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When first starting out with your service dog candidate (whether puppy or "new to you" dog), it can be fun to teach new behaviors and tricks! Learning how to learn is an important part of a service dogs skills. You do need to be careful with your choice of the first  5 or 6 behaviors though, as choosing the wrong ones can add more work or even derail your training as your dog progresses.

Some of these behaviors can be used as alert behaviors later on so we want to be thoughtful how we teach them and what cue we pair them with. This means after YOU have some experience in training behaviors and have a better idea of what you are doing and your dogs' temperament is like.

All of these behaviors are likely to become default behaviors when your dog dog doesn't know what else to do, when you are shaping him or when he gets frustrated. Most of them are self-reinforcing, which means just doing them feels good, no reinforcement is needed from you so he will keep doing them even when you don't want them. They can also be hard to get rid of once they are established, even if you teach a cue for them and put them under stimulus control.

Wait until your pup or dog understands the concepts of a 'behavior on cue' and 'stimulus control' for at least 5 more basic (foundation) behaviors before you teach any of these.

  • spinning (this can become a obsessive compulsive behavior)
  • shake a paw (can interfere with a nose target since the cue is very similar, a lifted paw encourages others to interact with your service dog, can interfere with a dog's communication with you since you might misinterpret it)
  • jumping up or paws up even if on cue (especially with large dogs and the behavior an become an attention seeking behavior) 
  • licking face
  • biting at your face (misinterpreted by others)
  • lifting lips "smile" (can be mis-interpreted as a snarl by strangers, is also an appeasement behavior)
  • barking (on cue) Service dogs can be asked to be removed from a public place if they are disruptive. (Avoid teaching barking as an alert behavior)
  • digging
  • ringing bells to go out to potty
  • scratching the door to go out (wooden doors get damaged in public places)
  • nose nudge of hand (can easily become a demand to pet behavior when you are distracted especially if you absently stroke the dog's head)

Save sniffing for medical alerts until later as well. Sniffing comes naturally to dogs and scents do not need to be "imprinted" at a young age for the dogs to be successful medical scent detectors (diabetic alerts, seizure alerts etc).

Great behaviors you want to start with instead are:

  • eye contact
  • four on the floor
  • sit
  • nose target
  • bringing things to you
  • dropping objects
  • following you (loose leash walking off leash)
  • adding duration to all wanted behaviors

Check out our Foundations Skills Classes for guidance on how to start teaching the basic skills a service dog will need. 

Published in Unwanted Behaviors
Monday, 09 September 2019 08:25

Teaching Your Dog To Stay in Position While Moving

Ever wonder how good trainers can teach their dog to walk nicely on leash without any correction tools? No matter if you are teaching your dog to heel or loose leash walk beside you, your wheelchair, walkers or crutches, the basis of the behaviour is the same! 

In order to help your dog understand where you want her to be, the key is to heavily reinforce her in that position in many, many situations so she gets a picture in her head of where she is in relation to you. Try These Tips:

Start Off Leash 
Surprised? Yes, by training your dog when she is free, she solves the puzzle of finding the desired position herself, with no help from you. This uses her brain rather than teaching her to rely on the leash.The leash should only be used as an emergency connection. The bonus is that you avoid developing bad habits of using the leash to guide your dog. You want her to understand where she needs to be without your help. This avoids having to correct her for positions you don't want. 

Have a Clear Picture of Where You Want Your Dog To Be 
This is your criterion. You will be rewarding her whenever she stays within that target position. Where is her nose in relation to your leg or the wheelchair? Exactly how far away will she be from your legs or the chair? Or perhaps it's easier to see where her shoulders are in relation to your knee or chair. Whatever way you can make it easy to measure it, use it. 

Heavily Reinforce the Desired Position While Stationary 
Feed your dog 10 times in a row (one treat at a time) for staying there. Reward her 10 times in a row, being careful of treat placement. Present the treat directly in her mouth so she doesn't have to move to get it. 
Change your position by rotating one quarter of a turn (90 degrees) and repeat. 
If your dog can't find the position while you are staying still, she won't be able to find it when you are moving!

"Play" With The Position by Rewarding Your Dog for Finding the Position 

Take one step to the side and see if she can find the position again. Reward heavily.
Turn left. Reward heavily.
Turn right. Reward heavily.

Keep Sessions Short
Count out 10 treats and dismiss your dog for a one minute break. This gives her time to think about it and build new neutral pathways.  This is essential for new learning!
Do a few only a few sessions. Most dogs do well with 3 sessions (3 sets of 10 repetitions). Some can focus for 5 sets. The key is always end the sessions with your dog wanting to do more. If she walks away, you've done too much. 

