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Building Trust
Posted on May 24, 2013 by Mike

A one year old Wheaten Terrier named Cody who I trained recently inspired me to write about the topic of “building trust.” Cody was distrustful of me and the staff caring for him until the third or fourth day of his stay at Kickapoo Ranch. Cody’s training was at a standstill until Cody realized that he could trust his new environment. Trust is earned with consistency and fairness, and once Cody got to know me, and experienced the consistent daily ranch routine for a few days, he was able to trust us. Once trust was established, Cody began training exceptionally well and he was a star pupil.

Patience and a consistent message are critical to earning trust and trust is crucial to successful training. Just as with Cody, in order for training activities to be successful, it is essential that trust between the trainer and student be established. A dog that does not trust its trainer will not be inclined to work hard to try and please, and thus will not learn as quickly as he or she would otherwise. Uncertainty undermines the training process and it is important to start building trust from the very beginning of the relationship.

Trust is something that is earned. It is achieved by being consistent and fair. My wife will be the first to say that our labs, although they love mom tremendously, at times seem to favor me over her. This is true even though she is the person that consistently gives them never ending belly rubs and showers them with affection. My relationship with our labs is based on learning and perfecting the work that they love to perform, which includes a consistent type of work-focused communication that they thrive on.

Training a dog is like raising a child. There is not necessarily one way of bringing up a child that is better than another way (I know some would argue this point but let’s leave that aside). What is necessary in successful child rearing and dog training is consistent communication. It goes without saying that raising a hand in anger to a child or a dog produces negative consequences such as the creation of aggression or cowering. Trying to “buy” a child or a dog with toys or treats does not earn respect or trust, but puts the dog or child in control, meaning they will obey for pay. A time will come when it does not matter how much money or treats are offered, the alternative to doing other than what is expected will be much more attractive and the choice to disobey will be made.

During the last two years at Kickapoo Ranch, I have had the pleasure of training several hundred companion dogs, or family dogs. Beyond teaching obedience to dogs and teaching owners how to handle their trained dogs, I strive to also give owners insights about their dogs’ behavior and teach them how to establish a relationship with their dog built on a foundation of trust and confidence.

For various reasons, there are times a dog comes in for training scared and cowering. The dog may have been rescued from a bad situation, not well socialized, or simply may have found he or she can get his or her way by being submissive. It might seem to make sense to think that a cowering dog should be “given a break,” or not have demands put on him or her, but that is typically the worst way to handle such a dog as it reinforces the unwanted behavior. Usually, the best approach to take with a dog that demonstrates cowering behavior is not to allow the submissive behavior to keep the dog from doing what is asked of him or her. With very consistent and fair handling, such dogs become comfortable and learn very well. By the completion of obedience training, the cowering is usually gone. At this point it is critical for the owner to understand what encourages cowering so they can avoid such behavior.

A dog with aggression issues may pose a little more of a challenge to train, but such a dog is not really very different from a dog that displays submissiveness. Both aggression and submission are avoidance acts. Aggression is typically, but not always, developed in a dog through some sort of physical abuse or mishandling. Aggression can also be inadvertently developed in a dog when a dog learns not to respect his or her owner by figuring out that aggressive acts allow the dog to be in control of the household and do whatever he or she wants to do. Just as with a submissive dog, trust must be established but at the same time, control must be gained. As noted above, bribery does not establish trust but instead puts the dog in control. Trying to “buy” a dog with treats does not earn respect or trust. Trust is best established with the use of proper corrections, for example the sharp jerk of a lead, which when done correctly dogs understand and consider fair.

Basic obedience is the just the first step in training a dog. Once a dog has mastered the basics of obedience (here, sit, heel, etc.), he or she has a foundation that can be used to learn more advanced activities. You will have a happy and wonderful teammate and friend that you can participate in agility with, take hunting, or just run around the lake with!

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The Tool Box
Posted on January 30, 2013 by Mike

Most of the time when someone asks me to train their dog, they are primarily interested in stopping unwanted behaviors such as jumping on people, kitchen-counter surfing, charging doors at the sound of the doorbell and digging holes in the back yard. All of these behaviors are correctable, but first a dog must be taught the basic learning tools that I like to refer to the “tool box.”

Like people, dogs learn from consequences that I refer to as corrections. For example, when you are walking your dog at heel and he or she is walking faster or slower than you desire, you pull up on the lead as a correction to guide your dog to slow down or speed up. When your dog is truly walking at heel no correction is needed. This is how your dog learns what it means to heel. In order for this exercise to be successful, your dog must have the tools to learn.

