Silhouette of a group of people to illustrate best conversation starter

World’s best conversation starter

We’re normally not party people. But when a dog facility we teach at had an Open House a couple of weeks ago, we went to meet people, talk training, and help out as we could. As the event proceeded, we realized we’d come up with the world’s best conversation starter: “What kind of dog do you have?”

Silhouette of a group of people to illustrate best conversation starter

It’s really an ideal way to start talking to people. You don’t have to worry about sensitive topics, it’s not politics, or religion. It’s also not controversial, but much more interesting than the weather. The only time it doesn’t work is if the person you’re talking to doesn’t have a dog. We didn’t have to worry about that during the Open House, but in other venues it may get you some funny looks. 

Facets of our lives

No matter what time of your life you’re in, either just starting out on the adult adventure, or happily retired, you can always talk about your dog. Everybody who has a dog has common interests. The price of dog food has gotten almost ridiculous. What groomer do you use? How do you like your veterinarian? Does your dog ever let you go to the bathroom alone? Do you play training games with your dog? Which treats does your dog like best? Do you let your dog sleep with you?

The possibilities are endless, because dogs are always interesting. Current dogs, past dogs, even what breeds you admire, even though you’d never want one. Our advice for chronically introverted people (like us) is to find the dog people at the party. You’ll soon be at the center of a lively discussion everyone enjoys.

Something in common

The vast majority of the people we spend time with, both personally and professionally, are dog people. Some of them we’ve been friends with for years. The only thing we had in common at the beginning was our love of dogs. In our training club, it’s taken years to find out if people have spouses, children, what they do for a living, where they live. 

Which got us thinking, there are all kinds of levels of friendship or intimacy. Our dog club friends aren’t necessarily the ones we’d call if we had an emergency like getting locked out of the house. But they’d be the first ones if we had car trouble at a dog show or trial. It’s like having a network for each aspect of your life. Always give people the benefit of the doubt. Start the conversation with “What kind of dog do you have?”

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Picture of a Black Brussels Griffon taking an agility jump to illustrate dog sports.

Have fun playing dog sports

Last week we encouraged you to have more fun with your dog. This week we’re going to give a (very) brief overview of some of the dog sports that are out there to play. Some, like Obedience and Agility, you’ve probably heard of. You may even have taken a class or two or seen a televised competition. Those are just the tip of the iceberg. There’s lots of different sports with vastly different levels of activity and training – for you and your dog.

Just off the top of our head we could come up with a dozen and a half. Our list may not be inclusive, but it provides a jumping-off point for you. There are so many things you could do to have more fun with your dog.

Dog Sports:

This is the list of dog sports we came up with – in no particular order but how we thought of them:

Obedience: Probably the most formal of the dog sports, and the one for people who don’t like surprises. Every level of obedience competition has a set group of exercises, always done the same way. This is for people (and dogs) who like attention to detail and no surprises.

Rally Obedience: Rally was introduced as a more casual introduction to Obedience, but has blossomed and become a popular sport all on its own. Like Agility, every time you perform a Rally course, it’s a different challenge, although the skills you use repeat. It’s a timed sport, at a walking pace. Most of Rally involves heeling in different configurations, like serpentines, or turns from 180 to 360 degrees.Your dog will also need to know “Sit!,” “Down,” “Stand!” and “Stay!”

Picture of a Black Brussels Griffon taking an agility jump to illustrate dog sports.
In his prime, Fran’s Tango loved Agility!

Agility: Running and jumping, with tunnels, climbing obstacles, and equipment that moves, like the see-saw. Agility is a fast-paced sport that requires you and your dog to think on your feet quickly. 

Nose Work: This sport takes advantage of dogs’ natural ability to detect scents in different environments with many challenges. There are four primary scents you train your dog to find in AKC Nose Work; Birch, Anise, Clove, and Cypress. It’s like a scavenger hunt for dogs. Your job is to recognize your dog’s signal when they find the hidden scent.