Add The Leash As a Separate Training Criterion
Put on your dog's collar or flat non-restrictive walking harness and attach the leash. This adds difficulty for you, not the dog.
You must figure out how to hold the leash, or where and how to attach it. Perhaps a waist or shoulder attachment might be better for you.
You need to develop the ability to deliver the treat to the same place you did when the dog was not wearing the leash. 

Gradually Increase Distraction Levels 
This is the most common error people make and then they resort to training collars and harnesses since they don't know what else to do. The sad thing is many people never remove them once they start using them. Training collars and harnesses are supposed to be like training wheels on a bicycle, to help the dog learn the skill, then remove them as quickly as possible. 
In order to mimic off leash conditions in areas that are not safe to work your dog off leash, use the professional tip of standing on the end of the leash or attaching the leash to a waist band. This gives your dog freedom to choose to move and be able to find the position without being restricted or tempting you to control her with the leash. At the same time, it gives you the peace of mind knowing she will safe safe if an unexpected distraction comes along. 

Each Time You Add or Change Equipment, It Changes The Picture of You To Your Dog 
With each new piece of equipment, restart teaching your dog the position. 

If you want more details complete with step by step videos, join our foundation skills classes to learn several ways to teach your dog the desired position, and loose leash walking classes to learn how to apply them in motion in different situations like stairs and locations or take our loose leash walking class specifically for wheelchairs. We offer classes for other skills as well! 

Published in Dog Basic Skills
While the study was done specifically for seeing eye dogs, the finding applies to handlers with mobility/brace dogs.  This study which suggests rigid harnesses put more physical stress on a dog's body than flexible harnesses, especially on the lower right side of the chest.

One would think which side gets more pressure would vary depending on which side is the handler's dominant side and which side of the handler the dog is on. Our dog's physical health and safety is worth looking into.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140102112237.htm
 
Published in Equipment
Thursday, 25 July 2019 12:45

Will a Golden Doodle Be Suitable for Me?

Many people consider getting a Golden Doodle or other poodle mix. I recently discovered a great book approved by the Gold Doodle Association of North America. It is a fantastic book that provides a great overview of Golden Doodles! I recommend reading it BEFORE you line up a breeder or put a deposit down on a puppy.
 
It is clear that Golden Doodles and other poodle mixes are mixed breed dogs. They are not recognized as a "breed" by any organization. 
Any other breed mixed in can be called a Golden Doodle. 
They explain the F1, F2b etc.
Buying from a responsible breeder is key to getting the health, temperament and activity level that will best suit your lifestyle.
Check out breeders who are members or who follow the GANA code of ethics for breeding. They must do specific health tests on each parent. The parent dogs must be 2 years of age and not be bred after 7 years of age. 

That there are four coat types: flat, straight, wavy and curled.
Straight and Wavy are the most desirable. Flat are the same as Golden retrievers (shedding) and curly is like poodle but often heavier (and requires more work to maintain and mat often if not brushed out daily).

There are different sizes. They have different temperaments due to different sizes of poodles being used as the parent breed. (Standard, moyen, toy and mini)

There is no such thing as a truly hypoallergenic dog. Hypo means "low" allergies, not "no" allergies.
People can be allergic to the proteins in the saliva, urine and/or on the dander of dogs.

There is a new test that can be done for the gene for an incorrect coat type (which is recessive). If breeders know if their dogs carry it they can breed accordingly to improve the probability of getting more of the desired non-shedding coats.

Doodles should not be washed any more often than once a month or the dog's skin may dry out and it triggers skin issues.

They are prone to many diseases common to both breeds, most of which can be tested for:

  • progressive retinal atrophy
  • hereditary cataracts
  • glaucoma
  • heart problems
  • Addison's Disease
  • hip dysplasia
  • elbow dysplasia
  • eyes
  • von Willebrands disease (blood doesn't clot properly)
  • in the minis: luxating patellas
  • diabetes
  • cancer
  • hypothyroid
  • seizures
  • bloat
  • allergies


Puppies should not go to their new homes until at least 8 weeks of age (This is written in state laws in most states).

Golden Doodles may vary in the amount of energy/drive and exercise they need depending on what lines the parent breeds are from. Generally, lines from hunting/sport may have more energy. Conformation/show lines may have less. (English lines may have lower energy needs than American sport lines.)

That positive reinforcement is best for training a doodle.

The book: (also available on Kindle as an e-book)
The GoldenDoodle Handbook Linda Whitwam 2016

GANA Member Breeders

There is also a Labradoodle club but the breeders ethics is optional to membership so do your due diligence when talking with the breeder to make sure to see the results of the health tests. Note that the temperament of the Labradoodle is different than a Goldendoodle due to the parent breeds being different breeds.

