I caught up with Aileen from The Perfect Puppy Company who has shared some great tips for mental stimulation and physical exercise for your dog during this time of restriction.
ABOUT AILEEN AND THE PERFECT PUPPY COMPANY
Q. What’s the best way to start the day?
My brain doesn’t function properly until I’ve had a cup of tea, so it has to be that!
Q. Have you always had dogs growing up?
We got our first family dog when I was 12 or 13 and I’ve had dogs ever since. I can’t imagine life without a dog as part of the family.
Q. For how long have you been professionally training dogs and how did you get into this?
I’ve been training full time professionally for 3 years now. Most of my work is private consultations although also run some small group classes. I’m also a tutor with the online training platform Tromplo.com.
I’ve always enjoyed working with all my dogs but it was always just a hobby until I got Charlie, the dog I have now. He’s an ex-street dog from Romania and came to me with many issues, some of which were beyond my skill set back then. So I started working, as a client, with an excellent positive reinforcement trainer. My mind was blown by the power of positive reinforcement training and the change in Charlie. I was totally hooked and started studying seriously and shadowing experienced trainers. Training pretty much took over my life! I eventually decided that life was too short not to do something you’re passionate about and left my previous career to train full time. I’ve never regretted it.
Q. What do you love about your job?
I love pretty much everything about it but there are two things that I really love. The first is helping people understand their dog better. Sometimes when people come to me their relationship with their dog is under strain because they’re stressed by their dog’s behaviour. They’re focused on WHAT their dog is doing but helping them understand WHY their dog is doing it can completely change how they feel about their dog. They can see that their dog isn’t being difficult; he’s finding things difficult. Seeing people move from being angry or frustrated with their dog to understanding and empathizing with them is really satisfying.
The second thing is seeing a dog “get it”. That moment when you see the lightbulb in their head go off and they understand what to do to get the reward is amazing. I’ll never get tired of that…. it’s awesome!
Q. What is the most common issue you come across with regards to dog training?
Dogs with poor social skills are the group I see most of. They can range from dogs who are lacking in confidence and resort to lunging, barking, snapping etc at dogs to make them go away to dogs who get extremely frustrated if they’re not allowed to interact with every dog they see. Teaching appropriate interactions with other dogs (which sometimes means no interaction!) during puppyhood is really important and has a huge impact on the adult dog your pup becomes.
Q. What are your pet-owner peeves?
Seeing people miss opportunities to reinforce good behaviour is frustrating! We tend to take the good stuff for granted and not reinforce it but we do notice when the dog does something “wrong” and then try to correct it. Simply training your eye to notice the good stuff and then reward your dog for it is one of the simplest ways to get more of the behaviour you want.
QUESTIONS REGARDING COVID-19
Q. What measures have you put in place regarding the current situation with the Corona Virus? (Eg, online training classes, restricting physical interaction with clients, etc).
For now, in line with government advice, all classes and in person consultations are suspended. However, I am still supporting clients remotely using technology like Skype & Zoom. It was a bit odd to start with but it’s actually working really well. So if people need help it’s still available.
I’ve also created an online puppy course covering all the things I normally cover in my puppy class so that new puppy owners can still access a class from the safety of their own home.
Q. How has this affected you personally?
I think like everyone else I have good days and bad days. I’m used to working outdoors a lot and being cooped up in the house is definitely something I find difficult. And like everyone else I’m concerned about keeping my family safe. But the enforced downtime has its advantages and I’m catching up with studying and enjoying a slower pace of life.
Q. Considering the current situation with the Corona Virus, a lot of dogs are likely to not be getting the length of walks they are used to. Luckily, in most cases, the owners are home a lot more often to interact with their dogs! Are there any specific training exercises owners can do to mentally stimulate their dogs whilst physically releasing excess energy?
There are loads of things we can do to add stimulation and enrichment to our dogs’ lives while their exercise is reduced. One of the easiest ways is to find new ways to feed our dogs. Bowls are boring so instead why not try scatter feeding in the garden, feeding from a Kong or other puzzle feeder, hiding food around the house for your dog to find? Using food in training is another great way to keep your dog engaged. Any kind of learning is mentally tiring so it doesn’t really matter what you teach…. you could teach paw or high 5. Teach your dog to spin (turn clockwise) or twist (anticlockwise). Sharpen up recall in your garden. Teach them a nose touch. To run through your legs. Anything at all will help exercise your dog’s brain and keep them from being bored. Keep sessions short and fun and keep the rate of reinforcement high.
Q. Would you change anything else about the dog’s routine to combat the effects the current situation and the restrictions of exercise for the dogs? For example, feeding times, walk times, feeding in general and more specifically the amount of treats the dogs are being fed?
I think waiting until later in the day to go out for exercise probably works well for most of us - human and canine. It breaks up the day a little and can stop boredom kicking in too soon. If your dog is getting less exercise you might want to cut down on their daily food intake a little to avoid weight gain. And if you’re doing more training either swap out some food for treats or just use some of your dog’s daily food ration in training, if it’s high value enough. Remember treats don’t have to be calorific. Charlie loves cucumber and carrot so we use a lot of that in training.
I’d recommend building some separation into your dog’s schedule too, even if it’s just going to another part of the house for a while. If our dogs get used to being with us 24/7 for a prolonged period of time there’s a risk, for some dogs, especially puppies, that they may develop separation issues when things eventually return to normal and we return to our normal routines.
Q. What would your advice be to someone who has a lively breed at this time of restriction?
Get them sniffing! Scenting, sniffing and searching are hugely beneficial to dogs. It’s enriching, mentally tiring, calming and really engages their brain. Make sure your walks include plenty of time for just mooching and sniffing. Taking them to the park and throwing the ball for an hour will leave them aroused and “switched on” but mixing up physical exercise with the opportunity to mooch and sniff will result in a much calmer, more relaxed dog.
THE FUTURE OF THE PERFECT PUPPY COMPANY
Q. What are your future goals for The Perfect Puppy Company?
For now, my goal is to continue supporting clients remotely and help them during these challenging times.
Longer term I’m looking forward to collaborations with other positive reinforcement trainers in the Glasgow area and beyond.
Q. Do you have any training classes or events coming up you’d like to tell us about?
I have online courses on offer just now, including my new online puppy course, CyberPups. These are all available for enrolment at any time and you can find out more at www.theperfectpuppycompany.co.uk/online-courses
I’ll also be teaching two courses for www.Tromplo.com later in the year – an introduction to clicker training and a course on preparing your dog for life with a new baby.