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  1. So as most of my friends, family and customers know, seeing as I haven't stopped shoutinglexie2 this from the rooftops for the past 3 months, in less than 2 weeks Pete and I will FINALLY be getting our puppy 'Lexie'.  I say finally as we have wanted a puppy for 6 years and an Alaskan Malamute puppy for 3 years, so it feels like we've been waiting an eternity!  

    Anyway, lots of people have been asking what we'll be training our little Lexie to do first.  I'd be a pretty bad dog trainer if I didn't start where I advised my customers to start, which is with Name Reflex and Eye Contact exercises.  What are these I hear you ask?  Well read on for a brief explanation on what these simple training exercises are, how to do them and why...

    Name Reflex

    What: Name Reflex is the reaction you want your puppy to have to its name.  Every time you say your puppy’s name, you want it to look at you instinctively.

    How: Simply say your puppy’s name and give it a treat.  The treat needs to be given regardless of whether your puppy looks at you or not.  This may mean that you have to walk up to physically place food in your puppy’s mouth.  It will be easier to have a handful of treats when you start this exercise, rather than rustling the bag each time for the treat so your pup knows her name precedes the treat not just the rustle of the treat bag!

    Where: Practice continually in a lot of different environments, in lots of different positions (eg., standing, sitting, walking).

    When: This should be practiced continually in short bursts, either a 5 minute session or a handful of food at a time.  Little and often is key.

    Who: All the family or household, friends, strangers if you can get them to!

    Why: You are teaching your puppy that a good thing always, without fail, follows its name being called.  With repetition when you say your puppy’s name, they will instinctively, reflexively look for you.   This is an excellent building block for recall and distraction.

    Eye Contact

    What: Eye contact is when your dog looks at you instead of the reward you are offering, such as a treat, dinner or chew.

    How:  Sit facing your puppy.  Take a treat and place this in your tightly closed fist, let your puppy see this.  Place your fist in front of your puppy, preferably at eye level so it doesn’t jump up too much and scratch you.  She or he may mouth, paw and lick for the treat, ignore all of this and do not move your hand much as this will be too distracting for your puppy.  If he or she gives you even a flicker of eye contact, say an emphatic ‘good’ and give her the treat immediately after the ‘good’.  Be patient, if after a while you get nothing or he or she gets bored, you can make a noise to try to attract their attention to your face.  Try not to get into the habit of always calling for eye contact, you want her to look at you because he or she understands this is how they get a treat, not because you called for attention (like in name reflex).

    Where: Initially practice this in a low distraction environment, such as the puppy’s room at home.  When the puppy gets good at this, then move it to new environments with more distractions.

    When: This should be practiced continually in short bursts, either a 5 minute session or a handful of food at a time.  Little and often is key!

    Who: One person should practice this at a time, when your puppy is getting the hang of this, then you can get more people to practice with your puppy.

    Why: You are teaching your puppy that in order to get what it wants it needs to look at you, rather than fixating on what it wants.  This forms the basis for all training and is great for when your puppy is out and about with you!

    These simple exercises are really the foundations for all the training we'll do with our puppy Lexie.  Of course we'll also be doing Sit, Down, Stay, Loose Lead Walking and so on, but these will all be made much easier by having these basics nailed.  If you'd like some help on how to train your new arrival, then get in touch with us via email asap, we can arrange a consultation with you and help you to start off on the right foot with your pup!

  2. I can’t quite believe its March.  In January I went on a 2 day seminar and a 4 day practical training course and meant to write up a little summary about it all as soon as I could.  It’s March and I’m only just getting round to it.  Ah well!  The business has been going really quite well and my days have been jam packed with dogs or just general business admin - I know excuses excuses!

    So as some of you reading will know in September 2011 I went to a 2 day ‘Career as a Dog Trainer’ course run by Steve Mann of the IMDT (Institute of Modern Dog Training).  I actually only meant to go to understand a little more about dog training and behaviour and to add the course to my resume to try to appeal a little more to prospective dog walking clients.  I thoroughly enjoyed the course though and came away wondering why on earth I hadn’t looked into studying training sooner, dog psychology is fascinating!  So the decision was made, in addition to leaving work to run my own business, I’d add training as a dog trainer into the mix!

