I Spy A Mask!

It’s now April, 2020 and we are in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic. According to World Health Organization (WHO), Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is a new strain that was discovered in 2019 and has not been previously identified in humans.

However, first human infected case was documented in December 2019, and has since quickly spread to 209 countries with 62,955 confirmed death, as of this blog is written. Check out WHO website for latest updates: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

California has quickly issued Shelter in Place order since mid March in the attempt to flatten the curve. It is also becoming an obvious and safe practice to wear masks when going out to public space.

With more and more people wearing masks and other protective gears, it presents a new scary view to our pet dogs. Our dogs are used to seeing our facial expression. Now, our faces are covered by masks, scarves or other materials, it is an unusual sight to dogs. As we all know, any minute change in the dog’s environment can lead to stress if not properly introduced.

You may start to notice your dog gets more reactive with staring, barking, and lunging toward people wearing masks on your walks. In fact, my dog, Bailey, just barked at a small kid wearing a scarf when we stopped to chat with our neighbors while we stayed at more than 6 feet away!

Knowing that we will see more people wearing facial protection gears, it is important to help your dog understand a person wearing a mask is not scary by doing some desensitization training.

I can be scary looking!

Here are some steps you can try to help your dog get comfortable seeing a person with mask:

Let your dog check out the mask/scarf/bandanna etc first. Start with putting the mask on the floor for your dog to investigate. Every time he shows interest to sniff, paw at it or interact with it, say your positive marker word and reward him with a yummy treat.

Let your dog see you putting the mask on from distance. Next, pick up the mask and try to put it on your face a little ways away from your dog. If your dog isn’t too scared by it, you can do this step closer to your dog. When you put on the mask, while your dog is looking at you, say your positive marker word and toss him a yummy cookie. Toss the cookie behind him if he’s showing some worried signs so he can move away from you and look away from the mask.

Put the mask on and off in front of your dog while keeping some distance. You want to do this step a few more times so your dog understands it is the same you under that mask. Put on the mask, and toss him a cookie. Take the mask off, and toss him another cookie. This way, he learns, that you are playing a game called “cover my face with a mask” with him.

Let your dog get closer to you while you are wearing a mask. Once your dog is pretty comfortable looking at you from a distance, then try to encourage to come closer to you. You can utilize “Find It” by tossing some cookies near your feet or ask for “Touch” if he’s very reliable with this behavior. Don’t forget to mark and reward him when he interacts with you in a close proximity.

Working on “Paws Up on my Arm” while my face is covered.

Do your normal training routine while wearing a mask for a short session. Continue with your normal training routine while your mask is on. Use super yummy cookies to help your dog make a positive association with the mask. This is also a good time to find out if your dog truly understands verbal cue and hand cue since your voice may be muffled by the mask. Remember to keep the training session short to prevent your dog gets worried by the mask being close by.

Reward your dog when he sees a neighbor with mask on from distance. Now that you have prepared your dog with seeing the scary mask on you, it’s time to take the training outside with the view of a stranger. You can do this by just staying at your front yard or drive way while keeping your 6-feet social distance from people passing by. Every time your dog sees a masked person without reaction, say your marker word and give a yummy cookie. You can also use “Find It” or “Touch” to redirect his attention as the masked person getting closer if you are staying in place. “Catch” (catching a treat or toy in midair) is also another good game to redirect your dog’s focus so he isn’t continuously looking at the masked person. If your dog is into play, go for it. Just make sure your dog is secured and doesn’t have an access to get to a stranger.

Reward your dog when he ignores a person with mask. By doing some focus games and play, your dog should be happy to just look at you. The goal is for your dog to think it’s no big deal when a masked person shows up. When you see your dog happily ignore people with masks, don’t forget to tell him “good dog” and give him something he likes. It can be a treat, a toy or a pet, whatever he likes in that moment!

Bailey is being a good sport!

A Dog Is Not Your Teddy Bear

Not long ago, Bailey was at his peak cuteness with his fur just long enough to have a bit of curl but not too long to get matted. He looked like a little lamb that many people want to run their fingers through his woolly coat.

