If you haven’t heard of 4-H before, we’re about to change that! 4-H is the largest youth development organization in the USA. While many people think of 4-H as an activity for “farm kids” - the program is expansive and covers learning and development in almost every area you can imagine. I was a 4-H member from 8th grade until my freshman year of college - although you can start much younger than that! Who I am today was greatly shaped by my 4-H experiences and I firmly believe all youth should have this opportunity in their lives.
I’d always heard about 4-H and wanted to try it - my parents were both members growing up, and I loved the small county fair and wanted my own projects on display! Through the local curling club, I became good friends with a family that was not only involved in 4-H, but also were involved in the club close to me! Shortly after, I learned that I could show dogs in 4-H, and I knew I HAD to join the Dog Project.
My goal was to show my dog, Mya, in agility. I had no desire for “boring” obedience or showmanship. I had been playing backyard agility with Mya from a young age and 4-H seemed like an ideal venue to start showing off our skills.
However, the MN 4-H program required 2 years of participation in obedience (or one year if you earned a blue ribbon) before you could participate in agility for safety reasons, so I settled myself in for a year or two of obedience training to get to my goal of agility.
We started our obedience classes, and soon enough, I was finding them FUN! It wasn’t boring like I’d predicted, and I enjoyed teaching Mya all the new skills we needed for formal obedience competition. She was definitely a challenging dog for 12 year old Alex - very distracted and excited and wanted everything to do with everyone else except me - but it was also very satisfying to see us overcome our challenges.
One night as my mom wasn’t quite back to pick me up when obedience class ended, my instructor encouraged me to jump into the showmanship class. Showmanship in 4-H is very similar to the conformation shows seen on TV on Thanksgiving, but judging “handling skills” and knowledge instead of the dog’s structure. It turned out that showmanship was ALSO fun and I was hooked. I still really wanted to get to agility, but I was also enjoying my time learning other areas of competition and training.
Over the years I was in the program, we had many ups and down - smiles and tears - but I am forever grateful for the experiences that the program gave me. From earning a white ribbon (the lowest possible color) to earning multiple state-level champions (in agility and showmanship), we had quite the collection of experiences! Several years were riddled with the diagnosis and flare ups of Mya’s Atypical Addison’s Disease, making competition that year not possible or changed, but the friendships that I made in the 4-H Dog Project were there to support me. Half of my bridesmaids in my upcoming wedding - some of my very favorite people on this planet - I wouldn’t even know if it weren’t for the 4-H Dog Project!
Not only did the project teach me how to train dogs - and help me realize that I wanted to pursue that as a career - but it gave me a host of other skills, too. I learned to be comfortable speaking in public, and I learned quite a bit of patience! The 4-H Dog Project is where I first began teaching others - I started to assist with the classes and learn how to train people how to train their dogs, working with youth younger and older than myself, and their parents as well. I also learned plenty of organization skills as I learned to plan and run the dog shows themselves, as well as coordinate paperwork throughout the year. The connections I made in 4-H also got me several of my first jobs!
There’s SO many more 4-H memories and opportunities in the dog project - and even more in the rest of 4-H! I could write a book about how wonderful the organization was and how it shaped me as a person and made me into a dog trainer.
I still volunteer as a 4-H Dog Project leader today - working closely with Black Hawk County in Iowa and with various counties and programs across the state of MN as well. With 4-H across the country, however, there are opportunities all around wherever you live to get involved.
Want to Join 4-H?
Use the website here to find your local county extension office and get in touch with them - they will help you get registered with 4-H and set to gain amazing experiences like I have had in my own life.
Puppy mill dogs need our help - but not by purchasing them to “save” them.
What Are Puppy Mills?
Here at MESSY, we LOVE good breeders. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of people breeding dogs who aren’t taking care of them like they should, and aren’t setting their puppies up to have a successful and healthy life. (PS. If you have a specific breed you want instead of adopting a shelter or rescue, please reach out! I’d love to help you find a breeder doing proper health testing and raising excellent puppies).
A puppy mill is an environment where dogs are mixed and bred for cuteness and sales, rather than caring about the health of the dogs. It can be deceiving at first when you are looking for a breeder, because most puppy millers know how to talk about their dogs and convince you that they are healthy and happy and well cared for, when reality is actually a little different.
In a puppy mill environment, dogs are lacking proper health, nutrition, and early socialization. Puppy mills can be large with hundreds of dogs, or even just a few dogs - the true characteristic of a puppy mill is the lack of attention paid to the dog’s well-being.
