Gracie the Newfoundland joined us for training when she was 6 months old. She had developed major issues with jumping on people, and had injured a young girl with her over exuberance. She also pulled on leash, would bark in the yard, and was difficult to manage in the house. This increasingly frustrating behavior left her owners searching for help, and that is where we came in.
We had to solve these issues a few different ways. We had to teach Gracie how we wanted her to act, introduce her to consequences for bad behavior, and also give her outlets for her energy so that she was not likely to seek out her own ways to relieve boredom. We also had to make sure that all of these new behaviors and skills transferred back to her home environment.
Newfoundlands are a working breed, developed to work in tough conditions for long periods of time. This type of work required a dog with plenty of energy and the drive to work for long periods. If left to their own devices, the energy that made them great at their jobs in Canada can lead to a Newfoundland trying to find their own “jobs”. We use obedience as a way to give these dogs a job to perform, while also making them easier to handle and making their owner’s life easier.
Gracie’s owners did the right thing by sending her to us as a six month old puppy. Behavior issues tend to get worse over time, and can be harder to stop in older dogs because the habits get so ingrained in the dog. By getting out hands on Gracie at a younger age, we were able to stop the behaviors before they got worse, and were able to lay a foundation of obedience that will last for the rest of her life.
Merlin is a lovely young pit bull who was rescued by his owners after he was abandoned by his previous owners. He is generally a good boy, but had a few issues with impulse control. This was especially true around food. He struggled with behaving during meal times at home. My job was to go in and teach him reliable obedience and establish some new rules for him. Merlin also needed to be shown that those rules are still in place even under heavy distractions.
Merlin’s Training Plan
Merlin made great progress with us during his time in training. As with all dogs, he started his training with some “home field” advantage, and then we gradually added more and more distractions. Once he was highly reliable at the kennel, we took things on the road and started working obedience in public. Our field trips included local parks, pet friendly stores, and his own neighborhood.
We also tailored the training to his individual needs. We did lots of food refusal exercises and impulse control around food and toys. This is a common issue that we see with working type dogs, but it can be easily worked on. Training like this also transfers over into other areas, and helps dogs to ignore anything the environment throws at them.
Once Merlin was able to perform the same in a new public place as he was at our facility, we then started taking him back to his home environment. We also started his go home lessons with his owners, and showed them how to handle him and how to speak his language. Now he is an excellent role model for the pit bull breed, and is thriving back home.
If you want your dog to be trained to the same standard that Merlin was, contact us to schedule a consultation with Sam.
When people bring home a new dog or puppy, sooner or later they will see that dog clambering onto the sofa. Some people are delighted, and are happy to cuddle up with Fluffy for TV time. Others are horrified and do not want to risk the dog damaging their living room furniture. Some people may even be worried that their dog getting on the couch is a sign of dominance, or the dog trying to be the “alpha”. The real answer is that there is no one rule that suits all dogs when it comes to this area. Different situations require different rules and boundaries for sharing your furniture with a dog.
The group that I say across the board should not be on your couch or bed are dogs who have demonstrated possessiveness of your stuff. As a dog trainer, I get calls from people where the dog isn’t allowing a spouse into bed, and is keeping guests from getting onto the couch. This type of behavior is a sign of deep relationship problems with the dog that extends way beyond just furniture. It needs to be addressed with a trainer, but in the mean time, the dog needs all furniture privileges to be revoked. This behavior is inappropriate and dangerous.
The cause of this type of behavior is often too much freedom in the dog’s life. Dogs thrive when given structure, and some dogs need more than others. Many people want to let their dog have free reign of the house, and this can lead to the dog developing the wrong idea about who is in control of the couch. This is an especially big issue when the dog is new to the household, and is establishing what your household is all about. Dogs are opportunists, and a new dog with a pushier temperament may try to stake claim to the most comfortable spot in the house.
Dogs with possessiveness issues over furniture often show behavioral issues in other areas. They may resource guard other things, such as food, toys, or even their personal space or their owner. This behavior can worsen over time, and lead to the dog becoming more and more aggressive in their responses. Stopping this behavior is not a cookie cutter process, because each dog is an individual, but in all cases it involves establishing a management plan around the house. This plan can include obedience training, more rules and boundaries, off limits areas, controlling how resources are given, consequences for bad behavior, and giving the dog appropriate outlets and “jobs”.
