Puppy Socialization for Halloween

Pre-Halloween

In the days leading up to Halloween complete your normal, daily puppy socialization activities. Expose your puppy to positive experiences with other puppies, friendly adult dogs, things/objects in the environment, veterinary procedures and gentle body handling, etc.

Two main socialization strategies to apply:

  1. Habituation – allowing your puppy to view and experience things passively, watching them and learning they are not scary, but normal everyday events.
  2. Creating positive associations – Actively pairing things/events with treats. Anything that is already scary to your puppy, should now have training target it to teach your puppy it predicts treats.

Allow your puppy to investigate decorations/pumpkins and receive treats for sniffing or approaching them. If you have kids and their costumes are easy to create and wear before Halloween, allow them to put them on and feed treats to your puppy, then take the costumes off, and stop delivering treats. This will provide some positive interactions on a smaller, more controlled scale than the busy holiday.

Planning for Halloween Day

If you have children, decide if your puppy will go trick-or-treating with you. If your puppy goes, bring plenty of high value treats and deliver them to your puppy any time he notices something new or potentially scary. For example, give a treat after your puppy sniffs a yard decoration or pumpkin. Give some treats after a group of children run by in their costumes screaming.

If you will be passing out candy at home, decide where your puppy will be:

  • At the door to witness the trick-or-treat transactions.
  • Somewhere else in your house – for example, behind a baby gate, or in a crate.
  • With you in the front yard passing out candy.
  • Or by the door with your puppy to observe, but allow children to take the candy themselves out of a bowl.

In each of these cases, deliver some treats to your puppy when he sees children, or hears them laughing/talking/screaming (and the doorbell rings), or another dog walks by the door/windows.

You can allow children to feed some treats to your puppy as well, if your puppy is not apprehensive.

Prepare your treats ahead of time. Fresh meat treats of high value are best for these procedures.

You can also give a longer-lasting chew toy, like a Kong, stuffed with canned dog food to allow your dog to calmly eat during the trick-or-treating process, allowing you to focus more on passing out candy and less on your dog. You can wait for the first doorbell ring/children talking sounds, and then deliver the Kong, so those things will predict a positive event for your dog. This could be a great option for older dogs, if you are planning on keeping them away from the children anyway.

Freezing the Kong with canned food will make it last longer for your puppy/dog.

If you have crate-trained your puppy or dog, you can place him in his crate for safety as well, so he will not escape the front door.

Evaluating Your Puppy’s Fear Threshold

Whatever strategy you’re using, make sure no experience is over your puppy’s threshold of fear. This means ideally you will keep your puppy from becoming frightened at any point. Gradually increase the intensity of experiences your puppy is exposed to; for example, if your puppy is scared of kids coming all the way up to him, allow him to remain farther away but view the kids and receive treats for watching, then build up to allowing calmer kids to approach, and then to hand-feeding treats to your puppy.

Adolescent and Adult Dogs

You can follow the same procedure for remedial socialization for older dogs, but be extra careful to keep them below their fear-threshold (so they are not afraid at all), and to not push them into more challenging experiences too quickly, since they already will have previous experiences and emotions attached to things like Halloween, costumes, children, people approaching, etc. – meaning if they are unsure or afraid of any of these things you could actually sensitize them (make their fear worse). This is true for puppies too, but since they are in their puppy socialization period, it’s easier to turn these experiences positive, and average puppies are less likely to do damaging bites than older dogs.

Never force any interactions between puppies/dogs and children or anyone/thing else. Always work to create positive associations.

Post-Halloween

Keep up the socialization work after Halloween as well. If the procedures are applied correctly, you will reap the benefits of early puppy socialization for the rest of your dog’s life.

Happy Halloween!

By Dan Raymer

Dog Walking Equipment

Harness and Leash

I always recommend dogs walk with leashes attached to body harnesses – generally attached to the clip on the dog’s back, in addition to training calm walking behavior with rewards; or you can attach the leash to the front clip over the dog’s chest. This can help decrease pulling behavior, but the side effect is it can sometimes affect the dog’s normal walking movements. 

