There is no right or wrong answer, to the question of whether or not you should let your dog up on your furniture. It's your home and furniture after all and I think you should do what you want! Plus if you have not had a dog snuggle with you on the couch when you're feeling sick, then you are missing out on one of life's greatest comforts.
But, and yes there is always a but, jumping up on furniture uninvited shows a lack of manners. Not only that, if you don't teach your dog how to politely ask to be let up on your furniture you may find your favourite chair (or your spot in bed) may be claimed and overtaken by your dog!
Ok so there are a few rules for letting your dog up on your furniture if you want to keep them from taking over and to also show polite manners around the home.
1. Only when invited.
Getting on the furniture should be by invite only. It is up to you or any member of your family if your dog can join you on the couch. It may not always be OK. You could have guests, maybe you want to lie down or simply enjoy your couch with your two legged loved ones instead. Without the invitation, your dog should not get up on the furniture and should find somewhere else to hang out.
2. Sit first.
A sit is a polite way for your dog to ask if they can get up on the furniture with you. But you don't have to choose a sit if you don't want to, you might be OK with your dog standing and waiting or maybe they need to give you a high five first. It's totally up to you. By teaching your dog to offer you a behaviour first, you are giving your dog a way to ask your permission to join you on the furniture. Not only is that showing manners around the home, but it reinforces for your dog who is in control of the couch.
3. Put a command to it.
Teach your dog a command to get ON and OFF the furniture and use these when you invite them up and when it's time to get off. Using commands is how you can communicate with your dog the actions you want them to take and if you don't use a command how will they know when they can join you and when it's time to get off?
This is pretty much the key to all dog training but is especially important here. Everyone in the household needs to be on the same page and be consistent with the application of the rules. It's also not fair to your dog if they get mixed messages and they won't understand what it is they need to do to get on the couch with you.
5. It's not too late.
Don't worry if your dog doesn't follow these rules now, with some time and practice they can learn. They shouldn't be in trouble for getting up on the furniture without asking because to them they haven't done anything wrong as they are still operating under the old rules. Instead, think of it as teaching them a new skill and expect some mistakes along the way. If your dog gets on the couch uninvited, gently ask them to get off and show them what they need to do to get back up.
I know it can be so hard to keep our dogs entertained and not bored at home when we have to go off to work. I have three dogs, so trust me I feel your pain!
One of the best ways I have found to provide some boredom relief to not only my dogs, but many of the dogs I work with through my training and behaviour sessions, is with food toys.
As you know from my last blog post, I think the Kong Classic and Kong Extreme ranges are a great commercial dog food toy to use for many, many reasons. Check out the video link above for all the details.
But one of the main reasons I love them so much is that they are great at helping to keep your dog entertained. I love freezing the Kongs and their contents for my dogs as it takes them so much longer to get the content out, keeping them busy and mentally stimulated.
If you have watched any of my dog food toy videos or follow me on Facebook, you may already know what my favourite commercial dog food toy is.
But if you haven't, and this is the first you are hearing of this, then let me tell you why the Kong Classic is my favourite and why I think it's the best commercial toy to add to your collection.
The Kong Classic is made from durable natural rubber that's non-toxic, it's firm but flexible and has enough give that your dog can manipulate it to get to the contents inside.
There is also the black Kong Extreme made from even stronger natural rubber designed for power chewers. These toys are strong but not indestructible, so if your dog is a serious chewer, I suggest you supervise your dog so you can discourage them from chewing, remove the Kong once the contents has been finished and add filling that encourages your dog to lick the Kong rather than to chew it.
The Kong series ranges in size from XS to XXL so you will be able to find a size that suits your dog. The Kong website has a handy size guide to help you and I also recommend making sure that your dog is not able to fully enclose the Kong in their mouth.
There are so many different foods and treats you can use to fill the Kong. Just make sure that whatever you put in the Kong is suitable for your dog. You can also adjust the level of filling within the Kong to make it easier or harder for your dog to eat the contents. If this is your dogs first time with a Kong then start easy with only a small amount of filling then build up. You can also freeze the Kong to make a puppy popsicle to make it even more difficult for your dog to get the contents out.