Living Room Parkour
We also see another type of behavior issue surrounding furniture. This one can actually be amusing to those on the outside looking in, but isn’t nearly as funny to those who are living with it. Commonly seen with young, high energy dogs, “living room parkour” is my affectionate term for the behavior of sprinting around the room, leaping onto and over furniture, and basically turning your house into an obstacle course.
This behavior rarely is present all the time, and the dog may be very laid back and sleep on the furniture at times. When the mood strikes though, these dogs start bouncing off the walls, and can do a lot of damage. I’ve seen couches with big gouges in them, upholstery ruined, and people injured when the dog tries to use the couch as a trampoline.
This group of dogs can be managed a little differently. We may institute a protocol where the dog is allowed onto furniture only when invited, and that they are crated when alone, to prevent this behavior. Another possibility is giving the dog a place bed near to the couch and giving them a structured job to do while also allowing them to relax with you. Most of these dogs will be able to have furniture privileges when they have matured some and when rules are in place.
The Good Dogs
Some dogs will never give you issues about your furniture. They will lay there calmly, move over when you want to sit down, and be a pleasant addition to any family night or afternoon siesta. If you are fortunate enough to have one of these dogs, the option is up to you. If you don’t want dog hair in your bed, no worries. Your dog will be just fine not being allowed on furniture, and will adapt very quickly to that rule being in place. If you do want to let your dog sleep with you, go right ahead. Some people are surprised that a dog trainer would allow their dogs onto furniture, but my competition dog sleeps at my feet most nights.
If you do fall into this category, there are a few boundaries that I would still recommend you put into place. You should always be able to ask your dog to leave a piece of furniture, which we teach as the “off” command in our programs. Sometimes you should have your dog sleep somewhere else, whether that be a different room, a crate, or an x-pen. This helps the dog keep a healthy frame of mind when separated from you, and helps prevent co-dependency issues.
Which Category is Your Dog?
Your dog is an individual, and so are you, so the rules surrounding furniture can vary quite a bit. Pay attention to your dog’s mannerisms when sitting on the couch with you, and work with a professional trainer to help you determine if any issues need to be addressed. If you have just brought home a new dog, especially a dog with an unknown background, make a point to not allow the dog onto furniture for the first month or two. Let them earn that privilege once they have consistently demonstrated appropriate behavior in other areas.
More and more people are becoming dog owners in the United States, and at some point they have to decide what kind of restraint to use on their dog during walks. Some people go with a regular buckle collar, some choose a martingale, and many decide to go with one of the various harness designs available on the market. Harnesses have many great applications, but their real purpose is poorly understood by most dog owners.
Dogs Who Pull On Leash
A common reason that people switch to a harness from a flat collar is that their dog is pulling hard into the leash, and they are worried about them chocking themselves. This is a concern that is not unfounded, and it isn’t appropriate for a dog to constantly be having pressure on their throat. However, harnesses do not impede pulling. In fact, harnesses make it much easier and more comfortable for a dog to pull.
A typical harness distributes body weight evenly across the chest, which does not press on sensitive areas, and allows the dog to put their full strength into pulling. This can be a great thing for working dogs such as sled dogs, who we want to be able to pull comfortably for long distances. This is not, however, a good thing for your family pet.
No Pull Harnesses
In an attempt to change the fact that harnesses make Pulling more comfortable, some manufacturers have developed “no pull” harnesses. There are several different models, but the general idea is that they restrict movement and make it harder for a dog to pull into the leash. Unfortunately, these harnesses very rarely achieve what they are supposed to.
There is some concern amongst the veterinary community that no pull harnesses cause damage to shoulders and can alter your dog’s gait. This makes sense when you consider the fact that the harnesses typically tighten on the chest and pinch the front legs closer together.
The no pull harness is also a training tool that is not well suited for teaching a solid loose leash walking or heel command, which is the gold standard for a truly well mannered dog. The harness does not allow control of the head, is not precise, and can be hard to fade down to a collar because the harness itself is a big cue to the dog. There are several other tools that are easier to use, easier to fade, and are less likely to confuse the dog.
Good Uses for Harnesses
There are some fantastic uses for harnesses and you will find harnesses specially designed for these purposes. Sled dogs are perhaps the biggest one, as these dogs could not perform their jobs at all without them. Weight pull and draft dogs are in a similar boat, and each sport has a type(s) of harness specific to them.