Due to his look, Bailey often gets comments such as “Ohhhh, cute dog!”, “He looks like a little lamb.” or “He looks like a teddy bear!”. Bailey’s appearance draws people’s attention but this is also his Kryptonite. He hates being stared at or touched by strangers.

Mr. Lamb & Bailey

That day, as we were sniffing the good scents in the neighborhood, a person was walking pass us and made a comment “Oh, he looks like a teddy bear!”. Just to be polite, I replied with “Thank you” and was in a hurry to get Bailey moving while he stopped and sniffed the flower. Just as I expected but failed to prevent, the person stopped and reached her hand out to stroke Bailey’s back. Bailey ignored her for the most part but the hand was on his back for longer than he would tolerate so he growled at her. The person was surprised by his response and said “Oh, I guess he just realized he was harassed by a very nice person.” I gave no comment at that moment, however, I was upset with the common expectation that many people think a cute fluffy dog should accept stranger’s “friendly touch” without giving his consent.

As much as we want to be cuddly with a cute fluffy dog, it is not the polite way to interact with a dog you don’t know. Any dog, cute or not, fluffy or not, does NOT need to accept a forced interaction from a stranger. A dog is not a teddy bear and definitely not YOUR teddy bear. When you extend your “friendly” hand into a dog’s space, you are actually invading his personal space. For a dog who has no relationship with you, doesn’t know you, that is simply a harassment that he can’t refuse. When he uses his voice or his teeth to show his discomfort, he’s then labeled as “aggressive” or “mean”.

When you see a cute little girl running around with her parent, will you go up and touch the little girl without her consent? Will you ask the parent’s permission before you interact with the little girl? I am sure you’d get the permission before you have physical contact with the little girl. It is the same with dogs.

What should you do when you see a cute dog that you really want to cuddle and put your hands on?

First, keep your hands in your pockets. Keep your distance and admire that cuteness from distance with your eyes. Remember, don’t stare directly into the dog’s eyes.

Second, ask the owner if it’s OK to interact with the dog. Once you get the permission, you should follow the owner’s instruction on how to interact. If the owner didn’t give you instruction, you should use these non-threatening poses to invite the dog to you:

  • Get to dog’s nose level. Kneel to the dog’s level if it is a small size dog so you don’t encourage the jumping.
  • Let the dog come to you. When dog approaches you, keep your body relaxed and neutral. Don’t reach your hand out just yet. Let the dog sniff you first while you are remaining neutral with your position.
  • Don’t extend your hand out for the dog to sniff. That extended hand can be seen as intrusive. Instead, put your hands on the sides of your body, or put them on your legs. Let the dog sniff them first.
  • When the dog shows interest and wants more interaction from you, then you may do a gentle scratch under the chin or chest for 3 seconds. Then stop. This gives the dog a chance to decide if he wants more from you. If he wants more, he’ll lean his body into you to solicit more interaction. If he doesn’t want more, you give him a chance to move away without barking or snapping at you. No one gets hurt physically or emotionally.
  • Never lean over a dog, crowd a dog or put your hand over a dog’s head. All these postures are threatening to a dog. If you see a dog shying away from your extended hand, don’t continue your approach. Simply stop and give him space.
  • If the dog likes treats, with owner’s permission in case of food allergy, and toss a few yummy treats BEHIND the dog. This gives the dog no pressure to come to a scary stranger for food. Once the dog finds you giving no pressure but bringing yummy treats, he’ll be more relaxed and willing to come near you.

The very last thing you want to do is to hug tightly or squeeze the dog you don’t know. Remember, all dogs have teeth and they will use them when necessary.

Now, show your friendliness via your body language in a way a dog understands. Then you can make friendly interaction with each other.

The Importance of WAIT

Happy 2020!