It's pretty easy to clean up the Kong, just wash in warm soapy water or put in the top rack of your dishwasher. Check your Kong regularly for damage and replace as needed.
Uses for the Kong
Stuffed Kongs are a great way to keep your dog entertained and distracted and provides them a fun way to get their food. Plus it slows down speedy eaters especially if the contents has been frozen.
In our home we use the Kong to distract our dogs when visitors arrive and as a fun way for them to eat their dinner. #ditchthebowl
Since the Kong is so bouncy you can use it in games with your dog like fetch and it doesn't even have to have food inside.
There are many reasons why a dog might wear a muzzle and this equipment is oftentimes worn as a precautionary measure. Regardless of the reason WHY your dog is wearing a muzzle, they should ALWAYS be comfortable and calm when wearing one.
Sounds simple enough, right?! Well, it is and it isn't. If you don't introduce your dog to the muzzle correctly your dog will develop very negative feelings about wearing a muzzle and this can show in their behaviour from stressed to terrified and everything in between. And if you are trying to train your dog or reward them for showing appropriate behaviour this will be virtually impossible.
But, I am here to show you how you can correctly introduce the muzzle so your dog is at least comfortable wearing this piece of equipment. This process can also be used to if you need to re-introduce a muzzle to your dog if they have a negative association with one currently.
Different types of muzzles.
Ok so let's look at the different types of muzzles so you can decide which one suits your dog and your situation best.
There are basically two main types with a few variations within each type. Which one you select will depend on why your dog needs the muzzle as well as what fit is the most comfortable for your dog.
1. Basket muzzle.
This is the most common type of muzzle and is usually made from plastic or metal. These muzzles are placed on a dogs face, over their mouth and are secured around the head. The basket design leaves open spaces for the dog to breathe, drink and accept food but the dog is unable to bite or fully open their mouth.
2. Mesh muzzle.
These muzzles are usually made from fabric with mesh components and rather than fully enclosing the dogs mouth, these muzzles are open at the end but encircle their snouts. They are often adjustable so you can tighten or loosen as required. Like the basket style muzzles these do up around the neck of the dog and allow for drinking and panting but restricts biting and barking too.
How to introduce the muzzle to your dog
Wearing a muzzle can be very scary for a dog, and can make them feel stressed and anxious. Not only do we not want our dogs to feel that way but it will also make training them or working through the issue very difficult.
You can teach your dog to enjoy wearing the muzzle and make sure that they have no negative emotions when wearing and interacting with the muzzle. Here's how.
1. Reward interaction
One way to make sure that your dog has a positive association with their muzzle is to link the muzzle with a favourite reward. For the majority of dogs, food treats will work really well but you could also use affection or playing a game to reward your dog. Any time your dog interacts with the muzzle in any way they get a reward and the rewards stop once the muzzle game is over (not forever, just for this activity). This might even start with just showing your dog the muzzle in your hand or on the floor before holding it anywhere near their face. Just make sure you follow step one at all times!
2. Lure into the muzzle.
To reduce the fear factor even further, we don't want to overwhelm our dog by trying to push the muzzle onto their face and quickly do it up. Instead, we will work in stages, making sure our dog is comfortable and happy to proceed to the next stage.
When it's time to fit the muzzle to your dogs snout, hold the muzzle as open as possible and put a food treat inside. Your dog will then put their own face in the muzzle to get to the food treat. And that choice is VERY important. Next, you hold the treat on the outside of the muzzle and give the treat once their face is in. Repeat this step until your dog is happy to put their snout into the muzzle. Make sure you start to increase the amount of time their snout is in the muzzle and give them treats for wearing it rather than taking their face straight back out one they had the first treat.
3. Secure or adjust.
This part can be a bit tricky as doing up the muzzle can be fiddly and you may need to do this one handed! If your dog needs extra incentive to hold still for this part, hold some treats in one hand and let your dog try to get at them with the muzzle on while you do up the muzzle straps with the other. Make sure you give your dog plenty of rewards during this process. Once the muzzle is done up, leave it on your dog for a few seconds while you praise and reward your dog then take it off. Remember, once the muzzle is off, the food treats stop.
