Speaking for Dogs

  • By Found Chicago
  • 01 Jun, 2016

By: Brittney Frazier –  Head Trainer, CPDT-KA, APDT, Canine Good Citizen Evaluator

We’ve all seen the Disney movies with a talking dog or two and laughed at the idea of what our dogs would really say if they were able to speak our language.  Although dogs speaking English might make dog training much easier (and more hilarious!), personifying dogs and what they think, feel, or need can be precisely the issue in a suspected “behavioral problem.” 

How dogs behave is simply a reaction to their environment and the situation surrounding them. A dog will never stop to reason or weigh consequences when being introduced to a new situation. He or she will only react to what is presented. Unfortunately, if the people or other animals misread the reaction, there could be very negative consequences. It is important for the people within the environment to provide what their individual dog needs when observing to ensure safe and productive encounters with new people and dogs.

Our dogs speak with their bodies and can sometimes involve vocalizations to get a point across. Most dogs will give plenty of information away with their body before ever escalating into the next level, so it is important to know the beginning stages of a happy or unhappy dog. Focus in on a dog’s eyes, ears, mouth, and tail for the most information about how the dog is feeling at any individual moment. From there, you will be able to observe the overall demeanor of the dog for a greater picture of what the dog may need from you.

In order to identify warning signs for when a dog may be unable to handle a situation, let’s take a look at some signals that let us know our dogs are comfortable. A dog that is truly content will have a loose demeanor with relaxed body posture. Additional cues that indicate a happy dog include:

  • Relaxed, laid back ears
  • Tail held in a “half-mast” position
  • Slow, wagging body
  • Mouth held partially open without exposing teeth
  • Play bowing

The transition from a happy dog to a stressed dog can be very subtle and easily missed. It is important to look for your individual dog’s stressed body language to prevent he or she from overreacting in an attempt to exit the situation. A dog that is stressed will usually demonstrate the following signals: 

  • Eyes so squinted they are almost closed
  • Heaving panting (a dog “smiling” doesn’t always mean that it’s happy)
  • Extremely tucked or stiff tail
  • Lifting one or both front legs
  • Low head and body carriage
  • Lip licking
  • Yawning
  • Physical shaking

The above body language doesn’t necessarily mean that the dog will bite and attack, but give this kind of dog some space and time to assess their environment before moving in to get to know them. Sometimes, dogs recognizing another dog’s discomfort will offer calming signals in an effort to show another dog it means no harm. These signals include, but are not limited to: sniffing the ground and giving space, turning the head or body sideways, or offering their belly and other vulnerable areas. The best way for us to mimic these signals is to give the dog space, turn sideways, and divert eye contact until the dog appears more comfortable. 

Dogs that are threatened and are demonstrating confrontational body language are dogs you should give space to immediately. These signals include:

  • Freezing
  • “Whale eye” (looking out of the corner of their eye)
  • Exposing teeth
  • Growling or snapping
  • Direct eye contact
  • High and stiff body carriage (in conjunction with other signals)
  • Tail standing straight up in the air

No matter what your dog is saying, it is important to listen. All too often dogs are blatantly obvious about how they feel and those around them do not heed the warning signs. As the warm weather, dog beaches, and barbeques ensue; make sure to take a moment to check in with your four-legged friend to ensure he or she is comfortable with what is happening. Don’t let the only voice your dog has go unheard.

Found Chicago, NFP is a 501(c)3 no-kill, all-breed rescue that serves to rescue, rehabilitate and re-home the most medically and behaviorally challenged dogs that would otherwise be euthanized. Found Chicago Boarding & Training Center is a subsidiary of Found Chicago, NFP that provides services to the public to give dog owners the knowledge they need to better handle their dogs and improve the quality of the dog-human relationship. 

By: Brittney Frazier –  Head Trainer, CPDT-KA, APDT, Canine Good Citizen Evaluator

By Found Chicago 08 Sep, 2016
By: Brittney Frazier –  Head Trainer, CPDT-KA, APDT, Canine Good Citizen Evaluator

At Found Chicago, we ask owners to visit before any training advice is given in order to understand to best approach the situation. Over the years I have observed dogs and their owners, it is easy to pinpoint some of the major underlying issues of behavioral issues when first observed in a dog. Traces of anxiety are amongst the easiest behavioral issues to detect, but most difficult to eradicate in a dog’s brain due to extremely ingrained behaviors and a very strong association with the environment the dog shares with its owner. However, as difficult as anxiety might be to work with, it has become somewhat of an old friend to our Training Department; as we have begun to find a rhythm and method to working with these seemingly panicky and over exuberant dogs.

