What’s In a Wag?

The biggest myth is, a wagging tail means “happy dog.” Yes, dogs wag their tails when they are happy, but they also use them to communicate feelings. While barking can be used to broadcast feelings, dogs mostly rely on their body language to communicate. They use many parts of their body: eyes, ears, lips, stance, and tails to convey information. If you observe dogs closely for a period of time, you will quickly notice that there is no such thing as a uniform tail wag. Instead, dogs use different wagging speeds and different tail positions to communicate. Generally speaking, the position (or height) of the tail can be used as an emotional thermometer while the speed of the wag indicates how excited or aroused the dog is.

 Tucked tail- when the tail is tightly tucked under the dog’s body this is a sign of intense fear or can also be a submissive display. Low Tail- usually associated with worry or being submissive.  Middle or Neutral- how a dog carries his tail most of the time and is a sign of a relaxation. Some dogs naturally carry their tails high (Basenjis) and others carry it low (Greyhounds).  Horizontal and Tense (straight out at the back) - means that the dog is alert and attentive.  High Tail- usually used to show assertiveness or to challenge others.  Vertical tail- is a clear challenge and is used by dogs to say they are confident and in control.

 In general, the faster the wag, the more excited the dog.  Intensity- slight barely noticeable wag of small breadth (often seen during greetings) means the dog is hesitant.  Broad wag- a sign of friendliness or contentment. This is the “happy dog wag.” If the dog is very excited, you may also see his hips wiggling from side to side.  Tiny, high speed wags- if the tail is wagging in such a way that it looks like the tail is vibrating it means the dog is ready for action, usually to run or fight. When looking at your dog for clues about how he is feeling, remember to look at his entire body. Does the body look relaxed or are all the muscles tense? Is the dog staring hard at you (another person or dog) or is he giving you soft eyes? Observe your dog regularly and take note of his postures to better understand him.

Submitted by Marion C. O’Neil CPDT-KA, CTDI Owner and Trainer of Molasses Creek Dog Training, LLC Quakertown & Bethlehem PA

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My New Fur Baby

People say the only time that a good dog will hurt you is when they die. My heart has been broken for a long time.  It has been almost three years since I lost my beautiful Black Lab, Shadow.  A couple of months ago I took down the makeshift memorial to her, but left one photo and the mold of her foot print. The hurt isn’t as raw anymore. She will be in my heart forever. I still have tears for her streaming down my face just writing this paragraph. They say time heals all wounds and it does.

 I’d been kicking around the idea about a possible addition to my home. I wanted a playmate for my four year old Mizz Ziva before she was too old to really enjoy one. Time, money, and the stars were all in line and got me thinking, I was definitely ready for a new fur baby.  I looked on line at different rescue sites. I had my criteria ready. I wanted a smart, smaller-than-40 pounds, and not-all black dog. The search went on for weeks. The moment I saw her sweet beautiful face it stopped me dead in my tracts. A thirty pound, nine month old white Australian Shepard mix with a big brown patch over the left side of her face with a cute black nose. I began to read her bio: “good with dogs, cat, and children.” There was even a video of her playing with a kitten. I was lucky. We did a meet and greet with Ziva. They acted like they were long lost sisters from another mother. The adoption process with Wags Rescue and Referral went very smoothly.

Kayleena H. Wilson was her name for about 30 seconds. Now she is just Kai. All I can say is the first month with her has been hell. I understood Kai was scared and nervous in her new surroundings. She had been though a lot in the past month according to her paperwork. She knew nothing, except how to look cute.  This dog had no training at all: she crapped and peed in my house; tried to eat my underwear, shoes, and pens; gave me no personal space while I’m on the toilet; couldn’t be left alone in a crate without freaking out; and stole my towel when I was taking a shower. I watched how fast toilet paper can stream from the bathroom into the living room. Greetings consisted of her jumping, then raking her nails all the way down the back of my legs.  Like a doggy version of Freddy Krueger.

