Friday, March 22, 2013

                         Why do we make meals so boring?

When did we decide that dogs need to be fed in a neat decorative bowl on a raised decorative platform? When I was kid we had a collie/shepherd mix who was fed Gaines Burgers right on place mat on the kitchen floor. Now I'll admit that dog care and nutrition has come a LOOOOONG way from the 70s and 80s and my dogs food is probably a better quality than my kids (and more expensive), but when did feeding dogs become so sterile and boring?

Dogs by nature are scavengers. Indigenous dogs in South America hunt some small prey but mainly survive by scavenging around dumps and anywhere there is a lot of discarded food. Dogs love to eat and the act of finding food is actually more exciting than eating it. This phenomenon is called counter freeloading, research studies have found that when animal have to work to get their food they actually eat more of it then when it is simply placed in front of them. So why do we make meals soooooo boring?

3 out of the 4 dogs in my house eat in their crates, otherwise we would have one really fat dog and 3 emaciated ones. As a result, my dogs think that the crate is the greatest place in the house. This is where they get all of the most fabulous things that a dog can get. They sometimes get so excited by the word "kennel" that they will spin and bark all the way through the house and into the crate (see video below). Yet when I recommend that people feed their new puppies in the crate I'm often met with a look of disbelief, like it's somehow cruel to have a dog eat in isolation???

Molly is a foster dog that we have had since October, she is a high energy very busy dog. Our mornings in the Welch house are pretty chaotic between taking care of the animals, getting ready for work and getting the kids off to school. There is really no time slot for fresh puppies to cause more havoc. When I feed Molly in the morning I scatter her 1/3 cup of kibble in her crate. There is no bowl, she has to pick up every bit of kibble one by one. This process takes her far longer than sticking her nose in a bowl and simply inhaling. Later, before I leave for the day she gets a second meal in a Kong plugged up with a little peanut butter, this will keep her busy for a solid 45 minutes.

There are so many other fun, creative ways to feed dogs. Try soaking kibble in water, stuff a Kong with the soggy muck and stick it in the freezer over night. The next day you have a frozen breakfast that will take at least an hour for your dog to eat.
If a Kong isn't your dogs thing, you could also do the same thing in a bowl. Put the kibble in, add water and freeze. If you really wanted to get crazy you could even hide a rawhide treat at the bottom for your dog to find as dessert.

Some times I'll put a handful of kibble in a piece of paper, crumple it up and let them tear it to shreds to get what's inside. Most dog won't eat the paper but even if they do it's safe and digestible.  How about saving paper towel rolls and putting the kibble inside with a ball of paper on either end to hold it in? There are also many food puzzle games available at pet stores now that dogs LOVE!

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Legend of Tug-O-War

Part 2

Since my last post I was able to film a little dog named Oscar play Tug-O-war. Oscar is owned by my friend and fellow trainer, Laney. Although Oscar has played tug before he had never been taught the tug game and the cue "drop it". It took only 3 repetitions for him to get the idea.


So here is the formula

Have a great, long toy that is designated as the tug toy. This toy ONLY comes out when you are ready to play

Have a fabulous handful or treats in one hand behind your back and the toy in you other hand

Pick a command to start the game such as take it, get it, or tug

Let the dog grab the toy an really get into it

Stop tugging but do not let go

Pick a command that will mean let go such as give, drop it or out

Say the command, wait 5 seconds and the put the treat right under the dogs nose. He will have to drop the toy to eat the treat


It is very important to wait the 5 seconds between saying the command and presenting the treat. This will become the difference between the food becoming a bribe verses a reward.

Here is the finished product. Bam LOVES this game and is great at it. He no longer needs a food reward because getting to play the game is reward enough.

*Disclaimer* It's a snow day, please don't judge my sweats. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Legend of Tug-O-War

Part 1

If you’re a dog owner, then you have inevitably been told that playing Tug-O-War with your dog will create aggression. The level of aggression created will vary depending on the source of the information. Legend has it that engaging in this activity could cause anything from dingo like baby stealing monsters to dominant dogs that lay awake at night plotting ways to overthrow you and you and your coveted alpha status.

The Tug-o-war legend started many decades ago before we had all the brilliant scientific minds conducting all of the genius research studies that they have. This is back when a dog trainer may have had no credentials other than a deep voice and heavy hand.  We as a dog owning, dog training community had come a very long way and it is now time to publicly update out view on Tug.

Playing Tug with Your Dog Will Not Cause Aggression!!!

