Meeting Specific Training Needs
Packages for Every Age & Behavior
By Kama Brown
Meeting specific training needs by offering additional packages to a dog’s boarding and daycare visit is an excellent way to improve a dog’s behavior and experience while maintaining high customer satisfaction and sales.
The unique training needs of senior dogs are comfort, physical health, and senior–specific enrichment.
Keeping hind-end muscles from atrophy in senior dogs should be a high priority. Low resistance exercise can help and a senior program should include swimming, underwater treadmill, balance disks, walks on sandy or mixed earth paths, and stretching.
Stretching is particularly easy for all staff to practice. Using small, low calorie treats, hold the treat just behind the dog’s shoulder while they eat it, alternating sides for balance.
Depending on the size of the dog, providing 1—5 inches of thickness for sleeping surfaces is best. Tempurpedic and chew-proof bedding is ideal and will hold up the longest while providing quality support. Place non-slip mats underneath beds and bowls to keep them in place.
Scent games are a favorite of all dogs and nose work is the canine sport that still holds a competitive edge for senior dogs. Keep small cotton pads or cut up q-tips in a jar and add 5—7 drops of essential oils to the edge of the jar’s opening. Do not place the oil directly on the cotton. Secure the jar lid and allow the oil and cotton mixture to sit for a few hours. Take a few pieces of q-tips or cotton out of the jar and place in a metal tin or small box.
While holding the tin or box, introduce the dog to the odor and pair the scent with training treats by dropping treats on top of the tin or box for the dog to eat. Move the container around the room and back the dog up so they must walk over to the container to smell and eat treats. Next, hide the box under a towel, then behind a large object and then a few other accessible places. Now instead of placing the food on the box, wait for the dog to find the box and reward with the food.
Once the dog is happily looking for the box around the room and receiving the treats once they’ve found it, add a few decoy boxes that are exactly the same size, shape and color but do not have scent in them. Once the dog is consistently identifying the correct box, take a video to show the owner and move on to advanced nose work during their next stay.
Sensitive & Overly Reactive Dogs
Sensitive and overly reactive dogs need a training package filed with desensitization opportunities and practice choosing alternative behaviors to relieve stress.
The first step to desensitization is making sure the dog is currently not in distress. Dogs who are nervous do not retain long term memory well and training can take twice as long if they are not given a secure base to retreat and relax in.
Noise canceling is a top priority for dogs with sensitivities. Choosing a portion of the kennel for these dogs that is further away from the daycare yards, the front entrance and grooming areas is a good start. Any and all structural sound proofing is recommended.
Adding extra blankets and rounding off corners with pool noodles or rolled towels creates a more comfortable resting experience for dogs who want to push their backs into corners. Limit visual stimuli with thin, mesh covers that allow air flow.
Training staff for specific handling of these dogs when the trainer is not working with them is vital to making sure training is not being undone. Slow movements while avoiding eye contact is comforting to nervous dogs and can help them settle in. Kennel signs for dogs in training are easy to display and let everyone know which dogs are receiving training packages, creating a simple system of organization.
Adding essential oils to blankets and toys can be therapeutic. Diluting the oils into a spray bottle is easy and cost effective. While some oils are safe for direct skin contact, it’s best to remain safe and use the oils as an aromatic only. The most popular scents for calming dogs are Cedar Wood, Cypress, Frankincense, Lavender, Vetiver, and Bergamot. Use them one scent at a time or combine them together to create a unique scent.
Oftentimes, when on a leash or in a kennel, dogs feel they have little choice but to react defensively to the things that scare them. Other dogs will entirely shut down; unable to eat or walk well on a leash.
Giving dogs a choice in training is vital to comforting them, lowering their stress responses and reducing overly reactive behaviors.
Once the dog has settled in to their noise reduced, visually non-stimulating, extra comforted area, bring them out on a long line and allow them to sniff the hallways, rooms and yard they will be working in. It’s important that these are quiet enough areas not to send the dog into a panic. If the dog is unable to eat or walk, simply begin by sitting with the dog near the kennel while the door is open. If the dog is happily moving about, put the following training plan in place:
- Engage with the environment through sniffing and finding treats.
- Practice a known behavior.
