What Our Dogs Learn

Our dogs learn a lot from just watching us! They learn what they can get away with, but also what works. Oreo seems to figure this all out at super speed. My husband wakes up at 5:00 every morning and I sleep in until 6:00. When he gets up he takes the dog out and she comes up to sleep at my feet until I get up.

Unfortunately, this has caused a pattern, which she quickly found out. On weekends, she isn’t used to sleeping in, so will wake up early and bark for us. My husband usually lets me sleep (yay!) and gets up and she RUNS upstairs and jumps into the bed to sleep. Well yes, she did figure out if she barks at night she gets to go upstairs. She has been getting us up every morning earlier. Yesterday it was at 3:00am.

I was lazy and figured it wouldn’t cause too much harm and we would actually get to sleep in if she was at the foot of our bed. WRONG! We didn’t allow her to sleep in bed with us because when we asked her to get off and sleep downstairs she would growl or even snap on occasion. This was solved when we kept her downstairs gated in the kitchen. With my husband’s new work schedule, things have changed.

So last night I got up at 3:00am and took her outside and put her back in her bed, then went back upstairs. I do not want to reinforce the pattern of coming upstairs that has been established. She did continue barking every hour, but we ignored it until I finally got up at 7:00am. Our dogs certainly learn a lot from us. We didn’t even think about it, but it was so clear that would happen. So we are going to continue to try to ignore her when she barks and break the pattern, although she may have an extinction burst like last night (where they realize they aren’t getting the reinforcement anymore and try a million times harder).

Extinction bursts remind me of when I was a child. If my mom would give in after I kept begging her for something I would try again. This time she wouldn’t give in so I would bug her 10 times worse getting angrier trying to get the reward I wanted. Dogs do the same thing.

Training today was a bit of a mess. Oreo is having a hard time again, she is very up and down. It was my mistake to walk her down the driveway at training, where she greeted everyone. I thought that it would be good since she loves people now, I will reinforce that. It seems to have made her into a people monster! She seems to be flicking me off for everyone else (haha that’s what the trainer said as a joke, but it’s true)! She would not walk back with me, but instead when I asked her to come she would sit down and back up as far as she could towards the people.

It took everything I could to not get super upset. She kept sitting and backing up or not moving. Finally I got her to the car after making a trail of chicken (which shouldn’t happen either because now she will LEARN she gets a trail of chicken if she doesn’t come). Next time I will ask everyone to go into the barn (negative punishment), or just pick her up and put her in the car. I also cannot have anyone walk her back with me to the car…she is quickly learning if she hesitates to follow me she gets lots of good things (UGH! STOP REINFORCING IT!)

So we did some practice with her getting out of the car, then we would walk while someone was standing 10 feet away. I would take a few steps, stop and ask for a trick from her or come. If she did not respond within 10 seconds we turned around and headed back to the car. If she refused to come (she did once) then the person would walk away and leave (Oreo then would follow me which was then rewarded). Eventually she figured it out and did very well.

Next we did an activity where everyone sits in a circle (well we are all VERY far apart  70 feet or so). Then we just sit with our dogs and move in closer if they are comfortable. This is working on getting the dogs to just relax in the presence of other people and dogs. People so rarely do this with their dogs (me included) that our dogs are not used to it. Oreo did the worst, even though she has made the most progress with people and dogs. She does not know how to relax and cried and play bowed to go play with the other dogs.

However, the trainer and I discussed how Oreo’s allergies continue to be a problem. Her skin around her eyes is red and tearing and she’s always biting her legs, paws, and back. She had a skin infection before and yeast infection in her ears, and she may be getting them again. For some reason her immune system is compromised and we need to get it back up and working so her allergies will get better. I am thinking of driving quite the distance to visit a holistic vet who has done wonders with so many dogs. We shall see how she improves, I ordered his book to get a better idea about holistic care.

It’s been a stressful day so that’s why I have written so much. At home we gave Oreo a new bone and she growled at my husband for going near the bone (this is a continuing issue). However, I convinced him to do “trade” with her so she was better later, but told him he needs to stop taking things or getting in her face when she has something of value. Otherwise, she will continue to growl (because she has learned that he usually takes things away from her, and she doesn’t want them taken away). If she continues to growl she is practicing the behavior, so it will be more likely to happen. I also discussed with him that if she growls he shouldn’t coddle her (he talks high-pitched and she licks his face then so she is getting a reward for growling). Additionally, when she is told to “go to bed” she sometimes sits down. When she does this my husband pets her, hugs her, and gives her lots of attention. I told her not to do this anymore either-this is a reward. So next time she is more likely to repeat sitting when we tell her to go to bed (get in the kitchen where she sleeps). Ugh! What a challenge. Our dogs learn so much from every single behavior we DO or DON’T do, so we always have to keep in mind if we are reinforcing something on purpose or by accident by our actions.



Made Oreo some more treats!! It didn’t take as long this time and I had all the correct materials and ingredients. I made the biscuits thinner this time, so they are easy to put in my pocket and  break during walks for rewards! Yay!