Note: They recommend that the breeders use the Volhard Puppy Aptitude test. Many research papers have found that such tests are not a predictor of the future temperament or personality of a dog but instead more of a reflection of what the breeder has already done with the individual pup.

Some breeders also will have the pups spayed or neutered prior to going home with their families. Others will ask for proof of spay or neuter at one year of age. If you plan to use the dog as a your service dog, males should be kept intact until at least one year or age and female s 18 mos. This is to prevent the full normal bone development to occur before the hormones are removed. Removing the hormones (especially testosterone in males) can result in longer thinner bone structure, increased risk of cancer and hypothyroid diseases etc. See our other blog posts on this. Extensive research has been done on both Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds on the juvenile spay or neuter topic. 


A Service Dog with Gas is more than Just Embarrassing! 


Has your service dog ever passed gas in a public place while working. It's embarrassing isn't it?
Well, for the dog there could be much more going on.

If it happens occasionally, you may want to look more closely at what special treats you are feeding your dog. Sure, after Thanksgiving or Christmas when cooked turkey with (fatty) gravy is on the menu, we expect it. Spicy foods, and any of the legumes-beans, peas, lentils, soybeans can cause gas (like in humans).

Food Causes:

If it is happening more often than that, you need to take a closer look at what you are feeding your dog on a more regular basis. As a dog providing professional medical assistance to you, it is important to find out the cause and eliminate the gas.

Gas forms when a dog eats a food product that his intestines do not have the appropriate bacteria to digest.

Some common food culprits are cheap grain-based dog treats. Many years ago I had a daxie who could clear the room when she farted, and she did it often! As soon as we removed the Milkbones from her diet, the flatulence stopped. Whenever a neighbor sneaked her a treat, within hours we were complaining about her gas.

When introducing new foods to your dog (such as in changing foods), it helps if you start by feeding very small amounts intermittently, then slowly increase the amount. This allows the dog's intestines to grow the type of bacteria needed to digest the new food. Giving too much food too fast causes gas and diarrhea because there isn't enough of the specific bacteria available in the gut to digest the new food.

Some dogs don't digest grain products very well in general so try some grain-free dog food.

Unfermented milk products may also cause this if the dog does not tolerate milk well. In general, cheese and yogurt are fine for most dogs as they have undone a fermentation process already, but if you feed them and your dog has gas, try eliminating these to see if it helps.

Food allergies may also cause incomplete digestion that contributes to gas. Rule allergies out by putting your dog on an elimination diet where he is eating only one type of protein for a period of at least 2 weeks to see if there are any changes. If it stops, then the dog probably tolerates what you were feeding. If it comes back when you feed a certain protein, then you may want to remove that from your dog's diet, or at the very least, feed only every 4 days or so to minimize the allergic reaction (called a "rotational diet"where you feed at least 4 different protein sources).

Air Gulpers:

If your dog is a "hungry hippo" and gulps air while she eats, this may contribute to the production of gas. Try feeding her smaller amounts at a time. Using her food as training treats really slows the process down. If your dog needs more mental stimulation, put her food in a food puzzle. There are many kinds from Kongs to Kong Wobblers, Buster Cubes and and of the Nina Ottoson Toys. Working for their food is much more satisfying for dogs that gulp anyway.

Placing food in "slow" feeding bowls (spirals) or distributed in muffin tins (either tight side up or upside down) or even just spread out on a mud mat will slow the dog down. Another great way is to use a "Snuffle mat" or spread the kibble in a small area of the yard and let your dog find each kibble and eat it (also called "Sprinkles ™".

Remote food dispensers are a great thing to incorporate into training. "Treat N Train" or "Pet Tutor" are tools to investigate. They are also a great way to teach dogs duration, distance and to withstand distractions.

Medication:

If your dog is on any medication, new or old, consider it as a possible cause. Look at the pattern. Did the gas start close to when the medication was started? Talk to your vet if the answer is yes.
One common cause is antibiotics. Antibiotics kill ALL bacteria, good and bad, so leaves your dog with difficulty digesting food. A good probiotic can help repopulate the gut with good bacteria both during and after a round of antibiotics. Ask for vet which kind will work best for the antibiotic your dog is on.

If the medication is anything other than antibiotics, the vet  may be able to give your dog an alternative that they tolerate better or at the very least, assure you that the gas will go away when the dog is finished her medication. Remember that being a service dog is stressful and your dog should not be working while on medication. A sick dog should not be exposed to the public or other dogs as he is vulnerable to infection (just like humans on antibiotics are).

Other: 

If none of the above seem to be relevant, consult your vet to explore other reasons. Gas could be an indication of gastrointestinal medical problems especially if it is often companied by diarrhea, vomiting, unusual weight loss or decrease in appetite.

 

Published in Dog Health
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