Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Connection Touch

I was with a group a few weeks ago teaching a seminar.  I asked the group how many of them massage their dogs vs. just petting them.  Out of a group of ten I had 3 that raised their hands. 

Let's talk the importance of your touch.  When simply petting a dog, we tend to move our hands quickly over the dog.  We actually bring their blood right up the surface and usually increase their excitement.  Nothing wrong with that except it's not really touch - it's interaction.  Touch is when you calmly stroke your dog, with the soul purpose of connecting and enjoying him (and visa versa!).  The calming stroke is like his mother dog licking him - it feels great to a dog!  Slowly and calmly you stroke him down his back, his shoulders, his chest.  If he lays down and rolls over, continue to stroke his sides, his back, his feet.  No need to belly rub him. This is the connection touch (belly rubs are fun and silly and perfectly ok at another time!).  You can be quitely and sweetly telling him how much you love him, how handsome or beautfiul he/she is, etc. 

Massage is a step up in the connection touch.  You are actually using your finger tips and thumbs to massage those muscles, feel for knots and places where your pup holds his stress (yep, they do that just like people do).  Work it out slowly, look for skin twitches which mean it hurts just a bit, and work on that spot a bit (if it doesn't go away within a few days talk to your vet).  Work his legs, his feet, and I have found from my work in our canine daycare, alot of dogs LOVE to be rubbed on their eyebrows above their eyes.  I use only my thumbs on this and just do small circles.  Every dog has a favorite "rub me" place (again, NOT the belly with this!) - find it and use it to end your session with.  When you do this easy work with your dog you are teaching them how wonderful it is to feel calm and relaxed.  It's an important piece in their life.  So often I find that dogs do not get touched enough, or if they are, it's always the excited play touch.  I've had dogs come to me that resist this touch only because it's so unfamiliar to them.  If you have a dog like this, take your time, work only on a shoulder and then stop if he looks uncomfortable.  Take the time to get him hoooked on how good this feels. He might, in the beginning, only allow you to massage him for a minute, then he'll get up and move away.  That's ok - next time he'll stay longer!

Never forget the power of touch - your dogs will love you for it even more!

Teaching a "Turn Off"

So often I hear a client say "my dog has two switches - On and Off", no inbetween!  Living with a border collie  I am very aware of how busy dogs can seem to just go and go and go!  What folks forget is that when you do have an active dog, that turn off switch is not something that will come naturally (as I hear my bloodhound Eli snoring loudly next to me!). 

From puppyhood on, I teach my pups how to "settle" and in essence, turn off.  This was especially important for my border collie Everee.  Without it she would be constantly pacing around the house with toys in her mouth, or on my lap, and never just "chilling"! 

I teach this by doing the turn off exercise every day, sometimes 2-3 times a day, depending on what I'm doing.   This exercise is the same for puppies, except when I start teaching it with pups, I do give them a chewie while they do it. 

Leash goes on (six feet, no longer), I settle into a chair, turn on my favorite show (or read a book) and relax (it can be so exhausting to train...teehee!).  With dogs that know the down command, I will tell them down before I start.  If they blow the down and get up, I keep the leash so the dog is within 2-3 feet of me.  I ignore the dog.  He can stand if he wants, but it's going to be a 30 minute or longer "chill time" - gets kinda boring just standing there.  If the dog turns his attention on me and starts to try to jump up or interact with me, I'll gently step on the leash so he has to lay down (this should be done on a flat collar, no slips!).  I will, if necessary, keep my foot on the leash to insist on a down.  Again, however, if he's just standing and not bugging you, ignore him and enjoy your show!  

The "just chill" exercise is great.  It can calm a dog down (we all know that down is a natural calming position for dogs) and teaches him that when you rest, he can too.  Again, with puppies (2-4 months of age) I'll do this, but give them a chewie. 

So Practice your "just chill" exercise!  Some dogs just need a little guidance to get there - and others, (loud snoring!) just have their own!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Why train the dog?

Wow - has it really been since Sept that I've blogged?   Time just flies when you're having fun dog training!

So my topic is why train the dog.  You would think that would be a no brainer answer, but trust me, in my experience with people I'm always amazed at what they tell me. 

Training your dog in "good citizen" exercises, which include soft leash heeling, sit/down/stays, and come when I call (every time!) is a good way to invest time into your dog.  These exercises are the foundation of what a balanced dog should be.  And, with these exercises, you can, if you desire, go on to other things like agility, obedience competition, or pet therapy work.  Yes, training the dog IS important!

Folks will often tell me when they call about class that all they want to the dog to do is.......and this varies from not pulling on a leash, coming when called, etc.  They go on to say they don't see the need to teach anything else to them.  This is like saying your child doesn't need to know his ABC's in order to write.
Teaching foundation obedience is how we connect with our dog.  Learning is fun, and dogs love it, when done the right way.  And, as your dog follows your simple command of sit or down, he is acknowledging you as a great leader.  Dogs MUST have leaders - don't be fooled that they don't.  If they don't see you as a leader, they will try to take on the role themselves. We call these pups "alpha wannabe's", really don't want the job, but now think they might try to take it just because it's available.  Being a good leader requires very little on the human end - just be fair, follow through with what you want your dog to do and always be calm and cool.   A good leader doesn't yell or scream. 

So get busy training that pup of yours.  Teach those foundation exercises and watch how the rest comes easily! 

See you soon - I'll be back - I promise!
Deb, Eli, Everee and Corky the yorky