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.
Kids and dogs go together like peanut butter and jelly, right? In truth, the right kids and dogs can be the best of companions, but some may need more guidance than others when it comes to learning how to interact. Follow along below for some fun ideas that your dog and kids can play together to further their bond in a safe and fun way!
1. Hide and Go Seek
This game is my FAVORITE because not only is it so much fun for all parties involved, but it’s an excellent way to practice your dog’s recall at the same time! You can never have too much practice with a recall, plus it’s a great way to tire out your dog in the winter months.
Give each kid involved a pocket full of treats or kibble. This game works best with multiple youth (or you can join in, too) so that someone is available to hold or occupy the dog. Start with one person hiding and one person holding the dog. When the person has hidden, they should then begin to call the dog in a fun, loud, and excited voice. Have them keep calling and talking until the dog has found them, and then instruct them to reward the dog. Once they have finished their reward and are ready for the next person, they can call out “OK, ready!” so the next person knows to call the dog.
While the 2nd person is calling the dog, the 1st person can then hide again and the process repeats. If there are more than 2 people playing, just set a schedule ahead of time. Oldest to youngest, or alphabetical, can be ways to decide the order of who is calling the dog next.
2. Teaching a New Trick
Training in and of itself can be a great way to have kids and dogs interact in a safe manner. For older children, they are often able to train the dog themselves with minimal guidance from adults once they have been taught. It’s still a good idea to supervise, however, because youth are not as capable of controlling their feelings and dogs can definitely be frustrating! Use training as an opportunity to help the youth grow and learn, in addition to just the dogs.
Younger kids can still help out in training. Some considerations are to have them give treats once they hear the click or marker word (this gives you the ability to control the marking, which can be the difficult part of some behaviors). If you are working on a simple behavior, such as a hand target, some youth can also participate by watching for the dog’s nose to touch your hand. They can then operate the clicker and you can give the rewards yourself.
Ideas for things to teach with kids and dogs include:
Some of these behaviors come in handy for kids to know, too! Back up in particular can be useful if there is a larger dog and the kid is looking for space to walk by the dog. Rather than physically moving the dog and risking a potential altercation, they can ask the dog to move out of their way.
3. Find the Treat
This game is great for energetic dogs, because not only does it give kids a way to interact with dogs safely, it also gives dogs an opportunity to use their amazing nose! Dogs have a sense of smell about 100 times better than ours. Sniffing also lowers their blood pressure and engages their brain in a way that’s much more tiring than just a walk.
To start this game, make the treat hides easy for the dog. I like to start with one room that the treats are in, and ask the dog to stay out of sight or shut them in a room until the treats are hidden. Some easier hide examples include putting treats on the opposite side of piece of furniture but in the open, or putting a treat near a table leg but not actually hiding it out of sight. As your dog learns what “find it!” means, you can start to gradually make the hidden treats harder and harder.
Harder hides might mean putting the treat under the edge of a couch cushion or even working higher, like on the edge of a TV stand. Use your imagination!
Starting with smellier treats and progressing to less smelly treats is another way you can increase the difficulty. Let your kids hide the treats (help them with difficulty if they can’t decide what is too hard or too easy for the dog on their own) and then encourage them to cheer and play along once your dog has found the treats!
Fetch is definitely a case of knowing your dog - it might not be ideal if you have a dog that gets over aroused during fetch and might accidentally nip a child’s hand or knock them over. However, if you have a dog with good fetching manners, this can be a fun classic game for kids and dogs to play.
Good rules of fetch include a dog waiting politely for the ball to be thrown (either nearby or running off and waiting, that choice is up to you!) instead of jumping at the ball. Dogs should also have a solid drop it so that kids don’t have to reach into the dog’s mouth. I like using a tool like the Chuck-It! in these cases, because it gives kids the ability to throw longer and harder than normal, but also gives them a way to pick up the ball without putting it in their hands. Even the most well-behaved dog might accidentally try and grab a ball out of a child’s hand, which can be a scary experience for some kids!
5. Obstacle Course
Finally, teaching your dog a few simple cues of “up” and “off” and “through” can open up a wide variety of potential obstacles for kids and dogs to play with! You don’t need an official agility course just to have some fun.