These tools consist of applications of pressure that are introduced with various commands in a way that is positive and meaningful. The first introduction of pressure is typically with a pinch collar, also referred to as a prong collar. Correction with a pinch collar will not hurt your dog and is very symbolic of how mother teaches her pups – by grabbing the back of her pups’ neck with her mouth. The pinch collar should not be introduced before your dog is 4 months old, or when he or she is mature enough to understand it. Once a dog understands why pressure is applied and how to avoid it with the pinch collar and lead, introduction to an e-collar is done in a very similar fashion with the assistance of a lead so that your dog understands the correction and how to turn the pressure off when applied. The lead is used for assistance, as a way for the trainer help the dog, similar to when the pinch collar was introduced. Once a dog understands what the e-collar means, the trainer has the ability to correct and teach without using a lead. At this point, it is possible to correct for unwanted behavior using the basic “no” command. For example, if your dog loves to greet you by jumping up on your chest accompanied by lots of wet kisses, and up to this point you have tried pushing him or her down with no success in deterring the jumping, the e-collar provides a meaningful way to correct such behavior without the correction negatively associated with you in any way.

In comparison with other, less successful training approaches, such as treat training, the e-collar provides you with a tool to show your dog both desirable behavior and undesirable behavior and provides you with a meaningful way to correct your dog, with consequences your dog understands. Treat training only allows you to reward desirable behavior – it does not provide a way to correct undesirable behavior, thus provides no way to teach your dog what undesirable behavior is. Your dog has no hope of learning what you do not want him to do if you have no way of teaching it to him or her.

Note that I absolutely do not recommend that you go out and try to implement these techniques yourself. Pinch and e-collar training techniques should be introduced only by a very experienced trainer to ensure your dog understands what they mean without any negative association with the pressure. Once your dog has been taught what these tools mean, you will be able to successfully correct your dog in a manner that he or she understands and respects. Once your dog’s “tool box” is in place he or she will be equipped to learn very difficult concepts and enjoy the challenges and rewards of a lifetime of learning.

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Our first priority is keeping your pet, and every other guest, safe while they are at our resort.
Posted on August 22, 2012 by Kari

One of the ways we protect your pet's safety is to insist and verify that every guest has the required vaccinations before checking in for lodging, training, day camp, or grooming.

For dogs, we require Rabies, Distemper/Parvo, Bordetella and Canine Influenza. For cats we require Rabies and FVRCP.

We prefer that vaccinations be administered at least 10 days prior to arrival and we require that all vaccinations be administered no less than three days before arrival. In certain circumstances, for example for pets that have fallen behind on vaccinations, we may require vaccinations be administered more than three days prior to check-in.

Did we institute this requirement to make our lives easier and our record-keeping more convenient? No, this requirement was designed with the best interests of our guests in mind. Vaccination by itself does not protect your pet. Your pet must make antibodies of it's own to the virus or bacterial product that was introduced by the vaccine. In some cases, it can take 10 days or more after vaccination before a pet is fully protected. In addition, pets can sometimes have adverse reactions to vaccinations. We think such reactions are better suited for home care – don't you like to be at home rather than a hotel (no matter how nice!) when you are feeling poorly? So does your furry friend!

Because of our commitment to keeping guests safe while they are in our care, we recently added an an additional vaccination requirement for all guests at our facility, the vaccination for canine influenza.

The canine influenza virus (also referred to as canine flu, or CIV) is a relatively new disease that is threatening the health of dogs across the United States. Dogs were largely felt to be exempt from the flu until 2004 when a new canine influenza virus, clearly stemming from the equine influenza virus, was isolated from several groups of Florida racing greyhounds. The problem seemed confined to the racing industry until 2005 when cases began appearing in pet dogs. Canine influenza has now been reported in 38 states, including recently in Texas where six racing dogs died at La Marque's Gulf Greyhound Park.

Our own dogs have been given the canine influenza vaccination since it first became available in 2009 and we have been recommending it for our guests since we opened in February 2011. This is why we think the vaccination is so important:

  • Canine influenza is a respiratory disease that can cause coughing, runny nose, and/or loss of appetite. The signs of infection are similar to canine cough, but the coughing caused by canine influenza can last for several weeks. With proper care, most dogs generally recover. However, canine influenza can lead to more severe or even life-threatening infections, such as pneumonia, and has been fatal in up to 8% of cases.

  • Because canine influenza is caused by a relatively new virus, dogs have no natural immunity to it.

  • It is highly contagious and easily spread. It is spread through direct contact (licking or nuzzling), the air (coughing or sneezing) and contaminated surfaces (picked up on the hands or clothing of a person and then spread when another dog is touched or petted).

  • Dogs can spread the virus before the coughing and other signs of sickness appear.

Please note that two doses, given two to four weeks apart, are necessary to provide immunity against the virus. A single, booster-dose vaccination is required annually to continue protection.