The main factor in determining how to approach an anxiety case is what causes the dog’s anxiety. Whether that anxiety is caused by separation from its “pack,” a specific event, or the dog is anxious in general, the main goal is to focus on what we imagine the dog would be doing instead. This kind of thought process will sometimes cause us to observe other more balanced dogs in similar situations to help us come to an answer. However, it is important we are not just looking to cut out one behavior without replacing it in the dog’s mind with another more acceptable behavior.

Take a walk, for example. If you can imagine the millions of smells and sounds our dogs are overloaded with on a simple walk to the park, you can understand why some might be a bit anxious. What some fail to recognize is that the “bad” behavior observed on a walk, such as pulling on leash or reacting to surrounding animals with so-called “aggression,” could possibly be a symptom of anxiety. While some may choose to medicate a dog with anxious behavior on a walk, there is another solution I have come across in my background as a cross country and track athlete. That’s right: it’s running.

It sounds like such a simple solution to such daunting behavioral issues like reactivity or even severe aggression while out on a walk, but to an anxious dog, it’s something to do. Rather than walk a painfully slow and boring pace when the dog’s mind is racing a million miles a minute, running creates an outlet for all that anxiety we often ask a dog to bottle up. The other solution running a dog provides for an anxious and stressful situation is that it gives a frustrated owner a task to focus on as well.

Oftentimes, I recommend the owner of a dog operates a bike, scooter, or pair of rollerblades while their dog runs beside them. Being that the owner is practicing in a safe place like an empty parking lot, focusing on the skill at hand teaches the owner to stop focusing on all the stresses walking the dog would bring, which can easily cause the anxiety to flare up in their canine companion.

There are anxious dogs I have worked with that are truly obsessed with running. Since I tend to be one of the most willing to exercise the dogs in this fashion amongst our staff, the dogs I have worked with will anticipate a run and bark almost neurotically when they sense a run is in their near future. But what I have found is that would much rather the dog be obsessed with a productive activity like running while outside than all the anxiety previously felt when walking. And when that anxiety turned into aggression, it can be a dangerous situation for everyone involved. Running and exercise has exponentially enriched the lives of many dog and owner partnerships I have had the pleasure of witnessing.

Another behavioral issue I have witnessed greatly improved by redirecting obsession is separation anxiety. Dogs who are unnaturally attached to their owners have a difficult time coping with a strong obsession of simply being in the presence of their owners. Like a teddy bear for a baby, it’s important that a dog learns how to cope with that kind of anxiety by replacing it with something healthier than the behavior they may want to exhibit instead. By coupling a command such as “go lay down” with a bed or chew toy associated with the event of leaving and their owner at the same time, re-associating a usually painful event is just a matter of consistency.

I will usually ask a client to spend more time asking their anxious dog to spend time away from them and on a bed when they are present, just to create the association, than actually working and praising the dog. But, in no time, the dog will usually become connected with their surroundings in an effort to cope. As long as the owner doesn’t provide extra emotion and stays firm, a dog can then understand the bed or crate they are being asked to lay in just as comfortable as their owner’s lap, which will transfer the obsession. This kind of transfer of anxiety will allow the dog and owner a much healthier foundation of behavior should things ever spiral out of control again.

Time and time again I have witnessed redirecting obsession proving more effective than medication. Medication can take weeks to cycle through a dog’s system and will often become a revolving door of what works best for each individual dog. Try finding something your dog would enjoy doing more than being anxious, and you may find that all the drive the dog has used for anxiety creates a more productive and happier member of your family when used effectively .

By: Brittney Frazier –  Head Trainer, CPDT-KA, APDT, Canine Good Citizen Evaluator

By Found Chicago 09 Aug, 2016

By: Brittney Frazier –  Head Trainer, CPDT-KA, APDT, Canine Good Citizen Evaluator

Within the last few months, my home has been strained with more traffic than usual. Even as a dog trainer who has opened her home to many rescue dogs in need of home exposure, the amount of foster dogs cycling through my home reiterated the importance of providing confident structure and leadership when integrating dogs into an environment. Although I have grown up in a family that embraces each other’s pets and often blends them together during family gatherings, the experiences I’ve had in rehabilitating dogs in my home alongside my own dogs have pointed out some essentials in the realm of multi-dog homes and playgroups in our facility.

