Avery’s Milestone Day

Avery and CloverAvery is on-leash reactive towards other dogs.  Sometimes he can react to people as well but that is becoming less and less of an issue as he gets used to people being out and about.

The reaction to dogs is something we are actively working on. We have been working with a trainer for the past 6 weeks to learn how to handle his reactivity.

Avery is not dog aggressive.  He wants to meet and play with other dogs desperately and since he was never taught on-leash manners before he becomes frustrated that he just can’t walk right up to a dog any time he wants.

Last week was a huge day for him. During our training session we were able to get him to greet our trainer’s dog (Clover) as politely as he could while he was on-leash and then walk away.  We did this several times and once he had a chance to interact with her, his reaction to her vanished.

It got to a point that they were able to be next to each other and Avery was as calm as if this happens everyday.

Avery and Clover on leashI apologize for my outfit. Had I known that Avery would be a rockstar that day and we’d be getting our pictures taken, I would have dressed up!

Avery did amazing and then the two dogs were able to have a play session in the backyard.

Avery and Clover in the backyardAvery was a perfect gentleman and totally acted appropriately with Clover.  Of course he wanted to box and wrestle, but she did not and he didn’t force the issue.  She wanted to run and chase and so that’s what he did.

Avery and Clover in the snowThey also took appropriate play breaks, shared a water bowl, and had no issue with treats being handed out to each other.

She’s a few years younger than him, and my old man was worn out by the end of the day!

He did awesome and I’m so proud of him!

This week we are going down to Longmont Humane Society which has an amazing behavioral department.  We’re going to set Avery up in a playgroup type situation and see how he handles being around multiple dogs and what kinds of dogs he prefers.  Basically just to get a better idea of his personality around different kinds of dogs.

We’re hoping to be able to get Avery into some doggie daycare a couple times a week and this is kind of a baby step towards that.  Being around other dogs makes him so happy and I think it would be really beneficial for him to get some playtime in. I also feel like it would help his reactivity in a positive way.

Last week provided us with a chance to see that all Avery wants is to play and say hello but he never learned how. With training, I know we can work him through this and he’ll learn his manners.

Treats In The Snow

Avery looking for a treatWhen we were finally able to be outside again after it stopped snowing last weekend, it was time to play some games in all the new snow!

Scott shovels paths in the backyard so that Avery has room to walk around and clear places to go potty.

This gives us big snowpiles that are great for jumping over and also perfect to hide treats.

The is the third mental game that I did with Avery over our snowy weekend.

I took some small but hefty treats outside with us and had Avery dig them out of the snow.  By hefty, I mean they had some weight to them this way they would sink down in the snow when I tossed them.

Avery’s sniffer isn’t the best so I had him watch me toss the treats so he knew exactly where they landed.  The snow was soft and the treats would sink down a little bit once they landed.

It was up to Avery to seek them out and get his treat!  First he would look and gingerly sniff to where he saw the treat land.

Avery digging in the snowThen he would face-plant in the snow and start digging where the treat landed.  He had to use his snout to push the treat back up to the surface so he could eat it.

Of course, once he resurfaced he had a face full of snow.

Avery snowface

Avery loved this game and we were able to be outside and play for a while.  Then we ran around and hopped some snow mounds.  He was pooped and ready for naptime when we went back inside.

Check out the other ways we had Avery use his thinker, with a shoebox and some bowls.

Fun With Bowls

Avery waiting to get his treatAnother game that Avery and I played inside while it was snowing and blowing outside was “find the treat” or “fun with bowls”.

Avery had to use his thinker with this game and one thing that I really enjoy about this game is that you have the ability to make it as hard or as easy as you want depending on your dog’s skill level.

I started off easy with Avery and then we progressed to slightly more challenging.

I used three disposable bowls because that’s what I had on hand.  You could use plastic cups too if you happen to have some.

I put the three bowls down on the ground and had Avery look at them.  Then I placed him in a sit/stay and he watched me put a treat under one of the bowls.

I released him and told him to “go get it”.