The good news is that she’s getting a lot better. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to Camp Jean’s Doggie Day Care. Jean and all the ladies there take care of Kai while I’m working. Kai doesn’t have to be crated and left alone to freak out. She gets to submerge herself in the pool and play all day while I’m working. It should be the other way around. This has really helped tremendously with the speed of her training and the ease of her separation issues. A tired dog is a good dog. I love Doggie Day Care!

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  The Two-Treat Method

$1·        This is a great way to work through distractions plus have your dog pay more attention to you. Have two treats in your hand. Praise your dog, now give one treat from your hand while you back up so that you are farther away from the distraction. Then give the second treat. Your dog is likely to run back to you instead of heading to the distraction. What a deal! Remember your reward should always be higher value than your distraction

Don't worry if your dog fails. Failure is a natural part of learning. Remain calm and resist the urge to yell "no" or physically move your dog around. Instead, follow this procedure:

$1·        Go to the distraction. Pick it up. Talk to your dog about it. Admire it together.

$1·        And then put it back.

$1·        Go to the same place you were before and ask the dog for the behavior again.

$1·        If your dog fails again, make the task just a bit easier.

$1·        For example, you might stand closer to your dog, or move the distraction a bit farther away. Or if you asked for a stay, you might change your duration from five seconds to three seconds.

If your dog fails three times in a row, stop. The task is too hard for your dog. Go back to the previous step or find a way to make it easier for your dog. Ask yourself the following questions:

$1·        Did you use a low enough value of distraction?

$1·        Are you using a higher value reward?

$1·        Does your dog KNOW that you have a higher value reward?

$1·        And this is the big one: are you SURE that your dog knows the base behavior in that environment when no distraction is present? If your dog does not know the command, you can repeat it till the cows come home, but you will not achieve success.

Each training session should be 5 minutes long OR LESS. Training should be fun, so don't keep going unless both you and your dog are enjoying it. You can repeat a lesson up to (but no more than) three times in a day. Ten minutes a day is an excellent target. 

If she's not having fun, that training session has not been successful, no matter how well she performed! Work smarter not harder.

Submitted by Marion C. O’Neil CPDT-KA, CTDI Owner and trainer of Molasses Creek Dog Training, LLC Quakertown

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Is Your Dog Telling You What To Do?

While I was visiting a friend the other day, I observed in horror as one of the most obnoxious behaviors a dog could offer unfolded right before my eyes. Not only was her dog Demand Barking but my friend was reinforcing it!  Yep, that little bugger was barking at my friend because she wanted a cookie. Little Sophia the Yorkie knew exactly where those cookies were stashed. She parked herself right in front of the cookie jar and she was not budging until she got her cookie. The more my friend ignored her dog, the louder the little devil dog became. After a couple minutes of Sophia’s temper tantrum, my friend laughed and said “Isn’t she so cute and smart that she can tell me she wants a cookie” and then gave her the cookie.

I know we all wish our dogs could talk sometimes but be careful what you wish for. I can only imagine what my dog would say, “I love you, too; come on scratch my butt; let me out; let me in; what, that kibble again; once more around the block, James, throw the ball;, you little wimp; oops, sorry I have gas.” Most people think it is amazing that their dog knows exactly where the cookie is, plus can communicate that feeling. Then there are some folks like me who think it’s pretty rude to be barked at.

Hey, I’m not perfect; I have been known to occasionally bribe my dogs with the words “cookies” to get their attention. I regularly treat my dog with a cookie - if she asks nicely. I think it is so cute that my dog can sit nicely in front of the cookie jar, glance at me, then back to the cookie jar as if to say “please, mom.”  I will ask her “would you like a cookie?” So when she sits and is quiet as if to say please, I then ask her to perform a simple known behavior like speak or sit pretty. I will then reinforce her by giving her the cookie. If I think it will ruin her dinner I simply say “not now, sweetie.” What I don’t like is for her to be demanding. Asking and telling are two different things. I am a firm believer that dogs should do things to get things. What you reinforce is what you get.

