When Can You Start Walking Your Dog Without a Leash?

A question we get a lot here at When Hounds Fly is “when can I start walking my dog off leash?”  It seems like it’s a goal for a lot of people – almost like a sign their dog is well trained, to be able to walk around the city without a leash on.  The answer we always give them?  Never.

We know they mean well, and they’re eager about training their dogs, and training them well, and we love seeing that effort.  But – for those of us living in Toronto (and all city folk) – never is the right answer.

Why is it so important to keep your dog on leash?  Let’s break it down.

What are the potential downsides to having your dog on a leash?

None.  Zip.  Zilch.  Your dog could care less; at least, assuming you’ve trained them to walk well on a leash.

What are the reasons to always have a leash on your dog?

  1. Safety.  You could have the best trained dog in the world, but you just never know.  What if your wonderful, smart dog just one time takes off after a squirrel or a cat and gets hit by a car?  Would you ever forgive yourself?  What if a car backfires and scares your dog, and your dog runs away?  It only takes one time, and no dog is perfect.
  2. In respect of other dogs.  One of the most common reasons we see clients for private lessons is because their dogs are leash reactive; ie. fearful, anxious, or aggressive towards other dogs while they are on leash.  One of the biggest complaints these clients have is that people let their off-leash dogs run up to their on-leash dogs, saying, “don’t worry, my dog is friendly!”  But the fact is, yours may be – but theirs isn’t.  Theirs is scared or aggressive.  And yours is at worst going to get injured (going back to the first point, safety) – potentially then developing their own fear or reactivity – or at best, will remain safe but set that reactive dog’s training that they’ve been working so hard on back.
  3. In respect of other people.  You love dogs.  That’s great; we do too.  But not everyone does.  Some people are scared of dogs, or have allergies, or have religious/cultural beliefs that mean that they don’t want to interact with your dog.  Letting your off leash dog charge up to them is incredibly insensitive.

 

City of Toronto Leash Dog In Public Poster

Leaving leashes off in non-designated areas is just plain selfish.  It might make you feel good and proud of how good your dog is, but your dog doesn’t care, and it is ultimately detrimental to everyone around you.  Want our city to be more dog friendly?  Be a good neighbour with your dog, and keep leashes on unless in off leash areas!

 

 

Top 5 Tips for New Rescue Dog Owners

We are strong advocates of rescuing dogs. Some argue that older rescue dogs come with more issues than getting a new puppy, but in our experience, most rescue dogs are friendly, easily trainable, and can quickly become excellent companions.

Lucille was adopted at the age of 5 from the Oakville/Milton Humane Society. After completing Foundation Skills and Canine Good Neighbour classes, she recently passed her St. John's Therapy Dog exam! Here she is pictured at work with her therapy dog ID badge.
Lucille was adopted at the age of 5 from the Oakville/Milton Humane Society. After completing Foundation Skills and Canine Good Neighbour classes, she recently passed her St. John’s Therapy Dog exam! Here she is pictured at work with her therapy dog ID badge.

A common question we are asked is, “What should I do once my rescue dog comes home?”

Here are five recommendations for new rescue dog owners.

  1. Keep it quiet: We know that getting a new dog is exciting and you want to show them off to everyone you know, but it’s crucial for your new dog to have a quiet first week. They are adapting to a new environment, new schedule, new everything – that’s already a lot of stress. They don’t need to be overwhelmed by extra stressors, such as dozens of visitors there to see them, or to be taken to a dozen new places within the first few days of being with you.
  2. Create a “Safe Place”: Make sure your home is ready for your new dog by putting away potential destructive chewing items like shoes, and socks on the floor. Remove accessible food from the counter to prevent counter surfing. Ensure your dog has a safe place to hang out in, whether it’s a crate, an exercise pen, or an area of the house closed off by baby gates. You can put their toys there, have a bed ready, and make sure it’s dog proofed for when they need to be confined.
  3. Practice short departures: Some people will take time off work or bring their dog home on a weekend when they have lots of time to dedicate to their transition, but remember your dog needs to get used to being alone because for many the work week is coming! While it’s good to have some flexibility when your new dog arrives, don’t spend every hour by their side. Give them a meal in a food dispensing toy or freeze some wet food/peanut butter in a kong and while they’re engaged with it, step out for a couple of minutes, do a short errand, or go for a run. Get them used to departures as a time of relaxation associated with a high value food reward.
  4. Set them up to succeed: Instead of trying to test your dog’s skills by putting them in situations they may not be ready for, work on reinforcing the behaviours you want to see in your dog. For example, instead of taking your dog off leash to see what their recall is like (and have them run away), try them on a long line (20 to 30 foot leash) and reward them for returning to you. Work up to off leash activity. Don’t take chances with your dog’s behaviour as they are still new to you.
  5. Implement safety protocols: Many new rescue dogs are lost and never found again within days of adoption – they slip their collars and bolt, jump over a low gate, or squeeze through a front door and bolt. Make sure your dog’s collar is fit appropriately (only 2 fingers should fit in between the collar and their neck) and their harness is fit equally as snug. Review the safety of your yard and monitor their time there – dogs can dig out, or squeeze through small gaps. Crate or leash your new dog if you need to answer your front door.