If you look at the dog’s front chest, the “T-shaped” harnesses are more likely to negatively affect dog’s normal movement, while the “Y-shaped” do not.

Attaching a leash to a regular collar puts too much pressure on a dog’s neck. Their tracheas can easily be damaged if they pull too much, or even with a single hard lunge, or accidental jerk on the leash by the handler.

Dogs can also walk off-leash if it’s legal (there are no leash laws in the area), and it is safe (your dog won’t get hit by a car, you taught a solid recall – coming when called – behavior, and so on). You are ultimately responsible for your dogs at all times, so use good judgment.

Longer Leashes

The typical dog leash is 6 feet long. I actually prefer to walk my dog with a 10 foot leash the majority of the time (or a 15 foot one). This allows a dog to walk at a more normal pace and have some freedom to move side to side as dogs tend to sniff areas this way when not restrained.

It does take some handling ability in order to make sure your dog does not have too much leash length and cross in front of cars or approach other dogs when he shouldn’t. You will need to practice allowing and pulling in the leash to control how far away your dog is allowed to move to keep your dog safe.

Don’t Use These

I never recommend choke chains, prong/pinch collars, shock collars, or other types of equipment designed similarly. All of these tools work by applying pain to the dog. There are many people who are dishonest or lack this knowledge who will not tell you these tools hurt dogs. For your dog’s sake, health and better behavior, please do not listen to them. If you are already currently using one of these tools, don’t worry, you can switch to a leash and harness immediately and easily. 

Retractable Leashes

I also do not recommend retractable leashes for the following reasons:

a. They apply constant pressure to the dog’s harness, so technically the dog is always being rewarded for pulling – unless you lock in a set length, but then it will drag on the ground defeating it’s main purpose of extending-retracting.

b. The lines are too thin, and if you try to grip them to pull a dog back in towards you, the line is very likely to cut your hand. I personally have had this happen twice when I used them prior to becoming a professional dog trainer, and have at least one scar from the resulting injury. This also makes retractable leashes very dangerous for dogs that are reactive towards others.

c. The locking mechanism to get a set length of leash, can be undone or broken relatively easily by dogs pulling. This can be dangerous if the dog pulls out in front of cars, or if your dog pulls up to another dog.

d. If your dog pulls the leash out of your hand, it retracts toward your dog, so can end up scaring or hitting your dog.

However, if you are using a retractable leash with no problems for a smaller breed dog with no discernible behavior problems like rushing up to other dogs, reactivity, aggression, fear, etc., then you might be fine to continue using it as long as you are aware of the risks and take measures to prevent them. Always attach it to a body harness, though, to prevent it from hurting your dog’s neck from the constant pressure.

Specific Harness Brands

There are so many choices with dog harnesses now that I don’t have a complete list I recommend.

I do like the Seattle Balance Harness by Lori Stevens; it has both front and back clips. The harness forms a Y-shape around the dog’s body/neck, so it does not restrict normal canine movement.

I also like a regular body harness most pet stores sell with a back-clip, created with as soft material as possible.

By Dan Raymer

Is Treat Training Bribery?

Correct training utilizing treats as rewards does not equal bribery. Here’s why.

In order to teach dogs behaviors some form of motivation is required. Breaking this down into larger groups the options are: the carrot or the stick, or a combination of the two. The so called “stick” is motivation by application of harsh punishments. There’s plenty of reasons to avoid harsh punishment methods. In contrast, the “carrot” is something the dog wants.

Animals and people perform behaviors for a reason – essentially to earn rewards/reinforcement. Treat rewards act as a form of motivation, the behavior becomes worth doing to earn something valuable, just like people go to work to earn money, to buy food to survive. But a treat also acts as positive reinforcement, meaning the behavior is strengthened, and a dog is more likely to perform that behavior again. When we use correct training techniques, these reinforced behaviors are performed, and then the reward is provided. The reward does not come before the behavior. For example, we don’t give our children ice cream before they eat their broccoli, they have to eat their broccoli first in order to earn the reward of the ice cream. If the behavior of eating broccoli increases over time, the ice cream reward positively reinforced the behavior.