I am here not only to put your fears to rest but to also encourage you to play tug with your dog! As a credentialed professional trainer I recommend, teach and encourage my clients to play tug daily with their dogs. NEVER in my 15 years have I EVER created an aggressive, child eating, plotting or dominant dog. Believe it or not I actually teach and play tug as one of my training treatments for some aggressive dogs. Here are some of the many benefits or playing Tug

Teaches dogs to take a toy on command

Teaches dogs to “drop it” on command

Gives puppies and adolescents something to do their mouth besides chew on you or your stuff

Teaches dogs to get all ramped up and then settle on cue

Gets them tired!

When playing tug there are rules to the game

1 Only play with a long, durable dog toy. We don’t want the dog to think that he can play tug with your pant leg as you walk through the house.

2 The game ends immediately if the dog jumps on you or gets your hand instead of the toy

3 The game starts by you putting the dog in a sit and saying “take it” when you offer him the toy.

4 The game ends by you saying “drop it” and then putting the toy away.

Keep in mind that the rules above have absolutely nothing to do with being in control or achieving dominance over your dog. The rules above are only about good manners and reinforcing those good behaviors with a great fun game of tug!
Part two will cover the mechanics of teaching "drop it" and will include some video of my "aggressive" foster dog playing tug.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

So it was raining today, hard, all day. As you know I have 3 dogs, two of which are small and, when it comes to inclement weather, delicate. We have a fenced in yard so normally I open the door and the dogs go out to do their business. On rainy days however, John and Lola go out and pine away at the door until I cave and let them back in (they really do look pathetic like two little drown rats).  The result of this is that they will "hold it" outside and have "accidents" in the house on rainy days. By the way, I use the word accident extremely loosely. I, personally think it's pretty deliberate.
Today, however, I decided things were going to change. I decided that I was going to walk those two little %^$#$& in the pouring rain until they were empty! So I grabbed my umbrella, poop bags and treats and headed out for a stroll in the monsoon. The good news is, it worked. Both dogs went to the bathroom and I was able to be there with a reward when it happened. the idea is if they get extra special treats for pooping in the rain they will be more eager to do so. The bad news is I was soaked and looked completely ridiculous walking my dogs in rain while I have a perfectly good fenced in yard to make them go in while I stay in the house with a cup of coffee. But that's OK, I'll take the small victories were I can get them.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

It's been a while since I've blogged about my dogs and training practices. Part of the reason is because I've been extremely busy with work, kids, home and pets and the other part, if I'm being honest, is because I haven't been working with the dogs as much As I should be. It just hasn't been a priority.

I few days ago I had a revelation that I'd like to share. Training dogs is like exercising. I've always had an on again off again relationship with exercise. If I have a goal, like a dress I need to fit into or a special occasion like a wedding or reunion, I will totally make working out a priority. If my clothes are getting a little snug or I catch a glimpse of a certain bulge in the mirror, I might hit the treadmill. If things are looking OK and I'm feeling good, then that's when the motivation starts to dwindle.

When my dogs are misbehaving I make a list of the behaviors I have to work on and get to it. If they're starting to develop an annoying habit or two I make a mental note to keep an eye on it. When they're being good, I ignore them. Are you seeing a similar pattern? I'm only focusing on fixing what's wrong and not working on maintaining the progress made.

Any behavior has to be worked with and reinforced in order for it to be maintained. If you train a behavior and then do nothing with it, chances are the dog will stop offering that behavior since there's nothing in it for him. If you work on abs for 3 months and then stop doing crunches, what's going to happen to that six pack? It will tun back into a keg.

Here's the other thing I'm guilty of. I'll have a sudden burst of motivation and do three work outs in a day. The next 3 days I am immobile and the last thing I can think of is working out. The lack of movement totally negates the initial burst of energy.
I do the same with training. I get all worked up about something I want to teach the dogs, spent a whole day doing dog things and then don't do anything for days because I don't have time for that level of training. One training session will not fix my dogs behavior problem, just like one run will not make me marathon ready.

Next time you read or hear tips on how to set a work out schedule and stick to it, try replacing the word work out with training. I bet it will fit, just like my bathing suit will after this run.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

So to review the Golden is "Bam," the small white dog is "Lola," the extra small white dog is "John,"
and the tall guy with the beard is "Joe".