 

Once your dog has settled in and is used to your routine, you can start to be able to predict how they will respond in situations and really get to know your new dog. Once that’s happened, you should sign them up for a group class to improve their manners and to develop a bond with your new addition.

 

What Training Goldfish Teaches You About Dogs

Clicker Training Goldfish

What does teaching a Goldfish tricks have to do with dog training?

There are a lot of lessons to be learned about behaviour and operant conditioning by going through the work of teaching a common goldfish to swim through a small hoop or chase a plastic straw.

  1. A dog has a considerably larger brain than a fish.  Every dog, therefore, should have enough grey matter to amaze his or her owners.
  2. You cannot use a choke, prong, or shock collar on a fish.  You cannot hit a fish either.  So the trainer needs to use his or her grey matter to figure out how to make this work.
  3. Even a goldfish can be trained without lures.  Notice when the food is presented to the fish?  After the event marker (penlight), and after the behavior is performed.  This fish KNOWS what the meaning of that little plastic hoop is.  It KNOWS that it is following a plastic red straw.  It is not mindlessly chasing food dangled by its nose (figuratively speaking, of course).
  4. Your dog is considerably more forgiving on the timing of the click and food delivery that most fish are.

Enjoy the video!

Dog Begs for Food at Dinner Table – How to address this without punishment

Dog Not Begging at Dinner Table

Why is this dog sitting in the corner, not begging for food?

Dog Not Begging at Dinner Table
Dog Not Begging at Dinner Table

Why is Petey sitting patiently with his butt pressed against the wall in the corner, while my father enjoys his lunch and tea? Because of the effective use of operant conditioning (positive reinforcement quadrant only).

Dogs are scavengers by nature. Dogs came into being as scavengers of the refuse of human civilization. So, can we blame them for instinctively begging for food at the dinner table? It is a natural, instinctive behaviour that is in their genetic makeup.

How would a traditional, force and correction based trainer handle a dog that mugs you while you’re eating? Probably through the use of aversives (stuff that the dog does not like) which can include verbal correction (ennnn! noooo!!), physical correction (stepping on the dogs toes, hitting the dog in the face, choking it with a collar), or remote correction (spray bottle in the face, citronella collar, shock collar).

Depending on how food motivated the dog is, or how scary the aversive is to the dog, the behaviour may end, and it may end quickly. But at what cost to your relationship with your dog? And what has the dog learned? That humans at dining tables are dangerous.

So, how does a positive reinforcement trainer teach a dog to not beg at the dining table?

Firstly, I never fed Petey when he was begging at the dinner table. You do it once, or twice, and you have created a very powerful history of reinforcement for rewarding the dog’s persistence at bothering you while eating. If you suddenly stop feeding from the dinner table, you’ll find the dog is even more motivated now to bug you. “Hey, hellloooo. I am here again. Why aren’t you feeding me like you normally do? HELLLLOOO. What’s wrong with you? You fed me here last time. HEY!!! YOU!!!”.

So, after a few days after rescuing him, he realized that jumping on me, or sitting next to me, while I was at the dining table produced no results. That approach, in Petey’s mind, was a broken down dead end.

If you want a nuisance behaviour to end, you must, as a humane trainer, think of a specific replacement behaviour that the dog can do that is acceptable. If you just want the dog to “stop doing this, and stop doing that”, you are asking for an off-switch on your dog – which can be accomplished by just shooting it with a gun (hence the title for Karen Pryor’s seminal book “Don’t Shoot the Dog!”). In this case, I wanted Petey to sit in the farthest corner of any room that we were eating in and patiently wait.

Operant conditioning states that behaviours that are rewarded will be repeated with increasing likelihood. So, I simply kept a small handful of kibble at the dining table whenever we eat. When I spotted Petey heading towards the farther corner of the room, I clicked and tossed a kibble to Petey. After a few meals he came to learn that sitting the corner was the most likely place for him to be rewarded.

