Giving back with The Seeing Eye

Seeingeye

If you have enjoyed reading my blog and think you are ready to take on the challenge of dog training, I urge you to volunteer your time for The Seeing Eye.

According to its website, “The Seeing Eye is a philanthropic organization whose mission is to enhance the independence, dignity, and self-confidence of blind people through the use of Seeing Eye® dogs.” They breed and raise puppies to become seeing eye dogs to guide blind people as we as instruct blind people in the proper use of handling and caring for the dogs.

It all started in 1927 with Morris Frank, a blind gentleman who read an article about German Shepherds being trained as guide dogs for blind veterans of WWI. Morris traveled to Switzerland to meet Dorothy Harrison Eustis, who was training police dogs. He returned to New York City with his guide dog, Buddy, and navigated the streets before throngs of news reporters. The rest was history.

I caught up with members of The Seeing Eye in my hometown, Roseland, NJ to see what it was all about.

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Families volunteer to foster the puppies from seven-weeks old until 15 months, teaching them all the basic commands to set the foundation for their formal training. They attend training sessions with representatives of The Seeing Eye, who teach the foster families how to properly train their pups. It is also an important opportunity for the puppies to socialize and learn from example.

“I’ve been training dogs for the Seeing Eye since ’81,” said Janet Keeler, Leader of the Essex County Puppy Club in NJ. “This is Maggie; she’s puppy number 54.”

Janet Keeler and Maggie
Janet Keeler and Maggie

Brendon Sweigart started volunteering with The Seeing Eye for his senior service project in high school, now more than three years ago. After training his dog Vanito, he knew he wanted to do it again, this time with the whole family.

“You go into it knowing you have to give them up and that help to a degree, but it still hits you hard,” said his father, Frank Sweigart. “But you hear people speak about how much it improves their lives.”

The family is looking forward to receiving their next puppy in the coming weeks.

(Left to right) Frank, Brendon and Rosemary Sweigart and Bryn.
(Left to right) Frank, Brendon and Rosemary Sweigart and Bryn.

“I wanted to set an example for my children,” said Angela Getz of Roseland. “I feel strongly about what [The Seeing Eye] stands for. I wanted to do this to help someone regain their independence.”

“Often when you donate, you don’t know where the money goes, but when you train a dog, you know it is going to directly improve someone’s life,” she added.

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The families help the dogs through their first few months of puppyhood, teaching basic commands and behaviors. At six months, the dog receives its first formal evaluation and earns its Seeing Eye vest, which distinguishes him or her as a guide dog. At 14 months, they have to go back to The Seeing Eye for their formal training.

The program is so successful, that four out of five dogs make it through the program. If a dog does not make it through the program, the dog’s foster family has first dibs of buying him or her back as their pet. The dogs are in high demand because of their level of training.

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“It is heartbreaking, but you know that going in,” said Kaite, a Seeing Eye Area Coordinator for Essex County. “But seeing them with their graduates helps make up for it.”

Learn more about The Seeing Eye:

Click here to get involved.

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Marty vs. the doorbell

Now that we have a better idea on how to tackle the biting issue, we can start to work on another one of Marty’s not-so-cute habits: barking.

I appreciate the warning bark that let’s me know someone is coming down the driveway, but barking at every single dog, jogger, car, bicyclist, squirrel or rustling leaf creates a boy-who-cried wolf situation.

Marty gets REALLY excited and anxious when the doorbell rings. A little barking that says “hey human, someone is here” is totally fine, but he tends to bark his head off and run around frantically. He even goes into a frenzy when he’s asleep and hears a doorbell ring on tv.

Marty, and most dogs, bark as a warning. They are letting the rest of the pack know that something is up. If you yell at your dog not to bark, he doesn’t know what you are saying, he thinks you are picking up the call.

You are the alpha and need to let your dog know that you are in control of the situation. He needs to understand that you can handle whatever is on the other side of that door. Only then will he feel secure enough to remain calm when the bell rings.