Submitted by Marion C. O’Neil CPDT-KA, CTDI owner and trainer of Molasses Creek Dog Training in Quakertown

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Who’s Walking Whom?

Did you ever think that you might be the reason your dog pulls you on walks? Ask yourself this question. Are you consistently being inconsistent? Here’s a classic scenario: you are out taking your dog for a walk around the neighborhood. Now your dog sees the friendly neighbor and his dog. You then allow your dog to pull you, to greet the friendly neighbor and his dog. Yup, unbeknownst to you, what you have just done here is positively reinforced your dog for pulling. The gigantic reward was getting to meet the friendly neighbor and his dog.

Now you continue your walk to the next block. Then you see a very deceased squirrel in the ditch (poor squirrel). Your dog is pulling and rearing like a bronco buck. All he wants to do is get to that putrid bug-infested roadkill. To exacerbate the issue, you are yanking on the leash to keep your dog from pulling towards the squished squirrel. Dogs have a thing called an Opposition Reflex which means if you pull the dog, they’ll pull back in the opposite direction. So now you are giving your dog even more reason to pull! Why is it okay to pull in the instance of the neighbor and his dog, but not for the expired squirrel? You are actually being consistently inconsistent.

Loose leash walking is exactly what it sounds like. You have a nice loose leash between you and your dog.  Not enough practice with too many distractions is where the problems start. You have to start at the shallow end of the pool, then work toward the deep end. Start your training by having the dog on a leash follow you around the house. Every couple of steps give your dog a treat for following you. Make kissy noises or slap the side of your leg to encourage the dog to follow you. You need a high rate of reinforcement in the beginning.  Gradually ask more from your dog as he is getting it. Slowly add more steps with less treats. When your dog is following you from one end of the house and back for only one treat it is time to take it outside but only in the backyard or someplace not too distracting. Up the ante on the value of treats (real meat not a dry biscuit) as you add more distractions. Set yourself up to succeed. Be  consistent.

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Chew on This

Ignoring unwanted behavior is very confusing for dog owners. I am not giving you permission to ignore the dog when he chews on inappropriate things like rocks, dirty underwear, or your furniture. I want to be very clear how to help your dog learn what is appropriate to chew on and what is not. Above all else I want your dog to be safe.

Your most powerful tool for changing a dog’s behavior is using positive reinforcement. The reward makes him more likely to repeat the behavior again. Reinforcement is not all about treats.  Giving the dog feedback by giving praise is reinforcement. You are letting the dog know he has made the right decision on what is appropriate to chew.  Always pay attention to your dog when your dog is being good.  Reward pottying outside versus punishing for pottying inside. Reward sitting versus punishing jumping.

  Out –of- date compulsion trainers may have you yank on a prong or choke collar, throw a can filled with pennies, or even scream and yell at your dog. Attempting the use of violence and intimidation may stop the unwanted behavior, but falls short of providing the information that corrects the unwanted behavior.  Did you ever try to teach a child how to ride a bike by yelling at them “no, no, no” then wait for them to somehow figure it out how to do it right?  Without feedback how is your dog going to make better decisions?

Force free trainers do administer corrections, but it is how we administer them. We do it proactively through management, not intimidation. Management is simply not giving the dog the opportunity to get in trouble in the first place, so we have don’t have to be reactive, but hey poop happens!

  The 3 R’s Remove, Redirect, and Reinforce

Remove: Remove the dog from the environment or things in the environment. Dog eating your underwear? Remove the dog to another room or better yet put your underwear where he cannot get it.

Redirect:  Give the dog something else to do. Having the dog play fetch is incompatible with swallowing rocks or chewing on your shoe laces.

 Reinforcement:  Reinforce by praising the dog for chewing on his toys, instead of yelling at the dog for chewing on your furniture or your pant leg.

It’s easier to teach a dog what to chew on then what not to chew on!