Since he saw where I put the treat, this wasn’t too difficult for him to figure out but he did have the challenge of figuring out how to move the bowl so he could get the treat.

We did that for a few times and then I upped the difficulty.

Avery and the bowl game

I put Avery in another room and again put him in a sit/stay.  I placed a treat under one of the bowls but this time he couldn’t see which bowl it was under.

I released him and told him to “go get it”.  This time he had to use his sniffer and his thinker to get the treat.  He had to figure out which bowl had the treat and then figure out how to get the treat.

Because the bowls were disposable, it didn’t matter what he did to them to get the treat.  If they got damaged, no biggie.

Mostly he just moved them around with his nose until the treat was exposed.

He liked this game but just like the last game, he’s got his limits.

Avery and the bowl gameIt wasn’t long before he was done and wondering what else we were going to do.

This was a pretty fun game to play with him!  It gave us a chance to work on sit/stay in a fun setting and finding treats is always a good time.

I’ll probably bust out these games from time to time so he can keep working his thinker.  I may purchase some puzzles for him as well.  Any recommendations for some great puzzles?


Shoebox Fun

Avery investigating a shoeboxBecause of the snowy weekend we didn’t get a lot of outside time on Saturday, and that meant we had to look for other ways to entertain ourselves.  This was the perfect time to bust out some mental games for Avery to do!

Mental stimulation is super important for a dog’s overall well-being.  It provides them with a challenge and gives them a job to do.  Plus it’s fun!  It helps them learn to make decisions, use their thinker, and is also a great way to practice commands like sit/stay and come in a fun and easy going situation.

If a dog never has to use his brain then if there comes a time when he does have to make a decision it could stress him out because he doesn’t know what to do and how to handle it.  I know because Avery exhibits this exact behavior.  However with training and patience he is starting to learn to think for himself.

Basically my point is, providing mental exercise is great for dogs!

In our house we’ve got behaviors that we expect Avery to do and to his credit, he picks up on that and provides the desired behaviors really quickly.  Providing him with mental stimulation is something he really needs in order to help him grow and reach his full potential as the amazing dog I know he can be.

We played three games this past weekend that I’m going to talk about this week.  First up, is the shoebox game!

Avery and the shoebox

I don’t have any of the fancy puzzles they make for dogs just yet so we made do with things I had around the house.

An empty shoebox is perfect!

I took Avery’s toy, which was a stuffie, showed him the toy and had him watch me put it in the shoebox.  Then I asked him to “go get it”.  He had to work the shoebox over and figure out how to get his toy.

With the lid attached and thumb holes on the side, the shoebox made a perfect game vessel.  It’s cardboard so if it gets destroyed, no big deal.  I let Avery do whatever he wanted to the shoebox in order to get his toy out.  He had to figure it out on his own, the only verbal commands I used were encouragement along with, “go get it”.

Avery and shoebox

Eventually he was able to push the shoebox up against a wall a few times and the buffet to get his toy out.

Avery with his prize on the couchAfter he gets his toy I always let him have a good few minutes to enjoy his prize before we start again.  I think it’s important that he get to spend a good bit of time with the prize that he worked hard to earn.

Now I’ll be the first to tell you, as much as I love my dog, Avery isn’t very bright when it comes to figuring things out.  I feel this is a direct result of his previous life.  Because we believe that Avery was an outside dog left to his own devices, he never had to make a decision or figure anything out.  Ever.  He didn’t have to use his brain other than for the basics like, “Oh I have to pee”, for example.

Since he was never challenged, he doesn’t really know how to use his thinker.  He tends to give up quickly when something doesn’t work out.

It doesn’t take Avery long before he gets worn out from these kinds of games.  Whew! Using your brain is tiring!  And it doesn’t take him long before he gives up and moves on.  I have to convince him to keep trying to get his toy or treat because I know he can figure it out if he tries a little longer.

After about 3 times playing this game, he’s done.  He gets bored and wants to move on.  That’s fine with me!  As long as he works at it a few times and successfully gets his toy, I’m happy and his confidence is boosted just a little bit more.  Which is the point really.

