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Author: Nanette Lai

I'm not special. I have MS. According to MS Canada, 1 in every 400 people live with multiple sclerosis. So - I'm really not special. I have special GOALS. My goal is to empower other spoonie dog owners by showing them how capable they are in using positive reinforcement for teaching their pet dogs to become well-mannered family members. Learning to teach your dog to be a well-mannered pet doesn’t have to be. In fact, the process can be accessible and simple. https://unbalanceddogtraining.com/

Where Your Little Dog Should Be When An Unleashed Dog Runs Up To You During A Walk

You’re taking your puppy or small dog on a leashed walk when a loose dog runs up to both of you. The loose dog’s owner is nowhere to be seen.

The loose dog is circling or lunging at your little dog.

In a panic, you pick up your little dog.

Picking up your little dog is motion. That motion triggers the loose dog to jump up and attack you or your little pooch.

Immediate tips (in the moment):

  • Guide your pup behind you with the leash

This makes you a wall protecting your little dog.

  • At the same time, firmly say words to the loose dog like “go home” or “sit.” Something the. loose dog might know.
  • You can also try shouting “is this your dog?” at anyone nearby.

Ideally, you would be standing with your legs apart and guiding your pup into the space between.

Since most of the advice online only seems to tell you what not to do, I wrote this to tell you what TO do.

Training Game At Home

Teach your little dog or puppy to drop into a down-stay between your legs on cue.

The cue can be whatever you want. For my dog the cue is “DERP.” Not an acronym.

Being in a down position makes your little dog far less interesting to the loose one.

Your legs present a barrier to the other dog, a safe fortress for your little one to remain in.

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How To Play This Game

Start playing at home, in a familiar room where your puppy feels confident in.

What you’ll need:

  • a hungry dog
  • 1 to 3 minutes to play. You can play once a day, or multiple times throughout a day.
  • cut up many small, soft treats of different values for your pup

Low value treats are those that your pup will eat at home if there’s nothing else like kibble.

High value treats would be ones that your puppy loves and will take any time, anywhere. These are treats you bring to vet visits.

Steps Of Game

Stand with your legs comfortably apart in a doorway inside your home.

When your curious puppy approaches you:

  1. Say “search” and count 1–2 in your mind
  2. Gently throw a low-value treat behind you, through your legs. This should be an underhand throw.

Throwing the treat gets your puppy chasing the food item and gives your puppy the choice to return.

  • When your puppy returns another round, give your puppy a high-value treat in position between your legs.

Your puppy can be in a sit or a down. As I mentioned, the down position will be the safest for your dog.

If your puppy doesn’t know the down cue, that’s easily remedied.

After you’ve rewarded your puppy for lying down between your legs, say “search” and throw another low-value treat behind you.

To build your puppy holding the down position, give multiple high-value treats (3 to 5) for doing that behavior.

Release your puppy from the down position with “search.”

Thanks for reading!


My Understanding of What A Dog Experiences Locked Inside A Hot Car

In my profile, I mention I have multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is an incurable disease causing inflammation in my brain and spine.

Part of the MS package comes heat intolerance.

Temperatures that you feel comfortable in — let’s say room temperature (20C/68 F). That temperature or higher is hell for me.

At those temperatures indoors or outdoors, I start getting confused and disoriented. I might lose my balance.

Last November, I found out exactly how heat intolerant I was while riding in my friend’s rental car.

Toronto, CANADA – November 20, 2018: Landscape view of the city of Toronto with legendary CN Tower

November in Toronto rests between the fall/winter seasons. As you might expect, outdoor temperatures are low during that time. At the end of the month, we might experience the first snowfall. With the low temperatures, I usually put on a light winter jacket or layer my clothing.

In late November 2023, a friend returned from Florida to attend her family member’s celebration of life. “Celebration of life” is an updated term to describe a funeral.

After the event, my friend and her family invited me to a casual social gathering. We went to Starbucks.

That trip went well; I got my seasonal latte and consumed that.

Since we all had time, we decided to meet some other people who lived West of the city

During that car trip, I started feeling unwell — I had my winter jacket on, which I started to remove because the car’s heat made me uncomfortable. Taking off my winter jacket brought me some relief, but I still had a warm vest on and began unzipping the vest.

My friend’s partner was driving, and he kindly started opening the window beside me in the back passenger seat.

I appreciated the gesture, but at that point opening the window didn’t do much.

I vomited, at least 3 times. Part of the vomitus was the Starbucks latte.

At the time, I felt so disoriented that I would not have been able to write this.

Reflecting on that event gave me clarity about what dogs experience when they are left in cars during the summer.