The one thing dogs have taught me is that you will never be able to communicate anything to them without a good sound energy and belief in yourself about what you’re communicating. Leading an entire “pack” of dogs, even if it’s only two of them, requires an extra amount of calm energy that only comes with practiced patience. Make sure to be aware of how you feel around a group of dogs because that emotion with have a trickle down effect that could work either for or against you in your leadership. A walk, for example, can easily get out of hand with multiple dogs at the end of your leashes. Staying in tune with what you’re communicating, be that frustration, discomfort, or lack of confidence, is especially important in implementing any kind of training.

When issues, such as dog fights, arise in a home, playgroup, or other multi-dog situation, they are oftentimes preventable in ways that are not always obvious during the time of the incident. Whether it’s an unstable leader, poor mix of dog personalities, or addition of a major resource too soon, there are certain steps that can be taken to mitigate the variables that may be causing major unseen issues. Here at Found Chicago, our goal in training is to inform dog owners of where they can form a more positive relationship with their dogs, which they can then use to assist their dog in forming that same kind of relationship with others of their species to become a well-rounded family member.

That being said, when you feel ready to confront situations involving a group of dogs, your own or otherwise, that may have been a bit out of control in the past, keep the following in mind as you integrate multiple dogs into whatever setting you are aiming to stabilize:

·     Train the routines in your life : Whether it be feeding time or getting multiple dogs leashed up for a walk, make sure you know what you want each dog to do during times of high excitement. To create the least amount of stress to the dogs as possible, forming an expectation you want to see is an easy way to calm down a group of dogs fighting for the same resource. Before feeding, ensure all dogs are in an equal state of calm and giving the feeding area enough space to resolve the issue of resource guarding. Becoming the director of whatever scenario you encounter is key in preventing a fight. Decide how you want the dogs to act and keep that expectation consistent on a daily basis.

·     Fair is not always equal : Similar to siblings in a close-knit family, playing favoritism will cause many issues between dogs, can cause dogs to react negatively in response. That being said, sometimes treating all dogs equally in a situation is not always the right decision either. Because each dog possesses a unique personality and temperament, their needs and expectations in a group situation should reflect that. For example, a toy-possessive dog cannot be involved in a multi-dog game of fetch or a grumpy older dog might need to be crated while the younger dogs roughhouse. These are things to take into consideration before allowing dogs to socialize. Get to know your pack members before pushing the limits and you will gain credibility in their minds as a stable leader who can make decisions that are best for the group, being that the energy in the room remains calm.

·     Use universal communication : Both verbal and non-verbal communication is extremely pertinent to every dog in regards to their responses to direction. Keep commands simple and consistent so that every dog and human in the environment knows what to expect. Using the same words, but also body language is extremely important in order to build a reliable reaction to your communication with them as a whole. Teach a word like “enough” or “settle” as a calming cue. Teach every dog in the room what you expect when you say it and make sure that all humans involved are on the same page and able to recreate the same expectation.

·     Mean what you say : Try not to allow bad behaviors go unchecked or get out of hand. This is where the majority of issues arise and can quickly spiral within a group. When one dog ignores a command or implication of direction, allowing it to go without enforcing your expectation will teach the other dogs that you are not willing to make sure your rules are met. Rough play or dominating behaviors can quickly lead to dogs working out their differences in whatever way comes natural to the individual dog, which is not always positive. Make sure every dog in the room knows you have a tool for every situation, even if that means asking for a simple “sit” and following through on it.

·     Supplemental energy outlets : Although dog socialization and play is a great use of energy and can sometimes be extremely beneficial to a dog’s needs, be aware of how each dog is entering the environment. Never expect a high-energy dog to temper their intensity on their own accord. If a dog is too hyped up to play appropriately or take social cues rationally, make sure they are able to create the correct association with other dogs by finding a more vigorous energy outlet, such as running or fetch, to practice before socializing. This will put the dog on a much more even playing field and allow for a greater probability of calm in the group with all dog balanced appropriately. 