It’ll take some time to get Avery to understand he can figure things out on his own and that he can work through problems but he’s making great progress!

Clicker Training with Avery

Avery waiting for treatWe are currently working with a trainer so that we can teach Avery on-leash manners and we are using clicker training to help him along.

This is a first for us with clicker training and I find it really fascinating.  I got a brief intro into clicker training when I started Canine Coaches training at the shelter.

The basic idea is you click whenever the dog exhibits desired behavior and each click comes with a treat.  Eventually the dog realizes that Click! = Good Dog! = Treat!

The dog will get to a point where as soon as they hear Click!, they will look to you for a treat because they know it’s coming.

At first it was a little awkward carrying a clicker, treat bag, leash, and getting it all working together in unison.  After a couple days, using a clicker becomes second nature.

I highly recommend getting some sort of wrist strap so that you can wear the clicker!  Having the clicker attached to you makes training and working a whole lot easier!

Dogs pick up on clicker training easily and it’s kind of amazing to watch how fast they can learn a new behavior just because of a click.

Avery had to learn how to loose leash walk and also how to deal with life outside of the house.  Since he is on-leash reactive to most things this is an on-going process.

Clicker training makes this task a lot easier.

Avery and Scott practicing loose leash walkingAvery presents us with a desired behavior like walking nicely and we click and treat!

Avery getting a treatIn new situations he can still get a little crazy and start pulling in all directions.  But if we circle around and put him in a “sit” to regroup and refocus he then starts walking properly again.

Clicker training has helped us connect with him on a different level and has made training him a little easier to manage.

Have you used clicker training before?

Week 2 With Avery

Avery SleepingI currently volunteer at a local shelter here in Fort Collins called Animal House. I go one day each week and interact with the dogs walking and giving them attention.

I was asked to join their volunteer training program called Canine Coaches. Canine Coaches is a 12 week training session where we are taught by a professional dog trainer on how to work with shelter animals.  We work basic manners like leash walking, keeping them from jumping up, and also things like learning how to sit and down.

We also learn great techniques for putting on collars and halters without stressing out the dogs. It’s an intense program, the training sessions are two hours every week.  We also have to come into the shelter and train the dogs for another additional two hours that week.

The first session was exactly one week after we adopted Avery.  I talked with the trainer who would be running our sessions about Avery and asked if she would come over for a home visit so I could chat with her more.

I was feeling very overwhelmed, frustrated, and stressed out.  I had approached the rescue in Denver that we adopted Avery from, about all I was seeing regarding his behavior, and didn’t get the support that I was looking for.

All I wanted was someone to listen to me and who could offer advice on our situation. Cathie came over the following week to meet Avery and chat about our situation.

She reassured us that on-leash-reactivity is pretty common with dogs and she works with that a lot. She said that it can definitely be corrected with a training program. Then we went outside with Avery so she could see him interact with the neighbor dogs. Eventually the dogs came out and started barking and pitching a fit.

Avery started growling and she suggested to let him off the leash to approach the fence. I was extremely nervous doing that but we did and it was kind of amazing to see the transformation. Once Avery was off leash his reactivity went away immediately. He approached the fence, sniffed, said hi to the dogs and came right back to me for some treats.  Then he ignored the dogs completely.

This is when we learned that Avery is not dog aggressive at all.  He just doesn’t like being restrained by the leash around other dogs.  Why? Could be for several reasons and since we don’t know his history we will never know the real reason.

It was a huge relief to have the homevisit with Cathie.  She assured us that we would be able to work through the on-leash-reactive behavior and we found out that we could let Avery run in the backyard without worrying about fence fighting.

I slept for 11 hours that night. That’s how much of a relief this news was to me.

With proper training we would be able to work with Avery and do all the things we hoped we could do around town with him.

We realized that yes he’s definitely the right dog for us and we made the right decision in springing him from the shelter.

It’s going to take time, work, and a lot of patience but we’ll get there.