More to play:

There is a dog sport for everyone, even if you’re not a competitive person. Most people just want to have fun with their dogs. That’s something we can all agree on.

Barn Hunt: Also uses the dog’s natural instincts. In this case, to find rats (secured in a tube they’re trained for) hidden among bales of hay. It involves climbing, tunneling, and scenting. Your job, as in Nose Work, is to recognize when your dog finds the hidden rat tubes.

Lure Coursing: A sport for Sight Hounds, including the Italian Greyhound. Dogs chase a mechanized white plastic lure that’s pulled around a track. Sight Hounds are designed to run, and this sport lets them do what comes naturally!

Fast CAT: The “CAT” stands for Coursing Ability Test. This is a 100 yard dash that every dog can play. As in Lure Coursing, there’s a mechanized lure that the dogs chase. One dog runs at a time, so it’s just your dog against the clock. For dogs who love to run, this is a chance to show off their natural ability.

Disc Dog: For dogs who love to catch things and play fetch. There are all kinds of Disc Dog games, and, quite honestly, we haven’t researched all the ins and outs. But if you’re pretty good at disc throwing, and your dog loves to retrieve, this may be your dog sport.

Freestyle: also known as “dancing with dogs,” is for creative people who love music, dance, and playing with their dogs. The routines people put together are remarkable and impressive, but there’s plenty of room for novice handler/dog teams as well. 

Trick dog: Your dog can start earning titles and showing off with tricks we’d bet they already know. Can your dog “Spin!” ? or jump through a hoop? Those are just a couple of the 10 tricks dogs can perform to earn the Novice Trick Dog title. At the upper levels of the sport people choreograph entire stories to tell, with props, costumes, and a script. 

Enough for now?

Are you starting to get an idea of the vast number of choices available to you? We’re just getting started. If any of these sound interesting, do an internet search for that sport “near me.” You’ll get an idea of the dog clubs, facilities, and possibilities in your area. 

And if none of these sound like you and your dog, you can also look for:

  • Urban Ratting
  • Tracking
  • Flyball
  • Treibball
  • Dog Diving
  • Earth Dog
  • Weight Pulling
  • Canicross
  • Skijoring
  • Bikejoring

If there are some we’ve neglected to mention, please let us know. Dogs are wonderful companions and yours will be happy to be your partner in whatever adventures you choose. 

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Picture of a Boston Terrier in a box to illustrate trouble makers are great dogs

Trouble maker dogs are favorites

Trouble maker dogs are the ones you want. Most people tend to think that dog trainers’ dogs are model citizens. Polite, well-behaved, little robots with four legs. It’s a lie. Most of the dog trainers we know, including us, have naughty dogs. Trouble makers are our favorites. Both in our own dogs, and in our training classes.

The reason’s simple. Smart dogs cause way more trouble than stupid ones. They’re problem-solvers who create chaos trying to get what they want. They figure stuff out. That’s why they’re so much fun. 

All positive-reinforcement trainers know that once dogs understand how to learn, they can do it at rapid-fire pace. The hardest part, when you have a dog who loves playing training games, is coming up with new games/tricks to teach.

Challenge your trouble maker dog

There are lots of ways to measure dog intelligence. The breed most-often touted as brilliant is the Border Collie. There’s no question they’re highly trainable, motivated-to-work dogs. But measured with different criteria, like independent action, or problem solving, they’re not the top prospects.

It makes sense. Dog breeds were developed to do certain jobs. Some breeds excel at working closely with and being directed by people. Other breeds, like terriers, work independently since their job was to catch vermin. Most small dogs have at least a bit of terrier in them – that’s why they get a reputation (we think undeserved) for being stubborn. Playing training games with you has to be more interesting than whatever else is around.

Luckily, that’s not hard. Small dogs tend to catch on quickly, especially when ample treats are involved. There are few dogs who can resist the temptation of cheese!