- Learn a new behavior.
- Move to a new environment and begin at step 1 again.
Have the dog sniff the environment. Throw treats on the grass, the ground and the nearby surfaces to encourage exploration. If the dog is happily engaging in this step, practice a trained behavior the dog has already learned. If the dog is happily performing behaviors they know, begin to train the dog to do something new. If the dog is unable to do a behavior they know, go back to exploring the environment some more. If the dog is able to learn and practice a new behavior, go to a new environment that is slightly busier and start with sniffing again. Always work training practices this way to build a solid foundation of confidence.
Owners who would like their pet dogs to perform therapy work in the future can benefit from a boarding environment rich with knowledgeable people and lots of socialization opportunities. Therapy dogs in the making deserve their own training package. An excellently run boarding or daycare program is a perfect environment to train a dog with new people, objects, surfaces, sounds and situations.
Training should include a lot of downtime in a busy environment. Behind the front desk is a great spot for this, though any area where a dog can watch a lot of commotion without actually being involved will work. Therapy dogs need time to sleep, relax and ignore the sounds, sights and smells of busy environments. Keeping the other dogs and people from interacting with them during this foundational training is key. A therapy dog should be getting a lot of touch and interaction only after they have practiced the ability to remain calm and neutral.
Once therapy dogs begin to interact with new people, greetings should happen in a low key situation. Engagement should begin with people sitting in chairs, wheelchairs, with walkers, and on crutches. Encourage the dog to sit or stand next to the new person and keep their head relatively still and level while being touched. Advance to children and adults who are sitting but loud and animated. Next, have the children and adults sit on the floor and encourage the dog to lie down and remain calm and watchful while they interact.
Separately and without people in the room, have the dog off leash and begin to introduce lots of new objects and surfaces. Allow the dog to sniff and explore as long as they need before practicing known behaviors. Once the dog is happily performing obedience cues in this environment, add in new objects which are louder and less predictable. Each time, allow the dog to sniff and explore to gain comfort and confidence before moving on with training. When the dog is happily obedient in each environment separately, combine the animated people environment with the busy object and surface environment until the dog is happily engaged, yet calm and neutral the entire session.
Adolescent Dogs (5-24 months old depending on the breed)
Most of the time, adolescent dog owners are looking for focus from their dogs. Adolescent dogs still act a lot like puppies in many ways, though the expectations are usually much different. The bulk of work done with this age range should be owner focus, engagement with new toys and treats, while continuing sound and surface socialization with new places and objects.
Oftentimes, playtime with other dogs needs to be limited to just 5-15 minutes, a few times a day while visiting. Supplement their normal playtime with human-focus games such as hide and seek, fetch, tug or food puzzles.
Training just outside the daycare yard is an excellent environment. Begin with focus games and work towards advanced behaviors with multiple minutes of distance and duration. Once the dog is able to happily ignore and respond to cues while other dogs play on the other side of a fence, practice the same behaviors while the rest of the dogs walk past on their way back to their kennels or as they are being dropped off.
Puppies (8- 16 weeks of age)
Puppies this age are not often old enough physically or emotionally to be in a group setting with other dogs. The best way to set up puppy playtime is with two puppies at a time. Rotating the puppies will give each puppy a comfortable way to interact with many different breeds, without risking bullying or over-arousal. Give the puppies a break and take them to another environment rich with smells, objects, toys, sights and sounds. Allowing puppies to watch daycare dogs play from a safe barrier is great socialization. Positive associations with observing new situations is just as important to puppy development as physical interaction is.
Handling is a big priority for puppies, so make sure the training package includes introduction to nail care, having a collar and leash put on and off, towel drying and being picked up.
Keeping puppies in the midst of all the action while keeping them safe from actual interaction is a great way to set them up as future therapy dogs. The more positive experiences a puppy can have with people, objects, sounds and sights, the more neutral and less reactive they will be as adults. Keeping in mind that puppies need to sleep 15-20 hours a day should make training in short bursts relatively easy.
Having specific criteria available for each type of dog as a training package is a great resource for clients. Explaining them as packages makes them easier to sell and easier to understand. Developing goals together creates long term clients and long term success for dogs and trainers; boosting confidence and morale all around.