Next, after the behaviour was established, I began shaping for duration. I just kept my watch at the table. I found that Petey would sit still for about 3 minutes before breaking his sit, so I began only clicking and treating if he held his position for 3 minutes and 30 seconds. Then 4 minutes, then 5. At this point we can pretty much have an entire meal start to finish with Petey’s butt glued to the wall.

This whole process only took a couple of weeks, and we have prevented a common “nuisance” behaviour from developing into a pattern with a strong reinforcement history. Instead, Petey loves shoving his butt into corners now!

Reliable Recall at the Offleash Dog Park

How to train your dog not to run away from you at the park!

Second to learning how to walk nicely on leash, new dog owners’ second most requested call for help is a reliable recall while off leash. In Toronto, the unfortunate thing is most dog owners are inadvertently training to teach their dogs to run away from them!

What do knowledgeable dog owners do differently to train their dogs to stay nearby and come when called?

Shower your dog with attention and rewards when he’s near – Reward your dog for staying near you by rewarding with food (the morning dog park run is a great place to feed your dog breakfast) and fun games (tug of war, fetch, wrestling, hide and seek). Too many dog owners go to the dog park and stand in a circle talking to other dog owners, paying no attention to their dogs. They’re too focused on their coffee or chatting with owners and are about as interesting as rock to their dogs. Can you blame a dog for getting bored and wandering off?

Don’t let your dog loose focus on you for too long – By staying engaged with your dog at the park by playing with him, it’ll keep him from getting locked onto an interesting scent or chasing a squirrel – you’ll be able to interrupt and redirect with more fun and games. Dog owners that ignore their dogs often discover their dog is almost near the dog park exit are too late – any they end up rewarding the dog for leaving the park by calling their name (finally) and chasing them down – the attention earned for running out of the park is often the only form of reward that these poor dogs get! Their owners are rewarding them for leaving the park grounds by ignoring them when they’re near and paying attention when they leave.

Don’t let your dog off leash until he’s ready – A new puppy should be trained to return to handler every time he goes to the park. Keep the puppy’s leash dragging so in case he decides to bolt, you can catch him (and prevent the puppy from being rewarded for ignoring the owner). Off leash rights are something a dog should earn through consistent focus and recall exercises at home and in the yard. You might not take away the leash dragging until after a few months of daily off leash work.

No matter what your dog did right before, if he comes back to you, reward and praise lavishly. Punishment damages the trust a dog has and gives them a reason to second guess ever returning to you. Dogs that are trained punishment free never have to think twice about what’s waiting when he gets back to his handler.

Remember, reliable off-leash recall is a behavior that requires daily, consistent work, and its reliability changes dynamically based on the degree of distraction in the environment. Be patient and aim to be the most interesting thing at the dog park for your dog, every day.

Top 7 Misconceptions About Clicker Training (And Food-Based Training)

Unfortunately there is a lot of misinformation about clicker training (and food-based training). While many of our new students are excited and eager to finally have a clicker training school that isn’t a two hour drive away from Downtown Toronto, some come to us a bit unsure or a bit on the fence – so if you are on the fence, this article is for you. Here are the top 7 misconceptions about clicker training that we hear when we meet new students.

Myth 1. I have to carry a clicker with me at all times or else the dog won’t perform.

Truth: Clickers are only used in the learning phase of a new behavior. After a behavior is nearly fluent, it is no longer needed.

Myth 2. If I train with food, I will need to have food with me at all times, forever, or else the dog won’t perform.

Truth: Lure-reward food-based training will create food dependency. Lure-reward training is not the same as clicker training, even though some lure-reward trainers use clickers incorrectly. Clicker trainers do not use food as a lure (or if they do, they use them extremely sparingly). If you train properly, you will not need to show your dog a treat first before it performs, nor will you necessarily have to feed your dog every time it performs. In fact, the opposite is true – if you continue to feed your dog for every correct response for too long, the dog won’t perform reliably. Clicker training actually requires you adopt what we call a variable schedule of reinforcement – in plain English, phasing out food.

 

Myth 3. Dogs get fat being trained with food.

Truth: Food rewards are prepared so small that they represent a relatively small percentage of total food intake per week. Also, in low-distraction environments or for easy behaviors, a dog’s regular meal can be used for training. I’ve never met a clicker trained dog that was overweight – most are pretty svelte since they often compete in dog sports as their training progresses.

 

Ha! Do I look fat to you?
Ha! Do I look fat to you?

 

Myth 4. If I train with food, the dog will beg for food.