Turn putting the muzzle on into a game! Make it fun for your dog to put their snout in the muzzle by moving it around and they have to follow it to put their nose in to get the treat. Use plenty of praise and a happy voice so they build up a positive association. And when the muzzle is on, do fun activities with your dog like focus games, going for a walk or having a snuggle on the couch. The more fun you make this experience the better. This is a great way to get them comfortable in the muzzle as it always means fun stuff is going to happen so they don't need to worry.
There are many reasons why a dog might wear a muzzle and wearing a muzzle does not necessarily mean the dog is dangerous. This is definitely a common misconception and affects the way people see and interact with a dog wearing a muzzle. Wearing a muzzle also affects the dog in a big way. Even in cases where a muzzle is a precautionary measure, you need to be aware of the changes it will make to your dog.
Today I'm going to clear up the reasons why a dog might wear a muzzle, deciding when your dog might need a muzzle and how a muzzle can negatively impact the dog.
Why would a dog wear a muzzle?
The key function of a muzzle is to prevent a dog from biting and is often the core reason why the muzzle is worn in the first place. This has caused the misconception that all dogs wearing muzzles are aggressive and very dangerous.
Here are some reasons why a dog might wear a muzzle:
This may not entirely be your decision to make. If you own a greyhound that has not been through green collar testing or if your dog has been designated as a dangerous dog by your local shire, wearing a muzzle may become a fact of life.
If this is not the case for you, but you are considering whether or not your dog needs to wear a muzzle, make sure that the use of the muzzle is only temporary and/or that you are also working on the underlying reason for the muzzle in the first place. A muzzle should not be the answer to the problem, but a means to manage it while you address the underlying behaviour through training.
You may want to use a muzzle temporarily for short visits to the vet, for the initial introduction to a new dog but it gets removed once the introduction has been successful, or for short periods when your dog needs to keep away from stitches or a wound on their body. For me, I don't think there is any harm in ALL dogs learning to accept and be comfortable and calm while wearing a muzzle for simple situations like these.
For longer term use, use as a precaution or for dogs with a bite history, deciding to have your dog wear a muzzle can be made to keep them and other dogs or people safe. Make sure you also have a behaviour modification plan in place to help your dog to address the root cause of their behaviour.
Whatever the reason for deciding to use a muzzle on your dog, make sure you select the appropriate style of muzzle and make sure it fits correctly and is comfortable for your dog.
What wearing a muzzle does to a dog.
For many dogs, wearing a muzzle drastically changes the way they feel and act. A muzzle can be a very intimidating piece of equipment for them and this can make them anxious, scared and very uncomfortable. You might see very submissive or docile body language and behaviour from the dog. But isn't this what we want? Won't that teach them not to bite? Actually no. Not at all.
A dog will be unable to learn to relax and be calm in a stressful situation or to learn a new, alternative way to behave if they are stressed. Instead, you want your dog to be comfortable with the muzzle and see it as just another piece of training equipment like a lead. And better yet, your dog is HAPPY to wear the muzzle and sees it as a cue for fun times with you.
Wearing a muzzle should NEVER be a punishment for a dog. It should not be used to intimidate them or force submissive behaviour.
Another factor to consider is how other people react to a dog wearing a muzzle. Seeing a dog wearing a muzzle will often intimidate and frighten people who may assume your dog is aggressive. I have even had people ask me if a dog I was walking who was wearing a head halter was dangerous. Dogs are masters at reading body language and will pick up on the signals and energy people send their way.
In a previous article, we covered the two core pillars for addressing reactive behaviour in your dog. One; reduce the stress and/or excitement your dog feels then two; teach an alternative behaviour.
Today, we are going to focus on four simple ways to reduce the stress and/or excitement your dog experiences when out on a walk.
1. Getting the equipment right
For most dogs, reactivity is often displayed in a very physical way, like pulling and/or lunging. Because of this, the equipment we use when walking needs to not only be able to cope with this level of pressure but to do so in a safe and controlled way. The last thing we want is for our dog to become injured or to escape and injure someone else.