If your dog has not already received the influenza vaccination, now may be a good time to plan ahead for the holidays. We currently accommodate dogs who have received only the initial vaccination. Beginning in November, we will not be able to accommodate guests who have not received both the initial vaccination and the booster.

Our first priority is keeping your pet, and every other guest, safe while they are at our resort. Thank you for your cooperation!

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Summer Pet Safety
Posted on May 7, 2012 by Kari

The long, sunny days and warm (ok hot, this is Houston!) days of summer are fast approaching. Here are a few helpful hints to keep your furry friends safe:

Visit the Vet
A visit to your veterinarian for an early summer check-up is a good idea. Make sure your pets are current on their vaccinations, heartworm and flea preventive medication.

Know the Warning Signs
Symptoms of overheating in pets include excessive panting or difficulty breathing, increased heart and respiratory rate, drooling, mild weakness, stupor or even collapse. They can also include seizures, bloody diarrhea and vomit along with an elevated body temperature of over 104 degrees.

No Parking!
Never leave your animals alone in a parked vehicle. On a hot day, a parked car can become a furnace in no time-even with the windows open-which could lead to fatal heat stroke.

Make a Safe Splash
Do not leave pets unsupervised around a pool. Not all dogs are good swimmers. Introduce your pets to water gradually.

Summer Style
Give your dog a lightweight summer haircut. Shave to no less than one-inch so your dog still has some protection from the sun.

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About the Prong and E-Collar
Posted on December 6, 2011 by Mike

The prong collar, also referred to as a pinch collar, is a martingale-type collar that draws from both sides unlike a choke chain that draws from only one side. It is a great training tool and its meaning is very clear to a dog. When pressure is applied the pinch collar grips a dog in a way that is very symbolic of the correction from mother to puppy. It is not painful, but it does get the point across. A dog's yelp when pressure is applied by a pinch collar is not a cry of pain - it is a reaction to the correction. It is the same as the yelp expressed when mother picks pup up with her teeth and it should in no way be confused with mistreatment. Having said this, any training tool can be used unfairly, but a yelp or some type of resistance to pressure should be expected. Avoidance is a typical reaction and it comes in many forms - resistance, fleeing, submitting and biting to name a few. The key to successful and fair training is not to let any of these reactions deter teaching, or the dog will simply learn how to avoid what is being asked of them. Another thing to keep in mind is that avoidance behaviors may not necessarily present themselves at the outset. Such behaviors may surface as expectations of the dog increase and again the key is to train through the behavior rather than allow the dog's avoidance behavior to hinder training and learning. As noted above, used properly, a pinch collar is an excellent and humane training tool and I recommend meeting with an experienced dog trainer for instruction prior to using one with your dog.

Now let's address the often misunderstood e-collar. There is a common misconception, shared by some laymen and even some professional dog trainers that the e-collar is an evil torture device that has no place in dog training. The truth is that the e-collar, when used properly by someone who has a profound understanding of canine behavior is a wonderful and humane training solution. It is true that in the early days of the e-collar, it could not be used on sensitive (soft) dogs because there was no variability in the level of sensation, thus limiting it to use only for training hard-charging dogs. With the improvements that have been made to the e-collar related to variability of intensity, even the most sensitive dogs can be successfully trained with it. The e-collar is a correction tool just like a pinch collar. The primary difference between the two is that you don't have to attach a lead to an e-collar. Once the correction provided from the e-collar is associated with the various commands that the dog has been taught, it is no different than a jerk on a pinch collar. The e-collar allows dogs to train and learn at a level that could not be achieved otherwise. I see it firsthand in my own dogs and in the dogs they compete against. With it we are able to teach very difficult concepts and year after year the tests get bigger and harder. In other words, without the tools available today, the great dogs of the past would not have been able to play at the current level.

You might ask yourself and those so adamantly opposed to the e-collar - why wouldn't you want to train your dog using the same tools that are used by the most elite professional working and sporting dog trainers across the world? If pressure is properly taught to a dog, the dog will understand what is being asked and obedience can be successfully reinforced. The dog will remember commands their entire life. One word of caution about the e-collar - it is critical that a dog be conditioned to an e-collar only by a very experienced dog trainer, one with a depth of experience with the e-collar, whether amateur or professional. As with any form of improper correction, an e-collar in the hands of an inexperienced person can have devastating results.

