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Friday, January 31, 2014

National Pet Dental Health Month

February is National Pet Dental Health Month.  Do you know how to brush your dog’s teeth?  You should brush your dog’s teeth every day, ideally, or at least a couple times a week according to the AVDC (American Veterinary Dental College) website.  They say it is the best way to remove plaque – that thin layer of bacteria that hardens into tartar and can lead to tooth decay and gum disease.
We often tend to overlook our dog’s dental health until one day we realize there is a problem.  Will you set a goal with me to brush your dog’s teeth at least twice a week for the month of February?  Hopefully by the end of the month, this will be a new habit that we can continue on for the lifetime of our dogs.

To start out, you need to gather the right equipment for dog tooth brushing.  There are many flavors of dog toothpaste for sale.  You can choose any flavor that your dog likes, but make sure it is a toothpaste made for dogs – not for humans!  Human toothpaste foams and is not meant to be swallowed.  Most dogs that I know really like to swallow things and don’t understand the concept of spitting things out!  Plus, many human toothpastes may contain Xylitol and other sweeteners that are dangerous to pets! 

There are many types of dog toothbrushes.  You can use finger toothbrushes, which are small rubber brushes that fit on the end of your finger.  There are toothbrushes sold to use for pets.  You can buy a regular human toothbrush (the toddler sized brushes are good for smaller dogs and puppies) or use a battery operated toothbrush.  There are even toothbrushes that have bristles to brush three tooth surfaces at once.  Choose whatever works best for you and your dog.  You may have to try a couple different ones before you find the right fit.

Begin to teach your dog that touching her face and mouth is a good thing.  Do this gradually while you are petting her and she is relaxed.  Use long strokes as you pet gently along the sides of her face and mouth.  Then gently scratch an ear or her neck.  Then do another long stroke lingering near her cheek and lips.  Get her comfortable with you petting all around her muzzle and face gently. 
When you can easily pet along the sides of your dog’s face and mouth, begin to move your finger in a circular motion on the outside of her lips.  Her lips will probably move when you do this.  That’s ok.  Start with just a quick circle as you are petting, then progress to doing more circles in a row along the outside of her lips on both sides of her face. 

When this is going well, gently slip your finger under her upper lip while you are making circles to you gently and briefly touch her gums.  Then continue with the normal petting.  By integrating short periods of gum touching, you can get your dog used to the sensation gradually while continuing a nice petting session she will continue to enjoy.  It helps as you get to this stage to wet your finger with a bit of water first so it doesn’t stick to her gums but will glide across them easily. 
If you are using a finger brush, you can wear it now on the finger that you use to touch her gums.  Begin just as you always do, with petting her face and neck gently.  Make some quick circles on the outside of her lips with the finger brush.  She will probably want to sniff it and lick it – that’s ok.  When you’re both ready, use the finger brush to gently touch her gums and teeth.  As you both get used to this, begin to make small circles on your dog’s teeth and gums as if you are brushing them.  Build up the time gradually.

You can begin the same thing using a toothbrush by holding the brush in your hand near the bristle part, so there isn’t a lot of handle showing.  This way the bristles will be close to your hand and easier to use to brush her teeth and gums.  We’re not using toothpaste yet to keep things a bit cleaner for you and your dog while you’re still learning the mechanics of brushing and are getting your dog used to the sensation of brushing.
Most plaque and tartar form on the outside surfaces of a dog’s teeth, on the part nearest her cheeks.  This is good, since this is the easiest area for us to brush!  A toothbrush that has three sides will brush the outer as well as the inner surfaces of the tooth at the same time.  But a regular toothbrush or finger brush can only get one surface at a time.  Ask your dog’s veterinarian if it is necessary for you to brush the inner surfaces of her teeth as well.

Now let’s add the toothpaste!  Do this in a place in your home or outside that will be easy to clean, since it may get a little messy!  Put a small amount of toothpaste on the brush and begin to gently brush one side of your dog’s teeth and gums in a small circular motion like you’ve been practicing.  Your dog will probably start to try to lick the toothpaste.  That’s ok.  It’s made to be safe for dogs.  Beware if you are using a finger toothbrush that your dog doesn’t chomp down on your finger while trying to taste the toothpaste!  That will hurt!
Don’t worry about brushing all her teeth all at once on this first try unless she is being very cooperative.  Just do a few and then stop and go do something that your dog likes.  The next time, work on the teeth on the other side, so all the teeth end up getting brushed.  With time and practice, you can build up to easily brushing all your dog’s teeth in one session.  Be sure to rinse the toothbrush well, as the toothpaste will dry and harden in the brush and that is not good. 

