Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Puppy training Coda

I briefly talked about some of the issues I had with Coda as a puppy and how I dealt with them so I didn't have to give her up. Once I figured out how to work with her attitude we rapidly developed a strong bond. I remember once taking her to the vet (which she didn't like ever since her spay at 6 months old) and she hopped up on the bench to hide behind me. My vet said 'you have an extremely good relationship with your dog and she trusts you a lot.' That made me feel very good about how I treated and trained Coda. It was definitely an uphill battle because she is very stubborn and strong-willed (my mom loves to tell me I got my come-upings because I was a handful in the same way as a kid). So I'm going to write about how Coda went from being a little piranha to an impressively trained dog (until Trigger entered the picture).

Coda was a product of all hard work with no treat training. I almost think I went the long way around the barn on this one but I'm not sure Coda would have taken to treat training to begin with. She is sort of picky about her treats so it could have failed. What I did find was that she is work/praise motivated (mostly work) and that is common for female dogs from what I've been told. I did a lot of playing with Coda in the house. For sit I would take a toy, give the command 'sit' as I would drag to toy over the top of her head causing her to lift her head backwards and her butt to go down. As soon as her butt hit the floor I would give her the toy and praise her like she just won the gold medal in the Olympics (it's OK to go a bit over the top with praise especially in the beginning). To teach 'lie down' I would employ the same principle with sit but in the opposite direction. I'd get her in the sit position and gently apply pressure to her shoulder blades as I dragged the toy on the floor away from her mouth. Sometimes it worked and other times I had to put one hand on her butt and use the other to place one paw down and then the other. One method I read in a book (Walter's who wrote 'Family Dog', 'Gun Dog', and 'Water Dog') was to take the leash under one foot while holding their butt down and create almost a pulley system to drag the dogs head to the floor. It's very uncomfortable and imposing for them but if they have demonstrated that they understand the command this may be a tactic that needs to be used. Teaching the command 'stay was trickier and requires a good level of patience which is something  I seem to lack. Keep it very short with puppies! Once Coda knew what sit was I would put her in that position and use a palm up hand to indicate 'stay' while saying the command. Then I would take 2 or 3 steps away while I told her to stay and using the signal. As soon as Coda looked like she was going to break I'd tell her to come and give her a ton of praise again. Gradually you can build up to leaving their sight and they will stay where you put them which is really cool! I use to take treats put Coda in a sit/stay and then go hide the treats in the house for her to search. This also taught her to use her nose, which I later discovered came in handy when we started Search and Rescue training. Next is the command 'come.' Some puppies have little problems with this command in a controlled setting however as soon as you change the scenery this command becomes obsolete which is very bad. I truly believe that come and wait are two commands I taught my dogs that have saved their lives. With come I started in the hallway in the house using the sit/stay commands. By doing it in a hallway, the puppy has nowhere to go but to you so high levels of success. Get low when you give the command and give big wide open arms. I call it the funky chicken. I would get low so they could see how excited I was to have them coming back to me and then I'd sort of hop and wave my arms while calling them to me. Works like a charm until you go off-leash outside. Then I employed the long leash and running away tactic which I'll talk about in the leash/off-leash blog later.

I know that a lot of people will read this any thing 'really, do I have to get that silly and stupid with the praise?' No you don't have to but it will make things easier down the road. Dogs unlike cats love our praise and attention. Have you ever seen your dog look up at you with that doggy grin and happy eyes? It's because they want to know they have your approval. There are many ways to train dogs and these are just the techniques I used. I will admit I think I did a lot of things the hard way but I do get a ton of compliments on how well behaved my dogs are on and off-leash so I couldn't have been too far off the mark.

