Monday, January 14, 2019

Foul Weather Friends

Now that the rainy season has officially started here in Southern California, you may find that you are holed up in your house with your pet because of inclement weather. Your dog may not be able to take his/her daily walks and whenever you look up you find a pair of big, sad eyes staring at you expectantly, anticipating every move that you make.

Fear not, being indoors just changes the activities that your pet can engage in. Rainy days are when I break out some of my favorite interactive dog toys and play some indoor games that reinforce my dog’s training. Here are some examples:

Training – why not use that time in the house to reinforce some of your dog’s training? Put together a series of behaviors for your dog to perform and reward your dog for the last behavior in the chain. Go to your spot, lie down and stay is an example of a training combination. Or teach your dog a new trick. YouTube and other websites have videos of how to teach your dog to do simple tricks.

Hide and Seek – playing hide and seek games where your dog has to find you in different parts of the house is a great way to reinforce your dog’s recall (coming to you).  When training a dog to come when called, always remember that when they find you to reward them with praise, petting and/or treats.  Teach them that finding you is a big party.

Some toys can be used when the dog is left alone or for times when you need to keep your dog occupied (e.g.when you have guests over, you are busy at the computer, when you are having a meal). These toys must be fairly indestructible and have no small parts. Most people have Kong toys but there are many others you can order online or obtain from most pet stores.

Kongs ( are great toys that can be stuffed with your dog's kibble, treats, and other foods. Your dog will spend a lot of time trying to get the contents out of the Kong. Think of it like a doggie pacifier. For heavy chewers the Extreme Kong (black version)would be a better choice. The Kong website has instructions on how to use it with recipes and I also posted a blog about the many uses of Kongs which you can read about here.

One of my favorite ways to use a Kong is to hide one or more Kongs around the house (I like to use places other than the kitchen or dining room) and ask your dog to find it. My dogs have been taught that the word “find it” means go hunt for the object. An empty Kong makes a great fetch toy as well.

Tug a Jug - This toy, made by Petsafe Pet Products, requires the dog to manipulate the jug and rope to try to get the treats out. If you use smaller treats, it is easier for the dog to get the treats. If the rope is destroyed, you can place balls in the jug for continued play. The other nice thing about this toy is that the jug is see-through so the dogs can see the treats inside. This toy has a high difficulty rating in my book so it may be too difficult for inexperienced dogs like puppies.
Here is a video of my two year old Akita, Kiku, who takes a patient and systematic approach to problem solving:

Twist and Treat – this is another similar rubber toy called the Twist and Treat is made by PetSafe. This toy is probably better for smaller dogs and less powerful chewers. This toy has the advantage of being adjustable depending on the size threat you are using so I find it easier for most dogs.

Buster Cube -  The Buster Cube has been on the market a long time. This was one of the original toys I used with my 10 year old Shiba Inu when she was a puppy. The Buster Cube dispenses dry treats randomly when the dog moves the toy around. You can also adjust the level of difficulty depending on the skills of your dog.

Kibble Nibble: This is another Premier toy similar to the Buster Cube. The object of the game is to roll the ball around to make the kibble come out.The ball is see-through and the dog can see how much kibble is left. It takes some experimentation to determine what size kibble/treat works best so that it is not too easy or too hard.

Here is video of my Shiba Inu, Mitsu, playing with the ball. She is almost 11 years old now and she is going after the ball with gusto. This video is not sped up, this old gal is actually this frenetic. She ended up playing with this ball for about 15 minutes, did a couple of shiba yells at the ball, got a drink of water and came back for another 10 minutes before I took it away from her. During the video you can see a treat flying out of the ball:

Toys Requiring Owner's Participation

This category of toys are toys that involve the participation of the owner. Examples of traditional toys requiring owner participation are balls, fetch toys, tug of war toys and frisbees. There are also toys that involve problem solving skills. Nina Ottoson has created a whole line of toys which help hone your dog's problem-solving skills and at the same time help develop the bond with your dog. These toys require human supervision and they must not be left alone with your dog.