There are other dental products out there for dogs – there are additives you put in your dog’s drinking water that may help prevent plaque from sticking to your dog’s teeth.  There are dental wipes that already have dental cleaner on them.  There are oral sprays and rinses and gels.  Check with your veterinarian before trying any of those to see what is the best product for your dog. 
Dogs like to chew, and chewing can be good for your dog’s teeth and gums, but some bones are too hard and may chip or crack your dog’s teeth.  It’s important to find healthy and safe things for your dog to chew for his emotional and physical health.  We use Kongs and other hard rubber toys here, with a few deer antlers thrown in.  Ask your vet about safe chew toy alternatives for your dog.  And while you’re there, let your vet know that you will be starting to brush your dog’s teeth regularly.  He/she may have some more great tips for you on getting started! 


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Teach Your Dog to Take Treats Nicely

So, you’re trying to use food rewards to train your dog, but your dog continues to bite down on your fingers – HARD!  Should you stop using food to train?  Not at all.  Here are some suggestions for teaching your dog to take food from your hand nicely.
During lessons to teach other behaviors, you can toss food onto the floor or into a dog dish to reward your dog.  This will save your fingers until you have taught your dog how to take food gently.  Every time your dog gets to swallow a treat that he took too roughly, he is learning that it is ok to bite hard when taking treats.  So, in order to continue training with food rewards, you should find an alternative way to deliver the treats until this issue has been resolved.
Set aside some time and some small treats to work on this lesson separately from other lessons.  Once your dog is learning to take food nicely, you can begin to incorporate this lesson in with others.  But for now, work on teaching your dog to take treats nicely as a separate lesson.
Do not ever let your dog have a treat that he snaps at roughly.  If his teeth hurt your fingers, do not release the treat to him.  Doing so will be rewarding his behavior.  Wait until he tries to take it in a more gentle fashion, then praise and let him have the treat.  With time, you can wait for him to be more and more gentle until he learns to just take the treat with his lips and you barely even feel him take it from your hand.  But in the beginning, you will need to reward his efforts a little at a time.  Any effort on his part to be more gentle in taking the treat should be rewarded.
Begin by holding the treat in the palm of your hand and close your hand into a fist around it.  Offer your fist to your dog with your palm facing upwards.  Do not open your hand if you feel his teeth.  Once he stops using his teeth, open your hand and let him eat the food from your palm.  Feeding from your palm can help reduce the chance of your fingers getting nipped.  You can teach him a word such as “easy” if you want to remind him to be gentle.  Some dogs will also stop and be more careful if you say “ouch!” in a surprised tone when you feel teeth.  Then use your voice softly to encourage him to take it “easy.”  Reward and praise when he does.
Be sure when giving a treat, to push your hand slightly towards your dog’s mouth.  If you are afraid he will bite your fingers, you are more likely to pull your hand away quickly. But this often encourages your dog to snap quickly at the treat and he will often bite your fingers in the process.  He doesn’t want that treat to get away!  Instead, focus on bringing your hand toward your dog to feed the treat.  You might be surprised how much this can help. 
When your dog is no longer using his teeth on your fist, begin to leave your fist open slightly, creating an “O” shape with your hand around the treat.  The treat will still be in your palm and your palm will be facing upward.  Encircle your fingers around the treat, but leave them slightly open so your dog can use his tongue to lick the treat out.  When he uses his lips or his tongue to get the treat, open your fingers so he can eat the treat off your palm.  If you feel his teeth, simply close your hand up to make a fist so he can’t get the treat.  When he tries to be more gentle, open up your fingers slightly again. 
The next step is to hold your hand in the same “O” position with your palm facing upward.  Hold the treat between your fingers and your thumb and offer the treat to your dog.  Make sure you have a good grip on the treat.  If your dog tries to take the food nicely, open your fingers slightly, allowing him to take the treat.  If you feel teeth, curl your fingers into your palm, protecting the treat so he can’t get it.  Review the last training step again until your dog is always taking the treat nicely from inside the “O.”  Then you can try this step again.
Once your dog masters this step, you should be able to feed him a treat normally from your fingers.  Just remember the rule – if you feel teeth, do not release the treat.  Only reward for taking the treat gently.  Now begin to use this training with other training sessions.  During the session, if your dog gets too excited, you may have to stop and review some of these steps.  Sometimes dogs will take treats more roughly when they are stressed or excited, so it may be time to take a little break if you notice your dog using his teeth to snap the treat more and more. 
Remember too, that you can go back to dropping the treat or putting it into a dish if you need to continue the lesson.  Also, young children should always give treats only with adult supervision!  They should always give a treat from their palm, with their fingers laid flat.  That way, no fingers will be next to the dog’s teeth. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