Submitted by Marion C. O’Neil CPDT-KA, CTDI, owner and instructor for Molasses Creek Dog Training, LLC Quakertown www.molassescreekdogtraining.com

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Household Rules

I had a couple in one of my training classes that owned a beautiful Akita puppy named Frank. The husband flat out didn’t want the dog on the couple’s bed at any time.  Every morning the bed would be made with all the pillows neatly stacked. Every morning the husband would take a shower before setting off to work. Every morning he got out of the shower then walked into the bedroom the dog would not be in the bed.  But every morning there was undeniable evidence that the dog had recently curled up on the bed because of the big hairy indent with the pillows on the floor. He could never catch the dog on the bed. The dog had learned it was perfectly okay to be on the bed but not when dad was around.

The wife, on the other hand, didn’t care that the dog wasn’t allowed on the bed. In fact, she enjoyed snuggling with her baby and Frank on the bed whenever the husband left for work. The wife thought it was hysterical that the husband could never catch the dog in the act. Well, I’m not a marriage counselor but I knew something had to change.

Puppy parents need to define realistic expectations for their dog and their families that they all can agree on. What is acceptable in your house is a personal choice. I’m not the furniture police. I can’t tell you or your family what to do with your dog. It should be your personal decision that the family all can agree.  Some people would be appalled that I allow my dog in my bed or next to me on the couch. If one person in the household allows the puppy up on the furniture the puppy will do it again. Whether you are man or beast we all love comfort. There have to be rules and guidelines for the entire family, including the dog. Rules of the house help provide consistency and predictability for your puppy. When setting the rules, ask yourself these questions:

Will the puppy be allowed on the furniture?

Will the puppy sleep in your bed?

Will the puppy have full access or limited access in the house?

Will food scraps be given from the table (never a good idea) or only in his food bowl?

It should be all for one and one for all!

Submitted by Marion C. O’Neil CPDT-KA, CTDI owner, and trainer of Molasses Creek Dog Training, LLC, Quakertown

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Double Trouble

Training more than one dog at a time is lot easier said than done. Most times it can look like a chaotic three ring circus. I was trying to work with my new puppy, Sally, when my older dog, Ubu, kept nosing his way in on the training session. Ubu was always in on the fun if there were treats involved. It was like he was saying “move over, newbie, let me show you how to do it.” My poor Sally walked away in disgust. So much for that training session. What was I thinking? Face it, dogs can feel jealousy. Whatever Sally was getting, so was Ubu. It was time for me to take a step back and figure out how I could properly manage this eager beaver.

One of the easiest solutions in training two dogs at the same time is to work in a room with a closed door between the two dogs. Rotating the dogs every few minutes help over-anxious dogs wait their turn to train. To help mitigate the problem you can place a food puzzle, yummy chewy or a food stuffed rubber toy.

If a dog has been trained to enjoy his crate that dog can be crated when not training you can send one dog into his crate while you work with the other dog, and then switch dogs. Give the dog in the crate a stuffed food toy, or drop treats into the crate periodically as you train the other dog. No forcing the dog into the crate; he should be able to enter willingly.

You can separate the non-training dogs on the other side of a baby gate or an x-pen. If you have multiple dogs, it may be easier for you to work on the inside of the x-pen while the non-training dogs are on the outside. Remember to share a couple of treats for the non-training dogs.

This exercise requires huge impulse control plus plenty of training sessions beforehand. Call out one dog at a time by his name, while the other dog remains in a down stay position on a mat. The best way to train multiple dogs is first train them separately, then train them as a group. When training as a group just insert “all dogs" instead of individual names, then your cue. Training should always be fun. If you feel overwhelmed, please call a professional.

Submitted by Marion C. O’Neil CPDT-KA, CTDI owner and trainer of Molasses Creek Dog Training, LLC Quakertown

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Pulling vs. Walking Your Dog

If dogs could talk they would be saying “Hey, granny, why don’t you kick it up a gear?” REALLY! Let’s face it, we don’t walk where they want to walk, and we definitely don’t move fast enough. It seems some dogs are oblivious that we’re at the other end of the leash let alone along for the walk?