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Does Your Dog Need Boarding School?
Posted on August 18, 2011 by Mike

Do you love your dog but wish he or she would just behave?! Of course it is not your dog's fault - your dog needs to be educated - taught what behavior is expected and what behavior is not acceptable. Your dog will be much happier - and so will you - if he or she knows what you want. Trying to determine the best way train your dog? One of the most important factors to consider is the time commitment you are willing and able to make towards training. Ideally you will work with your dog for at least one-hour per day, perhaps in separate intervals of 15 or 20 minutes, depending on your dog's age and attention span, and under the guidance of an experienced dog trainer. Sound daunting? You are not alone, life gets in the way for many people (i.e., work, children activities, etc.) and if that is the case a proven board and train program might be the best option for producing the results you desire. We often meet pet parents who took their dog to a training class with the best intentions, but then did not have time to reinforce the teaching and have therefore settled for a somewhat less obedient dog than they really would like. We also often meet dogs that were taught basic commands with treats and as the dogs become older and more independent, treat training has failed.

When establishing rules and boundaries for your dog, your dog must be communicated to with a clear and consistent message. This means that the same rules apply no matter who is handling the dog. This can be problematic when young children are involved, because mom and dad reinforce behaviors but the kids do not. This creates an unfair situation for the dog, especially for young puppies. In this situation board and train can make the real difference. A good board and train program will provide the dog with a consistent message. If the training is done correctly and is consistently reinforced during boarding, good habits of behavior will be established that will continue when the dog returns home.

For dogs in our board and train program, I use every interaction the dog has with me or my staff as a teaching opportunity. I want multiple people handling the dog, because a well-trained dog responds to the command, not to the person. For example, with my own dogs in training, they are trained in such a way that any experienced handler could handle them in a field trial and win. If a dog is trained with this approach, when the pet parent interacts with their dog, the dog will be obedient. The distractions of the pet resort and the other guests also create wonderful opportunities to reinforce obedience. These distractions are similar to the challenges pet parents will experience when they take their dog home. It is critical that the dog is treated consistently throughout the board and train program, so every time the dog is touched by our staff, the dog is heeled and required to sit at doors and gates. This creates a consistent message that will help reinforce obedience when the dog goes home.

During the training period, and especially before the dog leaves the board and train program, it is imperative that the pet parent and other family members spend time with the trainer and their dog so that they understand what is being taught to the dog and are able to reinforce it throughout the life of the dog.

Dog training, just like attention, feeding and medical care is lifelong commitment. It never ends!

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Food, Food, Glorious Food!
Posted on July 17, 2011 by Mike

It is never too late or too early to instill good eating habits in your dog. If bad eating habits have already been established, it is never too late to change them! Or, if you are getting a new puppy, plan for his or her arrival by purchasing a quality puppy food.

Start your puppy off on the right paw with a good quality dry puppy food. As you noticed, I said dry food. One might wet the kibble with water for a young puppy, but typically pups have no problems eating dry kibble. When I refer to wet food, I mean canned food or food that comes in pouches or other types of containers. Unless a dog is elderly and has decaying and/or missing teeth, I discourage wet food. Wet food sticks to the teeth and contributes to tooth decay. It also generally discourages dogs from eating dry kibble as dogs often find wet food tastier. The food label usually provides guidance regarding the quantity of kibble to feed based on your pup’s age and weight at maturity. Remember though that if your puppy hits a growth spurt, it will likely be necessary to increase the quantity of food. Do not increase the amount just because your puppy wants more, some dogs have appetites much bigger than they are!

New pet parents sometimes worry if their dog does not eat all of his or her food. Often this is misplaced worry. If your new puppy does not clean up his or her bowl, there can be many reasons. Is puppy being overfed? It is important to match portion size to breed and age. Also, puppies are like many young children - they may not want to stop playing long enough to eat. Just as we don't feed our kids Happy Meals to bribe them to eat, we don’t feed our puppies lots of treats, people food, or food with little nutritional value. Instead we take puppy out of the play activity and encourage him or her to eat a healthy diet. There are many good dog foods on the market and one good rule of thumb is that if you can buy it at Kroger, HEB, WalMart, Sam's or CostCo, it probably is not your best option. Places like PetCo and PetSmart offer many good food options.

If bad eating habits have already been established in your dog they can be corrected! Note that if your dog is under weight, elderly or has health issues, use caution in this regard and consult your veterinarain. If your dog is in good general health, establishing healthy eating habits can be undertaken by first taking away all people food and canned food and starting over with a good dry food. Your dog may not eat much of the new food for a few days and it may take some coaxing to get him or her to eat, but eventually your dog will eat and will likely enjoy the new food. Food should be given at regular intervals and left down for approximately 30 minutes. If your dog does not eat all the food, do not try to catch them up at the next feeding. Never leave food down for your dog to graze on all day and if you have multiple dogs, always feed them separately to prevent overeating.