How to Make Training Successful

  • Remember that dogs do what works!  If your dog's actions get her something she enjoys, she will continue to do those actions, whether YOU like them or not! 
  • Try to set your dog up to be successful in acting the way you want her to act.  Catch her doing something you like!  Always be prepared to reward behavior that you like.  The more you reward it, the more it will happen!
  • Dogs react to our thoughts and emotions.  Think positive and happy thoughts!  Instead of focusing on what your dog does that you don't like, focus on all the great things she does that you do like! 
  • Schedule training sessions before you feed your dog.  Better yet, use some of her meal as training rewards!  A dog that is waiting to eat will be more motivated than one that has just eaten her entire meal.
  • If you run into trouble - stop!  Do not dig yourself into a big hole or get angry with your dog.  Think about what went wrong and how to do it better next time.  Take a break.
  • Manage your dog's environment to minimize behaviors you don't want.  Do not leave the chicken on the table and leave the room - unless you want the dog to eat the chicken, or you take the dog with you! 
  • Reduce stress!  Dogs and humans do not learn very well if they are stressed.  If you or your dog is stressed, stop training and try again later. 
  • Always reward your dog for paying attention to you!  If your dog's attention is on you, she will be less distracted by other things in her environment and can learn easier.
  • "Accept the dog you have, not the one you wish you had!"  ~Leslie Nelson.  I love this quote.  All dogs are different, just like all people are different.  Learn to enjoy what makes your dog unique.  We all have strengths and weaknesses.  Learn to expand on your dog's strengths and learn to work to minimize her weaknesses. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

How to Find Time to Train Your Dog

Wow, so it’s National Train Your Dog Month, but how do you find the time to train your dog when you have so many other commitments that have to get done every day?  Often, we even feel like we need more hours at the end of the day to fit in all the stuff we didn’t get done.
Here are some tips to help you train your dog to do or to stop doing all of those things that you wish you had time to teach her – when you don’t have any extra time!
Keep small containers with lids stashed all around your house in the places that you spend time – at your computer, near the door, in the kitchen, next to the bed, on the end table next to the couch, in the bathroom (yes, we know your dog follows you in there too!).  Yogurt or cream cheese containers work well for this.  Fill the containers with a mixture of your dog’s regular food and high value treats that are cut up into the size of a pea. 
Any time you notice your dog doing something you like, say “yes” enthusiastically, and quickly grab a container to give her one treat.  Then put the container back.  At first your dog will probably stand and stare at you afterwards, waiting for another snack.  But you don’t have time to train her right now, so go back to what you were doing.  Soon you may notice her doing something else that you like – “yes” and treat.  By having the treats close by, you can reward behaviors you like quickly without leaving what you were doing. 
This same principle works with deaf and b/d dogs, you will just use their "yes" signal, either visual or tactile, and then immediately give the treat.  With a dog that will notice you moving to reach for the treat, it's important that your "yes" comes while they are still doing the good behavior, before they come running to get the treat.  The "yes" should come during the behavior you like, as it serves as a marker to the dog about what exactly you liked. 
We often notice our dogs doing things that we don’t like, but when they are doing things we do like, we often ignore them because we are busy doing other things.  So, our dogs learn that if they want attention, they should do things we don’t like – that’s not really what we want them to learn, is it?  So, when your dog is quietly chewing her bone, “yes” and treat.  If she is lying quietly at your feet, “yes” and treat. 
Right after you treat, though, go back to what you were doing before.  That will help you get done what you need to get done, but it will also signal to your dog to go back to doing something wonderful because it might possibly earn her another treat. 
If your dog is only doing things that you don’t like, choose one behavior at a time to concentrate on.  Whenever you see her doing something (anything) other than that behavior, “yes” and treat.  For example, if your dog barks at the window a lot, any time you notice her look away from the window, scratch an itch, go get a drink of water, grab a toy, or stop barking – all of those deserve a “yes” and treat.  If you can catch her doing other things to reward a lot, you will start to notice the barking at the window will happen less and less and the behaviors you are rewarding will happen more and more!
Another way you can find time to train your dog is by using life rewards.  This means that you will use the things that your dog wants in life to reward behavior that you life.  Our dogs all need to be fed, to go for a walk or playtime, and to go outside for business trips every day.  Use these times to expect a behavior from your dog that you like. 
If you mindlessly open the door to let your dog out when she is pestering you, you are rewarding her for pestering you by giving her what she wants – you to open the door – and so her behavior of pestering you will continue.  If instead, you open the door when she is doing a behavior that you like, you will be rewarding that behavior instead, and she will start to do it more and more. 
The best way to get your dog to do behaviors that you like is to reward her when she is doing them on her own.  If it’s close to time for her to go outside, and you notice her chewing her bone, say “let’s go outside” and quickly go to the door to let her out.  If it’s her mealtime and she is spinning and barking in the kitchen, go sit down on the sofa and wait until you see a behavior that is calmer and quieter (you probably won’t get her to be completely calm – after all, her dinner is there!)  Then go feed her. 
You get the idea.  Your dog needs these things in her life every day.  There is no getting around it – that’s part of living with a dog.  But you can use those things she wants to reward behavior that you like, or that you don’t like.  It’s your choice.  And it doesn’t really take any extra time from your day. 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Reasons to Train Your B/D Dog