Do you allow your dog to pull you to sniff the guest list at the park post or towards another dog? Allowing your dog to pull you is reinforced by allowing him to meet that other dog or pee spot. To exacerbate the issue we yank on the leash trying to make them stop pulling. Dogs have an Opposition Reflex which means if you pull them, they’ll pull back in the opposite direction. One of my personal pet peeves is retractable leashes. Do you know using a retractable leash is actually telling your dog it’s perfectly okay to pull?

So how do we get our dogs to walk and not pull? I encourage students to use a front clip harness to better manage the walk. It’s my personal go-to versus a head halter. Front clip harnesses are more user friendly. They are sold at most pet supply stores. Remember, this is just a training aid not a Band-Aid. You need to first teach your dog it is fun and rewarding to follow you. Start with minimal distractions. While holding a leash take a step forward then encourage (pat your leg or say "here, boy") your dog to follow you. When your dog follows, you click or say "good girl" then treat when he is at your side. Turn away from the dog and try again, gradually adding more steps to get your dog to follow you. Getting a treat down to the level of a little dog can be a challenge. Use a big spoon with peanut butter or liverwurst smeared on it. Remember to pull the spoon up after each reward. When you are out for a walk and the dog tries to pull simply stop, then turn in the opposite direction encouraging the dog to follow you. When the dog catches up to your side, click or say "good boy", then treat. If walking your dog is too frustrating, seek the help of a professional dog trainer. Remember if you’re not having fun neither is your dog.

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Train Your Dog to Take Treats Gently

By Marion C'Neil CPDT-KA, CTDI

Dogs who are highly treat-motivated can be very difficult to reward without losing a finger. Large dogs and puppies often don’t know their own strength. That’s why it’s critical that the very first thing any dog learns is how to take a treat gently. I tell my clients that treat delivery is important. If you bend your knees, then quickly pop the treat to the lips it will keep your dog from jumping to meet your hand. Teaching “be nice” is a very important command in training. Some people also say “easy”, “gentle” or “calm”.

A hungry dog rarely has the patience for learning (just like kids) if his stomach is grumbling. So feed your dog and then wait 30 minutes before trying to work with him. Hold a treat in the palm of your hand much like you would give a treat to a horse. The goal is to be able to cut off access to the treat quickly if he tries to snap it. Close your fist around the treat and let him sniff. The goal is to let him know you have a treat without officially offering it. Say “be nice” as you do so.

If your dog is highly food-motivated, he might lick or even “mouth” your hand - if he attempts to bite or snap at you, see below. This is a no-no. Simply remove your hand until he calms down. Once he has accepted that you won’t be offering the treat, you can show it to him again.

For Highly Treat-Motivated Dogs

Occasionally, you will find that your dog does not respond to the treat in hand trick or he might be more reactive than most dogs. If this is the case, you’ll want to take a different approach.

1. Put a bit of peanut butter on a big metal spoon, and then place the treat in the peanut butter.

2. Offer the treat to your dog and say “be nice.”

3. As soon as you see your dog becoming too aggressive in taking the treat, pull the spoon away. The peanut butter acts as a stabilizer so the treat doesn’t fall off when you offer it to him.

4. Repeat this activity using the “be nice” command until he has calmed enough to take it gently.

Training a dog to take a treat gently takes practice. The goal is for your dog to realize that he will not receive a treat unless he takes it gently.

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New Classes Starting:

Teenrover/Adult-Manners   10 /15 Sun. 11:00 a.m.

Puppy I Manners                  10/28 Sat. 12:30 p.m.

Novice Trick Dog (NTD)           10/30 Mon.7:00 p.m.

Puppy II Manners                 10/19 Thur. 7:30 p.m 

Focus with Distractions       10/28 Sat. 1:30 p.m.

Teenrover/Adult-Manners   11/6 Mon. 6:00 p.m.

Puppy I Manners                  11/11 Sat. 11:00 a.m.

Check the calendar for more scheduled classes!