Keeping in mind that a group of dogs will always need a stable and confident leader to help set the tone for what is expected in any particular setting. Creating a sound relationship with each individual dog is the easiest way to create a more harmonious dog pack. Keeping things simple and decreasing the amount of excitement you add to situations is the easiest way to positively reinforce multiple dog interactions. Limit variables and remember where to interrupt behaviors to set yourself and your pack up for success.

By: Brittney Frazier –  Head Trainer, CPDT-KA, APDT, Canine Good Citizen Evaluator

By Found Chicago 08 Jul, 2016

By: Brittney Frazier –  Head Trainer, CPDT-KA, APDT, Canine Good Citizen Evaluator

Late spring and early summer seem to be the most popular times to introduce a new dog into a family and we are certainly seeing a high volume of puppies walk through our facility doors for training. With the warm weather and added opportunity to socialize, there are many benefits to adopting a dog during this stretch of the year. With potty training and introduction to new experiences being high on puppy owners’ priority lists, I highly recommend using that period of time to their benefit. 

As a trainer and having owned dogs throughout my lifetime, I have seen firsthand the benefit of imprinting specific experiences onto a young puppy. On the other hand, I have also witnessed the the consequences of waiting until a dog is much older to train or introduce a very important concept to no avail. Just like humans, the learning process for a dog becomes more challenging as they age, causing a dog to be a bit less malleable in developing skills. This is not to say “old dogs can’t learn new tricks,” as the saying goes, but it is no secret that puppies will pick up new information quickly from an early age, whether you are trying to teach them or not.

Something important to understand when raising a dog is that a puppy is not the equivalent of a infant human baby. Although they require almost as much time and effort on the part of raising them, failing to treat a dog like an animal sets an off-balance tone to the puppy from an early age. Remember that dogs age much faster than children and should be considered “toddlers” as early as three months of age who should have boundaries and expectations enforced. Skills like walking, playing, and sleeping alone overnight are essentials in developing confidence in a puppy and are all skills that can be learned early in life.

One of the most harmful things you can do to a puppy’s upbringing is carry it through new experiences instead of encouraging it to follow you. While it is our job to protect it and make it feel safe, it is also our job to teach it how to deal with stress and experiences it may not be comfortable with initially. In raising puppies, I always find the first lesson in teaching stairs is the most beneficial to building a good relationship in trust and respect of expectation. Set a small goal for the puppy that you know the dog can accomplish and bring something positive to the lesson, such as their kibble and your praise. Guiding the puppy through a small victory allows them to see you as a leader and that you will never ask it to complete a task it is incapable of accomplishing.

I’ve found that the vast majority of the dog community agrees on the importance of socializing pet dogs, specifically young puppies. From seven weeks onward, a puppy’s most important social experiences should come from other dogs and a variety of people. Making these experiences rewarding with lots of structure, praise, or food is also very important. Watch the puppy’s body language and be aware of what they need in the moment. A shy puppy might need more space along with coaching to get through a stressful social experience, while an overconfident puppy may need more structure to be successful. Exposing a puppy to social experiences you would like it to encounter as an adult is the way to creating a dog-friendly lifestyle for the two of you as a team.

Something people might not realize about puppies is that the behaviors they learn during as early as 7 to 16 weeks of age will imprint on them and continue to resurface over time in adulthood. Once a behavior is imprinted on a dog, it is possible to train an alternative behavior to counteract it, however, that is an added step which can be eliminated if the dog is trained from an early age. The rule of thumb I use in training is to imagine the puppy as an adult dog and decide if the behavior is something you will approve of over time. If a puppy is allowed to jump up to greet guests, it is difficult for them to realize A dog does not realize what size is appropriate for jumping on people and will only continue to jump on people as a habit learned in puppyhood.

Introduction to different kinds of rewards and extending a puppy’s mental endurance between rewards is also a very useful concept to introduce at an early age. While treats are usually a person’s go-to for training, this may not be a sustainable way of training throughout a dog’s entire life. Getting a dog accustomed to viewing lots of things as rewards, such as praise, toys, or bones in exchange for a favorable behavior will allow the dog to understand those as just as valuable as treats in the long run, making training more dynamic and accessible in everyday life. Equally as useful is teaching a puppy how to be patient and not expect constant reward when you are busy. Teaching not only “down” but “stay” as well will be very useful in your future if you need your dog to function as a co-pilot throughout your life, because there will be many times traveling throughout life with your dog that you will need it to lie relaxed at your side.