Punishment and puppies

Alright, so far we have basically covered when the pup is good to leave it's mom and litter mates, kennel training, and punishment. When I discussed punishment I sincerely believe you should not do any form of punishment when teaching commands until the dog is around 5 months because you want that dog to realize that it's fun to do what you ask of it not to fear you. Punishment for things such as chewing on items that are not theirs is a different story. I believe I made the mistake of using physical punishment when it was unwarranted so I warn against this. I'm not saying that a dog may not need a good little reminder every now and then but it's how and when you do it. Minor infractions shouldn't be dealt with in a physical way. Again, do not punish your dog unless you catch them in the act because they simply will not understand what they did. The dog can read you and they will be able to tell you are angry but they will not understand why unless it is as they are doing it. My biggest problem was trying to punish Trigger when he was a puppy because as soon as I raised my voice Coda would come slinking over and roll onto her back or lick my face as if saying 'I don't know what I did but I'm really sorry.' She just didn't understand that my anger wasn't directed towards her. I think my punishment on Trigger when he was a puppy was to harsh too. I use to spank him for his bad behavior(chewing, clawing the wall, etc) and he would collapse like he had been shot. He was a sensitive puppy compared to Coda because when she got spanked she just looked at me like 'that's all you've got.' The other problem is that it didn't stop Trigger from doing it again so physical punishment was almost completely detrimental to his training where as it worked great with Coda. My point is that in the future I will not be using physical punishment unless it is a serious offense such as barking at a guest, biting, or aggressive behavior. There are just better ways to train.

A few last notes on punishment. NEVER EVER hit your dog with an object! It is harmful to your dog and will mess them up psychologically so rolled up newspapers are out! Try using a replacement method. If your dog brings you your shoe or is trying to chew it up, grab their toy and act like that toy is the best thing in the world. The pup is pretty much guaranteed to drop your shoe or other object and go for the toy. Praise them like crazy when they do it. I also used cardboard to keep them from chewing up furniture (puppies are notorious for this because their teeth hurt and wood tastes good to them). You have to supervise this though (which you should do with everything they chew). Lastly, never punish your dog from above or behind because you can startle them into biting plus swatting them on the butt does little to get your point across. A swift tap on the nose (not too hard because the nose is very sensitive) or grabbing their scruff like their mom would and a little shake will get it through (this scruff shake is for puppies, not adults). The best way to punish really is to startle the puppy if you can. I just learned that swats on the butt (just like with kids) mostly are a waste of time. For the most part they don't even sting and the dog essentially just gets annoyed with it instead of realizing it's a punishment. I will talk about the forms of punishment I used throughout my dogs training over the last 4 years and you will be able to see where I set myself back or did something right. It has been a learning road for all three of us (plus trying to teach my husband).

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Puppies, so cute...

Puppies! They are the demise of many peoples will and the ability to stay angry at them is nearly impossible. So how do you train these precious pups before they turn into full grown dogs? I will tell you that in general the same techniques work however each pup is very different so sometimes your approach will have to vary. I'm a firm believer of a few things when it comes to puppies though and I highly encourage others to consider this before they decide they know what to do. First of all, puppies really shouldn't leave their mothers or their littermates prior to 7 weeks old. From the day they are born to 7 weeks old the puppy learns a ton of valuable, necessary life things from the mom and littermates. Now a good breeder will introduce human contact into the mix around 4 weeks old which is also very important. If they don't start playing with, handling, or being a part of the puppies experience there is a strong chance that those pups will have a fear of humans and this is extremely hard to overcome. Even if you as the owner can fix it, your dog will probably struggle to be around any other person for the rest of it's life. A lot of breeders with kids will also get them invovled because kid's are totally different to a dog than adults are which I will talk about in this blog. So what does a puppy learn from it's littermates and mom? Besides the obvious fact that a puppy needs it's mom for warmth, food, and general comfort in the very early weeks, the mom will also teach the pup when enough is enough. As puppies become mobile they primarily research everything with their teeth because their eyes just don't give them enough information. A puppies mouth is the equivalent of our hands. Don't be fooled, pups have great hearing, sense of smell and eye sight but until they 'learn' what something is by those senses the mouth is their primary research tool. That is why puppies absolutely have to put their sharp little teeth on everything! The mom will teach them when they have pushed the boundaries by giving a growl or snip to say 'HEY, knock it off!' The littermates help in the same way. You will see puppies bounding, nipping, jumping, and more on eachother all the time. But when one pup yelps and walks away, the other one learns that that type of play was too hard and now the others won't play with me. Trust me, they love that play so they will stop being rough if it means the end of their play time with the littermates. So prior to 7 weeks there is a lot of learning that needs to happen prior to living with a human family.