A note about dog foods - just like any consumer good - dog food is a business. It is sold and marketed for profit - just like cosmetics, vitamins, toys and sneakers. There are many dog foods that are marketed as "natural," "gluten free," "holistic," "organic", etc. Often these are more expensive foods. While many of these may be good dog foods, these foods may not provide any meaningful additional nutritional value to accompany the high price tag. For example, what is a "holistic" dog food? Holistic refers to "mind, body and spirit" - how is a dog food addressing your dog’s spirit? If you and your family eat all organic foods yourself and believe your dog should too that is a lifestyle choice and I fully understand that. If not, educate yourself and know what you are buying when you choose your dog’s food - pay for nutritional value - not for the latest trend. Unless your dog is allergic to grains, the protein and fat percentages and the protein source are the most important variables in a dog food. Food allergies do exist but not to the extent some in the dog food business may promote. Testing by a veterinarian is required to determine what your dog is allergic to.

Once you have selected a quality dry food that your dog eats and enjoys be slow to change foods - just like people dogs may have a day here or there when their appetites are diminished for various reasons - this is normal. Under no circumstances do I recommend adding “people” food or supplements to your dog's dry food. If you want to supplement the food, give the supplements separately. Feeding your dog should not be a chore - mealtimes should be a happy and stress free! Follow the few simple guidelines above and you will spend less time fretting over your dog's feeding!

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Under Pressure!
Posted on May 24, 2011 by Mike

I have been very fortunate to have had many well trained dogs and now, with the opening of Kickapoo Ranch Pet Resort, I have the opportunity to share my knowledge of dog training with others. Of all the training questions I am asked, the one question that comes up most often has to do with positive versus negative reinforcement.

Positive or negative reinforcement... which one works, which one is best for my dog? The answer is "it depends." In order to train your dog you have to provide him or her with the tools needed for learning. The method used to deliver the tools will vary based on the dog, but the basic toolbox, or foundation, does not vary.

Let's begin with treats. Treats have their place, but you cannot truly train your dog with treats, unless you are committed to pay a toll every time your dog performs for you. Praise is another way of getting your dog to perform, but at some point your dog must do his or her job without a reward.

Here is an example of a teaching method that did not work for me. When my son Travis was in grade school he had weekly spelling tests that he always did very poorly on. I wanted this to change, so I told him that I would buy him baseball cards if he scored 100% on his weekly spelling test. Guess what... he scored a 100% that week! He continued to score 100% on his spelling tests that year and I continued to buy him baseball cards. However, as Travis got older and his school work got harder, the baseball card method of "teaching" no longer worked. I failed to provide him the basic foundation he needed to learn and I had to prop him up throughout his entire educational experience. My mistake was that I wanted him to have fun and I did not want to be too hard on him even though I had high expectations. So unfortunately I failed to prepare him for learning.

The spelling test example is a good analogy for treat training - it works when tasks are easy but generally fails when tasks get more difficult. Many believe that dogs are food or toy driven and that these drives determine how a dog should be trained for every task. A great example that disproves this belief can be found in retriever field trial training. If my dog Sam is out in a field several hundred yards away and I blow a whistle for him to sit but I’m nowhere near him to drop a treat in his mouth or give him a toy, what do I do? The answer is I start running to catch him because I have no control at this point. This is why these treat and toy training methods do not work!

As I noted earlier, treats do have their place, for example treats usually work well to teach a dog to sit, but when the work gets harder another method of training will be needed. The same holds true for rewarding with a toy. Another analogy... what about you and your job? Does your boss come by and give you a cupcake or a gift every time you do something right? I don't think so. Your employer might do something for you if you do something really exceptional, but even then special recognition is not always forthcoming. And the reason is it is your job and it is what is expected. The same should apply to your dog - proper behavior is a requirement.

What if your dog misbehaves? What about "negative reinforcement?" Negative reinforcement is not an option and should not be employed in dog training. By negative reinforcement I mean giving your dog a consequence for behavior when he or she does not understand what is being asked of them. There should always be a consequence if your dog defies a command that he or she has learned and understands. If there is not a consequence for defiance, your dog will very quickly learn that he or she does not have to obey you. Your dog must also understand and relate the consequence to the disobedience. Anything else is unfair.

Pressure is a wonderful training tool that will help your dog learn and understand how actions and consequences are related. Pressure is introduced along with a specific action, in order to teach a dog to associate pressure with the action that is being requested. Pressure is applied as the action is commanded and released when the command is preformed. The type of pressure applied depends on the dog and the stage he or she is at in training. An example of pressure is a sharp jerk on a lead given to your dog when he or she is not walking by your side. This application of pressure teaches the dog that if he or she is not walking properly, pressure will be applied via the lead until the walking posture is corrected. A dog will usually understand this very quickly. The pressure of the lead gives you a way to show your dog what you want and a way to correct your dog if he or she does not do what you ask.