2. Choose where you walk wisely
The best place to walk a reactive dog is at a park. This may seem a bit counter-intuitive as parks can be busy places. However, a park offers you multiple benefits over walking around your local neighbourhood streets.
3. Create a routine
Once you've found your park or quiet walking spot, stick to it! Your dog definitely doesn't need a different walking route every day, in fact, your dog (especially a reactive one) will prefer the comfort of the same route day in and day out.
This will largely eliminate most of your dogs stress and/or excitement as they know where they are going, what to expect and they will learn with repetition that there is nothing to be scared of or overly excited by during their walks. By going to the same walking spot every walk you are creating a stable routine for your dog can count on and they can start to relax and enjoy the environment rather than being on constant alert for danger.
4. Environmental exploration
Encourage your dog to explore the environment of your chosen walking site. This can include;
When your dog is exploring the environment they are not scanning for potential danger which can help them to relax and drastically reduce their levels of stress. This alone will make a huge difference for your dog.
Reactive dogs come in many different shapes, sizes and breeds. There is no one size fits all for reactivity. And the way the reactivity is expressed can take different forms too from excited pulling when they see another dog that they want to meet, to barking and lunging aggressively when they see a cat or your dog desperately trying to drag you down the street away from the scary thing. The reasons for the reactivity might be different, what they are reactive to might be different but one thing that remains the same is just how stressful it can be for you and your dog.
I have had the privilege to work with a number of reactive dogs and their families over the years and there are two core pillars to reactive behaviour modification that I use each and every time for dealing with reactivity in any form.
These two pillars form the basis of the behaviour modification plan and are what the training strategies are based on.
What is reactivity?
Ok, so what is reactivity? Reactivity is the overt or over-reactive behaviour the dog displays in reaction to a particular stimulus like another dog, person, small animal, bird or object. The reactive behaviour could be barking, lunging, pulling, growling and is triggered by something specific.
A common misconception about a reactive dog is that the dog is aggressive. The dog may be displaying what looks like aggressive behaviour but the root cause of the behaviour could be fear or excitement. Either way, the behaviour can look similar and the way we address the behaviour is often the same.
When designing a behaviour modification and training plan I will also include activities to help address the root cause of the behaviour around the home that compliments these two core pillars and associated strategies. It is crucial to any behaviour modification plan that the root cause of the issue is addressed.
1. Reduce the stress and/or excitement
Before you can teach your dog anything, they first must be receptive to what you are trying to teach them, and it is simply impossible if they are stressed or excited.
I'm sure you have all had the experience at one time or another where your dog is so distracted by another dog, person or activity that they are simply incapable of hearing you, let alone understanding what it is you are saying. Or even just think of a time when you were in a really stressful situation or excitedly waiting for something and just remember how difficult it was for you to focus and pay attention to what was going on around you.
I often explain reactivity to clients as a zero to ten scale. Zero being your dog is so calm and relaxed they are asleep to ten being out of their mind excited/stressed. At the top end of the scale, they are not able to process any new information and are often just operating on pure instinct and what has worked for them in the past. They are just reacting without any coherent thought processes.
At the bottom end of the scale (not the sleeping part!) is where your dog is able to think and process new information, give you focus and learn new skills. This is the zone we want to be in whenever we are trying to teach our dog a new skill or behaviour, especially when it comes to addressing reactivity in your dog.
2. Teach an alternative behaviour
The barking, lunging, pulling, growling behaviour is purely reactionary and often what the dog thinks will keep it safe based on past experience. Not only is this behaviour scary and potentially dangerous, but if allowed to continue it further reinforces to the dog that this is what they need to do in these situations.
We want to teach our dog that they can be safe without these aggressive behaviours. We want to teach our dog that they can still control the outcome with calm behaviour instead. We want to teach our dog to think not to react.
By teaching an alternative behaviour you can encourage your dog to be calm, to think instead of reacting and prevent the reinforcement of unwanted behaviour. It is impossible for your dog to be sitting giving you attention and barking and lunging at another dog at the exact same time.