At the beginning of the new year, we always go for our routine walk in the neighborhood because Agent B (my dog Bailey) always needs to secure his territories in the new year. This morning, as Bailey busy sniffing and marking at some flower bushes on the sidewalk, we heard a loud squeak of a tire skidding to an emergency stop. Took us by surprise, an off-leash dog ran across the street to come sniff Bailey without noticing the oncoming car on the street! Luckily, the driver saw the off-leash dog and stopped the car in time or this would have ended terribly. There was no injury to anyone except everyone at the scene probably experienced unnecessary adrenaline rush!

The dog is a neighborhood dog who Bailey had met a few times previously. The owners and the dog just came back from somewhere. As the owners were parking the car on their driveway and getting out of the car, this dog saw Bailey, his friend, and dashed to get across street to say hi. The owner didn’t have time to even put the leash on the dog nor call the dog back. Everything happened so fast! I am thankful the car driver was careful with the street condition and the break on the car worked!

If the dog had a solid WAIT, it would have saved everyone from the scary heart attack. This shows how important WAIT is for your dog’s safety and it is a critical life-saving behavior to teach your dog.

Agent B waiting inside the car with leash on

It is always a good idea to ask your dog to pause at any threshold whether it is physical one like a door way or invisible one such as a car door or curbside. Self/Impulse control and handler-focus are other two key foundations when teaching WAIT.

So, what is WAIT? WAIT basically means “stop forward motion”. If I tell my dog WAIT, I expect him to pause his forward motion and stay at the location. I don’t need him to SIT or DOWN or even LOOK AT ME. I just need him to wait for me there.

Here are some steps to start training WAIT:

  • Manage the environment and your dog. This means, you don’t open door unless you have a good control on your dog. You can also make sure your dog is properly/safely leashed up before you open the door. Baby gate or x-pen is an excellent security tool to ensure your dog can’t just bolt out of the door before he has a solid WAIT.
  • Practice “handler-focus”. If your dog thinks you are the most interesting thing in the world, it reduces the chance your dog rushes to get to something else. The incident I mentioned above, the off-leash dog was eager to see his friend and totally forgot about his people and the potential danger of the street. If he had a good handler-focus, he would have waited for his person to tell him what to do without bolting out he door. To encourage and develop “handler-focus”, find out what your dog finds rewarding (food, toys, freedom, safety, attention, etc.) and use that to build the focus on you in all situations.
  • Practice “self-control”. This goes hand-in-hand with “handler-focus”. If your dog has a solid “handler-focus” and can ignore distractions/triggers because he has a good self-control, you will have enough time to get your dog away from danger. To develop self control, I often start with teaching “ItsYerChoice” game developed by Susan Garrett. When your dog understands how to make a good choice, he will have better self-control and impulse-control. A good self-control would be super important if you have a high prey drive dog.
  • Make the waiting location valuable. Whether you say “wait” or use your hand cue to signal your dog to pause, you want your dog simply stop and just waits for you on the spot. Mark when he stops his forward motion and reward lavishly on the spot. You want him to understand “waiting for you on the spot” is the most rewarding thing in the world. If you are using a doorway to train WAIT, make sure you reward your dog at the location he waits not when he crosses over the line. Note: make sure you deliver cookie to him so he doesn’t need to approach you and cross the line for the cookie.
  • Add in (mild) distraction. Once your dog has a good handler-focus and self-control, while your dog’s on leash or behind a baby gate, add in a boring distraction such as a toy. Let your dog see the toy and say your WAIT. If your dog doesn’t dash to get to the toy, mark and reward him for staying by your side. Slowly build up your dog’s self-control toward more interesting distractions. If you have a dog who chases squirrels, you do not want a real squirrel taunting your dog during your first training session!
  • Generalize this behavior and practice everywhere. Bring WAIT to the real world and practice whenever you see opportunities. You can ask your dog to wait when you are locking the door before heading out for walk. You can ask your dog wait inside the car before you let him jump out. You can ask your dog to wait just because. 🙂

I hope you will make teaching “WAIT” your dog’s new year resolution!