The inside of a car heats up rapidly when the sun’s rays hit the car — I’m sure you’ve experienced the irritation of hot leather seats.

My choice of winter wardrobe, having MS, and riding inside a heated car were analogous to having a furred body and physiology that can’t get rid of excess heat well.

Considering my increasing discomfort as a human being in that moving vehicle, I can only imagine the distress a dog experiences locked inside a parked car during warm weather.

My 5 Minute Training Plan For A Cat To Learn “Stay”

When Melo the cat escaped from his family’s home, he got out from the back door.

The back door is located in the kitchen.

Which was where I began formulating Melo’s anti-door-dash training plan.

I thought about the sounds preceding Melo’s back door opening.

After assessing Melo’s kitchen, I considered Melo’s perspective.

The order of operations allowing a back door exit involved the following sounds:

1) The glass door latch getting flipped

2) Sliding of the glass door

3) Flipping of the screen door latch

Since we were indoors, I focused on the sound created when the glass door latch was flipped.

Which made a “click” noise.

Previously, the “click” meant freedom to Melo.

I planned to counter-condition the click into triggering a brilliant stay behaviour that was entirely Melo’s choice.

To do that, I created value for a location to become Melo’s default “stay” area.

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

As an animal welfare advocate, I am committed to using positive reinforcement in my work.

Because of my functional limitations, I use a lot of shaping to teach behaviours to animals.

My hand dexterity disability from MS means I can’t use luring or a clicker.

Day 1: Paw Targeting

Total time: 90 seconds — blanket from full-sized to 1/4 size

Paw targeting means teaching a cat to use his paws to touch something.

If you’re a cat owner (slave), you know you have to make that behaviour the cat’s idea.

With paw targeting, I started with a huge surface area using a blanket.

I placed the blanket close to a wall, which served as a barrier for Melo.

Once Melo touched a single paw on the blanket, I marked the exact moment by saying “search” and throwing a piece of kibble away from the blanket.

Because Melo is a domestic cat and a hunter by nature, the view of the flying kibble drew his attention and he followed it.

Melo’s facial expression suggested he was thinking: “What? I walked on the blanket like I wanted to…and a piece of kibble got thrown.”

Then Melo put two paws on the blanket, exactly what I wanted him to do.

When I saw those paws hit that blanket, I threw another piece of kibble after saying “search.”

Melo became hooked on this game — he quickly decided that all of his paws on the blanket might be a good idea.

Precisely what I wanted him to do.

To Melo, that was his idea.

I didn’t leave the game at that.

I folded the blanket in half to see if Melo understood where the value was.

Since the half-blanket remained in the same spot as the full one, Melo decided to try putting all of his paws on this reduced surface.

Again, Melo chose to do what I wanted him to do.

After that, I folded the blanket more to create a quarter blanket.

At that point, Melo decided to sit on the quarter blanket.

For Melo, everything he did was his idea. Plus he received payment for doing those things.

What a win for a cat!

Photo by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash

Day 2: Advancing Paw Targeting

Total time: 60 seconds

For this, I placed the quarter blanket into a basket.

Which would become Melo’s “stay” place.

The blanket within the basket was the spot I wanted to become Melo’s “stay” place.

To set Melo up for success, I started with part of the blanket hanging out of the basket.

Eventually, I had built enough value that Melo chose to go inside the basket on his own.

Where he remained.

Day 3: Adding the Cue

Total time: 13 seconds

Since I wanted the flip of the back glass door latch to be the “stay” cue for Melo, I threw a piece of kibble for him to leave the blanket in basket.

To set Melo up for success, I moved the stay zone closer to the glass door latch because I wanted him to associate the sound of the door latch with “get into your basket.”

The distance I tossed the food was close enough to his future “stay” zone. When Melo left to seek that piece of kibble, I manually flicked the door latch right before he settled himself into the basket.

After a few kibble tosses with “search,” Melo understood that door latch flick meant getting into his stay zone.

Day 4: The Release Cue

Total time: 7 seconds

A release cue is a word that permits an animal to leave a physical position or location.

Melo already had a release cue: “Search.”

Which began on Day 1 with the Paw Target game.

Melo understood “search” meant he was correct and to look for a piece of food on the ground.

I changed the release cue by introducing a new word: “break.”

Senior Cat Release Word From Place #cat #cute #cattraining #seniorcat #stay #pets

Day 5: Reinforcing Duration

Total time: 10 seconds every day

From Day 1, I dropped single kibbles when Melo was on the blanket.

Once I moved the blanket into the basket, the kibble dropping occurred unpredictably.

Since he had learned the release word “break” on Day 4, I would randomly say “break” to let him know that his job was over and that he could leave his spot.

