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positive dog training

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Nicole Wilde Seminar: Separation Anxiety

As previously mentioned, continuing to learn about dogs (health and behaviour) is really important to us. Both Katie and I are indeed dog nerds, but the information we accumulate is valuable, and we love to share it with you. Here's part one of Katie's entry regarding the recent Nicole Wilde seminar on separation anxiety hosted by Speaking of Dogs Rescue. Nicole Wilde was recently in Toronto for a two day seminar and I 
attended Day 2 with two topics: Separation Anxiety and Dog-Dog Play.
 Having had multiple dogs with separation anxiety myself, I was 
interested to hear if there were any new items to walk away with from a personal standpoint, as well as a professional one.

First off, it was a reminder of how isolating and difficult life with 
an SA dog can be. Standard protocol for working through SA is that the 
dog is never left alone longer than it can handle. That can mean a 
minimum of a month of arranging daycares, doggie babysitters, no 
nights out, etc... while working through a dog's state of stress/panic
 that they experience every time they are alone or leading up to the event 
of being left, and the destruction that can be an expression of those 
emotions. It's no wonder, when asked by Nicole, a majority of the 
trainers present agreed they'd prefer working with an aggressive dog 
over a separation anxiety dog; it's an emotionally charged situation 
with slow progress and some owners may not have the tools at their 
disposal to accomplish each step.

That said it is imperative to work with a professional in these 
situations and you must have a proper diagnosis – is your dog stressed
 whenever it's the only one in the house or when it's away from a 
certain person? Will your dog settle with other family members or 
friends?

The best way to get these answers is to know exactly what your dog is 
doing when left alone by recording them with a webcam or digital 
camera. Nicole busted some long held myths such as “true separation 
anxiety dogs don't eat when left alone” by showing video of a client's 
dog bouncing between a food toy and howling at the door.

Nicole's favourite tool for ongoing monitoring is Skype: set up a 
dummy account that you connect to your smart phone and using that fake
 account to call in to your computer at home and watch your dog. (You can
set your skype to auto-accept calls, or, if you're popular on Skype,
make another account that's just for this purpose).

The most common separation anxiety symptoms are destruction (there
 were many photos of shredded doors), vocalization, and house soiling. 
Nicole really drove home the importance of nutrition alongside
 management, confidence building, and calm/mentally stimulating 
exercise (ie: a hike with lots of sniffing, not a 10k run).

If you're an owner working through this, remember to make a list of 
your resources – people you can leave your dog with, places you can 
take your dog along with you, friends with dogs that you can have over 
for play dates, etc.

There was more information than I can sum up in a short blog post, but 
the last point I want to mention was the question of when a dog should
be medicated. If the dog is in danger of harming itself, is 
experiencing severe emotional distress or is in danger of losing its
 home over the issue, it may be time to discuss medication with an
experienced trainer and Veterinarian working together.

For your own metal well being, it may help to join an online discussion forum dedicated to SA. Sometimes it helps to have a support network of people who know exactly what you're going though.

In part two Katie will discuss Dog-Dog Play. 

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Positive Training is Best: Give Your Dog a Chance to Show You How Great He Is

I'm asked all the time by followers of Cesar Millan and believers in force-based training, why I think positive reinforcement training is better. I'm not a dog trainer but I know the answer.

I often say: "Think about the way guide dogs are trained, or search and rescue dogs, or cancer detection dogs. That's the kind of dog you want, and that's the kind of bond you want." It's that simple. You want a dog that trusts you and respects you. None of those dogs were trained through force or "dominance". They each learned their craft through positive reinforcement. I promise that you will not fix anything by pinning your dog to the ground or poking it in the neck. Think about it: A leash reactive dog begins to growl at another dog in the distance and you two-finger poke him in the neck. What's the message being received? "Every time I see another dog, you startle me with a poke in the neck, so I guess I need to be on my guard from other dogs and from you."
Why not try conditioning your dog to look to you for guidance when another dog is approaching? And teach him that seeing another dog, means that something great's about to happen? 

I know this works because I've done it with my own 10 year old terrier. We work on this a lot. In the past few months we've closed the distance which we can pass another dog without a fuss, to a sidewalk's width. Not every single time, but most of the time. I'm proud of what we've accomplished together, and I swear to DOG, he's happier these days than he's ever been. And don't forget how positive reinforcement helped Cami emerge from her shell and allowed her to finally be a "pet".

How about the person who "alpha rolls" his dog? You'll likely notice that his pooch has poor recall. It could be he's learned that when he does come, he often gets a yank on the collar, rolled and pinned to the ground, or "bah'd" at.  Dogs like stability, and this behaviour from a human is anything but stable. Not only can positive reinforcement training develop a strong recall that could save your dog's life, it'll enhance his life. Dogs crave metal stimulation and really want to know they're pleasing you, both of which this style of training will provide. Which means your dog's personality and all his character will flourish. 
Don't get me wrong, I was just as mesmerized by Cesar as the next person, when his show began airing. But common sense rapidly took over and the bottom line is positive training has been researched for decades, and the methods are based on cruelty-free, scientific findings. For more information about how truly flawed "dominance" based methods are, I refer you this article. Not only is it extremely well written (by a certified trainer), there are numerous additional links to valuable information. 
On TV, watch It's Me or the Dog instead of watching the Dog Whisperer or that other guy who's name I'm afraid to mention. Want alternative reading material on the subject? Look for books by people like Patricia McConnell, Ph.D., Certified Applied Animal Behaviourist (my favourite is The Other End of the Leash).
If you live in Toronto and you need a great training school, there are a few: When Hounds Fly has two locations, and Who's walking Who has four. They're both based in positive training but they use different styles so please read up on their websites and see which one you think fit's you and your dog the best. Always check the credentials of anyone calling themselves a 'tainer' or 'behaviourist' and if you're not 100% comfortable with their methods, move on. 

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