The Humane Society says:

  • Remove the motivation. For example, if he is barking at passersby, close the curtains.
  • Ignore the barking. If he is confined and barking to get out, ignore him until he is quiet.
  • Desensitize your dog to the stimulus. Feed him treats while you slowly get him accustomed to the stimulus.
  • Teach your dog the “quiet” command. First, teach your dog to speak. Then teach him to be quiet. When someone comes to the door, use the quiet command.
  • Ask your dog for an incompatible behavior. Throw a treat on a mat and tell him to go to his place. Don’t open the door until the dog stays on the mat, If he moves, close the door.
  • Keep your dog tired. This goes back to exercise, discipline, and affection. A tired dog is a behaved dog.

According to Cesar Milan, “Using the sound of the doorbell is the right thing, but you want to associate it with something calm and pleasant for your dog. If your dogs are already trained to sit calmly before receiving treats from you, you’re halfway there.

What you need to do is get them to sit calmly for a treat first, then ring the doorbell. If they do not react to it, they get the treat. If they do react, redirect them with the smell of the treat (but don’t give it to them yet), get them to sit calmly and wait, then repeat the process.

In this way, you will teach them that “doorbell = treat,” but only if they sit calmly. You’ll also want everyone in the house to have treats on them at first, so that when the doorbell rings at random they can reward the dogs that comply right away.

Eventually, you’ll be able to do away with the treats.”

Marty took to Cesar’s method right away. I rang the doorbell and he went crazy. Only when he settled down did I give him the treat. He made progress little by little until he was indifferent to the doorbell.

Untitled from Eric Goodman on Vimeo.

No Bite!

IMG_5822Marty has a problem with biting.

In my last post, I talked a little about bite inhibition, “a dog’s ability to control the pressure of his mouth when biting, to cause little or no damage to the subject of the bite.”

It is important for a puppy to start learning how much pressure to use with his or her teeth without causing injury. Ideally, your puppy will learn not to use his or her teeth on you at all.

Puppies bite…a lot! (and I have the scratches to prove it). This is because they are teething, which is the natural process of their milk teeth falling out to make room for their permanent teeth. The milk teeth start falling out around 8 weeks and continue until the dog is about 7 months old.

During this time, their mouths are very sore, which is why they have the compulsive need to bite and chew. Marty is around 7 months and he’s still very bity. He’s at the tail end of teething, but still has a lot to learn.

Here are some tips I learned around the web:

  • Don’t use your hands as a play-thing. Even though your puppy cannot do much damage when he is small, you don’t want to promote bad habits.
  • Give the puppy something he can If he goes for your hands, hand him a toy instead to redirect his biting.
  • Make a loud yelping sound when bitten. This mimics what a dog would do when playing and let’s your puppy know he has bitten too hard.
  • Stop playing immediately and ignore your puppy. If he learns that biting you doesn’t get the reaction he wants, he will stop doing it.
  • Use correction that matches the severity of the behavior. For instance, a soft nip when your puppy was going for a toy does not warrant a time-out, a simple “ouch!” will do.

Check out this helpful video for more training tips:

Proper socialization

Corgi Shih Tzu Hybrids 20 weeksIt is not only important for your puppy to bond with you. Exposing your puppy to as many experiences as possible will set him up to be a better behaved adult dog. Behavior problems often stem from fear, so the earlier they learn they don’t have to be afraid, the better they will be in the long run.

Think about it. Your puppy was born in a litter of other pups and had just eight short weeks to bond with its parents and siblings before being moved to a new home. Unless you already have a dog in your house for him to learn from, dog behaviors will be foreign to him. As much as you teach and train him you are not a dog and can’t play with him like a dog.

As soon as your puppy has all of his or her shots, schedule a play date with a friend or neighbors’ dog. Make sure you know the dog is friendly or your puppy could have a traumatizing experience. Don’t take your puppy to a dog park or let him interact with a strange dog until he is a little older.

The behaviors he will learn and mirror from another dog are extremely important for development. For instance, if your puppy bites at another dog too hard, that dog will stop playing with yours and he will learn that biting does not get him the reaction he wants. He has learned it from a natural experience, without you having to scold or reprimand him. This is called bite inhibition.