I brought Coda home at 8 weeks old and boy did that dog have me fooled. She was so calm, inquisitive, and sweet for the first week but suddenly her true side came out. I came very close to taking Coda back to the breeder because I just didn't think I could handle her. I know you are probably thinking it was the crying, chewing, potty training, and other typical puppy challenges but it was none of those things (I'll come back to this). First I'll say that I'm a huge proponent of kennel training. The first 3-4 nights your puppy will cry it's little head off when you put it in the kennel but that is just because it is lonely and wants your attention. DO not give it attention. What I did for both of my dogs was to place them in the kennel 30 minutes before I wanted to go to bed (I kept the kennel next to my bed. Some people will keep it elsewhere in the house), turn off the lights, and shut the door. She would cry like something was eating her alive and it was a heartbreaking sound but I stayed strong. I would never open the door when she was crying because the dog perceives that as having won at getting your attention and from there on out they will cry because it gets results. Instead I would sit or stand by the door and wait for her to stop wailing and then I would open the door and say 'good girl' in a very cheerful voice to let her know the quiet is what got my response. If she was persistent in her crying I would give one loud bang on the door and yell 'Quit down' which would startle her into stopping but of course they start up again just not as strong. Dogs are smarter than people give them credit for and they know how to work their owners over. Like most puppies they will do a lull in their crying just to see if you are at the door! The key whether you are in the room with them or not when they are crying is to ignore it completely. It makes for a few rough nights but they learn faster than kids do (or so I'm told since I don't have kids). Kennel training also makes time at work and potty training significantly easier. Both of my dogs were house broken within a week with minor accidents the second week. Simply take them out to go to the bathroom before you put them in the kennel and as soon as you are home, open the kennel and take them right outside again. They will learn fast! Dogs are all about routine. Oh, on that note do not rub your dogs face in it's potty mistake. This humilates them and they will try even harder to hide from you when they need to go to the bathroom. If you just shout 'NO,' rush and pick them up, take them outside to the grass, then wait for them to go and give them a ton of praise you will have significantly better results. The key is to be on the spot with them and respond instantly to the behavior because their attention span is short and they will forget quickly what they did wrong. High levels of praise (baby talk, petting, jumping in joy) will cause the puppy to respond very well. They will think 'oh wow, they go crazy with happiness when I pee in this grass but shout at me if it's on that shaggy stuff in there.'

