Pinch Collars No More…..

While working with a Golden Retriever, Sadie, on leash reactivity (which is like saying, aggression or lunging, incessant barking at strangers and other dogs while the dog is wearing a leash), I came to find out the family utilized the dog training services from a local company which relied on pinch collars for getting the desired behaviors.  Well, let me tell you, pinch collars may seem to work with immediate results, but most everyone who uses pinch collars runs the risk of creating reactivity in dogs. I can attest to this as I was instructed by a trainer (before I became a trainer who uses positive reinforcement techniques) to use one on my basket case of a Jack Russell when we first rescued him.  What soon developed and I eventually corrected, was leash aggression towards strangers, other dogs, motorcycles, people on bicycles and even children.  The pinch collar is designed to apply pressure to a dog’s neck when the handler gives a pop of the leash.  Since we’re human, we may not give enough of a pop of the leash at the first correction in order to completely eradicate the problem behavior.  When that happens, the dog develops resistance to the pinch and then the handler requires more and more pop of the leash with frequent intervals to correct the behavior.  What results is the dog associates pain towards those very things you’re wishing for him to stop reacting towards and then aggression is imminent.  Since I was intimidated and highly uncomfortable to use the pinch collar, my timing was off and eventually, the trainer wanted me to lift Jack up by the leash (while he’s wearing the pinch collar) with all four paws off the ground while he was barking.  Let me tell you, he still didn’t stop barking.  I didn’t know what she would ask me to do next, swing him around like a helicopter!

As I’ve become more familiar with Jack, I realized, he is WAY more responsive to positive reinforcement and rewards when he does a desired behavior rather than receiving a positive punishment for a undesirable one .  He’s easier to train, he is able to learn new behaviors in a very short amount of time and even his reactivity to strangers, bicycles and motorcycles diminshed due to rewarding him when he focuses on me and when he’s quiet when we pass any of his triggers.

I’m very happy to have a different approach in training Jack and other dogs.


Hiking with the Bears

A great Sunday for a hike up in the Franklin Mountains!  Jack and Bernie love hiking, from smelling all the nature smells, to chasing lizards and mountain bikers.

Our hike started from our home which is conveniently situated about 1/2 mile from the Chuck Heinrich trailhead for the state park.  We made sure to carry enough water for all four of us since we live in the Chihuahuan Desert and there is no water to speak of up on the trails.  Well, I guess we could strip water out of a cactus, but I don’t know how to do that nor do I want to be desperate enough to do so.

As we entered the park, we started on Tin Mine road which is an old jeep trail.  We took the first left onto Cardiac Road which begins a pretty good climb up some hills.  Eddie and I like to get up the hills before we let Jack and Bernie to sniff, but the bears have a different agenda!  Since we only get to the trails about a couple of times a month, I’ve found Jack and Bernie need to sniff more than if it was our usual route.  So, we make sure to give them some time, but also make sure to get our momentum back.  The weather was cool and a bit windy.  Since we’ve lived here in El Paso for a couple of years, we know what Jack and Bernie are capable of during specific times of the year, so we definitely plan accordingly and get our hiking in during the earlier times of the day and during the cooler times of the year.

We continued up Cardiac until we reached a trail which intersected with Tin Mine and we hiked back down.  The entirety of our hike lasted about 2.5 hours.  They sure do love getting outdoors and exploring…..

Bernie Exploring Tin Mine Cardiac Trail Jack on Cardiac

Some tips for hiking with your dogs:

1. Make sure you plan your route accordingly.  Know your terrain and get a sense of the duration of the hike so you can be sure you bring water and food, if necessary.  Water is a definite!  You can check out for ideas for routes and printable maps.  You can also visit the local state park ranger office for guidance.  There are 2 (that I know of) in El Paso.  One is at McKelligan Canyon and the other one is located at the Tom Mays Unit of the Franklins.  The park rangers are friendly and can answer any questions.

2. Know what you and your dog are capable of in terms of exercise.  The last thing you want to experience is that you or your dog weren’t ready for a major hike, say up Mundy’s Gap to North Franklin Peak.  First of all, there are some major climbs, but also the duration of the hike could take you easily all day.  You want to be sure you are able to safely get to your vantage point and safely make it home.