The one time Melo was incorrect was when I put the empty basket in the living room 🤣

How did Melo’s stay behaviour apply in real life?:

Melo 🐱 passed his exam today! #seniorcat #cattraining #fearfreetraining…

Is Crate Training Not Working For Your Dog Or Puppy?

At some point in any dog’s life, being crated or kennelled will need to happen.

Your dog needs to be hospitalized or transported.

Perhaps “Fluffy” needs to be confined because renovations are going on in your home.

Or you have visitors who are scared of dogs.

In any case, crating Fluffy simply makes sense.

*I am not interested in debating the perceived morality of crating. If you don’t want to crate your dog, or if that’s illegal in your country, feel free to skip this story.*

I’m writing for people who want to crate-train their dogs.

As I was saying to Bin Jiang, I am averse to reading blocks of text.

And I love reading. But I will not read blocks of text.

Such as those in pamphlets from veterinary clinics.

Which team members disseminate to clients on dog behaviour, such as crate training.

As a professional pet dog trainer and veterinary professional, I foresaw challenges with those pamphlets.

If I didn’t want to read those pamphlets, how could we expect veterinary clients to?

Other problems I saw: some pamphlets suggested to owners about luring a dog or puppy into a crate with highly appealing food.

Which might work, or not.

Worse yet, waiting for a puppy or dog to go in on their own — could take a very long time.

Or simply forcing the puppy or dog into the crate and locking the door shut, waiting for the pooch to cry it out.

Which is inhumane.

Instead, I am going to present something a little different.

Teach a dog to LOVE going into a crate.

So much so, that dog is so joyful and runs into the crate.

Prerequisites:

  • A wire or plastic crate

Before you begin:

Dismantle the crate into constituent parts to help your dog’s success.

A wire crate will have a plastic bottom – pull that out.

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The next photo is the bottom part from a plastic crate.

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Onward to the first game!

The Paw Target Game

  1. Place a large blanket placed on the ground.
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Given a large enough blanket, a dog may step on the blanket seemingly by accident.

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When your dog steps on the blanket with just 1 paw, mark the behaviour with whatever sound or word you use such as a click or “yes.”

  • Reinforce the behaviour by giving a bite-sized treat.
  • Pause 1 to 2 seconds, say “search” and throw a treat or toy in a direction away from the blanket.

This increases the value your dog has for the blanket.

By allowing your dog the choice of returning to the blanket.

3) Upon your dog’s return, wait for a different behaviour than before.

Such as 2 or more paws on the blanket.

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Or a position such as a sit or down.

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Mark and reinforce for 2 or more paws.

  • Pause 1 to 2 seconds. Then say “search” and throw a treat for your dog to chase off the blanket.

Growing the Paw Target Game

Continue this game after your dog continues stepping onto the paw target intentionally after each “search.”

This time, while your dog is off the blanket, quickly reduce the size of the blanket

  1. Fold the paw target in half.
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2. Wait to see what your dog does with this half-blanket.

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If you have established the value of what that blanket means to your dog, you should see this or similar behaviours.

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3. Grow the paw target game some more by throwing a treat in a direction away from the blanket.

This time, while your dog is chasing the treat quickly reduce the size of the blanket by folding it into quarters.

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At This Point Of The Paw Target Game:

Evaluate.

  • How is your dog doing with the quarter blanket?

Is your dog offering behaviours on this little bit of blanket?

If so, progress to the next phase.

If not, expand the blanket to the previous size (half or full) and grow your dog’s confidence at this power level.

  • Is this quarter blanket small enough to fit into a crate part?

Getting The Paw Target Into The Crate

Remember I asked you to dismantle your dog’s crate?

This is when those parts should be brought in.

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Your dog may be very interested and start offering behaviours.

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Ifthat is the case, keep playing the same game – throw a treat to get your dog moving off the blanket and crate part.

Because your dog is ready for you to put the crate back together.

Reassembling Pieces Of The Crate

You’ll notice the door isn’t back on this plastic crate yet.

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You want to make sure your dog remains confident about going on the blanket while the lid is on.

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If you have a wire crate, how comfortable is your dog about going into the crate with the paw blanket on the plastic bottom?

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Putting The Crate Together

Plastic Crate

  • Adding the door.

You’ll notice the blanket is still part of the crate at this point — we want to build on your dog’s confidence.

Move at your dog’s pace.

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Wire Crate

  • Put more of the plastic tray back into the crate.

As you see, with a more confident dog, you can place more of the blanket onto the plastic tray.

Again, move at your dog’s pace.

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If all has gone well, your puppy or dog should be happily running into the crate.

