The convenient food bowl

The convenient food bowl – why you need to start feeding your dog using enrichment!

We serve our dog’s food in a way that is convenient for us. Drizzle some kibble into the bowl and put it in front of our dogs but by doing that we are actually doing our dogs a disservice!

Humans tend to always find the easiest and fastest solution for things. In some cases that benefits us tremendously but when it comes to feeding our dog we need to stop and think about if the benefit for us also serves our dogs – Is drizzling kibble into a bowl and placing it in front of our dogs, really the best and most beneficial way to feed our dogs?

Dogs, as you probably know, do not run after a clock, they normally have all the time in the world and they would like to work for their food. They appreciate getting the challenge of searching for a treasure and then finally after a lot of sniffing, scratching and looking get the price.

Reasons why dogs would rather search for their food then get it served

dog sniffing for food

One of a dog’s core emotions is the need for seeking. Dogs have a natural urge for seeking. You might have noticed this when you are out walking with your dog and they find a scent to follow and nothing else can distract them until they finally find that yummy hare poop that they must eat.

With seeking comes the expectation and the thrill, just like we feel on Christmas right before opening a present. There is the expectation and excitement of what might be behind the wrapping. The thrill sends a rush of dopamine to our brain, making us feel good. The same thing happens in dogs when their seeking system is activated.

By serving their food in a bowl right in front of them we are taking away the seeking for our dogs. It is like getting an unwrapped present. It is nice but we do not get the thrill of expecting. We do not get that dopamine kick from our brains.

For dogs seeking is essential and if we as humans do not let our dogs seek our dogs become bored and we all know what boredom brings…trouble! Our dogs will start finding other ways to get their need for seeking covered and that might be in ways that we do not particularly appreciate. But we can avoid that by implementing seeking in our way of feeding our dogs, yes you guessed it, by using enriching and mentally stimulating games and toys (Get 30 ideas on how to enrich your dog here).

enrichment toys for food
Enrichment Toys

Activity or enrichment toys forces our dogs to use their brain by seeking for their food. When your dog is mentally stimulated and get to seek you automatically decrease the risk of them developing problem behaviours (Read more here about why mental stimuli is important for your dog).

Enrichment toys also triggers learning, as our dog must learn how to solve a problem before getting the food. By learning to solve a problem by themselves their confidence is boosted, which again can help either eliminate or decrease problem behaviours.

I think it is time to remove your dog’s food bowl and instead replace it with different activity toys and games.

Take the time to feed your dog in fun, mentally stimulating ways and you will probably find that the time you spend enriching is actually gained in the long run, as you end up with a more tired, content dog, that will be less likely to grab your favourite pillow and shred it to pieces to search for that one feather that smelled delicious or who jumps at you non stop out of frustration of not getting their basic needs met.

If you want to read more blogs about enrichment and the benefits it has for your dog, then go check out these blogs:

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Stop using aversive dog training methods

STOP using aversive dog training methods!

PetCo recently announced that they would stop selling shock collars which is awesome news! It is a definite step in the right direction. However, the dog industry still resorts to using too many aversive training methods, and that has got to stop!

Aversive versus rewarding training methods

Aversive

A dog’s learning can be divided into 4 different categories:

Positive reinforcement – we add something to increase a behaviour (we guide the dog to a wanted behaviour, like walking next to us, and they are given treats for following us and for staying where we want them to walk)

Negative reinforcement – we remove something to increase a behaviour (We keep a prong collar tight until the dog walks next to us, and then we slowly remove the pressure)

Positive punishment – we add something to decrease a behaviour (The dog is shocked with a shock collar to stop him from barking)

Negative punishment – we remove something to decrease a behaviour (If your dog is pulling, you stop and keep him from moving forward. You do not move forward until he comes back and the strain on the leash stops)

Aversive methods can be defined as doing something that your dog does not like in order to stop or alter a behaviour. Aversive tools offer a punishment in response to the dog’s behaviour.

However, research has found that for the dog to learn, the punishment has to be strong enough to stop the dog from doing the behaviour again, also meaning that the punishment has to be highly unpleasant and unavoidable. If it is not strong enough it will not have any effect on the dog, meaning that the behaviour you are trying to change will stay the same.

The argument that shock collars and other aversive training tools does not bring pain or discomfort to dogs is therefore faulty as we have just seen that in order for the aversive tool to actually change a behaviour they have to provide such high discomfort that the dog will refrain from doing the behaviour again. That means if you do not bring pain or discomfort the tool simply does not work.