3.  I would highly encourage you to read the guidelines for taking your dogs in to the state parks.  Check out to read more on the park rules.  Jack’s love/hate relationship with mountain bikers most certainly keeps me on my toes.  Most weekends, the trails are packed with mountain bikers, so I make sure Jack stays on his leash and I maintain awareness of my surroundings wherever in the park.  Some mountain bikers are good with alerting you they are behind you, but at times with a curve in the trail, sometimes  feel like they come out of nowhere!  For that reason and for it being rattlesnake country, I make sure both Jack and Bernie are leashed and not poking around under bushes.

4. A part of the park rules and is a rule of thumb, pick up after you and your dog!  Its important for the ecology of the park and for everyone’s enjoyment to ensure you take out trash which includes poop.  I know I hate carrying around used poop bags, but they make backpack for dogs, so now your dog can carry his or her own waste!

5. I would also suggest to read Good Canine ‘Trail Etiquette’.  This gives some additional tips and things to consider when out for a hike with your dog.  Rules for Hiking with Your Dog

Enjoy the trails and I hope to see you out there 🙂

Impact of Change on our Furry Friends!

Relaxin' after a busy day!
Relaxin’ after a busy day!

My husband, Eddie, is active duty military.  He’s frequently away from the home for days or weeks or months for that matter, for training or deployments.  His schedule can change depending on his mission and his change in schedule, impacts our whole family.  For those military folks, we know ‘going out to the field’ means and there being a lack of regularity to their schedule is commonplace. For those that are not military affiliated, ‘going out to the field’ is just another way of saying ‘my husband, wife, father, mother will be away from home for a few days for work related matters’.  Change is a fact of life and for military families, it happens on a dime at times!  Lately, I’ve seen how the change in routine effects Jack and Bernie.

For our family, every Monday for the past 3 weeks, Eddie left for the field for several days. Without fail, every Tuesday morning, Bernie began exhibiting loud stomach gurgling and refusing to eat breakfast. By the end of the day he would be back to normal and looking for dinner, or in our home, its din din! He didn’t have any other symptoms, so this had me thinking about the impact of stress on our dogs.

I did some research and found stomach gurgling is referred to as borborygmi.  Borborygmi in dogs, while its normally quiet, its just the sound of the intestines chugging along.  If the borborygmi increases in frequency or is audible or is accompanied by other symptoms, please consult your veterinarian, as this could be a sign of serious illness.  In Bernie’s case, borborygmi was an outward sign of stress.  How do I know, well, I kept a mental note of when this symptom began and what events preceded it and since I’m not an expert in diagnosing or treating animals or humans for that matter, I spoke to my veterinarian about Bernie’s situation.  Make sure to talk to your vet for any sudden changes in your dogs.

Like us, dogs can experience stress and our dogs show us they are stressed in a variety of ways.  Signs of stress can be destruction, incessantly barking, sickness or even change in demeanor as some examples.

What a dog to do!  The same way we cope with change is the same way our dogs will too… maintaining the consistent and clear routine!  Since your dog depends on you for leadership, you keep the routine with your dog.

Since Eddie left for the field again on Monday, I was already anticipating Bernie’s stress. Jack and Bernie already have a pretty consistent routine.  We get up in the morning and I take them out to potty.  We return home and they have breakfast and rest.  During the middle of the morning, I’ll take them for a 4 to 6 mile run.  When we get back, they rest. Later, we’ll work on some obedience training and go for a walk and then we come home eat dinner and rest.  Before we go to bed, we go out again.  In helping Bernie cope with the stress of Eddie not coming home for a few days, I made sure we stuck to our routine.  I also emphasized working his brain more with training.  Not only is this a great way to reinforce good behaviors, its also another way to get your dog tired and relaxed!

I’m happy to report today, Bernie exhibited some borborygmi, but not to the same extent as he had during the last 2 weeks and he ate breakfast.  He was a little hesitant to eat at first, he kept seeing where I was as though I was about to leave him too 😦 but within a few minutes he came around and finished everything!

My suggestion is for all those pet parents out there, if you don’t have a routine in place, make sure to get one started.  This will be a huge asset to your dog and your family!  It will help during any life events and transitions which you all may experience at one time or another.  Let me just say too, structured exercise and dog training are a necessity in that routine.

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