10 (Plus) Reasons to train your b/d dog

1.      Training will improve your communication with your dog.  Not only will you learn to communicate to her what you want to tell her, but you will learn to better read her body language so you can tell what she is trying to tell you.

2.      Training will help you develop a partnership with your dog.  Living with and training a dog is not a dictatorship in which you tell the dog what to do and she must always obey without question.  It’s about a partnership where you both adapt according to what the other one is communicating, the environment, and the situation.  You can’t learn that unless you spend time working with your dog.

3.      Training exercises are great enrichment for your dog!  She will look forward to learning new things and being able to problem-solve, and of course, there is Treasure’s favorite part – the goodies!  The more your dog uses her brain, the smarter she will become!

4.      Spending time with and training your dog is just plain FUN!

5.      Good manners are important for allowing dogs and people to live together safely and comfortably.  Things like being able to be groomed and examined by the veterinarian need to be taught to your dog.

6.      Trained dogs are welcome to accompany you more places, such as hotels, camping, at parks, baseball games, and family reunions.  Even a few basic skills such as walking politely on a leash, sitting when asked, coming when called, and greeting people without jumping, can go a long way toward making your dog more welcome.

7.      Teaching your dog tricks is fun, and a great way to show off how smart she is to all your friends! 

8.      By training your b/d dog, you can begin to educate others about what they are capable of achieving.  Once trained you dog can be an ambassador to help other b/d dogs in need of adoption.

9.      Trained dogs can participate in organized dog activities such as k9 nosework, therapy work, CGC evaluations, dog scouts, and more! 

10.  Training your dog and spending time with her in any way is a great way to strengthen the bond you have with her.  Dogs are social animals and enjoy spending time with us.  But when that time is actually spent with you paying focused attention to her, you will find that your relationship with her will grow even more than you thought possible.

11.  Because it’s January – National Train Your Dog Month! 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy 2014!

Hi, it’s me, Treasure, again!  Happy January 2014!!  My Mom says it is a new year that is going to be the best one yet!  She’s been working very hard on a surprise for this month – which is National Train Your Dog Month, by the way!  I guess you can understand that it is one of my Mom’s favorite months, since she loves to teach all dogs and their people. 
One of the things Mom is good at is teaching blind and deaf dogs, like me.  She loves to teach me all kinds of new stuff, and I love to learn it and eat all the cookies that come with it!  I’m very excited that she has her surprise finally finished to share with you!  

Ok, I guess I’ve kept you in suspense long enough … Introducing!!  My Mom’s newest book, which is all about teaching blind and deaf dogs like me!  It’s called Through A Dark Silence: Loving and Living with Your Blind and Deaf Dog.  She decided to make this one an e-book, since she says most people read on their electronic devices nowadays.  But she said that also means you can get the book faster and start reading it sooner! 

It’s got some really good information in it about double merles, like me, but it’s also meant to help any dog that can’t see or hear the right way.  You’ll learn all about how my Mom communicates with me and trains me, as well as lots of tips for making living with a blind and deaf dog safer and easier.  And, you’ll see a lot of pictures of me (and my friends too)!

Anyone can benefit from reading this book.  My Mom has trainer friends that ask her questions about how to help people train their blind and deaf dogs.  And rescues and foster homes ask her too.  Of course, anyone who is getting ready to adopt one of us special dogs needs to read this book to get ready!  But even people whose dogs can see and hear now, may one day notice that their dogs are losing their sight and hearing, like my dog sister Shelby.  They might learn some tips to help their dog adjust faster to the changes. 

I hope you enjoy my Mom’s book and that you spread the word to anyone who loves and helps blind and deaf dogs like me!  Mom says this is the first book about training blind and deaf dogs, and she hopes it can educate people about so many things – double merles and why to be careful when breeding, that special dogs are capable of so many things and make great family members, fun games to play with blind and deaf dogs, and so much more … Maybe Mom can change the world for one blind and deaf dog at a time – with one book at a time! 
Let’s make this the best year yet for blind and deaf dogs!  To get my Mom’s book, click here