“During play, social behavior in particular is learned and practiced, because not all of it is innate. If a dog had no opportunity during puppyhood to play with other dogs of the same age, she may have problems communicating with other members of her species later on. Through play, puppies learn to avoid aggression, and it contributes to formation of a hierarchy and strengthens social cohesion.” — The Complete Guide to Dog Training.

It is also important for your puppy to experience different people, animals, places, sounds and smells. Learning these things early will show him he doesn’t need to be afraid. A dog that has spent his whole life in the same house will be fearful of what he doesn’t know. This can lead to dangerous behaviors like biting out of fear.

Marty_Jasmime from Eric Goodman on Vimeo.

Here are some fun and safe play activities, according to The Complete Guide to Dog Training:

  • Racing and chasing: dogs take turns chasing each other and switch roles.
  • Mutual stalking: playful attacks between dogs
  • Tugging: tug-of-war with a favorite toy
  • Playful fighting: wrestling and tussling with mouthing, but not biting

Click here for more information on puppy socialization.

Puppy Basic Training

Air Force Basic Training FieldPuppy basic training is important so that he or she learns acceptable behaviors that will help them throughout their lives. Dog training also exercises their minds and helps them feel more fulfilled. A dog with a duty is often happier and more secure.

First, start with small training treats, so you don’t spoil their dinner. Just a tiny morsel should be enough of a reward. It is also important to give the treat or praise the second they get the command right. Dogs have a short attention span, so the praise needs to be almost simultaneous with the action in order for them to connect that what they did was the reason they got the treat.

Training treats

It is for the same reason you cannot scold a dog for having an accident when you come across it. If you find pee on the carpet and yell at your dog, he/she will have no idea why you are yelling and won’t connect their action to the correction. You have to catch them in the act.

House training

When your puppy first comes home, it is best to restrict access to your whole house and keep accidents contained to a single space. When Marty came home, we set up his crate, food and toys in our kitchen and gated it off from the rest of our house. At least if he has an accident, you will know where to look!

Marty's home

Crate training is recommended for puppies, with the basic rule that they can go one hour without relieving themselves for every month old they are. For instance, if your puppy is two months, he can only go two hours without having to pee.

Take your puppy outside immediately after coming out of the crate and immediately after eating. Praise them when they go in the right place.

Never scold a puppy for having an accident! They are still learning and so are you. It is your fault for not recognizing their signals. For instance, my first dog Calvin would open and close his mouth like a silent bark when he needed to go out. Marty stares at you intently or tugs at your pant leg. Try to find their signal and take them out swiftly.

Click here for more information on potty training.

Sit

Sit from Eric Goodman on Vimeo.

Sitting is a natural position for your puppy, so should feel natural for them.

  1. Hold the treat in your hand and bring it to their nose, but do not let them take it.
  2. Slowly raise your hand back over their head.
  3. Say “sit”
  4. They should naturally sit when they lean back to follow the treat.
  5. Give them the treat the second their butt touches the ground

Down

Down from Eric Goodman on Vimeo.

Once you have mastered “sit,” it’s time to take it one step further.

  1. Get your dog into the “sit” position.
  2. Hold the treat in your hand just in front of their nose.
  3. Bring the treat to the floor, just out of reach of your dog.
  4. Say “down.”
  5. They should naturally move to the “down” position
  6. Give them the treat as soon as they get it right.

Stay

Stay from Eric Goodman on Vimeo.

Teaching your dog to stay is very important and can potentially save their life.

  1. Get your dog into the “sit” or “down” position.
  2. Stand at your dog’s side.
  3. Say “stay.”
  4. Stand up straight and move directly in front of your pet, facing him.
  5. After a few seconds, move back to your dog’s side.
  6. Give your dog the treat and praise.
  7. Over time, gradually increase the distance and wait time.
  8. You can also use a word to release the dog, like “come” or “ok.”