Also…anyone make homemade dog food? I’m thinking of doing that…Oreo’s ears are acting up…it may just be outdoor allergies, but I want to eliminate all chances it is the kibble. Also, I just gave her a bath (yes very productive today). She was very nervous with lots of lip licking, but she took treats and jumped into the bath herself! 🙂


This is just an update entry!

Oreo had private training again with the “big black scary dog” and the trainer. This time we backed it up. Instead of being in the barn, we worked in the poll barn, a much bigger, more open area. I went in first and attached a 50 foot lead to Oreo. The trainer came in with her dog, who stayed near her and Oreo got to investigate. She smelled around and eventually would get closer to the end of the leash. We only saw 2 nervous licks the entire time, and we were there for over an hour!! YAY!!! She ventured to the end of the leash then would look at me and run back. After a while she would get closer and play bow and even sit and relax yay!!

That is the goal-we want her to be able to RELAX around other dogs, so one day she might be able to greet and play with them. She is very conflicted. At a distance, and even a few feet away she wants to play, then as she approaches she slows down and freezes. Sometimes she will play, sometimes she will snarl and want to bite. We are working towards rehabilitating her after she was attacked. I would NEVER force her to go near other dogs, especially because she is afraid. But I know she once LOVED playing with dogs and couldn’t get enough. Now, she shows me she wants to, but is too scared and unsure, so I am doing this for her, so maybe one day she will get what she wants…to be able to play and not be scared of being attacked by the dog again.

Her reactive training went well. We had some observers who may be attending the class. One was a man!! WOOO! I say that because men hardly ever come and most of the dogs are afraid of them. Oreo was nervous when we did parallel walking. Parallel walking can be used with just a person opposite of you and your dog, or a person and a dog. Basically you walk parallel to someone, so you start at the same spot, parallel at a certain amount apart. If it’s your first time, give it tons of distance and look for signs from your dog to tell you if you are too close or far away. This exposes your dog to the trigger at a safe distance, while you can click and treat your dog for looking calmly at the person or dog. Remember, don’t push your dog too much! Stay at a distance and take it slow, do a few reps walking back and forth and give your dog a break. We did three back and forths with the man and she was nervous. I gave her a break, then later we tried again a bit closer.

Further down the training road we had her meet him, and she LOVED him the most out of everyone! I think she just needed to MEET him and have him give her treats to know he is okay, a friend. I wonder what would’ve happened if I had her meet him first. I don’t think she would’ve been nervous when parallel walking then, it was just because he was a stranger. She has become “Stubborn” like a “mule.” She will sit when I ask her to walk back to the car with me. She used to hate people, now she loves them so much she won’t leave. I had someone walk with us back towards the car and she did fine then. I guess loving people too much is better than hating them!

Where to go?

I remember when I first started my journey with my reactive dog. We are still living in the same place, but she is much more confident now. If you haven’t read before-we live in high density condos. It’s VERY hard to avoid people and dogs on walks. In fact, it’s EXTREMELY difficult to avoid people and dogs just going out the front or back door!

All reactive dogs need at least 2 weeks of calm. This should be a time before training starts, ensuring the dog’s levels of stress have deflated. Getting your dog’s stress down can be challenging. When we were trying to maintain an environment of calm we did many things.

  • If your dog barks at people or other dogs outside-close the shades and doors. I have even seen people put special window peels so it make it more difficult for the dog to see outside.
  • Put on a radio or tv so your dog does not hear people or dogs outside. This will also help to drown out the noise of doors slamming.
  • Take your dog to other places. I avoided walking my dog around the neighborhood. Not only because she was attacked there, but because of all the people and dogs. Take your dog to the park, one that is VERY open and not crowded. If a park is not available find an empty parking lot after hours. You could also walk your dog early in the morning or late at night. Find school parking lots or playgrounds that are empty (after school is out). Walk your dog on unused soccer fields. Always take treats with you just in case you run into any trouble.
  • If your dog is reactive while in the car keep him or her in a crate. Otherwise make it so they can’t see out.
  • Play games and have fun with your dog.
  • Do not invite people over that your dog is not comfortable with. Basically, don’t put your dog in situations where they will be stressed.
  • Avoid bringing your dog to parties or crowded areas.

If you don’t give your dog days, or at least 2 weeks to calm down, it will be difficult for your dog’s stress level to return to normal. Therefore, it will be difficult to train them. It seems like a lot of work, and it is, but it is definitely worth it. You WILL see a positive difference if you are using positive training!

Loyal Lunatics

Whoever said dogs don’t have feelings is a lunatic.

Today on the news I heard about a loyal labrador  named Grace who stayed by its companion’s side after the other dog was hit by a car. The dog stood in the middle of the multi-lane road even though cars swerved and drove past. As Grace stood by her now dead companion, a good samaritan put cones up to block traffic. Eventually, animal control came and they are looking for the owner of Grace and the other dog, otherwise she will need to be adopted. I found the article here http://www.sgvtribune.com/news/ci_20400328/loyal-labrador-stays-by-companions-side-after-la

This is a heart warming and heart breaking story, to think Grace’s best friend was hit and she wanted to stand by and not leave him. This is not uncommon. Dogs are very loyal to their companions, whether human or canine. If you search on youtube for dogs stay by companion or any other search terms similar, you will find endless videos and reports on dogs not leaving their owner or companions side when they are injured.