Now back to the point of Coda being different. Most labs are garbage guts. They will eat anything they can get their mouths on (except some veggies) but not Coda. She never did any damage to my furniture or stole food or dug in the garbage. The most damage she ever did was scratch a door when she was kenneled in the bathroom and chew up a pair of flip flops. She did have a thing for the caps that cover the bolts to hold the toilet down (mine still have the evidence of being chewed up) and the rubber caps that go on door stops (my house still has several missing) but that was it. Where I struggled with Coda was how smart she is and the fact that my body was a smorgasbord for her. I was afraid to stand up and walk because she would dig those sharp little teeth into the back of my pant legs at my ankle which brought me to my knees. I literally had to take timeouts from being around her so that I wouldn't beat her for it. That is another thing. You really should not do any physical punishment with your puppy when training them until they are around 5 months old. When teaching commands such as sit, stay, come, lie down, and heel it is all fun and games. If you spank a young puppy for not remembering sit you will teach it to avoid you instead of wanting to perform for you. Praise is very valuable to a dog and they love to work to make their owners happy.  Spanking a pup for not remembering those commands is like screaming at your 1 year old child for not remembering what letter comes after G in the alphebet. To get around Coda's problems I made a trip back to Medford to see my breeder for one-on-one lessons. After a few short minutes she said 'your dog is either extremely smart and dominant or just dominant. My guess is she's both plus stubborn.' Sue did teach me that for the biting that I needed to let Coda know how much it hurt (no I did not bite her back on this one but I have other times). So what I ended up having to do was keep a leash on her all over the house because it was the ONLY way I could catch that squimery, fast little monster when she misbehaved. I simply stepped on the leash sending her tumbling to her back and then reeled her in for reprimand. I learned quickly that chasing a dog is a huge no no because they will think it's a game (remember, short attention span. Even if you catch them they will have forgotten what they did wrong so they won't understand why they are being punished). For Coda's biting I would grab her snout and slip her gums inside her mouth and pull upward on her sharp teeth causing her to bite herself (not horribly hard but enough to surprise her and get a little whimper). In 2 days she stopped trying to bite me! I could go on for days about puppy training but I will attempt to limit to 2 or 3 parts.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The introduction of Trigger

I have a thing for puppies and it's no secret that I love puppy breath. Don't get me wrong, it's not for everyone but for me there is something about that adorable little pups breath. It doesn't last long so if you do like it take the chance to get kisses as much as you can! The reason I bring this up is because my first dog, Coda (now almost 3) who I blogged about yesterday seemed to me that she needed a playmate for all those hours I was gone. Seems logical doesn't it?
Being a helicopter rescue pilot for the Coast Guard involves standing a 24 watch at least twice a week if not more on occassion. It isn't too demanding in North Bend because we consider this a sleepy station with fewer Search and Rescue cases than your other typical locations so the chances of being called in on your off days are not that great. This is how I knew I could handle getting a puppy back in the fall of 2007. I also had a pair of fantastic friends with two dogs of their own and a baby who was born 15 days after Coda was. These friends offered to take Coda every time I had to stand duty so I knew she had playmates and a safe place to be while I was gone. On a side note I took on a 'mother' attitude with Coda where I wasn't afraid to punish her for bad behavior but I did spoil her like no ones business (I will go into this next when I talk about her training). The thing is I still felt like Coda would be happier with a playmate of her own at home but I knew getting another dog would cause my friends to not want to watch 4 dogs and a very hyper kiddo. Regardless when I returned from 60 days of flying on the Deepwater Horizon spill in July 2010 I did the irrational thing of getting a second dog. Now I knew Coda was very well trained considering she was the first dog I have ever brought up from pup but I was not prepared for what would happen when I introduced a new puppy. I had been pestering my boyfriend (now husband) for permission to get Coda a playmate and he finally caved and said 'if you think it will make her happy then go ahead.' So I invited my mom to come see Mamma Mia with me in Portland for her birthday (late August) and then told her that there was a litter of pups at Oregon Retrievers and we should go see them. So here we are again nearly 3 years later driving down to Medford (this time with Coda because I wanted to ensure she liked the new addition) to see yellow labs. I will confess that I always had a desire to have one black lab with a red collar and one yellow lab with a blue collar so you can see why I wanted to look at the yellow pups this time around.