While all breeds can be subject to puppy mill breedings, “designer dogs” are especially prone to this environment, including many of the doodles, teddy bears, and other cute mixes that are created. These dogs are often sold to make a profit due to their high demand, rather than breeding for the health and betterment of the dogs.
Where Are Puppy Mills Found?
The short answer, everywhere.
Dogs are most often sold from puppy mills when they are sold in pet stores (no reputable breeder sells their dogs through a pet store) and online. Good breeders do exist online - we’ll talk about how to find a good breeder in a future post - but it’s also a prime way for puppy mills to sell their dogs.
Puppy mills are especially prevalent in the midwest, including here in Iowa. According to the Des Moines Register, Iowa ranks second worst in the country in terms of the number of puppy mills.
Some newly passed legislation will hopefully help allow Iowa to more properly regulate puppy mills, by requiring larger and more sanitary enclosures and having more specific health regulations. Dogs will also be required to be exercised at least twice daily, instead of living their life entirely in a cage. These new laws were passed early in 2020 and will go in effect in June of 2020. We’d like to thank all those who worked on passing the legislation needed - it’s done a great job of tackling the problems with puppy mills by making it harder for them to operate while still allowing responsible breeders to continue breeding responsibly so we have well-bred dogs that we can add to our households!
This week (May 3-9, 2020) is Puppy Mill Action Week. As dog lovers, we all want to help end the problem of puppy mills. Steps you can take include:
The biggest thing you can do to help shut down puppy mills is to stop supporting them. Don’t buy pet store puppies (unless they’re there from a rescue). Don’t buy dogs from people who aren’t ethical breeders (contact us for help finding a responsible breeder). Tell your friends and family to do the same!
Puppy mills breed for profit. If we take away their profit, we can stop puppy mills.
Bored dogs are problem dogs.
One of the easiest ways to try and tackle certain problematic behavior is to find out if your dog is bored, and then tackle their boredom. So what does a bored dog look like?
1. Your dog digs in the trash.
Foraging for their food is an extremely natural dog behavior. "Wild" domesticated dogs, unlike wolves, don't hunt in packs to take down prey. Instead, street dogs scavange! It's a natural instinct for dogs to forage for their food like this.
However, it doesn't make them ideal to live with when we have garbage all over, not to mention the risks to their health. Putting the trash can where the dog can't access it, or putting a lid on the bin, can help manage this behavior - but a dog that is obsessively digging in the trash also might need some extra enrichment. Foraging games and food puzzles are ideal for these dogs, including hiding food and treats around the house for your dog to find rather than feeding them out of a boring bowl.
2. Your dog whines or barks at you.
A dog that's obsessively staring at you and whining or barking - when it's not dinner time, they don't have to go outside, and the water bowl is full - very well might be a dog that's bored and doesn't know what else to do. Instead of being bored, they've invented a new game - make my owner pay attention to me by whining or barking!
With my own dogs, I know that if they truly can't settle down and they are whining at me, they NEED something to do. It usually happens if their schedules have drastically changed for days at a time, such as if I'm sick and skimp on giving them what they need to busy their brains. Pulling a Kong toy stuffed with food out of the freezer is perfect for these scenarios - I've already prepared them in advance, so it doesn't take extra time, and it's long lasting for my dogs.
3. Your dog sniffs obsessively on walks and doesn't pay attention.
True, this one could easily be a training problem. Keep in mind though - a dog's nose is their best sense and they "see" the world through smelling. Sniffing is the BEST enrichment for many dogs. If your dog is stuck inside without any activities most of the time, that walk is their time to explore and be excited (kind of like all of us in quarantine right now, right? Leaving the house for any reason becomes extra exciting)!
I'm a huge believer in letting dogs sniff on walks. If your dog is pulling on the leash or struggling in other ways on the walk, besides just wanting to sniff as you go, reach out so we can set up a training consultation. One great way to use the power of sniffing is to ask your dog to do something you want to see more of (sitting or walking close to you, for example) and then letting them sniff as a reward.
4. Your dog is digging holes in the backyard.
Just like the rest of these on the list, digging is a natural behavior for dogs. Just because we want to landscape our yards in a certain way doesn't take away a dog's desire to dig! If you're finding your dog obsessively digging holes (and you don't have moles or critters they're chasing) then you might have a dog that's creating their own fun due to boredom.