As cute, loving, and cuddly as puppies may be, allowing them to mature and flourish on their own is the only way a puppy can develop normally, both mentally and physically. Independence, confidence, and adherence to expectation are all characteristics that will create the balanced dog everyone dreams of. Creating an easy and sheltered life for a puppy will not allow for a dog to learn how to deal with the stresses of life and overcome them before the dog lacks enough confidence to learn any differently. A puppy can never have too much mental nourishment and challenge; two essentials need to imprint learning experiences with you as both their leader and protector for a lifetime.

By: Brittney Frazier –  Head Trainer, CPDT-KA, APDT, Canine Good Citizen Evaluator

By Found Chicago 01 Jun, 2016

By: Brittney Frazier –  Head Trainer, CPDT-KA, APDT, Canine Good Citizen Evaluator

We’ve all seen the Disney movies with a talking dog or two and laughed at the idea of what our dogs would really say if they were able to speak our language.  Although dogs speaking English might make dog training much easier (and more hilarious!), personifying dogs and what they think, feel, or need can be precisely the issue in a suspected “behavioral problem.” 

How dogs behave is simply a reaction to their environment and the situation surrounding them. A dog will never stop to reason or weigh consequences when being introduced to a new situation. He or she will only react to what is presented. Unfortunately, if the people or other animals misread the reaction, there could be very negative consequences. It is important for the people within the environment to provide what their individual dog needs when observing to ensure safe and productive encounters with new people and dogs.

Our dogs speak with their bodies and can sometimes involve vocalizations to get a point across. Most dogs will give plenty of information away with their body before ever escalating into the next level, so it is important to know the beginning stages of a happy or unhappy dog. Focus in on a dog’s eyes, ears, mouth, and tail for the most information about how the dog is feeling at any individual moment. From there, you will be able to observe the overall demeanor of the dog for a greater picture of what the dog may need from you.

In order to identify warning signs for when a dog may be unable to handle a situation, let’s take a look at some signals that let us know our dogs are comfortable. A dog that is truly content will have a loose demeanor with relaxed body posture. Additional cues that indicate a happy dog include:

  • Relaxed, laid back ears
  • Tail held in a “half-mast” position
  • Slow, wagging body
  • Mouth held partially open without exposing teeth
  • Play bowing

The transition from a happy dog to a stressed dog can be very subtle and easily missed. It is important to look for your individual dog’s stressed body language to prevent he or she from overreacting in an attempt to exit the situation. A dog that is stressed will usually demonstrate the following signals: 

  • Eyes so squinted they are almost closed
  • Heaving panting (a dog “smiling” doesn’t always mean that it’s happy)
  • Extremely tucked or stiff tail
  • Lifting one or both front legs
  • Low head and body carriage
  • Lip licking
  • Yawning
  • Physical shaking

The above body language doesn’t necessarily mean that the dog will bite and attack, but give this kind of dog some space and time to assess their environment before moving in to get to know them. Sometimes, dogs recognizing another dog’s discomfort will offer calming signals in an effort to show another dog it means no harm. These signals include, but are not limited to: sniffing the ground and giving space, turning the head or body sideways, or offering their belly and other vulnerable areas. The best way for us to mimic these signals is to give the dog space, turn sideways, and divert eye contact until the dog appears more comfortable. 

Dogs that are threatened and are demonstrating confrontational body language are dogs you should give space to immediately. These signals include:

  • Freezing
  • “Whale eye” (looking out of the corner of their eye)
  • Exposing teeth
  • Growling or snapping
  • Direct eye contact
  • High and stiff body carriage (in conjunction with other signals)
  • Tail standing straight up in the air

No matter what your dog is saying, it is important to listen. All too often dogs are blatantly obvious about how they feel and those around them do not heed the warning signs. As the warm weather, dog beaches, and barbeques ensue; make sure to take a moment to check in with your four-legged friend to ensure he or she is comfortable with what is happening. Don’t let the only voice your dog has go unheard.

Found Chicago, NFP is a 501(c)3 no-kill, all-breed rescue that serves to rescue, rehabilitate and re-home the most medically and behaviorally challenged dogs that would otherwise be euthanized. Found Chicago Boarding & Training Center is a subsidiary of Found Chicago, NFP that provides services to the public to give dog owners the knowledge they need to better handle their dogs and improve the quality of the dog-human relationship. 