Here we are with Sue looking at 3 yellow labs and again I told her I wanted a female however she only had one left so she brought the 2 males also. One of the males was 6 weeks old and not ready to go to a family (the earliest a puppy should ever leave it's mom and littermates is 7 weeks old if possible and a good breeder will stand by that rule) and a male and female that were 9 weeks old. I took my time playing with the pups again because come on, who wouldn't. The 9 week male was crazy! His sister was less hyper and had this intelligence in her face so I gravitated towards her (trust me that 6 week old was adorable but he just wasn't what I wanted). But Sue in her years of experience highly recommended I get a male lab to go with Coda and here were her reasons: Coda is extremely smart and dominant (I'll discuss this in a different blog) and males tend to let things just role off their backs (sound similar to the human male). She said that he wouldn't be phased by Coda being a dominant and would just take everything in stride so even though this 9 week old male was in your face, wanted all the attention, and very nippy I decided to get him. When I brought Coda into the pen to meet him before we drove the 3 hours home to North Bend she seemed to be ambivilent towards him so I wasn't concerned. I should not have been so niave! When we got in the car to head back I tried to put Trigger in the back with Coda and she went crazy. Coda snapped, snarled and pinned him to the bed so I snatched the poor little bugger up and put him back in my lap where he rode all the way back. I had always heard how other homes bring in a second dog and the first one is SO happy to have another one to play with. This was definitely not the case with Coda and Trigger. I came home from work always wondering if Coda ripped through the kennel to kill him. She loved the bond we had and I had ruined it by bringing him into the mix. It was a rough several weeks until she started to realize that he wasn't going anywhere. Now dogs are animals that primarily live in the present but they have feelings and I had hurt Coda's. That dog gave me the equivalent of a cold shoulder for a long time and she decreased in her obiedence dramatically to prove how angry she was. So what did I do and do I still own Trigger? The answer is yes, he's still here but you will have to wait for the training blog coming tomorrow.

The name: My husband and I had been discussing names for a while and again we had a difficult time with this. The final pick went something like this (note, my husband is a huge math nerd): 'I think we should call him Trig. You know, like Trigonometry!' Me - 'you have to be kidding me! How about Trigger as in the part of a gun. He is a gun dog.' Him - 'alright, that works.'

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


In the spring of 2006 I was in flight school in Milton, FL. At this time I found out that I would be moving to North Bend, OR for my first four years as an active duty Search and Rescue Pilot. I was extremely excited about this because I grew up in Montana and my home is only a 14 hour drive from there so it would be easy to see my family. My parents decided they wanted to see where my new home would be and spend some time around Oregon so they drove down and did some research for me, which actually consisted of mostly tasting seafood. Needless to say I had been looking at labrador breeders in the area and my parents were more than willing to visit one of them because of course no sane person can refuse playing with puppies. So lets jump forward to July of 2007. I purhased my first house in a declining market. Now you may ask why I would do something so crazy but to be perfectly honest it was because I wanted to get my labrador puppy and no decent house in the area would rent to someone who had a dog over 20 lbs. On October 29th, my parents made the trip down to visit over Halloween and I told them that I really wanted to go visit the kennel just to take a look at the puppies they had but with NO intentions of buying one. I didn't have any of the things you should have prior to getting a puppy such as a kennel, bed, water and food bowls, leash, collar, toys, and more but I'll go into that at some other time. So basically we get in the car, drive 3 hours to Medford where we go to Oregon Retrievers owned by Tom and Sue Ross. Sue met us when we arrived and proceeded to bring out 4 adorable black lab female puppies that were 8 weeks old. I had told her that I wanted a female black lab because I was horribly biased from the two I grew up with and had always believed that female dogs were smarter, easier to deal with, etc. I spent over an hour playing with these puppies slowly narrowing it down to 2 of the 4. It was so difficult to decide but finally this one little girl stopped playing, looked at this butterfly flying over head and proceeded to chase it. That was when I knew she was the dog I wanted. So despite the intentions of just looking at the puppies I ended up picking this girl out and when I finished signing the papers I held her and said 'are you ready to be my best friend for the next 15 years?' Her response was a lick on my nose!

