Why Novelty Is Key To Canine Training

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Out For A Walk

Out For A Walk

One concept that I revisit often with clients and when I see other training teams in action is proofing. In fact, proofing was the topic of my second blog post ever, which you can access here. How often have we talked with a friend or another canine caregiver and heard that “normally they will listen” or “they have never done that before”? Well I am here to show you how a three letter word, NEW, will help your canine achieve the ability to stay “cool as a cucumber” and know how to act appropriately no matter what is going on around them.

Quickly, proofing or the concept of proofing with dogs, refers to the act of practicing already learned instructions (e.g. sit) in different places with different stimuli around. By doing so, we increase the efficacy of that instruction, or to put it another way, we increase the reliability that the instruction will be completed by the canine when asked no matter what is happening or going on around them.

New and novel things, items, and stimuli are just experiences, objects, and animals that we have yet to encounter in our lives. An extreme example is this, for many of us that live in Canada, the sight of a Lion would likely be a new a novel thing, but for someone that grew up in Central Africa, or who have been on Safari’s before, this sight isn’t necessarily something that will elicit an “oooo and awwww” reaction. A less extreme and maybe more realistic example would be a person trying out a new ethnicity of food. New smells, tastes, appearances and textures can be overwhelming for the uninitiated who is flooded with plate after plate of unknowns. But if that same person was eased in to the new food and was able to order a familiar item alongside a new an novel one, they will be much more open to the experience as a whole. They would be more likely to look back on it fondly than if they were traumatized by textures and smells they never thought could come from food.

Novelty applies for dogs as well. Novelty comes in many forms in our surrounding environments. It can be a surface they are walking on, the smells around them, the sounds, another new dog, or a new person walking them, a new walking harness, and even smaller changes like the time of day and lighting level (e.g. walking in the dark at night), the fact you are using a new treat for training, or that there is a new ball being used in the dog park. Small changes make a big difference!

For those of us who have spent time training and working with service dogs, we try to cover off as many of these “NEW” things that a service dog would encounter in their lives so that when it comes up again, and they are helping out their service partner, they will know what they need to do, not be surprised by what they encounter, and will still get the job done.

For the rest of us, proofing can be a bit of a new concept so lets use an example familiar to many of us, “sitting” inside the house, and “sitting” outside the house. Generally speaking, if the sit instruction has been taught using positive reinforcement, when we say sit, they should sit. And in this example, inside the house, this is exactly what we get. It also should be mentioned that in this example, I have a young puppy who has just learned sit, but because it is new, we have only practiced it inside so far. But at this point, I ask “Spot” to sit, and he sits. Now, Spot and I go out front of the house. We are going about our activities and I politely ask Spot to sit. No response. I wait 15-18 seconds to let him think it through, but still no response. What changed? Same command, same technique and procedures were used to ask and re-ask the instruction.

The major change occurred when we went outside into a new environment. We are in a new place, with new stimuli and a young puppy who hasn’t experienced it before. Like the person who was overwhelmed with new smells and tastes, this in itself can overwhelm them and make it hard to listen and think. Like being flooded with lights and sounds at a rock concert, this new place is full of stimuli that will contribute to “sit” being less effective outside.

So what can we do? Well this is where proofing is so powerful. Proofing can be thought of as practicing an already learned instruction or behaviour with a dash of novelty incorporated. Each time we practice the “sit” with Spot, we can make small changes to the environment, incorporating new and novel aspects, which will help Spot solidify the learned instruction in a variety of situations. For example, once he can sit inside, and sit outside by the front door, I will have him sit on a new and novel surface (e.g. tile, or a drain grate, or grass), proofing that surface. I could then practice sit when there is another novel aspect (e.g. there are other dogs in the vicinity [first farther away, then very gradually closer and closer over time]). By going through this process of practicing instructions and proofing them with a variety of stimuli, we can help teach our canines how the boundaries and behaviours that we have already taught them expand and apply out into the community.

Dog Friendly Victoria, British Columbia, Canada: Proofing and Training Locations Revisited

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newspaperLast week CHEK News profiled Victoria, British Columbia as the second most dog friendly city in Canada.  While we vow to become number one, Victoria already offers a multitude of dog friendly locations and activities that you and your companion can take part in.  CHEK asked for Canines By Design’s opinion on the topic of dogs in Victoria, and you should check out that interview here!