By: Brittney Frazier –  Head Trainer, CPDT-KA, APDT, Canine Good Citizen Evaluator

By Found Chicago 03 May, 2016

By: Brittney Frazier –  Head Trainer, CPDT-KA, APDT, Canine Good Citizen Evaluator

To a dog, a six foot leash represents exercise, a break from daytime naps, and their overall freedom into the outside world. Oftentimes, just the sight of the leash becomes a stimuli eliciting an explosion of wiggles and leaps of joy. Interestingly enough, a common goal I have heard from fellow dog owners, and one that I set for myself in training my own dogs, is the ability to trust in their dogs off leash response. Ironically, weaning out the need to even use a leash while out in public can be seen as a dog owner’s complete sense of freedom. 

As the beautiful weather rolls in, opportunities to participate in off leash dog activities begin to pop up as well. From the dog beach, to the dog park, to gardening alongside a lounging lab on the front lawn, the possibilities of living naturally with a dog are endless when the foundational work is put in. On the other hand, there are extremely important issues to remember when beginning to transition a dog to off leash activities. Below are some tips and tricks of the trade to help guide you to some additional freedom for both you and your dog as the season of long walks, parties, and picnics approaches.

Focus on the Foundation

Any dog that responds successfully to their owner without the safety of a leash has been taught the basics of leash walking, recall, and a general sense of boundaries as a pet. From the very moment you first laid eyes on the pooch you love so much, you have been sending messages on your leadership style, whether or not it was your intention. Off leash work is all about the consistency of habits that were formed after months, if not years, of foundational work on what is expected of them in any given situation. Therefore, we must first understand what skills need the most work before we begin creating those habits.

The first main skill to focus on when introducing your dog to your home and how to exist around you, in public or at home, is to respect a leash and the area around you. Encouraging your dog to walk calmly by your side and understand the limit of a six foot boundary is important in creating a habit where your dog understands how close or far away they should be from your area. Being social animals, dogs will naturally feel comfortable within the vicinity of what they consider their pack, but will need some coaching on where the individual boundaries are when it comes to walking with you. Because there are specific restrictions placed on the most efficient way to walk our dogs, based off of the size of the sidewalk and what obstacles or distractions you are walking around, our dog needs to understand how close or far away you expect them to be from you at all times and in each given situation. You should feel confident that you and your dog have achieved a positive walking relationship when you feel as if you’re holding a familiar family member’s hand and struggling very little to keep a common pace.

The second major skill that will assist you in off leash work is a “leave it” command. The name of the command is not important, but the meaning is. If your dog is off leash, you will need a command that communicates the importance of leaving something immediately and proceeding to ignore the item (i.e. dog, person, trash on the ground) as if it didn’t exist so that you can give an additional command that allows you to gain control of the dog again. Although it is important to practice this skill on leash while out on walks because that is the environment most important to off leash training, it is also a skill easily practiced in a home setting. Work to stop your dog as they are approaching things like spilled food, visitors, and other tempting distractions with a “leave it” command to help build your successes outside the home with similar distractions.

Recall and a solid “come” command is likely the most important aspect of training, and could possibly save your dog’s life. In training, the best advice I can give about recall is to make sure not to destroy the meaning of the word for your dog. Never use the word “come” or “here” unless you are absolutely clear of your intensions and intend to follow through on your command. That being said, make sure coming to your side is always a positive experience and reward heavily at every opportunity. As with leash walking, helping your dog to understand the expectation and routine of the command is extremely important. And similar to “leave it,” make sure to generalize the command in multiple situations and varying levels of distractions to enhance your success outside.

It’s a Walk, Not a Sprint

The amount of time it may take to solidify these commands and practice them to a degree you can rely on will vary by dog and owner. While the average dog may take years of training before an owner is confident enough to take their dog off leash in controlled settings, some may take much less training to be reliable on training. What is most important is to ensure the freedom your dog experiences is very limited at each stage of your progress with them. Moving too quickly into a situation where the level of distraction is very high without the required practice with your dog to prepare will most definitely be setting your dog up for failure and will force you to lose some credibility with your buddy. Even a very social dog should be limited on the amount of freedom in social settings to give yourself a chance to practice your recall every so often. 