As noted previously, in addition to pressure, treats also play an important role in training. For teaching "sit," we hold a treat above the dog's head until he or she sits. Most dogs learn sit very easily. After sit has been taught and learned, we then associate pressure with the sit command by introducing a sharp jerk with the lead when asking a dog to sit. Why is jerking on the lead necessary if the dog knows the sit command? The answer is "it provides a way to enforce the command if your dog decides he or she would rather not sit when asked." To understand further why the use of treats is limited in this situation and why pressure is effective and more dependable, I offer the following example: You and your dog are hanging out in the front yard and a stray dog walks by - your dog stands up and wants to go sniff and greet the other dog - you tell your dog to sit and your dog ignores you - what do you do? Do you pull out a treat and say the command again - do you think that will work? No, your dog is more interested in the other dog than a measly treat! You keep bribing and offering the treat but your dog is tugging hard on the lead in an attempt to interact with the other dog and you have lost all control. The only thing keeping the dogs from getting together is your hold the lead, and that is assuming you have the strength to pull your dog away. Had your dog been taught pressure through a sharp jerk on the lead, you would be able to retain your dog's attention and he or she would have understood that they must sit for the pressure to be removed.

I mentioned earlier that the type of pressure to be used depends on the dog. For example, for your two month old puppy a simple jerk of the lead against a flat collar is plenty. As your puppy matures, he or she should graduate to a more meaningful form of pressure, even though puppy understands what is being asked with the lighter pressure. At some point puppy will defy you, because the fun provided by whatever it is he or she wants to do outweighs the consequences. This is why it is so important to introduce more pressure to the command before it is needed. This is what I call "aggravated pressure." By teaching with pressure before puppy decides to be defiant, you will have a tool to correct and teach when puppy decides not to obey. If you wait until control over puppy is lost, correcting and teaching will require much harsher measures.

We all know many people who have attended obedience training classes with their puppies in which treats were the primary teaching method. Their puppies learned to sit, heal and come when called and all was great. But when the puppies grew up and became stronger and more confident it became clear that the basic training tools required to control and teach an adult dog were missing. Learn to train your puppy with the correct use of pressure and avoid this mishap! It is not cruel, it is proper training. To state another way, "spare the rod and spoil the child" or "spare the pressure and spoil the puppy."

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Dog Boarding is Fun!
Posted on May 6, 2011 by Kari

Under the right circumstances, dog boarding, aka, staying at a dog kennel can be fun for your dog! Well operated pet resorts, dog boarding facilities or dog kennels provide a consistent routine that can be very comforting to your dog. Scheduled feedings and potty times provide consistent activities most dogs will look forward to. The presence of other dogs in a non-threatening environment will also be comforting to many dogs. During your dog's visit, he or she will interact with different kennel staff, which will help with socialization. As dogs check in and out, the balance of the kennel will change and most dogs will be aware of these changes and very quickly become comfortable with them.

If the care provided at a boarding facility is not consistent and is substandard, it can be a frightening experience for your dog and can cause your dog to be afraid of people or other dogs. It is important that you know the routine in place as well as the competency of the staff at the dog boarding facility you choose.

Most dog boarding facilities offer pet grooming as well. Having your dog groomed by an experienced, well qualified dog groomer can be a very comforting and pleasurable experience that can help with your dog's socialization. Again, the wrong person and wrong experience in a grooming salon can be imprinted on your dog for life, making all future grooming visits difficult and negative.

Dog boarding and grooming allows for controlled socialization. A well socialized dog is generally a happier and healthier dog!

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Put Me In Coach!
Posted on April 20, 2011 by Mike

What Kind of Relationship Do You Want with Your Dog? This question really should be considered before you become a dog owner and absolutely before any formal dog training starts. My wife and I currently have three Labrador Retrievers (Bo, Sam and Isaac) and one Miniature Pinscher (Wishbone). Wishbone and Bo live with us full-time in our apartment at Kickapoo, where they spend most of their time sleeping or peering out the upstairs window from which they can see our guests being taken out to potty or enjoying playtime. Sam and Isaac are competitive field trial dogs and live with their trainer and handler, Bill Eckett, ten months of the year, about half of that time in Missouri and half in Texas. Unless they are in a competition, or traveling to one, they are running long retrieves, blinds and doing other training drills six days a week. Because of this arrangement, and because every dog is unique, I have different relationships with each of my boys.

Let's start with Sam and Isaac, who are cared for by Bill instead of by me and Kari most of the time. Bill has many dogs of different needs and wants in his training program and he must earn the trust of each of them in order to produce results. He provides the basic care each dog needs - healthy and safe living quarters, shelter from heat and cold weather, access to natural light, a healthy diet and clean water to drink. He also pays close attention to the health of each dog, both physical and mental, while they are in his care. These caretaking activities create the foundation for trust and the foundation for the relationship between dog and trainer.

