Saturday, August 27, 2016

Family Trail Dog Selection and Training Tips

     Family Trail Dog Selection and Training Tips

Service Dog in Training

   Recently a fellow Hike Like A Woman Ambassador was discussing adding to their family with a new dog. She had many questions about what breed to choose for protection, good behavior around children, and of course a good trail dog that fits in with their active lifestyle. I know a local trainer and have used him with Kennedy, so I offered to do a sit down with him.  Hopefully I could help her and others in their decision making process when selecting a family trail dog as well as get a few training tips to turn that average pooch into a trail star.
Kennedy, my Jackshund (Jack Russell/Dachshund Mix)
  I sat down with Clay McElya, Owner of  Wren's Pet Lodge here in Marshall County, Kentucky. Wren's offers numerous services including grooming, boarding, and various types of training. Clay is certified as a dog trainer and has been training dogs for over 25 years.  He trains canines for drug/bomb sniffing, personal protection, Service, Skilled Companion, and basic obedience. Wren's is also a member of the Canine Good Citizen Program established by the AKC. On occasion Clay also donates his services to the local animal shelter and Humane Society, training dogs with behavior issues so they can be adoptable and find their furever homes.

Clay on a training walk
  One of my first questions for Clay was about breeds, what breeds are better suited than others for hiking and backpacking? The answer wasn't very cut and dry. There is no real definitive answer and it mostly depends on the individual dogs personality as well as the humans. Dogs are just as, if not more quirkier than humans, one is not identical to the other even if they are from the same litter. Just as certain canine characteristics that work for one person may not work for another. Please keep in mind as we move forward these are generalizations and may not be indicative of every dog of a certain breed or type. There is no way to account for every possibly canine personality or breed variations.
  The most important thing that Clay stressed was picking the right canine companion for your lifestyle and your climate. Smaller breeds such as my Kennedy are great for short hikes, they typically have the energy and stamina to keep up with their human companions for a few miles but usually wouldn't last on the long haul and can not pack their own supplies. This rule seems to also transfer over to some medium sized breeds as well such as Labrador and Golden Retrievers with the exception of these breeds being able to carry their own supplies.  I will say Clay was very fond Labradors, there is a reason they are the most popular breed in America. They are very versatile, tend to be family and kid friendly. 
   Breeds such as German Shorthaired Pointers, Weimaraners,  or a Belgium Malinois may tend to be better for backpackers as their energy levels are high for longer periods well as being capable of carrying their own supplies. I was advised if you want Belgium Malinois be prepared to walk......a lot.  While an internet search may show Border Collies as a good hiking companion they tend to want to investigate things which can be a hindrance on the trail depending on your hiking style. Researching breed characteristics is very important to finding the right breed for you.
   Any breed of dog with a long spine or breeds prone to Spinal problems, such as Dachshunds, Basset Hounds, Lhasa Apso or Shih Tzu should never carry any additional weight. If you choose a breed of dog like the aforementioned then decide to hit the trail be prepared to pack your canine companions supplies for him/her. Most of these breeds tend not to be good for long distance hikes as mentioned before and canines who already have back issues should not attempt hikes unless cleared by their Veterinarian. A good point about smaller breeds is by being smaller they don't require as many supplies as larger breeds which makes packing supplies for them easier.
  A very important factor to consider when selecting your trail dog is Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome (big word, thank God for Google). Brachycephalic means "short-headed" and refers to a combination of throat, nasal, larynx and trachea issues that impede breathing. Examples include Bull Dogs, Boston Terriers, Pugs, and Boxers. Besides the obvious reason with breathing issues for these breeds not being good trail dogs there's another, they tend to overheat more quickly. Dogs pant to cool themselves off, breathing issues can impede their panting and therefore impede their ability to cool off which could lead to a heat stroke.
  I hate to do it but I have to talk about color, no there is no dog racism going on. Dogs that are darker in color, dark brown or black for example, reflect less heat. They actually absorb heat and can trap it in the layers of their fur so if you're hiking in a sunny and hot climate you may want to take color into consideration also. If you are a cold climate hiker a dog with black fur will keep himself and possibly you warmer. There's time on the trail for snuggles, right?
  On these points I will mention my Mom has a Boston Terrier and I know them to be true first hand. Buddy the Boston struggles to cool off after walking some distance in the heat and you have to watch him close to make sure he doesn't overheat. He can overheat just laying around a campsite in the Summer which is magnified if he's in the direct Sun. 
  Protection is one reason a lot of people get a dog though not the sole reason for the majority of dog owners. Dogs can alert us at home to people arriving or odd sounds and out on the trail to the presence of animals and snakes. It's important to be in tune to their behavior and not immediately dismiss behavior as bad out of a typically well behaved dog. Knowing the difference in your dogs bark, whine or a pause when they normally charge ahead can be a signal. A strong pack bond will give a majority dogs, big or small, enough urge alone to protect his pack. Dogs tend to be territorial and his pack is his territory no matter the location. You don't want an overly protective dog either, one who acts nervous or aggressive at the first sign of physical contact between you and a person who is not well known or a stranger. 
Again researching breeds can determine those with traits towards protection and a professional trainer can tune these if necessary.
  I also asked Clay about selecting between pure bred dogs, pups and rescues for a family trail dog. His answer surprised me a bit.  I'm more prone to thinking that getting a dog while young will allow them to grow up accustomed to your lifestyle. He stated that if you weren't breed particular to go down to a local shelter and interact with dogs a bit older than puppies. This way it's easy to see if the dog has engagement with you as well as being driven.  Drive is willingness to chase things such as a prey drive, throw a tennis ball or a stick the dog wants to chase after it or retrieve it, this is also engagement. The dog should show he/she wants to interact with you, engage in petting, playing, affection, walk with you, etc. The dog should also exhibit interest in you, if you move he/she should take note and follow you. The drive for food/treats should be present, the dog will follow any food or treat in your hand. If a dog lacks these traits, training them to be a good trail dog or even for basic obedience is going to be an obstacle as they won't respond to rewarding for good behavior. They have to want the reward otherwise training is moot. An aloof dog that pays you no mind, does not follow and will not interact with you is more difficult to train to say the least.