The best way to test the amount of freedom your dog should be allowed is testing recall, leash walking, and overall response to verbal cues in varying situations to get a feeling for what your dog can handle. Begin in areas of low distraction and work your way up to a safe off leash setting like your backyard or dog park. Think of being off leash as being your dog gaining access to different parts of the house when you first brought him home. He needs to earn your trust with good behavior and learn what behaviors is and isn’t acceptable in any given area and make it a habit before you will be confident in how he will react when he hears the unmistakable unclip of his leash’s clasp.

Training Wheels Aren’t Only for the Bike

There are several training tools that can assist in your transition to an off leash trained dog and ease some of the anxiety that comes with assessing new situations with him. I like to think of a long lead or retractable leashes as “training wheels” for creating the eventual reality you are looking to create. While I hardly ever recommend anything longer than a six foot lead for walking on an average walk, long leads are great to work on recall, fetch, or other activities where you might need to correct you dog’s focus back to you. Being cautious to ensure that no one else is getting wrapped up in the excess lead (which could be very dangerous), pick a place where you are looking to introduce your dog off leash to and practice your course of action for different types of distractions.

Additionally, food and treats can be an amazing tool to keep on hand as a way to “jackpot” reward recall and make yourself all the more valuable in your dog’s mind. Think of how interested your dog would be in checking back in with you if they had to earn their breakfast by picking you over every other distraction at the park. There are a lot of things a dog might overlook when a variable is thrown into their consciousness, but breakfast usually isn’t one of them! You might want to start varying the rate of reward by weaning him off of being treated every time he is called back to you and using big praise as a substitute being that you might not always have food on hand. 

Know Your Limits

While leaving your dog’s reaction to a particular situation to chance can ruin the desired training relationship you have with him, but giving your dog more freedom than he is ready for can have dire consequences. Making sure that your dog is never in a situation that may put them or anyone else in danger is essential in keeping our world safe. Even the best trained dog may act in a way that is uncharacteristic or become unreliable on their commands due to a new situation he has not learned how to deal with quite yet, so it is pertinent that your dog is always under close supervision whenever off leash.

Off leash experiences should be limited to dog friendly settings within a closed off area, such as a dog park, but these are areas which require training beforehand to ensure that your dog is making choices you are happy with, rather than just reacting to situations he is unprepared for. When properly introduced to off leash training, however, enjoying the outdoors can become a rewarding experience for the hardworking dog owner and make the upcoming warm spring and summer months well worth the wait!

Found Chicago, NFP is a 501(c)3 no-kill, all-breed rescue that serves to rescue, rehabilitate and re-home the most medically and behaviorally challenged dogs that would otherwise be euthanized. Found Chicago Boarding & Training Center is a subsidiary of Found Chicago, NFP that provides services to the public to give dog owners the knowledge they need to better handle their dogs and improve the quality of the dog-human relationship. 

By: Brittney Frazier - Head Trainer, CPDT-KA, APDT, Canine Good Citizen Evaluator

By Found Chicago 20 Apr, 2016

By: Brittney Frazier –  Head Trainer, CPDT-KA, APDT, Canine Good Citizen Evaluator

As the weather begins to thaw here in Chicago, I’m sure everyone is itching to get outside and start moving! The good news is that your dog is no different. Man’s best friend wants nothing more than to be right at your side as you start up your yearly outdoor routine. Most of my clients know the ol’ take-the-dog-to-the-park-and-throw-the-ball drill, but my goal is usually to push thresholds of creativity in the area of exercising their pet. Finding the fun in exercise makes it much more likely that we will regularly give our dogs the amount of physical and mental enrichment that keeps them calm and balanced in other aspects of our lifestyle. Simply being in the outdoors keys in to the natural senses a dog uses to keep their instinctual roots intact.

The most important thing to remember in training is the classic phrase that you must be able to walk before you can run. It is pertinent to exercise in public with a dog you have started training in an area of much lesser distraction to avoid confusion and frustration on both sides of communication between dog and owner. Taking a basic obedience class and introducing the classic “sit,” “down,” “stay,” and “come” could be the difference between life and death when off leash or in a particularly intense situation for a variety of reasons. The best part of introducing the basics is that they become much more fun when practiced to a level that can be relied on when out in public. Start with easy and short obedience drills in the house before you are practicing at a higher level of intensity and distraction, such as the front yard or around the block. Once you are comfortable working your dog in more distractable situations, the world is your oyster for new activities to do with your dog! Below you will find a variety of settings and suggestions for mental stimulation within those settings that will make training and exercise a breeze.