Come

Come from Eric Goodman on Vimeo.

Your dog should know when to be by your side.

  1. Get your dog into the “sit” position.
  2. Have a family member gently restrain your dog.
  3. Show them a treat to entice them.
  4. Say “come.”
  5. Have your family member release your dog.
  6. Give your dog the treat.

Exercise, Discipline, Affection

Cesar millan (cropped)
By Melissa from USA, DodgersMom Photography (File:Cesar millan.jpg)

The key to creating a balanced dog is to train them with exercise, discipline and affection–in that order. This training technique was made popular by dog behavior specialist Cesar Millan, the “Dog Whisperer.”

Exercise

Before you start any type of training, make sure your dog is relaxed and ready to pay attention. If a dog has pent up energy, he or she won’t make a very good student. Exercise is a great way to get your dog to release its energy, while earning some bonding time. However, exercise time does not mean playtime. Playing or throwing a ball is considered affection time, a reward for good behavior, not for calming your dog down. Playing fetch will only rile your dog up and he/she won’t be able to easily switch from playtime to learning time.

Lazy dog doesn't want to walk

Start by taking your dog for a long and brisk walk. A lazy stroll where your dog sniffs every blade of grass and pees on every tree is not what I mean by exercise. You tell your dog when it is time to walk and when it is time to sniff. If he starts to sniff when you say it’s time to walk, just keep going. He will have no choice but to keep up.

Make sure your dog is paying attention to you and not everything around you. Your dog should be at your side or just behind you, never ahead of you. Don’t forget, the Alpha leads the pack. Do some exercises to make sure your dog is paying attention. Quickly stop and start walking or even abruptly change direction. Your dog should always be in tune to your movements. This will help him respect you as the Alpha and give you some time to bond together.

Discipline

Once your dog your dog is exercised and relaxed, it is time to start training. Discipline doesn’t mean reprimanding your dog for any negative behaviors, but doing training exercises and rewarding good behaviors. We will go into detail on specific training exercises in a later post, but here are a few suggestions of where to start:

  • Sit: This is a pretty easy one that all dogs should learn. Since it is a natural position for dogs, it is one that is not too hard to teach.
  • Down: Like sit, down is another natural position that should be easy to teach.
  • Stay: This is a very important one. You need to teach your dog what it means to stay. It could end up saving his or her life.
  • Heel: This will ensure your dog is always by your side when you need him/her to be.

Modern dog trainers say positive reinforcement gets better results than punitive or compulsion training. According to Puplife.com, “positive reinforcement dog training is a friendly, non-punitive method of teaching your dog to perform behaviors using food, treats or other positive actions as a reward…Compulsion dog training or training based on physical punishment usually involves some level of discomfort or even pain.” Positive reinforcement should provide a bonding opportunity that is pleasant and fun for you and your dog.

When training, use either treats or praise to let your dog know they succeeded in the task. Make sure you reward them the moment they get it right. For example, if you are using treats to train your dog to sit, give him/her the treat the second their butt touches the ground. If you wait, they will not associate getting the treat with sitting.

According to CesarsWay.com, “Dogs live in the moment, so your response should be immediate. This can include both treats and affection, and should be used whenever your dog does something that you want them to do.”

CesarsWay also explains the do’s and don’ts of positive reinforcement.

Do:

  • Immediately praise and reward desired behavior
  • Keep it short and fun
  • Wean from treats

Don’t:

  • Make things complicated
  • Show inconsistency
  • Stop correcting your dog

Affection

Once your dog is relaxed and has finished his/her training for the day, it is time to settle down and show some affection. This comes last and should not come until the exercise and discipline steps have been completed. “Dogs seek attention from you,” says Cesar. “But by paying them that attention when they want it, you’re reinforcing the bad or hyperactive or anxious behavior that you’re trying to avoid. Practice — no touch, no talk, no eye contact — and see how you fare. You might be surprised at how quickly the dog settles down and looks to you as his pack leader for direction.”

Click here for Cesar’s suggested Exercise, Discipline, Affection schedule.