Dr. Sophia Yin

I am sad to pass on the news that renowned veterinarian, animal trainer, and behaviorist Dr. Sophia Yin has suddenly and unexpectedly passed away.

Her website posted a brief message Monday giving no information at this time, and requesting privacy for the family.

I have several of Dr. Yin’s books and use her blog and website as a resource for this blog. You will see her name referenced many times! Her training methods have been used on Reggie (successfully I might add) and I have downloaded her training posters to give to my basic obedience/dog sitting clients.

If you aren’t aware of Dr. Yin, her books are a great resource for your library. She trained a chicken  once. A chicken! Her incredible wisdom and talent will not be forgotten by this dog lover.

 

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New Year’s resolutions

It’s that time of year again when we make resolutions to be a better self in the new year.  How about incorporating some canine style to your resolutions this year? A better you also means a better dog, a healthier dog, and maybe even a healthier you!

Get a dog

Well this seems basic, but if you don’t have a dog get one! Studies repeatedly show that dog owners have lower heart rates, blood pressure, and instances of depression. The act of petting a dog lowers your heart rate and releases oxytocin- the happy hormone! Children that grow up in dog homes have lower instances of allergies.

Exercise

Maybe through the holidays you got a little slack with the dog walking. Or perhaps you’re like me and live in a state (or state of mind!) where snow and cold is your enemy, but not your dog’s. Spice it up! Join an agility or rally club in your area. You don’t need to compete; amateur clubs exist and the mental and physical exercise and socialization your dog will get is immeasurable. If you live in a warm climate, consider a Dock Dogs club if you have a dog that loves the water (I wish I could do this!). Again competing is not necessary just jumping is half the fun. The other end of the climate spectrum if your dog can hack the very cold, try amateur sled racing or pulling clubs.

Clean up, clean out

Reggie's hoard

Reggie’s hoard

I think Hoarders is my favorite TV show. Confession time: Reggie is a hoarder. I am guilty of not properly going through his toys when I should and dealing with his hoarding problem. So for the new year, go through the toys and discard any damaged toys that pose a threat (choking, etc.), pull out ones that they don’t play with anymore to donate, and clean the remaining ones.

Health check

Is your dog up to date on her shots? Heartworm? While petting Reggie I discovered a lump on his ribcage. It turns out this is just a fatty cyst but it is routinely measured and monitored for growth. Check your dog for changes, growths, abnormalities, etc., especially as they get older.

Training

Sniffing out treats

Sniffing out treats

I’m embarrassed to admit, I have gotten a lax on training the past couple months. I’ve always held the mantra of “15 minutes a day”. Reinforcing commands, rules, and tricks that Reggie knows and as needs arise working on new commands. Example: Reggie’s cousin Stewie sent him treats for Xmas and I caught him jumping up on the counter to sniff the treats, right in front of me! He has NEVER done this before. Uh oh. Time to get back to practice. As the holidays approach that 15 minutes becomes 5, and then every couple of days, and then once in a while, and then…well you get the picture. Resolve to maintain your 15 minutes a day.

Aside from the above, my resolution is to hate snow less. Not love snow, just hate it less. My dog loves it so I need to hate it less for his playtime fun!

Recall

It’s no secret that one of my doggie pet peeves is off leash dogs while walking. More so, off leash dogs with owners that have not taught their dogs good recall. So with this in mind, I came across this blog post about recall, personality and context.

Some dogs are naturally better at learning certain things because of breed and personality. Reggie is pretty good at recall because he loves people; he is more of a people-dog than a dog-dog. If you show interest in him or call his name he will gladly come to you. This required very little effort in training and reinforcement on my part (lucky for me).

However, put Reggie in a different context- like a completely new environment with different smells, new dogs to meet, etc.- and I hold almost no power over him. When he is in his stable environments, his house, his yard, his usual dog friends, he is responsive to my voice. When things get a little over stimulated I need to move to food motivators and break out the treats. And if there is a tennis ball (and other dogs around) I am nothing, treats are nothing, and a leash is required for extraction from that situation.

Different dogs might struggle with learning recall. Terrier or hunting/sporting breeds with a strong prey drive might need food motivators for training and lots of repetition, and constant reinforcement. Context and voice make a big difference too. If your dog is used to you calling his name twice before he comes, he will probably only come when you call his name twice, not once.

So back to the off leash scenario. Just because your dog is fantastic with recall in your house, your backyard, with recall this does not mean that they will be in an off leash situation in a dog park or just out and about. Recalls need to be reinforced with distractions and in different environments to be a truly effective and trustworthy recall in your dog.

I watched Frankenweenie this week. Halloween is my Christmas and I love the crazy Tim Burton movies, but maybe I shouldn’t have watched this one. Spoiler alert if you haven’t watched it! I think I cried the whole time. It does have a happy ending, but it’s a rough go to get there. The dog in the movie, Sparky, loves balls. The young boy in the movie, Victor, is playing softball and nails it out of the park and Sparky runs after the ball and gets hit by a car, causing his untimely death. I was crying and squeezing Reggie and he was having none of it and trying to get away. The point is that Victor was calling Sparky when he was running after the ball and he wouldn’t come; Sparky did not have good recall and he got hurt.

Good recall in all situations, environments and contexts is not just good training it’s good safety. I want Reggie to be able to stop immediately at my voice command to avoid potentially dangerous situations, or just situations I don’t want him in. Recall is something we are constantly working on- repetition is important- and you should be too!