Clay on a training walk,
notice where the dogs attention is
     Clay also told me that if a dog is stressed or in fear you can forget about training. Fear and stress release hormones into the brain that affect memory. This is true in both humans and dogs. If your dog is stressing or fearful it's best to work towards making them more comfortable with the situation and fortifying pack bonds (yes your dog thinks you're his pack) than proceeding with behavior training because the poor pooch won't remember what your trying to teach him. If you notice the dog you're considering adopting is fearful or easily stressed keep in mind extra work will be needed before the  prospective puppy pal can begin obedience training.
  So you've selected the perfect canine companion for your family, now it's time to start training. If you've selected a pup don't wait to start training. At just 7 weeks old you should introduce them to a collar and leash so they become accustomed to it. No retractable leashes!!!! A standard 6 foot leather leash gets the best behavior and the most out of training. Retractable leashes apply constant pressure, albeit a small amount, and pressure should be used to indicate that you expect a behavior change. Constant pressure confuses this training process.  
  Socialization and a lot of it is a very important part of training for good behavior.  Take them to different parks, walking trails, and hiking trails allowing them to become accustomed to travel and new places. Take them out for lots of walks correcting pulling, tugging, and other behavior issues along the way. The dog should always respond to the person with the leash. If a certain family member has the leash then that person is in charge and the dog should respond accordingly. The dogs attention should be on the person holding the leash not on another family member, dog, or squirrel. You will need to restrict interaction with others when walking initially until the dog forms a bond with you and understands the person with the leash is in charge.

It's not all work at Wren's
    A good way to reset and correct from bad behavior to make the dog stop, sit and wait before attempting again. You may need to repeat several times till Fido gets the point. It is okay for your dog to be in front of you while walking but it should be with a lax leash. The leash should dangle between you and your dog and your dog should not be straining at the end of it. The dog should also be watching you for direction changes, he/she should not be "leading" even if walking ahead of you. You can change direction, 180 or 360 degrees, many times if necessary to teach your pooch to keep an eye on you, to wait, and he/she is not determining your direction.
   If you have a persistent puller I recommend seeking out a trainer to give you the tools for a better experience walking or hiking with your dog. Pulling risks injury to you and your dog. It can turn a hike or walk into a miserable march and possibly damage your dogs trachea. That's how Kennedy and I met Clay! I tried everything, even a no choke harness and he would pull till he choked himself. I made the investment for one training session with Clay and the proper professional collar. It's a difference of night and day.
    If you should happen to end up with an aggressive dog, take it to a professional trainer. Do not risk injury to yourself, another person and a sad ending for your pooch. Aggressive behavior can be corrected but it is best reserved for those with the right training and know how.
   Fido is bonding with the family and learning new things but say he/she is having trouble getting the hang of a few things. Time to find that trainer! Word of mouth is always wonderful but here are a few things to look for to make sure the trainer you choose is right for you and your pooch:
*The best trainers have years of experience and have trained hundreds if not a thousand dogs or more.
*Body language of the trainer should immediately let Fido know whose in charge
*The trainer should be able to quickly read the dog and determine his demeanor.
*If the cost is cheap it's a good sign the trainer is new or new to the area (proceed with your own judgement)
*You're going to need to know how to apply everything Fido is learning so the trainer should take the time near the end of training to include you as well. 
*Should the trainer have a waiting list, consider it a good sign.
*You can also ask for a free evaluation, this way you can watch the trainer work with your dog before coming to a final conclusion.
   If you happen to be local to the West Kentucky area or just in the neighborhood Clay invites you to message him on Wren's Pet Lodge's Facebook page and tag along with him on a walking training session. If you don't have your own pooch he can even lend you one! What better way to get your exercise in and get some useful training!
    I learned a lot talking to Clay during our sit down and his experience is evident just from conversation. He doesn't claim to know everything or how to handle every single issue that arises in dog training but he's not afraid to reach out to other professionals and accept suggestions. He also has a willingness to refer people to other trainers or boarders if the wait for training/boarding is to long or need too great. These traits show me that Clay and Wren's Pet Lodge isn't just about grooming, training and boarding. They care about giving and getting you and your pooch the best service possible. They not only care about the quality, they care about the end result and making sure your pack is a happy pack.
  Major thanks to Clay McElya for taking the time to talk with me and allow me to pass on this valuable information!! Thank you, Clay!

Happy Tails!!!!



1 comment:

  1. I know Buddddy can not take the heat for hiking a long trail,being a Boston Terrier he gets hot to easily