The Dog Brick - this toy requires the dog to remove the bricks and slide the covers to get to the treats. The link provided contains an instructional video on how to use this toy. Below is a video I made showing how my dog solved the brick.

Dog Tornado: This toy has a higher difficulty rating than the Dog Brick and it is definitly more challenging. What is fun about this toy is that you can potentially put your dog's entire meal (especially for small dogs) in the Tornado thereby slowing down their eating and preventing gulping their food. Again, these toys require your supervision because there are small parts.

Here is a video of my female akita, who is a little more sophisticated at solving puzzles, using the Tornado at a more advanced setting to make it more difficult to have access to the treats:

And some of these toys are not limited to use for dogs. Even cats can get in on the fun. Here is my cat using the Dog Tornado as a way to keep her occupied and to prevent her from gulping down food too fast.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Teaching a Dog to Ring a Bell to go outside

Today I was being interviewed at a local radio station about dog training. A caller off the air asked me about teaching a dog to let you know that they need to go outside. One way you can do this is to teach the dog to ring a bell. A few years ago, I taught my Akita puppy to ring the bell when she wants to go outside. The way I did it was to first teach my dog to “target” objects. That is, to teach her to touch objects with her nose. I started off with teaching her to simply touch my open hand and rewarding her with a treat when I felt her cold nose on my palm. Once she got the hang of touching my palm, I added a verbal cue such as “touch.” Once your dog learns to “touch” an easy object like your hand for instance, you can move on to teaching her to “touch” objects like a bell hanging on a door. Then, it is a matter of her making the association that every time she touches the bell and the bell actually rings, the door magically opens and she can go outside to play or go to the bathroom. It may take several sessions for the dog to make the connection that touching the bell means that you will open the door. I have woken up in the middle of the night to the ringing of the bell because one of my dogs had to make an “emergency” potty break. The funny thing is that my older dog who was never taught this behavior has picked up on it without any formal training and he also rings the bell when he needs to go outside. The following video demonstrates how to teach a dog to target an object and it also shows one of my dogs ringing a bell to go outside: 

Caveat:  Some smart dogs will start ringing the bell just to go outside and chase the squirrel or play.  In these cases you must pay close attention to the behavior of the dog and her potty schedule.  If I think that she really needs to go I open the door and escort her outside.  If no potty happens, she comes right back inside.   By careful observation, you can tell the difference by the urgency of the behavior.  My dog started doing this and when I put her back inside, if she tried to ring again soon after (and I was pretty sure there she did not need to go to the bathroom, I ignored the ringing).  Eventually the dog will learn that she gets to go outside for potty breaks but will be brought back in or ignored if the ringing is not related to going to the bathroom or if it is repeated or excessive. It requires pretty good observational skills and knowing your dog's typical "I need to pee behavior." So, you can see that there is a downside to this method and you will have to be careful about how you manage this behavior.

January is Train Your Dog Month

Happy New Year! January is Train Your Dog Month. In 2010, the APDT began the National Train Your Dog Month to promote the importance and benefits of Dog Training so that our dogs can be happy and healthy companions. According to the APDT “too many dogs are turned into animal shelters each year for behavior and training issues that could be easily solved with proper socialization and positive, gentle, science-based methods of training.”  Addressing behavioral issues early on and being proactive can help prevent these behaviors from turning into serious problems. In honor of Train Your Dog Month here are some dog training tips and resources:

1) Puppy Socialization: for those of you who have or are getting a puppy, socialization is one of the most important things you can do to give your puppy a head start. Socialization should start early. Even if your puppy does not have all his/her shots, you can have people come visit your home. Once your veterinarian clears your puppy for walks around the neighborhood, you can get your puppy used to the sights and sounds of a city for example. Brief car trips (to minimize motion sickness) where the puppy can stay in the car and watch people walk by is also helpful.  You don't want your puppy's early car trips to be just vet visits as this can set up a negative association. So short, fun excursions are important for early socialization.  Go slow, try not to bombard your puppy with too much at once. We want these experiences to be positive! Enrolling your dog in a well-managed puppy class that uses positive and gentle methods is one of the best ways for your puppy to get exposure to people and other dogs in a safe, controlled environment. For an explanation of why socialization is so important, here is a position paper written by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior: AVSAB Puppy Socialization Paper

I cannot stress enough how important puppy classes are.  Many dogs who are surrendered at shelter in rescues did not receive adequate training or socialization during the critical period in their puppy hood.  Training classes can nip a lot of potential problem behaviors in the bud and head off more serious behavioral issues in the future.  