    So on the 21st and 22nd I attended a 2 day seminar run by the IMDT covering Puppy Foundations, Aggression, Canine Body Language and Clicker.  Aside from the incredible amount of information that was packed into this course in the 2 days, one of the things I LOVE about going on these courses is being with lots of other people who are crazy about dogs and doing the same sort of thing as me (dog walking, grooming etc) we spend our break times comparing notes on dogs, interesting owners and funny stories.  It’s like group therapy!  

    Over the two days we all learnt a lot so I thought I’d pick out some highlights from each section for my blog readers:

    ·         Puppy – The key time for socialising your ever curious puppy (getting it used to different sounds, sights, smells, touch and environments) is between 4 and 12 weeks, it’s a narrow window so planning is important! One thing to bear in mind however is that there is an overlapping ‘fear period’ between 8 and 12 weeks, during which time puppies are still curious, but this is tempered with some fearfulness.  You must take great care not to over tax your puppy in this time and provide plenty of reassurance for your puppy.  Some interesting objects were highlighted as needing attention in socialisation as they are often neglected, these were; umbrellas, people who are shy or nervous of dogs; and the night time!

    ·         Aggression – Most people have heard that fear is the most common cause of aggression, so it was highlighted to us again just how important socialisation is.  Prevention will always be better than cure.  In overcoming fear, classical conditioning is one of the tools that can be used to help.  Classical conditioning is the training that must of us have heard of in the experiment of Pavlov’s dog.  We use this to change how the dog feels about a certain stimulus, changing the dog from thinking ‘when I see x, bad things happen therefore I do y to make it go away’ to ‘when I see x, good things happen, yeay x, happy days, give me food/treat/toy’etc! 

    ·         Canine Body Language – One of the key things that we learnt in this section of the course was not to focus on any one thing in particular.  You have to look at the whole picture of a dog to interpret it’s body language.  A great example of this is lip licking.  Short frequent flashes of this is often a warning sign of a dog that is nervous and has the potential to become aggressive.  Or on some dogs, they just do this a lot naturally!  Another occasionally misinterpreted body language signal that dogs can give us is the tail wag.  Lots of people get this wrong (myself included before this course) and assume a tail wag is a signal of a happy dog.  This is not always the case as many people who have been bitten by a dog can testify!  Instead note the base of the tail and the dogs hindquarters.  A ‘waggy butt’ (this is my new term for it!) is a reasonable indicator of a happy dog, but a dog with a tense rear and tail base is not sure, so be careful!

    ·         Clicker Training – Clicker training uses a small device that makes a click to pinpoint specific actions that you want your dog to repeat.  You can build (or ‘shape’) this into a larger action, such as a sit and stay or a retrieve.  Before you can really start clicker training, you first need to ‘charge’ the clicker, which is to condition the dog to know that hearing the clicker means you did something good.  So you need to find something that really motivates the dog, normally this is food, but it doesn’t have to be.  You then have to classically condition the dog to understand that the clicker means the treat, which means that you simply click and reward a lot.  This is known as ‘charging the clicker’.  In order to correctly charge the clicker, you need to do this a lot in multiple different environments, and situations, so that your dog understands that it is the clicker that signals the reward and that currently they aren’t doing anything and there isn’t anything in the environment that makes the clicker click, other than you.  You are ‘finished’ when there is evidence that the dog understands the relationship between the clicker and the reward, so for example, a head whipping round to you when it hears the click.  I found this a key bit of training in the seminar, I’ve been guilty of rushing into using the clicker before the association has been correctly formed and this can lead to a bit of an intermittent response. 

    The seminar finished just after 4pm on Sunday and I had that familiar feeling of being excited at wanting to go away and put the things I’d learnt into action and a little disappointment at it all being finished so quickly!  How many courses and seminars can you say that about!?

