Dog Friendly Tips: Dogs and Christmas Trees
If you have a live Christmas tree, keep the water stand covered. Pine sap mixed with water makes a poisonous drink for your pet. The smell of a live or artificial tree may cause your pet to urine-mark it. It may help to bring the tree into an isolated indoor room for a day or two, so that it smells more like “home.”
Secure Christmas trees to a wall or ceiling hook with sturdy wire. This will help prevent the tree from toppling over should your dog jump on it or accidentally knock it over.
Dog Friendly Article: A Word About Dog Treats
Food is a wonderful way to get a dog's attention, and it's also a great way to reinforce her for doing what you ask. There are several reasons for that: food not only tastes good, it smells good too, and good smells are tightly linked to good emotions in your dog's brain.
Keep in mind that your dog gets to define what a "good" treat is. Most dogs like strong-smelling things that smell like meat or cheese. Those kinds of treats are usually enough to compete with distractions in the environment, whereas many commercial treats found in supermarkets are primarily made out of dried wheat or corn (that's grass to a dog!) and just aren't as competitive. Every dog trainer sees hundreds of dogs who "won't work for treats," until the trainer pulls out her own treats and has the dog turning somersaults to get at them.
However, some dogs don't read the books, and prefer sweet potatoes to cheese. My dog Pip will do just about anything for a string bean, so take the time to experiment and learn what is a "high-value" versus a "low-value" treat to your own dog.
SHE IS WHAT SHE EATS
In the early stages of training, you'll be giving your dog quite a few treats, so keep the pieces very small; about pea size for a medium-sized dog. If you're doing a lot of training (good for you!), you will want to adjust your dog's feeding accordingly.
Be sure what you're giving your dog is good for her. There are lots of healthy commercial treats available, found mostly in pet stores, and less often in supermarkets. Read the labels and look for whole, natural ingredients, for example, "chicken" versus "chicken by-products."
You can also make your own; lots of professional trainers cut up string cheese, chicken or microwave liver to save on expenses. You can even create your own "trail mix" of different types of food, using the best ones for stellar performances. Again, remember that every dog is different, so experiment and find out what makes your dog happiest, and use that in distracting environments or for new exercises.
Be creative with your reinforcements!
Ah, but what about those dogs who aren't interested in food, even if it's filet mignon? There aren't many dogs who fit that description, so if your dog refuses a treat, ask yourself if she's stressed, overly excited, or if she's not motivated by the type of treats you are using.
However, there are some dogs who are never motivated by food, no matter where they are or what type of treat you are using. If your dog truly doesn't care about food, no matter how good, you'll need to find something that she does love, and use that as a reinforcement. Even if your dog loves food, you'd be wise to vary what you give her, substituting play and exuberant praise on occasion. Lots of dogs love to play ball, and ball play is a wonderful way of reinforcing attention or other appropriate responses.
Some dogs aren't interested in playing fetch, but love nothing better than playing with a squeaky toy. Tug of war can be a great reward for some dogs as long as it doesn't cause the dog to become overly aroused. Some hunting dogs will ignore food and toys, but will whip their heads around as if on a string if you pull a bird wing out of your pocket (don't laugh, they're available through hunting supply stores and catalogs!)
Be creative with your reinforcements: a used Kleenex worked wonders for one trainer, when she found herself without treats or toys, and spontaneously gave it to a dog who did a spectacular recall. I even taught a Gordon Setter to pay attention by picking up a tiny pellet of dried sheep manure and popping it into his mouth. I'm not going to start manufacturing a new line of dog treats in the near future ("Poop Berries! Give your dog what he really wants!"), but you get the idea-your dog knows what he wants, and it's your job to figure it out and use it to your advantage.
WHEN CAN I STOP USING FOOD?
The primary concern most people have about using treats is that they'll have to carry around a refrigerator full of treats to get their dog to behave. However, the beauty of using reinforcements is that you can drop them out of your repertoire as your dog's good behavior becomes habitual. After all, no one tells you what a good girl or boy you are for saying "please" and "thank you," right? But you still do it, because it's become such a habit you don't even think about it.
That's the same progression you see in dog training-once you establish good habits you won't need to use treats anymore. We haven't given our dogs a treat for a simple sit in years. Of course, we still often thank them ("Good!"), but we don't need to carry food with us unless we're training something new. We'll talk more in later chapters about when you can start to decrease the frequency of treats, but at this stage of training it is essential to use positive reinforcements liberally for any new exercises or any training in distracting environments.
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