One of the concepts I have written about here on the blog is that of proofing, and what means to “proof” canine behaviours. Through living in and exploring the greater Victoria region, I thought I would share for my fellow Islanders and vacationers alike, some specific places that are dog amenable (if not friendly) where you can work on proofing your canine’s behaviours, socialization and have the opportunity to get out as a whole family.

Downtown Victoria:

With a variety of shops, downtown pedestrian walkways, waterfront parks and paths, downtown Victoria offers a wide variety of stimulation for canine and caregiver training. With a lot of activity going on, downtown Victoria will, on average, offer a higher level of stimulation for your canine depending on the time of day you and your furry friend venture around. So, remembedowntown victoriar to set yourselves up for success and work in environments where you both can succeed. This could mean going out in the early morning when there are less crowds, or being aware of your location and possible “exit” strategies to quieter neighborhood streets if needed. With paved paths and sidewalks, the downtown area offers a good, less muddy, option on those rainy days.  There are lots of “pet-friendly” shops which you can bring your dog right inside to help you with your shopping and they are often marked with a “pet friendly” sign

Dallas Road Dog Park:

One of the larger and more popular dog parks in the area, along with an affiliated dog friendly beach and some amazing views, Dallas Road is sure to offer your family a great hour or afternoon. dog park signActively visited, there is always a playgroup to join or use as a proofing situation. Dallas Road can get muddy in spots when it has rained but there is a paved path where you can practice heeling along and also some grassy areas that drain well. Because of its size, Dallas Road Dog Park offers medium to high stimulation, but depending on the weather and the time of day, both low and high levels can be found. Remember to obey off-leash rules. For more info see Paws in Parks.

Butchart Gardens:

Looking for an outdoor event for the whole family or maybe you have relatives or friends visiting but you want to bring Fido along? Perhaps you need a pet friendly spot where you can meet with your friends for a New Years Eve gathering? Butchart Gardens makes the list because the grounds are not only dog friendly, they are dog welcoming! They have recirculating water bowls placed around the grounds and the staff even have biscuits to hand out.Lots of unique smells, sites, and sounds, Butchart Gardens is a great place to practice some proofing, and socialize your canine. Butchart offers a low to medium stimulation and can be a good place to practice on-leash work. NOTE: Because Butchart Gardens are just that, a garden, it is important to make sure you keep track of your sniffing canine so that he/she does not nibble on something exotic and potentially toxic.  It is also the only spot on my list that requires admission (well worth it!!).

Elk Lake/Thetis Lake:

Thetis Lake ParkThese lakes are two of our family’s favorite spots in Victoria. Both areas offer amazing views, beautiful trails and facilities. Elk Lake has a well-maintained 10km loop and Thetis offers a ~3km or ~4.4km loop as its first accessible activity. Both areas have many more trails to explore above and beyond these two options, plus both have beaches with swimming access that are dog friendly during the tourism off-season (i.e. No dogs off leash on the sand between June 1 and September 15). However, there are spots along the water in both locations where a canine (or person) could take a swim to cool off during the summer. Trails can be busy at peak times, such as sunny nice weekends, so stimulation in these areas will vary depending on time of day and weather conditions. Remember that it’s not always just activity level that can be stimulating: For some canines, simply the sights and smells of a quiet park trail can offer new and novel experiences and present a level of stimulation that a caregiver needs to be aware of while training and proofing.

I’d love to hear your great suggestions of places to take and train your dog in and around Victoria. Where are your favorite spots?

Canines By Design works with clients in all of these locations, plus many more, on Vancouver Island. Where are your “proofing” tough spots? Check out our list of canine services, including on-location proofing, and then call me to talk about a consultation to find out how we can improve your already amazing canine relationship! #caninesbydesign Caninesbydesign.ca

Making Your List, and Checking It Twice For a Dog-Safe Christmas!

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Zoom Getting Ready For Christmas

Zoom Getting Ready For Christmas

It is hard to believe that we are wrapping up 2014 already! Feels like it wasn’t too long ago that Canines By Design opened its doors in Victoria and started sharing information and education! As we all get ready for the holidays, we wanted to just remind everyone of a cornerstone concept for Canines By Design – Setting Up For Success – and how employing this thought process will help you and your dog stay happy and healthy as you embark on the New Year.

Deck the halls with dog-safe practices!

The holiday season usually brings with it a change in décor in the house, with decorations, garland, candles, wreaths, and sometimes Christmas trees being introduced into the home environment. Some of our favorite decorations are very toxic and very dangerous to canines and are especially important to keep at a safe distance from their inquisitive mouths.