Reasons why you should NOT use aversive training methods

Science has compared the use of positive punishment versus positive reinforcement and they found that positive punishment was not more effective than positive reinforcement. If positive reinforcement is just as effective as punishment, then why not do that instead. By using positive reinforcement in your training you also avoid the greater risk of your dog making an incorrect association between the punishment and why they are being punished.

Example:

You are out on a walk and your dog starts to bark at another dog and he/she is punished by you for doing so. Your dog is most likely reacting to the other dog because he/she is afraid. In fact the majority of reactivity in dogs stems from an unresolved fear they have developed.

It therefor does not make sense to add a punishment, as that will simply give them the association that if I bark or react, something uncomfortable, perhaps even painful will happen and that is definitely something to be afraid of. Their fear has not only been enhanced, it has also been confirmed. This in your dog’s mind can be translated to – seeing a dog means something scary will happen.

This leads us to the next point as to why you should not use aversive tools when training your dog. Aversive training methods does not deal with the underlying problem and believe me, there always is one! This can get the problem behaviour to escalate as the dog is left alone with dealing with his/her underlying emotions. In fact research has shown that dogs that were trained with aversive training methods where more likely to show aggression later on in their life.

Aversive training also does not show the dog what to do instead of reacting. You have to think, that a dog reacting is not thinking about his/her behaviour, they are reacting because of that underlying emotion – stress, fear, insecurity etc. It is your job as their owner or as a professional dog trainer to show them how to handle their emotions and give them alternatives to cope with the situation they find scary or uncomfortable.

Example:

Instead of reacting by lunching and barking, you can come sit here next to me and get a treat.

STOP using aversive dog training methods! 1

By providing alternatives for your dog your bond automatically becomes stronger as your dog now starts to trust you more. Aversive methods do the complete opposite making the trust between you slowly disappear and increases your dog’s stress levels, until your dog eventually shuts down.

Many countries have already banned shock collars completely, and in Sweden (where I live) the use of a shock collar is considered animal abuse and is prohibited by law.

Banning shock collars and taking stands like PetCo is definitely a step in the right direction. There are sadly still many trainers and dog owners that use aversive methods but by sharing scientifically based evidence positive reinforcing training methods will hopefully carve its way forward.

Share this post to help spread awareness of why you should use positive reinforcement when training your dog.

If you are looking for a trainer, then check out this blog on things you should look out for when searching for a dog trainer.

Thank you PetCo for taking a step in the right direction, let us all follow that example.  

If you have a problem with your dog, I am available for consultations, just go here and book an appointment today.

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Good trainer

Dog trainer: Tips on how to find a good dog trainer

As a dog owner we want the best trainer for our dogs, but finding the right trainer can be hard. Here are some tips on how to find the good dog trainer.

Watch video :

Today is Sunday and time for a little relaxing, so me and the pups are on the couch and I thought I would watch a little TV while they had their siesta. I turn on the TV and I find this dog show about this so-called dog coach, teaching people how to handle their problem dogs.

YEAH! What better way to relax than to watch dogs?!?

However, a couple of minutes in I am not relaxed at all! Rather, I feel my heart pumping very fast and my blood pressure rising! What I am watching is not only very disturbing but also a VERY wrong understanding of how dogs learn and how you should train a dog.

I see pulling on a dog’s cheek to make him/her obey. I see rough hand handling to make the dog move, not to mention the very tight leash around the dog’s neck! But what is worse is that this so-called “dog-coach” is telling the owners that this is how dog’s communicate and that this is the only way they will learn!

Not once is a dog given a reward to do right, cause we are after all the leaders so the dogs should just obey us of course!!! ( feel the heavy sarcasm!)

What signs to look out for in your search for a good trainer?

Good trainer

Now, it has been scientifically proven that dogs do not aim to be our leaders, they do not try to control us or any form of situation (Read Debunking the alpha dog myth and Pack leader or companion). This understanding of so called “dog communication” is an old fashioned way of thinking before science told us better.

Therefor, my first prayer is that if you get a trainer and they start talking about being the leader or tell you that your dog is trying to take over. RUN, run as fast as you can and do it fast!

Furthermore, if you do not see any use of treats, praise or reward in their training but instead they use force to get what they want, like the above mentioned example, run even faster!!!

Now I see the appeal in wanting to get a quick fix for your dog, which these type of trainers offer, but this is not fixing the underlying problem (yes, there always is one!).

This type of “training” is scaring your dog into obeying you, cause after all who would want to be pulled on their cheek! However, this will destroy the trusting bond that should be between you and your dog and will lead to a very stressed, fearful and distrusting dog (Read more about the human-dog bond here).

