used toys in the above example, but it could be with a number of things. Food and affection are other strong motivators, and both can be enhanced using similar methods. Playing and being enthusiastic with your dog is a wonderful mood elevator and a great way to bond!

Troubleshooting

Despite all our efforts, some dogs appear to have nothing that really motivates them. This is often the case with spooky, shy dogs as well as with recently adopted dogs who are unsure of their place in their new surroundings. In these cases, give your dog time to settle in and trust you. Fear kills appetite. Most dogs, when scared, will not accept food rewards. Explore activities that encourage strong bonds and build trust. The relationship you have with your dog is very important. Make sure you have a solid foundation to stand on, or your training efforts may be for naught.

Spend time discovering new places and new experiences with your dog. Try some basic dog sports that you think your dog may enjoy. Getting out and giving your dog some exercise can be a reward in itself. As you progress, you may find that your approval alone is a strong motivator for your dog!

If you still can’t find anything that gets your dog going, even after taking the steps we’ve discussed, go back to food and start at square one. If you have a picky eater on your hands, there are several steps you can take to fix this problem.

A Caveat

Obviously if your dog is overweight, force-feeding them treats is probably a bad idea. Consider a diet in conjunction with training. Consult with your vet if you are not sure how to properly go about the healthiest way to cut your dog’s caloric intake. Treats should only consist of around 10% of your dog’s total diet, so please keep that in mind when training. If your dog likes her dog food enough, you can use pieces of kibble as treats, though usually these aren’t as motivating as the real thing.

That’s the gist of it, so get out there and have some fun with your dog!

What do you have to add? Did these tips help you? Do you have a story about a breakthrough in your own motivational training? I want to hear about it! Tell us in the comments and share the article with your friends. Every share means a great deal to me personally, so thank you in advance.

 

Hello and Welcome, Fellow Dog Lover!

Ice Cream with the Boys

Enjoying some ice cream with my boys 🙂

Hey there! I’m Rachel, and I’m thrilled you’re here!

I’m really excited about this blog launch, and I’m so glad you’re here to be a part of it. I want to share a common sense, no-frills approach to living an exciting life with your dogs. Life is great, but life is way better with dogs. Add some adventure to that, and you just can’t beat it!

My ultimate goal is to help you strengthen the bond between you and your dog through adventure, curiosity, and excitement. I am very passionate about living life this way.

Why is this so important?

There are thousands of reasons! Here are my top two:

  1. Training is fruitless if you and your dog aren’t connecting on a personal level. This blog will pave that road for you.
  2. It’s overwhelmingly beneficial. You’ll be more active, less stressed, and re-energized. It’s a GREAT feeling!

My promise to you: I’m not going to waste your time. I see time as a precious, nonrenewable resource and I do not take it for granted. There’s a lot of redundant information and misinformation out there, and I promise not to offer anything to you that I haven’t found helpful myself.

A little about me:

I’ve been involved professionally with dogs for the last decade. I’ve had dogs all my life and they have always been my priority.  I live in Upstate SC with my three boys: two retired racing Greyhounds and a Great Pyrenees (who is currently on vacation with a good friend of mine). I love life, exploring, travel, and culture. I’m also a photographer. You can learn more about that part of me here.

Trigger, Dewty, and Big

Trigger, Dewty, and Big. Muddy and happy!

Here’s what I believe in:

  • Adopting a dog intended to be a pet is better than buying one from a breeder.
  • Dogs are not humans. They need to be allowed to have fun do dog things.
  • Recall is the most important command you can teach your dog.
  • Lifelong learning. Everyone has something to teach.
  • Open hearts and curious minds.
  • Getting dirty is good for you.

Have any questions? I want to hear from you!
I can be reached most efficiently through Facebook.

And hey, don’t forget to sign up for emails! You’ll get updates on new posts, exclusive content, access to giveaways, and absolutely zero spam. Promise. Let’s have some fun!


Adventure and excitement awaits! Are you ready to get a little dirty?

 

On Top of a Mountain!

The boys and me on top of Table Rock in SC!