Keep your dog’s health in mind first and foremost. Don’t ask them to jump too high or to exercise too much, especially if they are recovering from an injury or overweight. If you have questions about your dog’s ability to safely engage in an activity, check with your dog’s veterinarian.
Some fun obstacles to play with include:
Use your imagination with what you have around you! Some dogs prefer different types of obstacles, so see what your dog loves best and have fun showing youth how to safely interact with the dogs and obstacles.
What games have you played with kids and dogs?
Friends of MESSY, it’s time for some big news.
MESSY Dog Training is moving to Iowa!
I (Alex) recently got engaged to my wonderful fiancé, Connor. Connor moved about a year ago to the Cedar Falls/Waterloo area for work. I will be moving this summer to join him down in Iowa. Unfortunately, this means I will not be renewing the lease on my current building in Mankato. I’ve LOVED working with all of you in Mankato for the past two and a half years that MESSY has been open. I’ve been able to grow and learn as a trainer thanks to your help, and I hope I’ve been able to help make a difference for you and your dogs as well. Working with owners and their dogs to have better communication and a happier relationship is such an incredible passion of mine, and I thank each and every one of you for letting me share in your training journey with your dog.
Even though MESSY will no longer have a physical building in Mankato, that doesn’t mean we are going away! You can still always reach me via email, Facebook, phone, or any other way you’ve communicated with me before. I’ll be available for virtual consults (which have their own exciting opportunities – more on virtual consults to come soon!) as well as coming back to Mankato to visit family and friends, so private lessons or seminars can be set up on occasion. Our new online classes have also started to launch. Take a look at our current free class, Effective Reinforcement, by registering on our website. More online classes on an exciting platform for online learning are also on their way!
Cedar Falls/Waterloo – I look forward to joining you soon for in person consults and training.
Please reach out to me with any questions. MESSY classes in Mankato will end the week of May 20th, so you still have plenty of time to take a class before I move! If you are interested in something and don’t see it on the schedule, send me an email and we will try and make it work.
I’d also love to help direct you towards trainers more local to Mankato who can assist you with further training, if continuing with me for virtual lessons are not best for you and your dog.
I’m sad to leave this wonderful community in Mankato and the friends (human and dog) that I’ve made, but I’m looking forward to the adventures to come.
The "stay" cue is something most of us teach our dogs, and for good reason! It's super useful. Your dog can learn to:
Because it is such a versatile cue for our dogs to learn, it's important that we teach it to the best of our ability to make sure it's as useful as possible. In my years of teaching classes, I've come across 3 common mistakes owners make that can hinder their ability to teach an even better "stay" cue.
1. Repeating the Cue
When we ask for a "stay" we should teach our dogs to stay in that place until we say otherwise. It can be really tempting, however, to keep your hand help up like a stop sign and say "stay....stay....stay..." the entire time. We want our dog to succeed and stay even longer, right? That might feel like the best way to lengthen your stays.
However, think to some of the scenarios mentioned above. Wouldn't it be nice to ask for a "stay" one time, and then answer the door and greet your guests? Practice training *yourself* to say stay a single time, and slowly raise criteria and time as the dog is able, rather than continually saying the cue. This will give you a more useful stay for various life situations in the future.
2. Not Using a Release Word
A release word is critical when teaching your dog to stay. Your release word means "the stay is over now, you can move." Having a clearly defined release word, and only rewarding when your dog remains in place until they hear the release word, will help your dog understand what stay truly means.
Sometimes owners are in the habit of saying "come here!" or just simply clicking and rewarding when their dog is done with their stay. However, we should always train that release word so that your dog can easily be released without a clicker, or if you don't actually need to call your dog but just want to let them explore, or retrieve the ball they've been waiting to fetch! "OK" is a common choice, but we tend to say it often in our daily lives. More unique choices include "break," "free," and "all done!"
3. Always Calling the Dog
Finally, it can be really exciting as you being to add distance to your training to be in the habit of always calling your dog to you. You ask for a stay, walk away, and in the excitement of your dog staying in place, we call our dogs to us, adding in a recall practice at the same time.
While it is important to practice recalls often, in fun situations like this, we want to make it clear to our dogs that stay is not *always* a pattern of:
Happy training! What areas of "stay" do you and your dog struggle with the most? What parts go well?