The confusion may come from lure-reward training, in which a treat is held by the dog’s nose to entice him to do behaviors like sit, down, walk forward, and then given as the reward. The treat is motivation for the dog to move (do a behavior), and a reward to reinforce the behavior (make the behavior response stronger). However, the correct training process only uses the treat shown up front early on to get the dog to perform the behavior, then the treat is faded (gradually removed) and replaced with hand signals, and verbal cues, where the treat is subsequently provided as positive reinforcement after the behavior is completed.

The final stage is to reinforce some of the correct behaviors the dog does. If we completely stop reinforcing behaviors, they will decrease, because they stop paying off for the dog to do them, and there’s other more rewarding things in the environment to spend time doing.

A failure to fade the treat-lures in the initial step can result in a dog that views the treat as part of the cue to perform the behavior. This might give the appearance that all uses of treats are bribery. Correct training technique clears this up quickly, and then treats can be given after the behavior is performed to reinforce and maintain those behaviors long-term.

So to summarize: you need some form of motivation. Treats or toys work well. The other type of motivation consists of harsh punishments, but those have negative side effects, leading to more behavior problems or harming your dog’s well-being, so should be avoided.

Using lure-reward training you will show the treat-reward up front to get the behavior, then reinforce the behavior, advancing to the point where the lures are faded, and replaced with hand signals and verbal cues as the dog learns when to perform the new behavior.

We have to keep reinforcing some of the behaviors to maintain them, but at this final stage the rewards (treats, toys) are given after the correct behavior is performed.

By Dan Raymer

4 Training Tips to Solve Dog Behavior Problems

1.

Remove aversive training methods and interactions with your dog. Basically this means don’t do things that scare, hurt, or startle your dog, because these will lead to more behavior problems. See our complete list of methods to avoid.

2.

Increase enrichment activities for your dog – this means supplying fun activities for him to do instead of sitting around all day deciding to do behaviors that are problems for people. Increase your dog’s walks, give him puzzle toys to extract treats from them, play with toys like fetch and tug, allow him to run off leash in safe areas (fenced in), allow him to sniff more on walks, or to find hidden toys/food around your home. Use your imagination and creativity for activities.

This won’t solve all types of problems, but it will for some like boredom barking, or excessive running around the house knocking things over.

3.

Identify the cause of the behavior. Does your dog only bark when other dogs pass by the windows? Does your dog walk fine on leash until people or other dogs appear, and then pull/bark/growl? Does your dog jump on people all the time, or only when excited? Does your dog have a medical issue that is leading to a behavior problem? When we figure out the causes, triggers, or environmental factors that lead to specific behaviors, we can better implement a plan to solve the problem. For example, treating a medical issue, will eliminate the resulting behavior problem. Avoiding triggers, we can prevent behavior from showing up, or we can teach new, calmer behaviors.

4.

Teach a behavior incompatible with the problem behavior. If a dog is jumping on people, then we can teach him to keep his feet on the ground with rewards. If a dog is taking food off the kitchen counter, teach him a down-stay on a soft bed instead. If a dog pulls on-leash, then teach him to walk calmly by your side for treat rewards.

By Dan Raymer

Raymer Family Dog Training News: April 2020

In-Person Dog Training

Thank you to everyone that is patiently waiting for in-person dog training lessons. It appears that things are improving with the virus. Hopefully sometime in May, or soon after, everything will be back to normal. As soon as it is, I will contact each of you to schedule your dogs’ lessons.

Convenient Dog Training

In addition, I have online dog training classes you can take from the comfort of your home. These classes are self-paced, with as much help as you need. They are easy to use. Simply go to our website to read content and training plans, and watch videos through YouTube links. It’s that easy. No special technology skills required. I’m here to help through the whole process, and quick to respond to questions.

How Else Can We Help?

Please let me know if I can do anything else to help you and your dogs during this time. If there are any special topics you want to learn about, leave some notes in the comment section. Thank you! I hope everyone is staying safe.

By Dan Raymer