January Is National Train Your Dog Month

Did you know? Less than 5% of all pet dogs are intentionally trained

Consider your canine patient population. In particular, ask your front desk team about their observations of dog leash manners. Then ask them to select a number from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree) to describe their level of agreement with the subtitle.

Between 30 to 60% of dog owners do not walk their dogs because the dogs pull on leash (1). Dogs pulling on leash are the most common behaviour problem reported to veterinarians (2). Beyond a dog behaviour problem, dogs pulling on leash compromise human health.

From 2001 to 2020, an estimated 422,659 individuals presented to emergency departments across the United States from injuries related to leash-dependent dog walking (3). Within the same time frame, 1 in 5 injuries treated at USA emergency departments involved a dog pulling on leash (4). Nearly 90% of the injuries happened to individuals aged 18 and older. A common injury reported was traumatic brain injury (TBI) from falling as a result of a dog pulling on the leash (3). Canadian data will likely be comparable–maybe even more so given that we have universal health care.

What does that mean for your clients and patients?

Let’s assume some of your clients or their immediate family members have been injured from a family pet pulling on its leash. This means your practice can expect to be contacted by clients asking for referrals to pet dog trainers.

After experiencing a fall from walking a pet dog, clients may immediately turn to quick-fix methods for changing the dog’s behaviour. Unfortunately, many quick-fix methods involve using positive punishment which simply suppresses the leash pulling rather than teach the dog how to walk politely on a loose leash . Additionally, positive punishment used in the name of training often results in negative impacts on the human-animal bond and compromises dog welfare (Hiby, 2023)

Prioritising Patient Welfare

Note that dog training remains an unregulated profession globally. However, this is not common knowledge to the general public. This presents a wonderful chance for your team, where client education can be provided regarding positive reinforcement pet dog training methods. Ideally, one team member will have expertise speaking about positive reinforcement pet dog training and even demonstrating some of the mechanics involved for teaching a pet dog to walk on a loose leash, offering a short coaching session to the client. This may occur as part of the patient’s appointment, or scheduled as a separate visit specifically addressing common behaviour challenges. In addition to the leash-pulling, complaints from pet dog owners include dogs running away or foreign body ingestion. If you have a team member who happens to be an accredited pet dog training instructor holding membership with the following associations (Canadian Association of Professional Dog Trainers, Pet Professionals Guild), wonderful!

Game Plan

Considering some of the physical injuries on humans, some immediate strategies your practice can offer would be equipment:

-harnesses[1]

-head halters[2]

Please let your client know these tools simply manage the dog’s behaviour, so training still needs to occur. Additionally, the relationship still needs to be repaired–which is where positive reinforcement methods can help, because quick successes will keep the client engaged with educating their pet going forward.

Sources cited:

  1. Cutt, H., Giles-Corti, B., & Knuiman, M. (2008). Encouraging physical activity through dog walking: why don’t some owners walk with their dog?. Preventive Medicine, 46(2), 120–126.
  2. Townsend, L., Dixon, L., & Buckley, L. (2022). Lead pulling as a welfare concern in pet dogs: What can veterinary professionals learn from current research?. Veterinary record, 191(10)
  3. Maxson, R., Leland, C. R., McFarland, E. G., Lu, J., Meshram, P., & Jones, V. C. (2023). Epidemiology of Dog Walking-Related Injuries Among Adults Presenting to US Emergency Departments, 2001–2020. Medicine and science in sports and exercise.
  4. Forrester M. B. (2020). Dog leash-related injuries treated at emergency departments. The American journal of emergency medicine, 38(9), 1782–1786. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajem.2020.05.082
  5. Hiby, E., Rooney, N., & Bradshaw, J. (2004). Dog training methods: their use, effectiveness and interaction with behaviour and welfare. Animal Welfare, 13(1), 63–69. doi:10.1017/S0962728600026683
  6. Todd, Z. (2018). Barriers to the adoption of humane dog training methods. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 25, 28-34.
  7. Knights, H., & Williams, J. (2021). The influence of three working harnesses on thoracic limb kinematics and stride length at walk in assistance dogs. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 45, 16-24.
  8. Blake, S., Williams, R., & Ferro de Godoy, R. (2019). A systematic review of the biomechanical effects of harness and head-collar use in dogs. bioRxiv, 759258.

[1] Not all harnesses are made equal, and fit is very particular for each dog’s body type. Measurements to gather from the dog are neck and chest width. Harnesses should permit non-restrictive movement to a dog’s forelimbs (7)

[2] Head halters may not be appropriate for all breeds. Consider your patient’s breed before recommending this for leash-pulling (8)

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