OK.  Here it is.  The much anticipated proof of just how obnoxious my dogs can be.  Take a look and try to take it all in.  This is what happens every day between 5:00 and 5:30 when Joe gets home from work.  During this time we usually have the kids running around adding to the chaos.  I'm not sure where they are in this video but I've seen them around since, so I'm pretty sure they're fine.  And yes, that noise in the back ground is a bird and not someone having a root canal.. sans Novocain.

This is also how they react when most other people who show up. It's great when there's a Jehovah's Witness at the door, but not so great when you have the PTO coming over for a fundraising meeting. To the dog's credit they are all redicuosly sweet and friendly. None of this barking is based in aggression or fear, just plain old excitment.

A funny thing happened when I watched this video for the first time.  I found myself watching it as a trainer and not as their owner.  In real time when I'm there with the dogs there is a certain level of emotion and frustraion that prevents me from reacting in a way I would coach my clients to respond. When I watched the video, I had this almost schitzophrenic internal dialog between Michelle Welch CPDT, CVT and Shelly Welch, frazzled dog owner and busy mother of two.  So instead of  writing out a boring behavior prescription, I'm am going give you a glimps into my internal strife and what it would look like if I hired myself.

SW: So you can plainly see why I had you come over right?

MW: Sure.  You certainly do have your hands full.  What have you tried before to help manage the chaos here?

SW: Um, you mean besides yelling???

MW: Um.  Yeah.

SW: Well, I usually put the little dogs in their crate if company's coming over.  They still bark but at least they're not in the way and I can  just focus on Bam.  I also tried using one of those collars that sprays citronella when they bark.

MW: Did it work?

SW: Well sort of, but only when it's on. Once it's off, we're back to square one. I will admit that it comes in handy when company's coming over and I really need them to be quiet in a pinch.

MW: Yeah, it's kind of like putting a  sponge bob band aid on something that needs stitches, it's just not enough. What else have you done?

SW: If I'm there in the kithen I can focus them on a treat and they will sit and stay.

MW: OK.  Now we're onto something.  Keep talking.

SW: They do have pretty good obedience skills so I guess I could use the good behaviors that they already know to replace the nuisance behaviors.

MW: Uh huh....

SW: Maybe if I could get the kids to help we could practice with them walking in and out of the porch while I cue the dogs to sit and stay and super reinforce them?

MW: Wow, that is a great idea!!! Your really smart!

SW: Thanks.  You're pretty.  Same time next week?

MW: I'll be there.

Friday, February 10, 2012

For those of you that don't know me my name is Michelle Welch and I have been a professional dog trainer for over 15 years.  I own a company called Turn Around Training.  I work as a field rep for Paws with a Cause working with assistance dogs and their people.  I am a certified veterinary technician, certified pet dog trainer and belong to a long list of professional organizations.  I have a pretty attractive resume and one big confession:

My dogs are horribly misbehaved.

There I said it. The first step is admitting you have a problem right?
I have three dogs. Bamboo is a Golden Retriever.  He will be 3yrs old in April.  John (mug shot pictured above) is a Maltese and will be 4yrs old in April, and Lola is a Maltese/poodle/Lhasa.  She turned 4yrs in December.  They are all nice dogs, love people and are well socialized, but completely obnoxious.

I worked for a very long time for the Animal Rescue League of Boston where I worked with a lot of dogs with behavior problems.  Before I go any further, I do want to make a point that the majority of shelter dogs are wonderfully behaved and make great family members.  However, being a trainer, I never go to see the perfect dogs. They got adopted as soon as they came in.  The dogs I work with generally need a little extra training, socializing, manners etc...
Treating behavior problems every day gave me the false security that just being friendly and well adjusted was enough to expect from my own dogs.  I am now admitting to myself and all of you that it's not.

So here's the deal.  I kinda feel like a hypocrite telling people how they should train their dogs and all the things they're doing wrong when my own dogs are just a badly behaved.  It's time to put my money were my mouth is and practice what I preach.  Go big or go home.  I wish I could think of some more pep talk cliches to give myself.

Here's my plan.  Each week I'm going to post a video of my monsters misbehaving.  I'm then going to cry due to humiliation, maybe drink a little, pull myself together and then write up a training plan just like I would for any other paying client (minus the crying and drinking, that would be unprofessional). I'll then post the progress, or lack there of, and hopefully stay honest about it.  Some of you may come back each week to for no other reason than to witness the chaos of my life and have a chuckle. Did I mention that I also have two young daughters and a house full of other pets??? Yup, chaos, stay tuned.