One of the most heart-breaking and famous stories is of a dog named Hawkeye who refused to leave a fallen Navy Seals side. He was killed in a helicopter crash and at the funeral Hawkeye walked up to the casket and with a heaving sigh laid down next to his cakset. The picture at the top of this entry shows the picture taken by the Navy Seal’s cousin. We can’t always speak the same language as our dogs, but they understand much more than people give them credit for, and their bonds with us go much deeper than we think.

Another dog, Sadie, stayed for 3 days near her owner when he got thrown from a boat and into a tree. The dog actually removed tree branches from on top of him, and licked his face, trying to revive him.  Other dogs have stayed by their owner’s graves for days, or a dead soldier’s side. Dogs give unconditional love, protection, and emotional support. Yes, sometimes it’s not the greatest time when you have to take your dog to the vet, or when you are walking your dog in sleet or rain, but it is worth it. Many times we do not recognize how amazing dogs are until dogs like Sadie and Grace show us. For those people who think dogs don’t have feeling or bonds with people are loyal lunatics. They are loyal meaning they don’t change their mind about animals or dogs even when the facts are in front of them. Dogs do have feelings, they are loyal, and do as much for us as we do for them.

Gluten Free Pumpkin Dog Treat Recipe (Yum!)

So today I ventured to make gluten-free pumpkin dog treats. I got the recipe from this website http://simplysugarandglutenfree.com/gluten-free-pumpkin-dog-biscuits/ .

So I mixed everything today, rolled out my dough (okay I didn’t roll it…I didn’t have my rolling pin so I pressed it with my hands…not as accurate yes). Next I went to cut it and realized I didn’t have any of my cookie cutters (we don’t have much anymore, we are trying to sell the house-everything is in storage…even cookie cutters and rollers). Anyways, I cut them into squares and triangles and finished one tray only to realize I sprayed cooking spray on it WITH FLOUR. Yikes! Needless to say that batch will go to my sister’s dog. I left the treats in the oven for 20 minutes, a little too long for my oven so next time I will only do 15. Next I flipped them and left them in for 15 minutes.

I took them out and had Oreo spin around. I rewarded her with the treat. THE MOMENT OF TRUTH. Will she like the treats I worked on? Will it be worth it? YES!! First she put it on the ground and nosed it (she does this when something is new), next she ate it and came back for more! Good! I was buying treats that I knew for sure were gluten-free (some bigger brands claim to be gluten-free but in fact are not), but it was very expensive, so I decided to make my own. If your dog has a gluten or wheat allergy I recommend this recipe…the dogs love the pumpkin!

A Little Hair…

Oreo has done so well in the trainings the last few weeks, it was actually boring for her. However,we had her walk around the lake following another dog, and she definitely needs work on that. The whole time she is pulling,crying, wanting to get to the dog. She is play bowing, so I believe it is because she wants to play, but one can never be sure. That is her pattern…so excited to see dogs,then when she does get up close, she changes her mind and becomes afraid and wants to snap at them!

We had our first private lesson to try to rehabilitate Oreo to relax around other dogs. The ultimate goal is for her to do just that…be able to relax with other dogs around and perhaps one day play with them (she is torn about this,wants to play, but is scared). The lesson didn’t go anything like the trainer or I expected, unfortunately it was much worse. We started by discussing what we were going to do, then the trainer brought her dog in (also trianing her dog at the same time). She sat on the other side of the room and I entered with Oreo and did our focus/door work activities. Then I sat in a chair and rewarded her for looking at the other dog calmly. The goal was to have her sit on her own or lay down and just relax and be like, “Who cares that there is another dog over there”.

However, this was not the case. She barked, play bowed, lunged and cried the entire time. We tried re-entering the door and she did better the second time. We followed each other in a circle but Oreo did so much lip licking to calm herself down, she was extremely uncomfortable. I should have known better, but we continued and did some calming curves, but instead of calling Oreo back to me, we let her just stop and check out the other dog. She was nervous, but did a good job being so close to the other dog. The trainer suggested having her sniff the other dogs butt, to teach good manners when approaching other dogs.

She turned her dog around, Oreo went to sniff, and the trainers dogs’ head turned…so we retreated. We went back and tried again. This time Oreo looked at me for a long time, and didn’t seem interested at all, or nervous. All of a sudden she went to bite the dog in the butt! She got a mouthful of hair, and that’s it–luckily no skin was touched and no pain.

Next class we are working in the pole barn, a much bigger area with longer leads. Hopefully the space will allow her to calm down. It was hard for her for many reasons. She is fine with all the dogs in class, but has never met this dog before. Also this dog was a BIG, HAIRY, BLACK dog! The trainer also pointed it out, but we can’t work with another dog that is also in training until she can calm down. We don’t want reactive dog training with another reactive dog. She does have an idea for a brown dog as a playmate one day. The training makes me extremely nervous, but we will take it slower, and I have to trust my instincts on what is okay for Oreo and what’s not. She doesn’t seemed stressed by the incident at all, so that is good. Well, that’s all for now!