Truth: Feeding your dog at the dinner table teaches them to beg at the dinner table. Giving food out by hand for no reason will teach a dog to beg for food. Training with food teaches the dog that food is only given in exchange for work performed, and only when we request the work. Well trained dogs actually never beg for food because the circumstances in which they can earn food is so black and white, they understand when it’s not available and when it’s available – and that is on our terms.

 

Myth 5. Clicker Trainers are “New Age-y” and “Soft” on their dogs

Truth: False!!! The best clicker trainers are extremely hard on their dogs. We are hard on the criteria we require our dogs to perform to in order to earn reinforcement. We are stingy on keeping access to rewards and reinforcement contingent on performing behaviors. Since nobody wants to carry around food forever, myself included, I use everything else that the dog wants in life to reinforce training. If my dogs don’t go into their crate and lay down, they don’t eat. If they don’t sit and stay while I open the door, the door never opens. If they don’t keep the leash loose while we are walking towards the dog park, we never get to the dog park.

What is true though is we will never use physical punishment in training because it is unnecessary – you can train reliable behaviors and proof them against distractions without having to inflict pain.

 

Myth 6. The dog will hear clicks from other students in class and get confused.

Truth: Dogs are experts at discriminating. Only clicks that come from the handler result in a food reward, so dogs quickly learn to ignore clicks that come from other directions.

 

Myth 7. Clicker training is a fad and it will be gone soon.

Truth: Clicker training comes from the work of B.F. Skinner and one of the earliest examples of clicker training was his graduate students, Marian and Keller Breland, clicker training pigeons to assist in aerial bombing in World War II. In the 1960s, Karen Pryor brought clicker training to dolphin training, and today it is now used to train practically every species of animal known to man. If it is good enough for the military and good enough for Sea World, isn’t it good enough for your family pet?

What Type of Dog Collar or Harness Should I Use?

Confused by the myriad of options at the pet store when it comes to buying the right collar for your dog? Here’s a brief introduction and review of the common types of humane collars and harnesses on the market, how they work, and what they’re best for.

Flat Collar, Buckle Collar

What is it? A basic collar that goes around the neck of the dog. They can be fastened with belt-style buckles or clips.

What are they good for? Simple and inexpensive. Can be used to keep tags/ID on a dog in conjunction with harnesses or a head collar. Flat collars are best used for small to large dogs that can loose leash walk reliably.

What are the downsides? Dogs that aren’t trained to loose leash walk can choke themselves, causing stress to the eyes, neck, trachea, and even thyroid. This is especially dangerous for flat faced dogs that can suffer from a prolapsed eyeball from the pressure.

 

Front Clip Harness (Sense-ation Harness, Easywalk Harness, Freedom Harness)

 

What is it? A harness where the leash fastens to the chest. The design of the harness discourages pulling.

What are they good for? All dogs! But especially dogs that pull.

What are the downsides? Toy dogs, or short dogs will likely have their leash get caught between their legs frequently due to the attachment point. Harnesses can be chewed and destroyed if left on while unattended.

 

Rear Clip Harness (H-style harness, Vest harness, Buddy Belts, etc.)

What is it? A harness where the leash fastens to the back of the harness (along the dog’s back).

What are they good for? Toy dogs, or very short dogs, to protect their fragile necks and keep the leash near the top of the dog so they don’t get caught up between their legs.

What are the downsides? Rear clip harnesses do not reduce pulling. Harnesses can be chewed and destroyed if left on while unattended.

 

Martingale Collar

What is it? A collar that has a limited-slip component that tightens the leash becomes taught. They slip over the dog’s head.

What are they good for? Dogs with thick necks and small heads (sighthounds) that can back out and slip out of flat collars.

What are the downsides? Frequently they are misused as choke collars (sized too small, when tight, can choke and even suffocate a dog). Dogs can get caught in a martingale collar and hang themselves.

 

Head collar (i.e. Halti, Gentle Leader, Snoot Loop)

What is it? A collar that loops behind the dog’s ears and over their muzzle.

What are they good for? Dogs that are mildly reactive to various stimuli (dogs, people, cats, squirrels, etc.) as if required, you can redirect the dog’s gaze. By design they also discourage pulling, even more so than a front clip harness.

What are the downsides? Head collars attach to a very sensitive part of a dog’s neck and if the handler jerks the leash, or a dog lunges on the leash while wearing a head collar, their neck can be injured. Many people mistake the muzzle loop as a muzzle and may think your dog is aggressive.

On Dog Walkers

A responsible and conscientious dog owner selects all their dog care professionals (veterinarian, trainer, groomer, etc.) with care. There is, however, one professional, that needs to be chosen more carefully than any. Yes, even over your dog trainer. That’s your dog walker.

