Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Trainer Tips: Introducing your new dog to the cat

I have recently had several clients with new puppies ask advice about how to get the cat and dog to get along.  Here are my thoughts on the subject.

Cats are a Prey animal:

Dogs are a predatory animal, whereas cats and other common pets (rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, gerbils, and farm animals such as horses, goats, sheep, etc.) are prey animals.  For a prey animal to truly become comfortable around a predator, they must feel safe.  In order for the animal to feel safe, you must be in control of the predator, or your dog.  

It's all about Energy:
Animals read other animals by their energy.  Your energy can send signals of intent.  For example, a cat can feel the energy behind a dog's want to chase him.  But if the dog has calm energy of his own and has no intent to chase or harm the cat, the cat can sense he is safe. 
In training your energy is very important.  Ever tried to train your dog when you were angry or frustrated?  Yeah didn't really get anywhere did you?  All animals, including our dogs read us by our energy.  That is why it is so important to remain CALM. 
I often use my calm energy as a barrier to a dog.  This is how you can "claim" something...anything from the cat, to a friend, or the front door.  Your energy, used correctly, can do wonders for you and your pets.

How to be in control of your dog:

Your dog needs training.  I obviously suggest seeking the help of a qualified dog trainer, but many people do train their dogs just fine on their own.  I do recommend at least a Basic Manners class to really get important basic commands down with your dog, and to help socialize them.  Most dog trainers know more than you think.  And a good trainer can offer several solutions to help curb any bad behavior problems.  Remember to seek out a trainer who uses positive reinforcement training methods.  Ask for references and to observe during a class or lesson to see what kind of vibe you get from that person, and how they interact with dogs and their owners.   

To be able to control your dog, you must have a good relationship.  That means giving your dog plenty of physical (walking) and mental (training) exercise.  Once you have established a good bond, here are a few methods to try to get your pets together.

Introducing the Cat to the Dog:

Create a Barrier:

Training the cat to be comfortable with the dog is really just showing the cat that you control the dog, and that you will not allow the dog to harm the cat in any way.

The best time to introduce your new dog to the cat is after the dog or puppy has had plenty of exercise and is in a calm state.  Generally, when a dog first sees a cat (or other household pet), they will be very curious and want to investigate.  This is a good thing.  But we must control HOW they do so.  I recommend creating an invisible barrier around yourself.  I like to use a wall of my own nice calm energy.  The dog is not allowed past this barrier.  The dog must learn to give you space when you ask for it.  If you are uncomfortable or nervous creating your own barrier, use a baby gate.
-----I also recommend practicing setting up barriers with your dog around the house.  Such as the dog is not allowed in the kitchen when preparing or eating food.  Practice your circle barrier (used here) with a toy in your lap before practicing with the cat (or other small prey animal).-----

Place the cat in your lap and hold the cat with one hand.  Make sure you are calm.  Try and stroke the cat calmly in your lap and get the cat to settle.  The other hand will be used to block the dog.  Since you have already started basic training with your dog, your dog should know an "uh-uh" command, meaning "I do not like this current behavior."  This is what you will say when the dog gets to close/ crosses your boundary line.  The more in control of your dog you are and the more calm you are, the easier this will be.  Remember to not stress your cat out too much.  If the cat has reached his point, let him go where he can easily escape away from the dog.  Remember it is YOUR job to protect the cat and make the cat feel that you will keep him SAFE!  Do this only a few minutes (2-10) the first couple times.  Allow your cat to come out and explore is he wants to, and encourage him to do so.  Treats are always nice.

If you are consistent in basic training with your dog, and remain calm during this exercise, eventually your dog will start showing signals of calming down.  Mark these things with your, "Good!"  These signals will include:  backing away, looking to the human more, siting or laying down outside the boundary.  Any time your dog shows these signals, mark that good behavior and reward (toss them a treat).

Impulse Control Approach:
Place your dog on a leash and have several small treats ready.  Have another human hold the cat (or lead of the farm animal) in a calm and comfortable way on the floor or couch.  Basically what we are training here is the dog's impulse to want to go after the cat.  Approach the cat with the dog on the leash.  You want to take a step or two, then stop.  If the dog does not react, praise.  If the dog looks at the cat then looks back to human, praise and treat.  Remain calm.  Calmly move 1-2 steps closer.  If the dog offers good behavior again, praise and treat.  If the dog lunges, barks, or tries to go after the cat, mark the bad behavior with your "eh-eh" or "uh-oh" and immediately move away from the cat a few steps until the dog calms down.  Once the dog and cat are calm, start over.  
The person holding the cat in this exercise should remember to also remain calm and make the cat feel that he is safe and protected.  The person holding the cat should ignore the dog.  If you are doing this exercise with a larger farm-type animal, I recommend the person holding the lead stand in between the animal and the dog, but still ignore the dog.