Also, your dog will never understand what he/she did wrong in the first place, and worse yet what they are doing right. All they know is that if I lie down in a corner and are very still, I will not get hit, pushed or pulled.

Hello, what is your credentials as a trainer?

Dog trainer: Tips on how to find a good dog trainer 2

What I find even harder to believe is that this show is shown on national TV right in prime time, but where are all the shows where the lead person actually has an education and has studied dogs and their behavior, and most importantly is backed up by science?

This is why you should always make sure that your trainer is qualified. Anyone can call themselves a dog trainer or expert, but if they do not have a proper education or credentials to back up their title then stay away from them.

It is our job as dog owners to educate ourselves in dogs. The knowledge is out there. Several ethologists, such as myself (Book a consultation) are standing on their tippy toes from the eager of sharing their knowledge with you. Not to mention all the dog instructors out there who makes an honor in keeping themselves up to date with the newest knowledge on how to train dogs, and YES it is in a positive, force free and effective way.

My second prayer for you today is therefor please please look into the trainers background. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do they use positive methods (treats, praise)?
  • Are they force free?
  • What is their background/knowledge?

The most important thing you can do is listen to your gut feeling. If you are not comfortable using these methods with your dog, then there probably is a reason.

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Dog socialization

Dog socialization – The how and the why!

What is socialization?

Socializing your new puppy or dog is something you should start with right when your new dog enters their new home. Socialization does not only cover getting adapted to other dogs or animals, it also involves being introduced to new environments, sounds and many different people.

A puppy’s socialization window lies between the age of 8-16 weeks. This is where they are most perceptible and open to exploring new things. If you have gotten your puppy from a good breeder they will already have started with socializing your puppy to new things. This could be moving them from their box onto grass for the first time.

It does not take much to socialize a puppy in the beginning as everything is new to them. In the first period after you bring your puppy home, your puppy will socialize to you and his/her surroundings.

Where to start socializing?

Dog socialization - The how and the why! 3

The socialization starts with you. Your puppy or dog will start connecting with you, learning how the home functions and in the first period in his/her new home he/she will work on socializing with you. Slowly building a relation with you.

If you have a puppy this relation between you will grow fast as your new puppy’s socialization window is wide open, but even with an older dog it will only take a couple of weeks before your dog has bonded with you.

You can help this relation. By giving lots of love, pets and praises. Looking your new dog or puppy in their eyes will release Oxytocin in both of you. Oxytocin is both the happiness and the attachment hormone. That means that when you look into your dog’s eyes or give them a good pet, happiness will flow through both of you but it will also create a strong relation (Read more about the effect of Oxytocin here).  

Throughout this first period you should start giving your new puppy or dog little daily exercises to create that strong bond. This could be having them look you in the eyes before getting their food or teaching them easy cues and exercises. For your puppy everything in the world is new.

Think about slowly introducing your puppy to as many different environments, people and animals as possible but focus on what is important for your lifestyle and what your puppy will be exposed to a lot in his/her future daily life. Then start slowly.

If you like to entertain and have gatherings, then start by introducing your puppy to a new person and then slowly increase. If you have to take the train every morning for work and will bring your dog, then start with just a little walk to the station to look at the trains.

How to create good socialization?

Dog socialization - The how and the why! 4

Good socialization skills come from happy associations. In another blog I wrote about how important it is to create happy associations for your dog as this boosts their confidence. The more happy associations your puppy or dog gets, the better equipped they will be for future unknowns and experiences (Read more about happy associations here).

Science have shown that by slowly socializing your puppy or dog, you will decrease the likelihood of your dog developing problem behaviors in the future. Puppies that have had a slow but steady socialization showed less tendency to having separation anxiety, general anxiety and was more comfortable being touched and handled.

Despite your puppy being over 16 weeks of age you should not stop socializing him/her. Socialization is for life. The more your puppy experiences the more confident they will be and the better at handling future encounters. Continue providing new experiences for your dog but in small dosages in order not to overstimulate.

How to not overstimulate my dog?

Dog socialization - The how and the why! 5

If you stimulate your dog too much your dog will stop creating happy associations with the new introductions. Instead he/she will become highly stressed and the experience will become negative. If the over stimulation continues your dog might start acting out to release the stress he/she is feeling.

It is a fine balance and here it is important that you are able to read your dog well so you can tell when they have had enough. Give your new puppy or new dog plenty of time to process their new experiences, which is often done with a good nap. Puppies especially need their sleep, but even older dogs need rest to regain energy and process what they have learned and experienced.