Happy Training~

7 Reasons for Crate Training

When I run my orientation for dog training, I always make sure to talk about the benefits of crate. Many people don’t like the idea of a crate because it resembles a doggie prison as dog is locked inside and can’t move around freely.

As a dog trainer, I find crate being an invaluable tool to manage and transport dogs in so many ways.

As a dog owner of a fearful and resource guarding dog, crate has given my dog so much more peace of mind and security.

From my dog’s perspective, his crate is his safe spot and also his sanctuary. When he is inside his crate, no one bothers him, not even me!

Here are my 7 reasons for crate training:

  • A safe spot for a dog. Dogs are den animals. They like to be in a small enclosed area. When they are in their crates/dens, they don’t need to worry about what’s going on outside. They can truly relax and just chill. I always tell my students, everyone has their own space in the household. Men have their men-cave. For me, I like baking, kitchen is my space. For my dog, it’s his crate!
  • A safe carrier for transportation. We have heard so many cases of a dog running loose on a highway or a dog badly injured after a car accident because they were not secured inside a car. When you are driving with your dog loose in your lap or in the back seat, your dog has no protection whatsoever during an accident. We all know it is safe and required to buckle-up our seat belt when we drive, why don’t we do the same to protect our dogs? Keep your dog in a secured crate inside a car would give your dog most protection.
  • A home base for road trips and dog sport events. Many of us have trouble sleeping in a hotel bed because it is something unfamiliar. We may bring a pillow or a blanket from home to help us sleep easily when we travel. Crate serves the same for dogs. It is your dog’s “home away from home”. It is your dog’s “safety blanket”. With a familiar crate and familiar bedding inside, your dog can find the familiar scent in a strange and new location. It will help them settle with ease. If you have a dog who gets anxious and worried in a new location, bringing his familiar crate will help him settle and relax.
  • A great tool to manage a young puppy who is still learning potty training. Dogs often don’t soil their sleeping area except puppy mill dogs. When your pup hasn’t mastered the potty schedule and can’t control his bladder movement, it’s a good idea to keep him in a crate that is just the right size for him. When you can’t keep an eye on your puppy, the crate also lets you manage your pup’s whereabouts inside the house so he can’t just go explore and eliminate behind your back.
  • A safe location to keep your dog out of trouble when you run errands. Most dogs have to learn to enjoy alone time properly. Some dogs get bored and start to rearrange furniture if you leave the house to their own devices. Keeping a dog inside a crate (up to 4 hours a time) can prevent your dog become trouble-maker and destroy your leather couch, your designer shoes or counter-surf on food that may not be safe for dogs.
  • A safe location for a dog who finds dealing with house guests too much of stress. Some dogs love interaction with people but there are some other dogs who find interaction with humans, especially the small humans tiring and stressful. If you have a dog who prefers to be a wallflower during a gathering or party, it’s best that you keep him in his happy place, crate, with toys and chews to enjoy by himself. This way, you get to focus on being a good host and tend to your guests’ needs while your dog is enjoying his rare alone time all to himself.
  • A safe enclosure to prevent a land-shark attacking my husband’s feet during dinner time. My dog resource guards food especially our dinner. To prevent my husband being the victim of a dog bite, I had taught my dog to love his crate during dinner time at very young age. Now, my dog knows when we are about to have dinner and he can’t wait to run into his crate! He loves to just chill inside and day dreams while we can have a peaceful and enjoyable dinner time in our household.

A rule of thumb for getting the right size of crate: the size of crate should be big enough so your dog can walk in, stand, turn-around and lay down without hunching his back or purposefully curling up his feet.

Different designs and materials will need to be considered depending on how your dog will use the crate. If your dog knows how to unzip zippers, you may not want to get a soft crate with zipper. If your dog has separation anxiety, a crate may not be the optimal choice when you have to leave him alone.

Never force your dog into a crate. Take the time to introduce a crate to your dog and make the crate the best place to be. Once your dog loves it, you will find him spend more time in it without you asking him to.

After reading these benefits, I hope you are now interested in getting a crate for your dog and start crate training with him!