An easy way to address their boredom without forcing them to stop a natural behavior is to give them a specified dig box. A kiddie pool or sandbox can be a perfect location to fill with sand, pea gravel, or whatever substance your dog enjoys digging in (I personally avoid dirt so it doesn't turn to mud!). If you catch your dog digging in another area, redirect them to their dig box (and hide toys and treats to encourage them to dig in that location). Indoors, a box of shredded paper can work well too!
5. Your dog has obsessive behaviors, like light chasing or licking.
This one is tricky, because obsessive behaviors can also have a medical reason. Dogs that chase light might have a true obsessive disorder, and licking can be a sign of allergies or other illnesses. However, if your vet has ruled out a medical cause, obsessions can sometimes be created out of boredom.
How might obsessions be due to boredom?
Being bored sucks. Licking is self soothing.
Plus, if your dog likes to chase and engage with things, and no outlet is provided, they might turn to lights or shadows to fulfill their needs to chase something. Try providing your dog with some extra enrichment and see if the obsessive behaviors decrease or not. When in doubt, a second opinion from a veterinarian or a visit to the veterinary behaviorist can help diagnose more severe issues.
What can I do about my dog's boredom?
If you're realizing that your dog might be bored, congratulations on taking the first step! Once we understand our dog's needs a little better, we can make choices to help them.
Our Snuffle Mats and Snuffle Balls are perfect enrichment opportunities - they let dogs forage for their kibbles.
You can check out our other blog posts relating to enrichment for dogs.
We also have self-paced course option for those of you wanting more inspiration or to dig a little deeper. In Creating a Happier and Calmer Dog: DIY Canine Enrichment you'll learn about why enrichment is necessary, and get access to dozens of ideas using items often already in your home.
How do you know when your dog is bored? What's their favorite boredom-busting activity?
As some of you might know, I study public health and epidemiology when I am not training dogs. In December of 2020 I will complete my Master of Public Health degree! There’s been a lot of concern and unknowns regarding the new coronavirus, known as COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2. One question I’ve seen pop up has been concern over dogs and other pets getting the virus.
While information is rapidly evolving, I’ll break down what is available as of March 11, 2020 and provide resources within this post for you to refer back to for any updates.
Can my dog get COVID-19?
As far as is currently known, dogs and other pets do not become ill with the virus (AVMA, 2020; CDC, 2020). The virus is suspected to have originated in an animal, but it is assumed at this time to have originated in a bat, not any of our domestic type animals (AVMA, 2020).
Can dogs spread COVID-19?
No spread due to dogs (or other pets) has been reported in most of the world (CDC, 2020). However, because the virus is new and it is unknown how it survives on various surfaces and outside of the human respiratory system, the CDC recommends being safe and having someone else in the household care for your pet if you contract COVID-19. This is currently more of a recommendation to avoid accidentally spreading the disease to someone else than it is of a worry that your dog will become ill.
But I heard a dog in Hong Kong had COVID-19!
A pomeranian in Hong Kong did test weakly positive for the virus after their owner was diagnosed with the disease. The test that was done looks for pieces of the RNA, which is the virus version of DNA, and was done on the nasal cavity and mouth of the dog. Still, this is not a current reason for alarm at this time. The pomeranian has shown no signs of illness, so even though the disease was present, it hasn’t seemed to cause any symptoms. It’s also possible that the moist environment was simply able to let the virus exist after the dog licked a surface contaminated by their owner. Finally, the weak positive suggests that even if dogs end up with the virus, it may not reach levels high enough to transmit back to humans (AVMA, 2020). At this time you are much more likely to be infected by a human, and no dogs have become symptomatically ill!
How should I be prepared?
Just as the CDC recommends having supplies on hand to self-quarantine for 2 weeks if necessary, make sure the necessary dog food and any dog medicines are on hand as well for those several weeks. If you do contract the virus, follow the CDC recommendations to have others care for your dog or to wash your hands before and after interacting with your dog (AVMA, 2020; CDC, 2020).
Visit these links for the most accurate and up to date information! Stories floating around on social media are not necessarily accurate, so checking with those actively updating the information and controlling the spread is the most helpful way to find out what you need to know.
American Veterinary Medical Association. (2020). COVID-19.
Retrieved from https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/animal-health-and-welfare/covid-19
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Frequently asked questions and answers. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html
If you're concerned about attending a dog class or private lesson during this time, but still need help with your dog, contact us! I offer web-based consults and lessons using Zoom video chat.