I like to compare the dog and trainer relationship to the relationship my buddies and I had with our football coach. Our coach addressed each of our basic needs while maintaining a neutral relationship with us that I'm going to refer to as a "Player-Coach" relationship. Like dogs, these young football players were each unique, with different needs and wants. Some of my buddies were further developed physically and thus able to perform certain physical tasks better, while others were more mature and able to learn technical plays more quickly. A good coach assesses the strengths and weaknesses of each of his players and develops each player at his own pace, while keeping their attitude for football positive. I think many of us have very fond memories of our coaches to this day, because he or she was fair, cared about us, gave us good advice, earned our trust and respect, and helped us be better at our chosen sport.

Sam and Isaac have a Player-Coach relationship with Bill that I have to be careful not to interfere with, lest their field trial performances suffer. For example, when I am at a field trial handling Sam or Isaac, I must expect the same level of obedience from them that Bill does or I will cause them to fail miserably. I must act as the "Coach" not as "Dad." Just because I don't love all over them like Kari does every time she sees them, does not mean that I don't love them. I have to hold that kind of affection back during field trials. A consistent Player-Coach relationship is imperative in the trial environment.

Consistency in the Player-Coach relationship is in the control of the coach, but his or her player's home environment is not. Any coach will have one or more players with challenges at home that affect the player's ability to adapt and to be all they can be in the sports arena. It is important that a coach not be oblivious to any issues in the home environment - these issues must be considered by the coach as he or she builds player's confidence, earns trust and supports a positive attitude. The same holds true for dog training. For example, a rescued dog whose basic needs for food and shelter have not been satisfied for some time is often reluctant to trust, perhaps because he or she is confused and does not understand his or her new situation. In this type of training situation, a good Player-Coach relationship is crucial. Showering the dog with affection might not be the best approach. The dog needs time to adjust to his or her new environment. Earning the dog's trust by tending to basic needs, at least at first, may be the better alternative. As any good coach knows, ways to address negative influences must be found, but it is best to tread lightly and be very patient. It is also important not to make excuses for unwanted behavior or fall into the trap of accepting unhealthy behavior. With time, consistency and a little prayer, negative behaviors can be greatly improved or even eliminated entirely.

Just like teenage boys in the locker room need firm rules, your dog needs clear and consistent boundaries and rules. This is where basic obedience comes in - it allows your dog to understand what is expected from him or her. Dogs want to please you - they want to know what is expected so they can make you happy. A dog that understands what is acceptable behavior and unacceptable behavior is typically a very happy and mentally healthy dog. Keep in mind that shouting at a dog does not have a positive effect, nor does being physical with a dog. In fact, these behaviors tend to have the opposite effect on a dog, just as they do with people.

There are many great books on basic dog obedience and I recommend you pick up a couple and read them. Unless you are one of those folks with a natural talent for dog training, it can be quite a difficult task. It takes a lot of patience and dedication - it is hard work! There are always exceptions, but I find that most people do not succeed at training their dogs without some help. A group training class or private instruction is often the best way to achieve success. However, still read up on the topic, there are many approaches to dog training, but the concepts among various approaches should be similar regarding the basic training of an average dog. Beware of gimmicks. Follow the direction provided by your instructor, but dig deeper on your own too. As with any skill, the more effort you put into learning about dog training, the better you will be at it. Also remember that there are no formal requirements in the dog training arena, anyone can say they know how to train dogs and tout themselves as a "professional dog trainer." Always check references. And the more knowledgeable on the subject you are, the better equipped you will be to "sniff out" a good dog trainer.

Regarding obedience and the type of relationship you want with your dog, it is always important to teach and instill firm obedience in your dog, but the practical application should fit into your specific environment and into your daily life. Your interaction with your dog on a daily basis might look totally different than your interaction during training. That is perfectly fine and it depends on the relationship you want with your dog. This does not provide an excuse for lack of obedience, but it allows your dog to fit into your life and be relaxed in it. This is why the obedience I expect from Sam and Isaac, compared to the obedience I expect from Bo and Wishbone is not the same.

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Let’s Pawty!
Posted on April 19, 2011 by Kari

I hope you can join us at the Kickapoo Ranch Pet Resort Grand Opening Party on Saturday, April 30, between 10 am and 6 pm. Munch on BBQ and goodies and enjoy a tour of our brand new luxury pet resort, we would love to visit with you and show you why our facility is The Ultimate Pet Destination! Bring your canine companion for a complimentary dog training consultation with Kayla, meet our pet groomer Donna, and visit with me, my husband Mike, and the rest of our staff.