    I’ll blog later about the 4 day course…

  3. What Not To Feed?

    Being that I have both of our cats insured with Petplan, I receive their quarterly magazine, 'Pet People'.  I do like having a nosey through it and one article in particular caught my eye, '10 Foods Not to Give your Pet'.  The article highlighted a few surprising foods that are not safe for our pets:

    • Avocado - this was a new one for me!  Apparently avocados contain 'persin' which can affect heart lungs and other tissues, causing vomiting and diarrhoea (and worse).  When I googled further, it seems that avocados can cause varying degrees of stomach upset in cats and dogs but can be especially toxic to birds and rodents.
    • Ham, Fatty Meats or Raw Meat - "Can lead to an inflamed pancreas.  The high salt contect can cause stomach upsets.  Raw meat has been linked to toxoplasmosis in cats." Whilst BARF (Bones And Raw Food/Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) fans may disagree with some of this, it's worth thinking about what meats you are feeding your pets and doing a bit of research for yourself.  Salty foods are never good for pets who cannot tolerate large quantities of salt and raw meat can carry a risk of illness from e.coli or similar bacteria.
    • Chocolate - Chocolate contains the substance theobromine, which 'causes increased heart rate and construction of arteries'.  More googling shoes that theobromine is a similar type of 'drug' to caffeine and can stimulate the heart rate, central nervous system and cause nausea and vomiting.  Dark chocolate contains higher quantities of theobromine than milk or white chocolate.  I have heard so many people say that their pets have eaten tiny bits of chocolate and been okay, I'd put money on it being a very small amount of milk chocolate!
    • Grapes/Raisins - the exact substance that is toxic is unknown, but consumption of grapes or raisins can cause kidney failure.
    Other foods that are reportedly not good for pets are onions, garlic, bones (particularly cooked bones which can splinter), milk, cheese, walnuts, alcohol, spicy food, mushrooms, sweets containing xylitol sweetener, uncooked yeast dough, high quantities of fish and fruit pits (such as cherry, peach, apricot).  I'm sure there are a lot more, just as I'm sure there are a lot of people who have fed some of these foods to their pets with no consequences. Still, why risk it?  Over Christmas friends of Pete's parents had to rush a nursing miniature poodle bitch to the vets who had stolen and eaten a ridiculous amount of chocolate from the christmas tree.  The poor girl essentially had her stomach pumped and had to be kept from nursing her 4 week old puppies for 48 hours until the remaining chocolate pass through her system.  Thankfully all were fine, but she was touch and go for a while.
    Thoughts on Diets
    I really admire pet owners who make the effort to feed their pets a BARF diet, or who create their own balanced diets for their pets.  For me though, I'd always worry that  I wouldn't get the balance right - for example, cats NEED taurine in their diet, which requires offal and bone (which I couldn't stomach!) or a supplement (too fiddley!).  On the 2 day dog training course I recently attended, Steve Mann (famous dog trainer and our course instructor) gave us his thoughts on BARF for dogs.  Interestingly, he explained that dogs essentially use protein for energy in much the same way we use our carbs, but unlike us with carbs, they cannot store protein as fat, it has to be burnt, so potentially the BARF diet can cause hyperactivity in dogs.  I'm sure a vet could correct what is likely my own oversimplified interpretation of Steve's thoughts, but it certainly is something to be aware of.  
    I just feed a mix of good quality dry (Royal Canin Maine Coon and Indoor Longhair) and wet foods (our favourites are Applaws/Encore, which are the same brand and the new James Wellbeloved wet).  I feel that the dry food has the correct balance of nutrients that they need (plus the indoor food helps with hairballs!) and the wet food just helps ensure they are getting enough liquid in their diets, as I've read that boy cats in particular can struggle with drinking enough water to prevent crystals building up in their urine.  For me, this keeps me happy, as I feel like I am doing the best I can for my two cats based on my own research and opinions.  If you are sat on the fence about the best choices of food for your pets and don't know where to start, I urge you to get googling and talking to other pet owners, perhaps your pet's breeder or your vet to help you formulate the best diet for your pet.  Oh, and maybe steer clear of the chocolate!