Today we will be taking a closer look at dog training schools! This post is helpful for those looking to get started as a dog trainer, as well as those who are vetting the dog trainers they hire to ensure they will provide them with accurate and up to date information.
As we’ve discussed previously when we looked at independent dog trainer certifications, there is no regulation in the dog training industry. Schools, certifications, and memberships are not required of any trainer. Trainers are also not required to adhere to any professional requirements in the United States.
Many trainers do choose to attend a school, earn a certification, or hold membership with an organization. Each school, certification, and membership can tell you a little about the trainer’s philosophy and guiding ethos. Let’s break down some of the more common dog training schools!
Animal Behavior College
The ABC offers courses to help trainers develop the basic knowledge of dog training. Graduates earn their ABCDT (Animal Behavior College Certified Dog Trainers) designation. The organization focuses on (but does not limit it’s curriculum to) teaching positive reinforcement training methods. It also doesn’t hold graduates to continuing education or to using a specific method after graduation. ABC is a place that many trainers can start their education, but a lot of professional trainers should pursue additional education or certification as well.
The Academy for Dog Trainers
The Academy, as it’s often referred to by dog trainers, was formed by an exceptional trainer by the name of Jean Donaldson. This school provides a comprehensive curriculum on the education of dog training and behavior, both through online lectures and live video coaching of hands on training. Graduates earn the designation CTC, for Certificate in Training and Counseling.
Karen Pryor Academy
Also known as KPA, this school is high on many trainer’s lists for education in the field. Combining in-person and online work, KPA ensures their certificants receive a full and thorough education in positive reinforcement dog training. Karen Pryor is known for her work popularizing clicker training with a wide variety of animal species and her popular book, Don’t Shoot the Dog, is applicable to both animal-human and human-human relationships! Someone who has gone through KPA earns the designated KPA-CTP (Karen Pryor Academy - Certified Training Partner) and this school is a great place to begin a trainer search as well.
This program is 4, 8, or 12 weeks at the very longest. I am of the opinion (along with many other trainers) that this is not nearly enough time or experience to become a professional dog trainer. In addition, Starmark does not hold graduates to positive reinforcement based methods (which are recommended by the leading animal behavior organizations) and graduates may choose to use correctional collars. The company itself is known for making its own correction collar, effectively a plastic prong collar designed to pinch the neck. They designate their graduates as “Canine Training Specialists” or “Canine Training and Behavior Specialists.” I’d encourage those looking at trainers to further speak with Starmark graduates to ensure their philosophy aligns with recommended practices of positive reinforcement based training methods.
National K-9 School for Dog Trainers
Even shorter than the Starmark options, National K-9 offers to train someone to be a dog trainer in either 3 or 6 weeks. Upon graduation, they designate graduates as a “Certified Professional Trainer.” This is just one example of how similar certifications can seem. In comparison to National K-9, offering a “Certified Professional Trainer” designation to those who have spent only 6 weeks learning (275 hours total) about dog training at their own school, the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers offers an independent certification of Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) to those passing a comprehensive exam on learning theory after having already 300+ hours of hands-on dog training time (outside of earning an education). As with Starmark, I’d recommend further vetting your trainer if they are a graduate from National K-9.
How Do I Ask Trainers About Their Training Philosophy?
A good rule of thumb when interviewing dog trainers is to ask two simple questions.
Question two is best answered with something like, “When your dog doesn’t do what we want, we evaluate the situation and try again, setting the dog up for better success the second time.” Any response to question 2 along the lines of “a correction is delivered” or “the dog is physically forced into the correct response” should be red flags to tell you that the trainer isn’t necessarily focused on setting the dog up for success.
With so many options, this is not a comprehensive list of schools, but it contains those I see most often when helping clients in other locations research their local trainers. Feel free to reach out or drop a comment below for assistance in finding a qualified trainer!
Don't forget to also check out our post about independent dog trainer certifications for more information!
For Dog Training Education Month, we’re breaking down how to choose a dog trainer by taking a look at dog training credentials and what each one means. In the United States, dog training is unregulated, meaning anyone can call themselves a dog trainer and there’s no standard for how they treat dogs or how educated they are on the science of learning.
Dog training is both an art and a science, and unfortunately, not all trainers (or even dog training schools) use current science when training dogs. This means that you - a dog owner - have to do a little more research when choosing a dog trainer than many other service based professionals.