So much fun

Picture of a Boston Terrier in a box to illustrate trouble makers are great dogs

This post is a big, fat commercial to try to get you to start playing training games with your dog. The first game we’re recommending is “Boxey!” and there’s no excuse for you not to try it with your dog. All you need to play is a box big enough for your dog to sit in, short enough for them to get in, and some treats. This game will clue you in on how creative your dog can be. 

It can also show you that your dog is dependent on you for instructions. The whole point of this game is to expand your dog’s horizons. If you think your dog is sometimes bored, this cures it. They get to try new stuff, have your complete attention, and get lots of treats. Playing training games with you is probably as close to dog paradise as you can get.

Don’t get discouraged

If your dog, like many, has been told what to do all its life, it may take a while for them to understand they can make decisions on their own. Granted, once they catch on, they’ll be even more trouble than they were before. They’ll also understand more of the rules of the house, make better decisions more of the time, and be more responsive to what you want them to do.

Dogs are capable of understanding hundreds of words. They just need us to teach them. If you’re skeptical, start small. Teach your dog “Off!”  Grow your dog’s vocabulary, and build a better partnership at the same time. 

Once you start with training games, you’ll enjoy your dog even more. If that’s possible. And you’ll come to appreciate your trouble maker dogs, too.

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Picture of a brown dog curling its lip to illustrate resource guarding.

A different take on dog resource guarding

Resource guarding is a big deal. But most people’s first instinct on what to do about it is exactly the opposite of the answer. If you take away the resource the dog is guarding, the dog’s fears come true. It doesn’t solve the problem. It convinces the dog it was right.

This week we saw some advice on a dog training social media group that made us cringe. Somebody was asking what to do about their little Shih Tzu who was suddenly “guarding” her from other people in the family. Even growling when their family’s toddler child ran into their bedroom and approached the bed. The dog apparently even snapped and lunged at the child. The woman was asking what to do.

That’s not  the bad part. The bad part is the advice some old-school people were giving. Comment after comment saying “Don’t let the dog on the bed until it learns better.”

That’s absolutely the worst way to address the situation. And luckily, someone else pointed it out before we had the opportunity. If you take away the “resource” the dog is guarding, the dog’s worst fears come true. They have even more reason to protect what they think is theirs!

Times have changed

People used to use the adage “let sleeping dogs lie.” It’s no longer used, because society seems to have decided that dogs can’t object to harassment. Apparently dogs can’t object to anything being taken away from them, or done to them.

We don’t think that’s right. And it’s certainly not fair. But it’s all over, including supposedly “cute” videos showing toddlers climbing on dogs, getting in dogs’ faces, even playing with their flews. The dogs in many videos are giving clear signs they’re not comfortable, and yet people are shocked when dogs finally react.

Picture of a brown dog curling its lip to illustrate resource guarding.

Most dogs give signals when they’re not happy in a situation. They’ll look sideways, or their eyes will get large (whale eye). Licking their lips is also a sign of discomfort, as is turning their head away. Pushed further, most dogs may curl a lip, or emit a warning growl.

If you see any of these dog signals, it’s time to stop whatever it is that’s happening. When people persist despite the dog’s indicators, that’s when bad things can happen. And good dogs can be labeled aggressive, or reactive.

What’s the answer?

For resource guarding, the person’s first instinct is to take away whatever it is that triggers the dog’s possessiveness. Which convinces the dog they were right – that precious object/person/food is under threat. 

A teaching approach changes the dynamic. Instead of taking away the food bowl, drop more food in it as you go by. Rather than ban the dog from the person’s lap, give the dog incredibly yummy treats as you approach. Instead of removing the dog from the bed, designate a special place (blanket/mat) on the bed where they’re always safe. 

Children should be taught to respect dogs, including their best friend, the family dog. Everybody, including the dog, should be allowed to have limits. Watching and learning to read a dog’s body language can go a long way to solving many dog issues.

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