We will be showcasing our dog agility and obedience training programs with interactive demonstrations and your dog can join in the fun by trying out our agility equipment. Does your dog like to finger paint? We have a fun paw painting session planned! For the more competitive types, we will host a dog/parent water relay game, with a prize for the winning team. You can also register for great door prizes, such as a gift basket filled with Planet Dog organic dog treats, a plush doggie toy from Simply Fido or Planet Dog plus a gift certificate for three nights of comfy ranch room lodging and a massaging, warm water spa bath! We are also giving away one of our custom wrought iron doggie beds. These beds are super cute and perfect for our furry friends who are on the smaller side!

We encourage you to bring your pet to join in the festivities! For the safety of our guests, all pets in attendance should be current on their vaccinations and should remain on leash at all times. We must have your pet's vaccination records in advance of the big day - please give us a call to make arrangements to get your pet’s vaccination records to us.

Please RSVP to allow us to plan refreshments. For RSVP, questions, or directions, you can reach us by email at or by phone at 936-931-9480. We look forward to seeing you at the pawty!

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Overheating and Your Dog
Posted on April 13, 2011 by Mike

With temperatures starting to rise, I thought a discussion about overheating and your dog would be useful. My Labradors are in training year-round (but not in Texas in the summer!) and I have sought guidance on this topic from veterinarians over the years, which I have found very useful. You may learn a bit from me, but I also recommend that you speak to your veterinarian about overheating and heat stroke as it relates to your individual dog and his or her activity level and overall health.

Prevention is always best, so let's begin with a discussion about when your dog is at the highest risk for overheating and heat stroke. Anytime the temperature is 80 degrees or above and your dog is running, playing, training or otherwise being active, the risk of overheating is high, especially if coupled with high humidity. I do train and exercise my dogs when the temperature is 80 degrees, but I’m very cautious and keep the sessions very short, at times no more than 10 or 15 minutes. Of course I keep plenty of cold water on hand for my dogs at all times. The physical condition of your individual dog is important to consider as well. An overweight dog or a dog that has not acclimated to the heat has a much higher risk of heat stroke. For example, dogs that have been training in the northern states during the summer and come to Texas in the fall for competitions need time to adjust to the heat and the humidity. Most dog handlers are well aware of the dangers associated with heat. At field trials that take place during warmer weather, kiddie pools with cool water are always present for the dogs to cool off in after they run. In addition, in warmer weather, trial judges usually frame tests in a manner such that the risk of overheating is minimized, but even with these precautions overheating can still happen and it is important to know the early warning signs.

Heavy panting, a dark red tongue, red gums and an increased heart rate are some of the first indications that your dog is overheated. If the condition progresses towards heat stroke, symptoms include weakness and disorientation, pale gums, thick saliva, vomiting and diarrhea. The condition can lead to a comatose state and can be fatal. It is crucial that as soon as you see the initial symptoms in your dog, you begin the process of cooling him or her down.

First, get your dog out of the heat and try to get some water in them, but don't force drinking. Next, cool your dog down with cold water. It is important to know that dogs don't sweat like humans; instead, dogs cool themselves by breathing through their noses. Paw pads can also be a cooling source. Pouring water on your dog’s back will not typically cool the dog and in fact the water can trap the heat under the dog’s fur. Instead, wet your dog's paw pads and armpits with cool water and as your dog cools down try to get him or her to drink a little. Note that when your dog is so overheated that he or she is panting severely, only offer a few laps of water. Water in the stomach does not cool, the mouth just needs to be kept wet so that panting is more effective. A dog panting heavily taking in large amounts of water is at risk of bloat.

If you feel your dog is in danger of heat injury, check his or temperature and write it down. Keep checking the temp every three minutes. Once the temperature starts to drop, stop all cooling efforts. The cooling process will continue even though you have stopped. For example, if the temperature starts at 106.5, and then next time it drops to 105.8, stop cooling your dog, dry him or her off, and continue monitoring. You will be amazed how the temperature continues to go down. If you do not stop until the temperature is 102, the temperature will drop on down to 99 or even lower. This point cannot be emphasized enough. Once your dogs temperature is decreasing and panting has slowed to more normal panting, offer water.

If overhearing occurs, the window of time for effective treatment is very narrow. You must act quickly to cool your dog and then get him or her to a veterinarian as soon as possible for further treatment. If your dog does experience heat stroke, fluids and electrolytes will need to be replaced through an IV or subcutaneous pack.

Of course, avoiding overheating is always best. With a few precautions and awareness it can usually be avoided. Learn to watch your dog, and see the changes in the size of the tongue, and how quickly it goes down. Learn your dog's response to different environments. Remember, if it feels hot and humid outside to you, caution should be taken when working or playing with your dog outside. Most dogs, just like children, usually want to have fun and play and do not consider the dangers of higher temperatures. Certain dogs also have higher pain tolerance, and by the time the symptoms of overheating occur, it can be too late to avoid heat stroke. Your awareness can help protect your dog from over-doing it in the heat and thus avoid a potentially serious health issue.

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