Since training is unregulated, credentials and certifications are not required - and even good trainers might not have any! You can visit the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior's website for recommendations on choosing a trainer outside of looking at certifications. We will be covering varying schools, certifications, and membership organizations over the next few blog posts. Today’s topic is independent certification organizations.
Independent certifications are important because they demonstrate a trainer’s commitment to continuing education. Since dog training involves behavioral science, it’s important to keep up with new findings and studies and ensure your training continually evolves to be the best it can be. It also lets you know that an outside organization has certified your trainer, rather than just their school. Let's take a look at some examples!
Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers
The CCPDT gives several certifications, including:
The CCPDT is an independent organization, not affiliated with any dog training school, which makes its certifications available for everyone. Trainers and behavior consultants must have hundreds of hours of hands on experience and pass a comprehensive exam demonstrating their understanding of the science of behavior and training. Certificants must also follow a “Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive” training mindset, striving to use training and behavior modification techniques that are the kindest and safest for the dog. Members are required to meet continuing education requirements as well. The CCPDT and all of their levels of certification are a great place to look for trainers!
International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants
The IAABC focuses and behavior problems that may arise in a wide variety of animals - not just dogs! Their members can become Certified or Associate Certified, depending on levels of education, experience, and species (full list here). Certification through the IAABC is a rigorous process, requiring case studies and letters of recommendation, demonstrating excellent knowledge in how to change behavior. IAABC consultants also follow “Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive” training techniques and it is another wonderful organization to use to look for a person to help modify behavior problems. Like CCPDT, the IAABC is independent and not affiliated with a specific dog training school, so all trainers and behavior consultants can work towards being a member.
Fear Free Animal Trainer Certification
The Fear Free program is slightly different than the others on this list, but I’m including it here because I think it fits best. This program does do education on the Fear Free movement and handling, which makes it unlike the others just evaluating your current training methods and standards. However, a certification from an organization such as IAABC or CCPDT is required prior to being eligible for the Fear Free program. Graduates of the program (passing each module with at least 80% in addition to the previously mentioned requirements) earn their Fear Free Animal Trainer Certification. This program is available in varying forms for many pet professionals, from all members of a vet clinic to shelters to groomers!
Pet Professional Accreditation Board
The PPAB offers several levels of certification, including:
The International Association of Canine Professionals
The IACP offers CDT (Certified Dog Trainer), CDTA (Certified Dog Trainer Advanced), and PDTI (Professional Dog Training Instructor Certification). This organization has not chosen to follow the path of other independent organizations such as CCPDT and IAABC in their training methods, and allow their members to use correctional tools such as prong collars, shock collars, and choke collars. While not all IACP members may choose to use these methods, if your trainer is IACP certified you should investigate closer to see if they will be using positive reinforcement training methods aligned with current scientific standards or not.
Stay turned for upcoming posts on membership organizations and dog training schools to guide your decision on choosing a trainer!
We recently looked at how to teach a hand target to our dogs. Let's take a look at just some of the many ways we can use this useful behavior!
1. A way to cheat when calling your dog.
Have you struggled to teach a recall to your dog? Does your dog sort of grasp the concept, but doesn’t come back within reach for you to actually grab them? A hand target can help solve these problems. The hand target gives dogs a nice, clear cue of what to do, rather than the sometimes ambiguous “come back in my vicinity, close enough for me to grab you” that we sometimes struggle to teach. When your dog touches their nose to your palm, you have the perfect opportunity to grab them with your other hand.
A few cautions with hand targets and recalls - make sure you don’t over-use the behavior and make sure your dog is truly comfortable with being grabbed. If you always finish your recall hand targets by grabbing the collar of a dog who doesn’t like to be grabbed, you can “poison” your cue and your dog might start avoiding it, since they associate it with an aversive event. Avoid over-using it to the point that your dog starts to not want to respond to the cue. Just as with good recall training, we should ALWAYS make recalls to a hand target fun and exciting and rewarding if we want them to continue.
2. A way to move your dog around your home.
Maybe you struggle with getting your dog where you need them to be, whether it’s out of the way of the refrigerator door, or off of the bed when you’re trying to make it (or crawl under the covers yourself!). Once your dog has been taught a hand target, you can easily ask your dog to move out of your way in your home by having them target to the place you want them to be.