Dog walkers spend a considerable amount of time with your dog. So much of the physical and mental well-being of your dog is dependent on how your dog walker operates his or her business and what their knowledge of dog behavior is like. Unfortunately, many dog walkers that I see would not meet my expectations – I would not put my own dogs in the care of most of the dog walkers I see out there.

I have the luxury of working mostly evenings and weekends – so I take my boys out for walks during the same hours that most dog owners are at work. I walk amongst the dog walkers. I’m often confused for them.

In recent months, some of the things I’ve witnessed include:

– Constant leash corrections – I was picking up Chase (the Jack Russell that I was training for eTalk) and in the span of just a thirty second elevator ride with a dog walker, I counted twenty leash corrections on a Golden Retriever puppy that must have only been 14 weeks old. All the dog was doing was sniffing, or looking around. By the end of the week, if you extrapolate that, that puppy will have received approximately 2000 leash corrections – and not once been taught what to actually do (how about asking the puppy to sit?)

– Violent “alpha rolling” – at Cherry Beach I witnessed a dog walker tackle and then sit on a Chocolate Lab. The dog walker must have been around 200 lbs in weight. Besides creating a dog that is afraid of people/physical touch, that kind of crushing weight can break bones or at minimum cause stress and damage to the spine.

– Bored, unexercised dogs – I see dog walkers that take their groups to the same boring concrete tennis court day in, day out. The dogs don’t even move anymore. They just sit there bored out of their mind. Mentally unstimulated, physically unexercised. What a waste. The worst offender I’ve seen is a dog walker that takes a group of dogs on a leash walk around a 400 meter oval track round and round for an hour – it’s the saddest group of dogs I’ve ever seen.

– Related to boredom – wandering dogs. I go to the dog park armed with amazing treats and squeeky balls, and I’ve worked hard to pump up my dogs’ motivation for toys. They fetch. They chase me down when I hide or run away. Often, a “stray” dog from a dog walker’s group will notice us having so much fun and latch on and try to hang out with us. I’ve left Cherry Beach and headed to the parking lot and have had dogs follow me out – dog walker nowhere to be seen.

Bored dogs at off leash dog parks make their own fun. If they’re not chasing balls or sticks or moving around, I’m fairly certain they’ll end up bothering other owners and other dogs. That’s how inappropriate play, bullying, and eventually fighting breaks out. Dogs that are subjected to physical punishment, especially when delivered by the unskilled hands of a dog walker (you can’t possible time punishment correctly if you’re in charge of six dogs) will eventually develop fear and aggression. In both cases I would rather see the dog stay at home for nine hours a day.

But, enough with the negative! There is hope… there are good dog walkers out there. They are in the minority so I hope you are lucky enough to have one. Last summer, I tagged along with Julie (she is a dog walker by day, and has two employees that walks dogs for her as well) because I wanted to learn a bit about what good dog walkers do, and also improve my own skills in handling multiple dogs at once off leash. I brought my video camera and here’s a montage of what a brilliant group dog walk should look like:

Good dog walkers:

  1. Bring treats. Every day these people are with your dog for about two hours. There are many opportunities where your dogs will do something brilliant – that behavior should be reinforced, so it is repeated. Julie reinforces dogs for making good choices – especially recall.
  2. Get them hooked on fetch. Three great things come from fetch. Gives physical exercise, conditioning a new reinforcer (dogs that’ll do anything for the ball to be thrown), and keeps them busy and out of trouble.
  3. Keep moving. No sitting on a park bench checking text messages, while your dog harasses other dogs due to boredom and causes fights.
  4. Consider mental stimulation. A leash walk around and around the same block is about as exciting as going on a treadmill, as is going to the same fenced in box five days a week. Your dog walker should mix it up regularly.
  5. Pay attention and avoid problems. Strange dog with testicles on a pinch collar hard staring at your dogs coming this way? Recall your dogs and move away quickly. Every other person and dog is a potential risk that requires assessment and the best solution to problems is to avoid them altogether.
  6. Realize they’re not a dog trainer. Julie is, but most aren’t. I recently received an email from a great dog walker I know. She included her client, and described her dog’s recent displays of aggression, and asked for help. A professional knows their limits.

If you’re considering a dog walker, or currently have one, ask hard questions and get good answers. A bad choice – your dog will suffer and you will see the behavioural fallout. A good choice – you’ll see countless benefits, such as improved off-leash recall and a tired, relaxed dog.

Coming When Called!
Duke and Petey Coming When Called!