Now it took me months to pick out a name for my first dog and it drove me crazy trying to do it. Before you laugh, I first must admit that I play the french horn in a local community band and as I sat there one night there was a sign in the music called a CODA. This sign means to jump to a different part of the piece or in other words 'go to the CODA.' I thought, this would be a fantastic name for a dog. The reason for this is that it is a hard syllable which helps get the dogs attention when you are working with them. So the beautiful puppy that I bought 4 years ago has the official, AKC registered name of Rogue River's Go To The Coda. Coda and I spent 2 and half years getting to build a bond that I had dreamed of having like the one I saw my dad have with both Tess'. I had so many people ask me if I was a professional dog trainer or walker because she was so well behaved on and off leash. The key was the fact that I took the time to walk her three times a day for at least an hour each time to ensure that she would be the best behaved dog I could hope for which she did indeed become. That was until I decided that she needed a playmate but that is a story for tomorrow.

Monday, November 14, 2011

How It Began

My husband encouraged me to start a 'Dog Blog' but I hope that this will branch out to more than just dogs. It just happens that they are the animal that I know the most about which isn't saying a whole lot. It's hard to say when I first realized that I have a sort of obsession with animals but I think it would be safe to say it started with my first pet dog, Tess. She was our family black labrador retriever and I was no more than 3 or 4 when we got her, possibly younger. My dad was an avid bird hunter since his youth and finally got a hunting lab all his own, which he trained to exactly what he wanted. Tess was an amazing hunting dog from what he told me but of course I don't really know that side of the story since I was too young to understand. What I do know is that this dog would do anything for my dad as if he was the most powerful being in the world. But for me, I just loved the fact that I could fall asleep on her tummy, hug her, pet her, and play with her as much as I wanted. That is my first recollection of a dog and it was what cemented me in my love for animals. Unfortunately she died of cancer at a very young age of 5 which devestated me but she was buried at my Grandparents lake place where she spent a lot of time just swimming in the water without anything to fetch. She just really loved to swim.
Shortly after that we got a second black lab and she was named Tess 2. Since I was older and she lived to be around 12 years old I know a lot more about this pup. She was not the stellar hunter that the first Tess had been but she was sweet and unique in her own way. She was more my mom's dog than my dad's as the years started to go by but she still looked at my dad as if he owned the universe. She was a goofy dog and she often got called silly names such as 'bonehead' but we all loved her. I remember my dad telling me the first pheasant she ever caught she actually did it by sitting on it's head. Apparently she wasn't a fan of the feathers in her mouth. This dog and I believe Tess 1 also had several typical labrador behavors which if you have ever owned a lab you will know what I'm talking about. First of all they were both garbage guts. They would snag steaks off the counter, steal bagels from the grocery bag, dig through the trash, and occassionaly swallow a razor blade. Tess 1 actually chewed the corner of a beautiful hand made wood coffee table that my uncle gave to us and Tess 2 shredded the bark off of our mountain ashberry tree when my dad put her on a long lead to enjoy the backyard while they worked. I also can't tell you how many times the carrots in our garden got ransacked (usually thanks to my mom giving them carrots while she made our school lunches in the morning). I once remember my dad finding Tess 2 stuck inside the chicken wire surrounding the carrot patch. Second, they both were fantastic family dogs. Labradors are well known for being good with kids despite their hunting personality. Both Tess' were not horribly cuddly but they looked at my brother and me as their littermates. These dogs were loyal to the tee with everyone in the family and not one mean bone in their bodies.

The thing is I always wanted my dad to trust me to watch the dog when Tess 2 was just a puppy. I begged him so many times that he finally caved and in my little mind it mean't that I had a hand in training that dog. Little did I know that there was SO much more that went into training a dog. So here I am at the age of 29 with two labs of my own. I was warned repeatedly about only taking on one dog but I was dead certain that having a second dog wouldn't be that bad. Life wise it isn't but when it comes to training it is extremely hard to make both of them be good citizens when out and about. So this is the beginning of my story and how I ended up with two labradors and my pursuit to finally go after my dream of becoming a Veterinarian.