It’s also extremely helpful for dogs who don’t understand “on” and “off” cues for furniture. Especially if your dog might be protective of the couch or bed, asking them to jump off and come touch your hand can reduce conflict. It’s never a good idea to try and force a growling or otherwise upset dog off of a piece of furniture, because there’s the possibility they’ll escalate their feelings to a bite. Utilizing a hand target takes away the stress of having a human forcibly moving you off of your comfy place! It’s also a way you can invite your dog up to snuggle and get them in a place on the couch that’s comfy for the both of you.
3. An easy way to teach loose leash walking!
If your dog is tall enough to touch your hand while standing (or willing to bounce up to touch your hand) you can use it as an easy guide for loose leash walking! What I love about using the hand target for teaching your dog to walk on a loose leash is that it gives your dog a very specific place to be. In the beginning, you should be asking your dog to touch your hand often to keep them occupied and in place. From there, you should lengthen the time between hand touches.
It’s also a wonderful way to guide your dog past something on your walk. If your dog normally has wonderful loose leash walking behavior, but there’s a distraction coming up that you know will be difficult for them, you can ask them to hand target past the distraction. This is another point where rapid hand targets can help instead of spaced out hand targets.
4. A simple way to occupy your dog during downtime.
Let’s imagine that you ran into a friend that you haven’t seen for awhile when you are out walking your dog. Of course you want to stop and catch up! However, what’s your dog likely to do during this interaction?
If you have a dog who can’t hold a stay in that situation, or a dog that is likely to be overly excited and want to jump on your friend, you can use hand targets to occupy your dog. I often utilize hand targets when I am giving a presentation or talk and my demo dog isn’t fully capable of sitting still for that long while I’m talking.
The best way I’ve found to make use of hand targets in this situation is to have your dog target back and forth between both palms. Your dog gets to keep moving, which is helpful for excited or worried greeters to avoid the building stress that can happen when they are asked to sit still. Tossing them a reward every so often helps too - don’t just continue the behavior too long without a break or reward if your dog might become overly frustrated.
5. A way to prevent jumping.
Dogs jump up on us because they have a desire to be closer to us, and especially to our faces. What if we could change that focus? We can shift their attention downwards, with the use of a hand target!
If you’re trying to prevent jumping on yourself, just ask your dog to touch your hand (lowered at your side) instead when they approach you. You can then use this time to bend over, or ask for an alternate behavior, or even scatter feed. If you are consistent, you can make your hand target an easy alternative and default behavior for your dog to use when greeting you!
If your goal is to prevent jumping on others, you can either instruct other people on how to greet your dog following the approach above, or you can take matters into your own training hands. Sometimes, it’s easiest to just work with your dog instead of trying to teach other people, too! In that case, you’ll want to watch your dog closely to know what behavior they display right before they jump on someone. If you suspect they might jump, just call your dog back to you with a hand target and release them back to greet. This helps take the pressure off of greetings for worried dogs, too, since they are given breaks in the greeting process and a way of leaving the person with minimal conflict.
What ways will you start using hand targets with your own dogs?
This useful behavior is one of the first we usually teach here at MESSY Dog Training. Get a head start with your dog by following along below!
1. Capture the “Touch” behavior.
First, you’ll want to capture this behavior from your dog. Many dogs will naturally gravitate towards our open palms when presented, we just need to catch them and reward them for doing so! I usually keep my fingers together and have my hand turned sideways, to differentiate from “shake,” but you can choose an alternate presentation as long as you’re consistent.
Present your hand to your dog and when they show interest, such as reaching their neck to sniff, you will mark the behavior (with either a “yes!” or a click, if you are using a clicker) and follow with a reward from your other hand. At this point, it doesn’t matter if the dog is truly touching your hand since we want to start with approximations that we can build upon.
Repeat this process until your dog is reliably poking their nose at your hand when it is presented. For dogs who are clicker training savvy, this usually does not take very long. If your dog is new to offering behaviors and training, you might split this into a few sessions until you see significant direction from your dog.
If your dog absolutely doesn’t want anything to do with your hands, even when you’re waving it around and holding it relatively close to their face, you can try luring for 2-3 times. To lure a hand target, put a treat between your fingers (like your index and middle finger) and hold it just pinched between those two fingers. If you are doing this correctly, your hand should have the same open palm look to it that is our goal. Pinch the treat between knuckles on adjacent fingers, rather than holding with your finger tips. After showing your dog the treat and luring it 2-3 times in quick succession, present your hand the same way. Your dog will likely assume the pattern is the same and will look again for the treat. At this point, you want to mark the behavior and throw a little party to show your dog that you love that they continued the fun new game, and that treats will come afterwards, even if they weren’t presently in your hand.