Here are a few of my favorite puppy books:

2) Rescues and Older Adoptees – many people choose to adopt older rescues. The issues rescues face are different from puppies. While rescues have outgrown many of their puppy behaviors such as play biting and destructive chewing, they may not be house trained and may have fear or anxiety issues from being in a shelter, abandonment or other stressful experiences. It is important to be patient and work through these issues at your dog’s own pace. Respect your dog’s comfort zone and work at the speed your dog can handle. Pushing your dog too far too fast can trigger fear issues and set your training backwards a few steps. If your dog is ready for group classes, then that is a good start. If your dog is very fearful or reactive, then private training may be a better first step. A great book that deals with the unique issues that rescue dogs face is Pat Miller’s “Do Over Dogs: Give Your Dog a Second Chance for a First Class Life.”

3) Maintain Realistic Expectations About Your Dog – besides respecting your dog’s comfort zone it is also important to be realistic about your dog’s abilities and personality. Some dogs may never be the social butterfly you want them to be and are in reality a homebody that prefers human companionship. Shy, older dogs may not enjoy dog parks and in the case of some middle-aged or senior dogs, large, group classes may be too stressful. However, that does not mean you can’t find a fun activity the two of you can do together, train in other settings or find dog friends that your dog can have one-on-one play sessions with. My Shiba Inu is not that social with other dogs now that she is an adult.  Once she reached maturity, she stopped playing with dogs at the dog park and would spend the entire time sitting with strangers at the park. It was at this point, I decided that she was no longer getting that much out of being at the dog park and instead I took her on excursions in the city or hanging out in cafes which she seemed to enjoy more. Respecting your dog's physical limitations is another factor to consider.  My big, clunky 90 pound Akita is probably not the best dog for agility training (nor would I want to subject his aging joints to this particular activity). Forcing a square peg in a round hole, is not always the best for the dog and it can lead to unnecessary frustration on the owner’s part.  Try to find activities that your dog also enjoys and work at your dog's own pace.

4) Find Fun Activities to Do With Your Dog – Training is a great way to bond with your dog, but it does not have to stop there. There are other ways to spend time with your dog such as hiking, camping or playing games. If your dog is very energetic and athletic, agility or other dog sports like flyball may be a great outlet.  Try to figure out what activities your dog really enjoys. 

To find out more information on dog sports here are some good sources: 

Agility -
Rally -
Tracking -

5) Incorporate Training into Your Daily Routine – many of the things you learn in group class have practical applications in real life and should not end once the class is over. For example, “stay” or “wait” can apply to boundaries such as the front door or the curb and help teach your dog not to run out in traffic. Having your dog go to their bed or place is helpful when guests come to the home or when the doorbell rings. Incorporating training in your daily routine helps reinforce these behaviors so that your dog will retain these skills throughout his/her life. On walks, I practice “sit,” “wait,” “stops/halt” and recalls (“come”). Having a solid recall is one of the most important things to teach your dog and should be reinforced throughout your dog’s lifetime. If your dog has not had any training go to or to find a trainer or group class in your area.  

6) Keep Training Fun - I like training sessions to be short, fast-paced and fun.  Since I own Northern breeds (Shiba Inu, Akitas) that tend to bore quickly and easily, I try to keep them engaged by changing things up and keeping it interesting.  Overly long training sessions, especially for young puppies and the more independent breeds, can lead to frustration for both you and your dog. 

7) Exercise – a great New Year’s resolution is exercising with your dog. This is both beneficial for both and your dog! Exercise relieves tension and stress and stimulates your dog’s senses.

For more information on Train Your Dog Month go to:

So with this New Year why don’t you make dog training one of your New Year’s Resolutions! Wishing everyone a happy and healthy year.