In the End:
Depending on the age of your pets when they are first introduced, they may never become the best of friends.  But they can certainly learn to tolerate each other and co-exist peacefully.  (The best way to guarantee they will become friends is to adopt them both at a young age and near the same time.)
I have heard several times that this cat and that dog will just never get along.  
It is possible.  Read about one of my stories here.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Indoor Dog Games

For much of the United States, we are moving into colder weather.  For those of us on Hawaii, it means more rain.  Either way it can be much more difficult to get your dog outside for their regular exercise.  But it is still important to keep your dog's body and mind active in some way.  The following are some ideas for indoor games you can try with your dog.

Go Find game:
This is one of my favorite games to play inside with my dogs.  I make my dogs wait in one area of the house while I go out of sight and hide a toy.  (It is helpful if they see the toy and play with it a little bit before hand so they know what they are looking for.)  I then come back to the dogs, who have hopefully been practicing a good "Stay" and release them on their hunt by saying "Go Find."  The search and when the find the toy, praise lavishly and reward by playing with the dog with the toy they just found.  Then repeat.  Make sure you hide the toy is a semi-easy spot when you first start, then make it harder as the dog improves in the game.

Put your toys away:

To begin this game, start by having your dog pick up a favorite toy near the area where they are normally stored.  We have a toy bin for our dog's toys.  Encourage your dog to do a "Drop it" while they are standing over the toy bin or area.  Praise lavishly when the dog does this.  Getting this going can take awhile.  Remember to have patience with your dog and take the time to praise when they do it right.  Now you will have a dog that can clean up after themselves.  How fantastic would that be?

Learn the names of Toys:
According to recent studies, our dogs actually have the intelligence equivalent to that of a 2-year-old child, and are capable of learning more than 200 words.  Exercising your dog's brain is a main component of keeping your dog happy and healthy throughout life.  Start with one toy and add a specific name to it.  Once you have picked the name of the toy, be sure to always use that same name (as you should also do with any cue/ command you practice).  Once your dog seems to have that first one done, start doing the same thing with a second.  Then try and ask your dog to bring you "name" toy.  Praise lavishly when they get it right!

The Cup Game:
This game is a great start in what we call "nose work."  Smell is the most important scent for a dog.  I'm sure you have seen many dogs who are driven by their nose.  Some particular breeds tend to be more scent driven as well, such as hunting and working breeds.  To begin, get three (non-glass) cups and line them up in a row.  Place your dog in front of the cups.  First, put a treat under one of the cups while your dog is watching.  When the dog chooses the correct cup, praise lavishly and let him get the treat.  Start simple and once your dog seems to get the hang of it, start to make it harder by switching the cups around.  Don't forget to praise the dog each time he gets it right.

Interactive Dog Toys:
Dog with Flirt Pole.
There are many interactive dog toys on the market today.  There are toys to chew, puzzles to solve, and toys to chase.  If your dog likes to chase things, a great idea might be what is called a Flirt Pole.  You can purchase online or even make your own (which I recommend).  

Store bought puzzle game.
If you have a highly intelligent dog (those dogs who get into the most trouble tend to be more intelligent and lacking mental stimulation), a puzzle game is a fantastic idea.  Again you can purchase online or make your own using a muffin tin, some treats, and a few tennis balls.  Place a few treats in the tin (not in every hole), then cover them all with tennis balls.  Now you have your own dog puzzle.  This game can also be done with treats or toys and cardboard boxes (if you have more room).

The make your own puzzle game.
Also check out The Whole Dog Journal for more information on many dog puzzle games.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Flirt Pole

If you have a dog that enjoys chasing things or running, one of the best toys you could get him/ her is a Flirt Pole.
A Flirt Pole is basically a long stick with a string attached at the end of the stick, and a toy attached to the end of the string.  There are many you can buy online, but I recommend going to your local hardware store and making your own.  Be sure to put the toy away when you are not using it WITH your dog.  (Or remove the toy at the end and put the rest of it away.)