Running, biking, or hiking with your dog. Activities we do naturally when the weather warms up are perfect for bringing a furry buddy along for some endurance training. The most important training tool to teach for these activities would be leash work, something that may take a bit of time to get the hang of. When you find the right equipment for your activity (i.e., collar, leash, dog backpack), you will be able to get the mechanics down before going out for a trek. Sometimes a one hour private session with a trainer experienced in this kind of activity may help you plan out the logistics of how to begin the process. Not only is running and hiking closer to a dog’s natural pace when out and about, but it lessens the probability for reactivity to dogs and people and makes the overall job of staying by your side more difficult and rewarding when accomplished. It’s important that your dog is medically sound for this kind of exercise exertion and that the activity you’re asking of them is appropriate for their size and breed. For the hard working breeds such as German Shepherds and Border Collies, there might be no better way to rid your house of excess energy!

“Agility” at the park. Dog agility is a sport that is growing in popularity and an activity that most training facilities offer guidance or classes on. Taking all of the fun had during a class once a week into consideration, many of my students would never imagine making their everyday walk into a make-shift agility course! In a city like Chicago, there are many aspects about the environment that enables a dog owner to enrich the time they are spending with their dog, even if your walk time is limited. Have your dog learn to jump up on park benches or perform a random “down/stay” for you on a passing manhole cover. Not only will your dog enjoy the introduction of a new activity, but it will probably allow you to encounter opportunities to assist your dog in overcoming a fear. This will build the relationship you have as their reference point and leader while also challenging their overall level of obedience in new situations. One of my favorite places to practice agility and obedience is at the park on the slides, bridges, and tunnels. For this, make sure that your dog is comfortable around children and people as to not overload them with new experiences and create a negative reaction. Also be aware of your dog’s physicality and how much their body can handle when jumping and moving in ways their body might not be accustomed to.

Fun in the sun at the dog beach. Here in Chicago, dog owners are happy to find many spots where dog are not only welcome, but the only reason for gathering! To avoid making non-dog lovers uncomfortable, there may be a designated dog beach in your area where dogs can be dogs while their humans enjoy some rays. The best part of the dog beach as an exercise outlet is the water. If you’d like a way to make a game of fetch more challenging, throwing a bright green tennis ball far out into the water to encourage a good swim might be one of the best ways to work a dog’s muscles and stamina. While you will need a very social dog to visit this summer spin on the dog park, it’s a great place to work on your overall socialization as well, being that there is so much area to use for breaks if your dog becomes overstimulated. Remember to utilize equipment if your dog is not ready for that kind of freedom. Long leads can always be accessed for this type of setting to enable a bit more control in a sometimes out of control setting.

Frisbee to spruce up the classic game of fetch. Tired of tossing the tennis ball around? Frisbee is the perfect outlet for the excessively athletic dog that needs a bit of a mind challenge and allows for a relationship building game that can branch into a variety of new skills. This is the perfect activity for the naturally jumpy or mouthy dog because it creates a positive outlet for the dog behaviors we are constantly reprimanding them for. If your dog doesn’t take to fetching the Frisbee right away, not to worry! Save the Frisbee specifically for the game and don’t let you dog play with it by themselves. Make yourself and feeding treats on the Frisbee a part of the game when you first start to introduce this new toy you are asking the dog to build a drive for. Remember to start small with rolling the Frisbee along the floor for them to retrieve easily and very short tosses when they’re ready. Slowly, but surely, your dog could become the next Frisbee all-star!

Finding new activities to do outdoors with you dog is not only a great way to get them up and moving, but a great way to take a break from our busy lives and take time out to build the relationship we have with the loyal companions we share our homes with. Dogs are wild animals at heart and will usually develop other ways to fulfill their instincts if not with you. And what better way to fulfill those instincts by adding training to their outdoor experiences with you so that they associate you with the person that opens up their world and leads them into new experiences. Remember, a tired dog is a happy, fulfilled, and balanced one, which usually leads to the same qualities in their owners! And, lastly, don’t forget to offer your pet plenty of water on those sunny summer days!

By: Brittney Frazier - Head Trainer, CPDT-KA, APDT, Canine Good Citizen Evaluator

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