Does it sometimes seem like your dog is Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde? Are you never sure how your dog will react in certain situations as sometimes things are fine and others they act totally opposite? Is your dog "great at home" but different when out of the house?
These alternate behaviours can make it seem like your dog has two (or more) different personalities and can make it difficult for us as dog owners to predict how our dogs will react at any given time.
I have worked with many dogs who act completely differently when at home compared to when out on a walk and I can't count the number of times I've heard from dog owners that their dog "doesn't do this at home!"
I will explain some of the reasons why dogs can seem so different in different when out compared to when at home.
This is Tess a blue heeler that showed extreme aggressive behaviour when in her home and turned timid when outside the gate. These photo's show her general body language in the back yard vs. outside the front gate.
One of my top tips for a calm, stress-free walk with your dog starts in the home BEFORE you even start the walk! Creating a calm leaving the house routine will set up your dog walk in the best way so that both you and your dog can enjoy your time on the walk together. In this issue, I am going to walk you through the four steps to setting up a calm leaving the house routine.
In my experience of walking hundreds of dogs, I've found that the calmer the dog when they leave the home, the easier they are to manage while on the walk.
No one wants to chase their dog around the house to get the lead on or to try to get it on a dog who is jumping all over the place. No one wants to be dragged out the door by an overly excited dog, well I know that I definitely don't! Creating a calm leaving the house routine is the key to an easier, more relaxing walk with your dog.
This is a question I am often asked by dog owners, especially since food treats are the go-to reward for most obedience type training. And for good reason. I definitely advocate the use of food treats in a dog training class environment or when teaching your dog a new skill. That being said there are so many other ways to reward your dog, especially around the home, that food treats don't need to be your only option.
What are rewards?
You won't be the only one if your immediate thought was food treats! I even spoke about it in the first paragraph of this post! And anyway you are right. Food treats definitely count as a reward and there are plenty of dogs out there who are VERY motivated by food treats.
Here are just a few reasons why food treats are a great option as a reward for your dog:
Offering rewards also helps your dog to build a positive association with the behaviour/action and helps with their overall happy emotional response.
But here's the thing. And this is important guys. Rewards can be almost anything. The key here is that the reward is: what the dog wants at that time.
What does your dog want?
So, how do you know what the dog wants? Well, it's almost entirely situation dependent and something you will have to work out each time. But don't worry, in most cases your dog will let you know! Besides you always have food treats to fall back on though right?!
Here are some everyday examples of what your dog might actually want that you can use as rewards, besides a food treat:
If you are out on a walk, the reward for loose lead walking could be being able to keep walking, being able to sniff, maybe being allowed to greet another dog. Your dog may very well not be interested in playing with a toy or even taking a food treat so these wouldn't be good options in this situation anyway.
And remember, the reward must be to reinforce behaviour or activity that you want. With the walking example above, the reward is for walking with a loose lead.
Here's another example. You are sitting on your couch watching TV after a long day at the office. Your dog comes into the lounge and heads straight for her dog bed by your feet. To reward your dog for one, not jumping up on the couch and two, sleeping in her correct spot, you reach over and give her a pat. A perfect reward for offering you perfectly wanted behaviour.
Timing is everything.
Sometimes it will be really easy to know which reward to offer and sometimes, it could go either way or more than one reward option could be workable. Don't overthink it, just be aware that you have options and sometimes the most obvious one is the one you go for.
But what is important is WHEN you deliver your chosen reward. The sweet spot is between 0.5 - 3 seconds of the desired behaviour/action. Yep, you need to be pretty quick about it! This small window doesn't leave much time for in-depth reward analysis so go with what's easiest in the moment.
If you give a reward anywhere from 7 seconds after the behaviour/action it is highly unlikely your dog will make the connection between what they did and getting the reward. They are more likely to think what they were JUST doing is what you want rather than thinking you are being a super nice person so be careful of your timing! Hey your dog could already have moved on to something very undesirable so beware! Ask anyone who has a dog that pulls on the lead. That is an example of rewards going very, very wrong.
As a dog owner, dog trainer and pet sitter I have learnt many different tips and tricks over the years and I thought this would be a great way to share them with you. Enjoy!