2. Add Your Cue!
Now that are dog is excited about offering the targeting behavior, we want to add our verbal cue to the process as well. This will help us be able to call our dogs away from things or use it in many of the situations described above.
To add the verbal cue, first you need to decide which word you will be using. Touch, target, hand, nose, boop, and palm are some options, but the choice is up to you! One of my favorite aspects of training dogs is that they don’t know our verbal languages, and I can assign whatever word I like to whatever behavior I am training. Using ones that make sense definitely help with our understanding and remembrance of our cues, though!
You will want to say this new verbal cue right before you present your hand. If you start adding the verbal cue at the same time as you present your hand, you risk overshadowing your new cue and your old cue (the presentation of your hand). Dogs rely heavily on body language, so we need to help them realize the verbal cue by stating it separately and before the physical cue of presenting your hand.
The process then looks like: saying “touch!” followed by presenting your hand, followed by the dog touching your hand, followed by you marking the touch and giving a reward. We want to continue to mark and reward at this stage of adding the new verbal cue.
3. Create Fluency in Your Hand Touch.
Finally, we want to create fluency in the hand touch so that the dog learns to touch your hand from anywhere and in many situations. Some ideas to consider practicing include:
Keep practicing with your dog to create a fluent touch that you can take on the road and use to create your well-behaved dog in a variety of situations. What kinds of behaviors can you think of that would be easier with a hand target?
(PSST - we did some of the work for you! Visit this post for ideas on how to use hand targets!)
We all want to have a happy and healthy dog in our lives - if you didn’t, you likely wouldn’t own one! As much of our lives as we spend with dogs, they are still a different species. What things can you do to help make your dog even happier?
1. Let Them Sniff
Some of us are stuck in having a dog walk right at our side when we go on a walk. If this is you, consider what walking your dog is really for - it should be to benefit your dog, right? If we didn’t want our dog to get something out of the walk, we could just go by ourselves!
There are absolutely ways to take our dog on a relaxing and controlled walk where they aren’t pulling us down the street, and they are still allowed to sniff and explore and engage that natural doggy part of their brain. One of my favorite ways to teach dogs to walk on a leash that allows them the freedom to sniff is to teach them to respond to leash pressure.
Dogs often pull and pull HARD when they are falling victim to the opposition reflex. If I push you, you push your body back to try and keep your balance. The same happens when dogs pull on the leash. Instead, you can teach your dog that when the leash has tension, they should come back closer to you. This will let you vary the length of your leash based upon where you are letting your dog sniff in order to keep them safe and well mannered but also allow their sniffing.
Not only is sniffing a natural dog behavior that our dogs love to enjoy (After all, they have a sense of smell about 100 times greater than ours. We smell chicken noodle soup, and they smell each ingredient!) but sniffing also lowers a dog’s blood pressure, according to recently published research. This means that this is especially important for hyperactive or worried dogs.
Try letting your dog guide your walk. Let them sniff along the way, and let them stop and sniff if they find something extra appealing! Don’t make your goal the distance that you travel, but the time your dog gets to be out of the house and exploring.
2. Ask for Consent to Pet
Did you realize not all dogs want your physical attention? Many dogs actually prefer to train or play or just be around you without hugs or pats. You can try a consent test to see what your dog prefers!
The Pat-Pet-Pause protocol goes like this:
This protocol helps keep your dog happy by showing your dog that you listen to them and understand what they are telling you. You can help your dog even more by having other family members and friends, or even strangers follow the steps.
3. Let Them Destroy!
Just like how sniffing is a natural dog behavior, destroying toys and shredding things can be natural for many dogs too. Giving them an outlet for this behavior is good for their happiness and mental health, but can also cut down on destruction that we don’t want.
Cheap stuffed toys from the pet store or even old thrift store stuffed animals can be a great way to let your dog exercise their destruction desire. Your dog should be supervised and you should always make sure that your dog is not eating the stuffing or other pieces. Give your dog the toy, let them destroy it, and pick it up and toss is when they’re done. Some of my dogs still enjoy playing with the fabric that originally contained the stuffing, so I will just toss the stuffing and insides and keep the fabric pieces for them to play with as well.