Harnesses are super useful for sports like AKC tracking where the dog is supposed to lead the way and may be pulling quite hard. The same is true for detection dogs in various fields. Sometimes people in the sport of flyball will use harnesses with a handle on the back to make it easier to hold onto a dog who is fired up and ready to run.
Harnesses are also a big tool used by people training protection dogs, for both sport and working applications. Puppies doing bitework are encouraged to be very excited and the harness makes it comfortable for them to express themselves through pulling and barking. Harnesses are also good for protection work because of one of the reasons they are a poor choice for teaching heeling: just wearing a harness is a big cue that the dog can use to predict that something he is familiar with will happen. This can help build up motivation for an activity that we want to be fun and high drive.
Guide dogs have specially designed harnesses that allow them to guide their visually impaired partner. Mobility dogs usually wear a design of harness with special padding that allows them to take on the weight of their handler to assist with balance or to pull them up the stairs.
Lastly, the harness has great uses in the veterinary field. Some dogs physically cannot wear collars due to throat or back issues, and harnesses are perfect for those dogs. Special harnesses can also allow owners to help support a dog who is recovering from orthopedic surgery.
Find the Best Tool for Your Dog
Not every training tool is well suited for every dog, but we rarely recommend harnesses for dogs who are not doing one of the sports listed above. Their propensity to encourage behavior problems makes them a poor choice for most pet dogs. If you cannot decide what type of collar to get for your personal dog ,contact a trainer who can help you make the right decision.
We frequently get asked why our board and train programs are three weeks long while other companies promise to have your dog trained in as little as seven days. It can be hard to leave your dog with someone for three weeks, and it’s only natural to want them home as quickly as possible.
It is certainly possible for a dog to learn basic commands in one week. Sit and down and heel are not that complicated to teach to a dog. However, when these commands are rushed, sometimes it isn’t possible to use the best training methods. The dog might still be confused on aspects of a command, and they definitely have not yet generalized it to multiple high distraction environments.
We spend the first week of our program working on showing your dog obedience commands, how to walk nicely on a leash, what corrections and rewards mean, and appropriate social skills with people and dogs.
The second week is spent building distance and duration in all of the commands. Instead of doing a down stay for thirty seconds, dogs will be able to hold one for 15-20 minutes at a time. Instead of doing a place while I’m 15 feet away, they can hold a place while I go out of sight.
Week three is spent building on the foundation and taking training on the road. We go to local parks, hardware stores, sit outside of coffee shops, walk around horse shows, and a bunch of other places where we can expose your dog to distractions in the real world. At the end of this week, you start your transition lessons so that you can take over and handle your dog like a pro.
When your dog graduates from a Kentucky Dog Training board and train, they have not just learned a handful of new words. They will have learned to perform commands reliably in busy environments. They will have a solid communication system, so that you will be able to show your dog right versus wrong. You and your dog will have all of the tools in your toolbox to handle whatever life throws at you.
Denali came to us at 9 months old with some severe fear issues. If put out in the backyard with other dogs, she would go into a blind panic and try to flee or escape. This was a really sad thing to see, especially for a puppy with her whole life ahead of her. A Doberman should be confident and happy everywhere they go, and we set a goal to get Denali to that point.
Fortunately, Denali had fantastic food and toy drive. This allowed us to teach her obedience commands very quickly, and we used this obedience to build her confidence. Instead of her having to deal with dogs trying to play with her, I would heel her around the yard with two neutral dogs out who ignored her completely. This allowed her to gradually get more comfortable, and frequent rewards for nice heeling built a positive correlation.
Pretty quickly Denali started to be curious about dogs, and started to play with other boarding dogs. She actually got so rambunctious playing that we had to help her learn appropriate play skills with dogs smaller than her. Having made great strides on home turf, we then took things on the road.
When Denali first went off property, she reverted back to her old ways. This wasn’t a surprise, and is one of the biggest reasons that we make frequent field trips with board and train dogs. The obedience and reinforcement history allowed us to quickly push through her issues, and soon she was reliably performing her commands in public. We also started to work her around her brother, another Doberman, to make sure she would listen with him around.
Denali is a classic case where having structure and rules gave a dog confidence and comfort. It also allowed us to channel her energy into healthier “jobs” than the ones she had created for herself. Now she is thriving with her owners and her Doberman brother. We are so happy that we got to help her live a happier life.