Poinsettias Getting Ready For the Holidays!

Poinsettias Getting Ready For the Holidays!

  • Poinsettias, Lilies, Holly, and Mistletoe are all very toxic to dogs and can kill. If you have a canine that is new to a house full of holiday cheer or you are entertaining guests and cannot monitor your canine effectively, DO NOT use these in your house. If you feel they must be there, try using the faux (silk) variety of the plants to eliminate the risk.
  • Snow globes can contain ethylene glycol (antifreeze), which is inviting to dogs because it tastes sweet, but is a serious player in unintentional deaths from poisoning. Place them where they can’t be looked at as balls to play with.
  • While Tinsel isn’t “toxic”, it is extremely dangerous. It grabs
    Tinsel

    Tinsel

    and cuts at the walls of the intestine and can be deadly if ingested. Keep all tinsel out of reach or try a new decoration with less serious consequences.

Tethered Tree

Tethered Tree

  • We have all seen pictures of the fallen Christmas tree and offending dog looking guilty beside it. Instead of inviting disaster (and broken ornaments) into your home, tether your tree to the wall if possible. A couple of nails and some baling twine will eliminate a big risk. If you think it looks “ugly,” you can decorate the twine with ribbon or hang your Christmas cards along it to hide it!
  • Holiday Foods: Grapes, Raisins, and Currants can all cause
    Chocolate Contains Theobromine

    Chocolate Contains Theobromine

    Kidney failure in canines. Chocolate contains theobromine, which is highly toxic to dogs. Fatty Foods such as skin and gravy in large quantities can cause inflammation of the pancreas, abdominal pain, vomiting and bloody, loose stools. While I think if turkey is being served, everyone should have a little piece at Christmas (ok, not those with a poultry allergy), don’t give your dog the scraps. Save them a little piece of lean meat that they can snack on later for good behaviour and make sure that you don’t feed them at the dinner table. Try to also avoid putting snacks and treats on low counters and tables as they might be just a little too inviting for those new puppies and rescues that have recently joined the family.

T.A.P. A better Relationship:

One of our first posts this year, T.A.P. stands for Train, Appropriate Activity, and being Positive, positive, positive. Remembering this acronym is an easy way to remember to work with your canine throughout the holiday season and how you can make sure their needs and requirements are still being met amongst the celebrating and family time.

Play Time

Play Time!!!

T: Train

Take time everyday to work through the various commands that your canine already knows.  Two 10-minute sessions a day with my Labrador are enough to run through the expansive list of behaviors that my boy knows (and even includes helping me tidy up the recycling around the house, and putting plastic bottles into the appropriate bin!).  Also try changing up the location when you are doing the training session.  Maybe one day you will work on the commands at home, and the next you will perform them while out on your walk.  See any differences?  Behaviors can change depending on the environment so “proofing commands” in different locations with different environmental factors will help ensure that your canine will listen the next time it wants to run across the field to say hello to their best buddy.

A: Appropriate Activity

Daily exercise is as important to a canine’s health as it is to ours.  All breeds, small, large, flat-nosed, round, or dainty, will benefit from activity every single day.  The key to this is appropriate activity. Dogs come in quite a spectrum of sizes that have a direct impact on their physical capabilities.  So think of activities that are appropriate to the physical limitations of the canine (e.g. age, size, and breed related restrictions) as well as positive for their development and behaviour (e.g. non-destructive behaviour). It is important that these limitations are taken into account while partaking in daily activities to ensure that your daily play sessions are fun, productive, and free from harm.

P: Positive, Positive, Positive

The third, while arguably the simplest, can be the most difficult to embrace 100% of the time.  It is to keep interactions, activities, and environmental situations positive for both you and your canine.  Just like in our human education system, encouraging and constructive environments develop well-adjusted individuals keen to contribute positively to those around them.  The same goes for you and your dog: keeping interactions positive will ensure that you both are willing and ready the next time a training situation arises.  I like to tell clients that they should always “set up for success.” Set up your canine to succeed as best he can, as often as possible.  You will be happy your dog is succeeding, and he/she will be happy that they are doing the appropriate, and rewarding, thing. Most importantly, your canine will be willing to “play-ball” again as they learn that success feels GREAT!!

This is a very busy time of year. As forward-thinking canine caregivers, we attempt to balance the needs our families including our four-legged members. Holidays provide a break; a chance to have fun, smile and remember what we are grateful for. Incorporating this list is just a small step to ensure that your canine stays safe and has as much fun as you! Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas everyone!