Other items that you can give your dog to shred and destroy include:
You can create a special place you always let your dog shred items in if you’re worried about it backfiring and increasing their desire to shred. Put the game on a cue, make sure you give the items to your dog using the cue, and then play the game for a specified amount of time in the same area each time you let your dog shred and destroy something. These boundaries will help your dog learn that they do get to destroy things - but only when it falls into a certain situation and rules!
4. Build a Dig Box
Another natural behavior that dogs like to partake in is digging! It’s also a point of concern for many dog owners, if their dog is digging up the garden or the yard. Just like with shredding and destruction games, giving your dog an outlet for digging can minimize digging that we don’t want in addition to giving you a happier dog!
Dig boxes can be outside or inside, and the size varies depending on your dog. Outdoor dig boxes might utilize wooden barriers or even a plastic kiddie pool filled with sand or dirt. If you are wanting to make an indoor dig box, shredded paper or fabric scraps will still let them dig around and burrow. You can hide treats and toys in dig boxes to encourage your dogs to use them.
For the tiniest of dogs, even a cat litter box might work well to create a dig box that is easy to clean and refill.
If you are using a dig box to redirect behavior you don’t like, hiding treats and toys will encourage them to dig in the newly designated location. In addition, when you catch your dog wanting to dig somewhere you don’t want a hole, you can move them to their dig box and encourage them to dig there.
Happy adventures on improving your dog’s happiness! What are some of your dogs favorite things to do? What do you do to keep your dog happy?
What was the name of the first dog you trained? For me, it's Mya. I have worked with her sweet lab mix personality since I was just 11 years old and Mya was 8 weeks old. Now, Mya is 12. Still sweet, but it's apparent age is catching up with her between her arthritis and recent diagnosis of canine cognitive dysfunction.
Mya's importance in my life is why MESSY has the M in the name - the M represents the dog that got me "into dogs," Mya.
For my friend, Antonia, that dog was named Snickers.
Antonia and I met in the 4-H Dog Project over a decade ago. While I was new to training dogs and figuring out what "showmanship class" even meant, Antonia and Snickers were crushing it already - they had been training and showing as a team for several years already and I remember wishing my own dog would just pay attention to me already! I'm grateful we had the chance to meet in the 4-H Dog Project, as it led us to a friendship as well as opening MESSY together.
The second S in MESSY represents Snickers, the dog that got Antonia "into dogs."
Antonia and Snickers showed me that reactive dogs aren't "bad" dogs. I learned that grumbly dogs needed a "bubble" of space, but also that training is a wonderful way to bond with our dogs. Even on rough days of training, I can still see Antonia smooching Snicker's face and saying "you bad dog!" in the most cheerful tone imaginable - teaching me to love and appreciate my dogs no matter what. I saw them have a lot of successes, and heard about others, including when they took the Champion at the State Dog Show in Obedience!
As we graduated 4-H, worked our way through college and jobs and relationships, we always had our two "first" dogs. Those first dogs represent a journey that we've been on since little fuzzy puppies came home to us as kids. Along that journey Antonia welcomed Eden into her life - the E in MESSY. The other S and the Y represent the dogs our friend Kennedy owns and grew with through her 4-H project and beyond - Sammy and Ton(y).
Even with the addition of other dogs, Snickers was always Antonia's constant. For the both of us, Snickers and Mya will forever be the dogs that all other dogs will be compared to and the dogs we will love for teaching us so much along our training journeys. Snickers and Mya represent our "crossover" dogs - the dogs that taught us to be kinder, to strive to be better owners, and to seek the most dog-friendly training methods.
As any dog owner knows, our dogs simply do not live long enough. Snickers passed away on December 30, 2019. She was just a few months shy of her 17th birthday.
I've been reflecting over the past few days about all that Snickers and Mya have given to Antonia and me, and grieving for my friend who is without her constant dog; her always dog; her first dog.
It is truly impossible to list all the ways that Snickers shaped who Antonia is as a person, her life path, and her friendships. I'm grateful to Snickers for bringing me a friend and a business partner for when MESSY was starting. Even now, in different states and with busy lives, I know I can bounce ideas for training and growing MESSY off of Antonia.
I hug Mya and Windigo a little tighter now, appreciating time we get to spend together as it comes and not taking it for granted.
Rest in peace, sweet Snick. Thanks for being a part of shaping my life, too.