Socialization is key in a healthy dog development and should be a part of your daily training. If you have trouble knowing how to start with socializing your dog, then contact me for a consultation and I will help you get started.

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Mental stimulation

Mental stimulation – Why is it important?

Enrichment and mental stimulation is something you hear a lot about in the dog world these days.

But why should you give your dog mental stimulation.

What is all the fuss about?

The benefits of mental stimulation

Scientific studies have shown that by providing your dog with enrichment and mental stimulation on a daily basis you decrease the risk of them developing problem behaviors and even decrease current problem behaviors in your dog.

Mental stimulation or enrichment tires out your dog in a different way than physical exercise. It also keeps their brain strong which is important both during their development as a puppy, but also to keep their brain sharp during their golden senior years (Read more here about how to keep your senior dog’s brain strong).

Mental stimulation also strengthens the bond between you and your dog. Your dog sees that you are the creator of fun things and that you are helping them, which makes them grow closer to you. Spending time with your dog is also good for you as it creates a higher feeling of happiness. Read more about how happy your dog makes you here.

But what exactly is mental stimulation?

Mental stimulation can be anything stimulating from play sessions, to searching for items or dog training. Anything where your dog have to use his/her brain to figure out a problem.

Dogs are individuals and stimulated and motivated by different things. As a dog owner you will quickly learn what your dog finds motivating and stimulating. Just like humans, dogs need stimuli in order not to grow bored. If a dog is bored he/she will find ways of entertaining themselves which might interfere with your idea of what a fun time is.

Before I started studying animal behavior and learning about dogs’ needs I would be so frustrated with Chester sometimes completely destroying my apartment. Once I came home and was greeted by the happiest dog completely covered in feathers along with the rest of the apartment.

mental stimulation

He had decided to destroy all pillows within range. He had had a blast creating his own feather party, whereas I viewed the remains of my pillows a little different. I know now that it was completely my fault. I was not providing what Chester needed – I was not making sure he was stimulated, so he found ways to do it himself.

Many expect their dogs to be fine being left alone for an entire day without any stimuli of any kind, and then get frustrated with their dogs when they come home to a destroyed house.

One of the first things I always do in my consultations is to make sure that the dog in question gets enough stimuli on a daily basis. Most of the times that solves half the behavior problem. A tired dog is a happy dog right.

Get ideas on enrichment here.

What mental stimulation toys should I choose for my dog?

The dog world is filled with different puzzles and toys to stimulate your dog. You can basically get anything and for many that creates confusion about what to choose.

Dogs, as mentioned above, are foremost individuals. It is therefor important that you find mental stimulation toys that your dog will use and enjoy. That being said, you should also expect a learning curve for your dog if they have never seen an enrichment toy before.

When I first got Belga, she had never seen an activity ball before and just looked up at me completely puzzled by this artifact I had put in front of her, not knowing what to do to get to her food. So down on the floor I went, pushing the ball around, until she finally one day started doing it herself.

Many tell me that they have tried different enrichment toys but their dog is simply not interested. What they have missed is the learning curve that comes with a new toy. They simply haven’t taken the time to introduce the enrichment toy to their dog and shown them how to work it out.

Dogs trust us to teach them about our world and introducing different mentally stimulating toys is part of that learning. I should mention that the key rule with mental stimulation is to make your dog think it is a game. Make it fun and light and don’t be disappointed with your dog if they cannot figure it out right away. Set yourself down on the floor and help them work it out.

Another reason as to why you should mentally stimulate your dog is that it gives them a confidence boost. That is IF they are successful in solving the challenge. This is why both when it comes to enrichment toys and dog training in general you should always make sure that your dog leaves the game with a feeling of success. That way they are more likely to come back to it and try it again (More about happy associations here). If you get angry or disappointed with your dog, he/she will sense it immediately and the stimulation will become a negative and something your dog will avoid.

MUST HAVE enrichment toys

But what should you choose? From my experience the 3 best activity toys to have for your dog is:

Kong enrichment
Mental stimulation - Why is it important? 6
Mental stimulation - Why is it important? 7

These activity toys I have found most dogs to enjoy, but again every dog has specific tastes and likes. Some are happy with the toy as long as they can get treats or food out of it, others are more selective and prefers search games for their food.

Finally, I would like to give you a challenge.

Challenge: Remove your dog’s food bowl for a week and only feed him/her using different mentally stimulating toys and try to observe if you see a change in your dog’s behavior.

If you need help getting started with enrichment ideas for your dog, or you have a problem with your dog then contact me for a consultation.

Don’t forget to download our FREEBIE 30 enrichment ideas for your dog !

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