We love learning from pet experts here at Door Buddy and expanding our pawrenting knowledge. So, when the opportunity to go LIVE on Instagram with Sara Miles came up, we grabbed it! Not only did we want to help our audience get answers to any questions they had, but Sara also shared some tips for dog training.
For those who like to learn how to train your dog visually, watch the replay here. For the rest of you, grab your notebook and pen; it’s time to learn from the expert dog behavioralist!
WHO IS SARA MILES?
Sara is a qualified dog trainer and behavior expert, and proud owner of Smiles Dog Training. She specializes in working with fearful, reactive, and aggressive dogs.
Sara also helps growing families. She’s a wonderful human being, and we had a pawsome time chatting with her!
Sara offers in-person training in Phoenix, Arizona, and provides virtual sessions and online courses too. Her Instagram feed is full of helpful and free resources - a must-follow for pawrents who want to learn more about tips for dog training.
DOG TRAINING BOOT CAMP WITH DOOR BUDDY AND SARA MILES
Again, if you missed our live chat, you can watch it on our Instagram page here. Otherwise, enjoy our dog training boot camp recap below! We hope that these tips will help you navigate the best way forward with your pooch.
Door Buddy Team (DB): Our dogs all have different personalities and can react to various things. One may dislike other dogs, and another may be fearful of or aggressive towards other humans. Is there anything you would recommend people do when they have an anxious dog who is reactive to these situations?
Sara Miles(SM): Yes, absolutely, there are many things we can do here. The first thing I would recommend people do is to get familiar with their dog's body language. Often, we can see the more subtle signs that are precursors to the more significant, more reactive, fearful behaviors.
Once you identify that your dog is uncomfortable, you can change the situation. Giving your dog some instruction to guide them through their feelings will help prevent things from getting out of hand.
Another great thing to do is to work on building skills because most of the time, our dogs are just doing what comes naturally to them rather than what we want them to do. If we develop their skills, they will be better equipped to manage a difficult situation and get through it.
DB: Usually, everyone thinks that cats and dogs can’t be friends, but obviously, that’s not the case! Is there anything you can recommend if your dog is struggling with cats?
SM: If your dog has had a traumatic experience with cats, this can be difficult to overcome. Although I will say every cat is an individual and every dog is an individual. You might have dogs that don’t do well with particular cats and vice versa, but they do well with other cats. It’s not always a case of the relationship never going to happen, and you’ll know your dog best and what’s appropriate.
It’s okay if your cat and dog aren’t the best of friends. Even my own dog has lived with cats in the past, and he’s had some not-great experiences and some good ones, so we do take it on a case-by-case basis.
What is important to remember is that cats need plenty of vertical space to get out of the way, and like to be part of things without being right in the middle of the action. Setting up these safe spaces, like with a Door Buddy, will be a great way to facilitate this friendship.
DB: Let’s talk about repeated negative behavior. You’re saying “no” all the time, but nothing's working. In these cases, instead of going to the punishment, is it better to work with them and create boundaries? What can we do to show them how we want them to behave?
SM: We’ve got to remember that we chose these dogs to be a part of our families, so we need to set them up for success with management. This can be as simple as using a Door Buddy to keep your dog out of a room you don’t want them in and preventing them from getting into the litter box, or it can be something bigger.
We’re asking our doggos to live with us and do things we want, so positive reinforcement training is a great way to teach them and show them what works. However, every situation is different, and every dog is an individual, so while this information is general, we’ll also tailor the training to each dog’s needs.
DB: When it comes to Door Buddy, some people are concerned that if you have a motivated dog, they will push up against Door Buddy, ruin the door, and they'll still get into the cat litter or food.
Similar could be said with dogs in muzzles, where if you put a muzzle on an aggressive dog, they get more agitated. How do we prevent or change this behavior and calm the dog down?
SM: In those situations, we have a dog who is very motivated to do something, so when we throw the muzzle on or attach the Door Buddy and expect it to work, we haven’t addressed the motivation. If we don’t address this motivation, we won’t solve the problem. We want to make sure we help our dogs feel safe and give them something else to do if it’s more of a scavenging behavior.
If your dog is desperate to get into the litter box, we have to give them another outlet for this type of behavior. It’s really about thinking about what we can do to make sure we’re training and managing our dogs properly and redirecting them so that they avoid the behavior. Interrupting the behavior and getting your dogs to do or focus on something else will help here.
DB: What are some other ways to reward our dogs without giving them an edible treat? We obviously want to watch their diet and make sure they’re getting a healthy amount of calories.
SM: So realistically, the whole world is full of reinforcers, right? When our dogs are trying to get to that bush to smell or pee on it, that’s a reinforcer in itself — having access to that bush and getting to do those activities.
So we can use the concept of access as a reinforcer - creating a “yes” space for your dog to do what they find fun without us shouting “no” all the time. We can use play as a reinforcer, and we can use physical touch if our dogs like that, or happy voices and lots of playful things.
It’s really about finding what your dog enjoys and what motivates them. You can then use these things as reinforcers.
Also, when it comes to food, we don’t have to give huge treats. When I’m working with 50-pound dogs, they’re probably getting treats the size of my pinky nail. We’re just using the treats to say “yes, that was a good job,” and encourage them to keep working well, and they’ll keep getting the good stuff.
DB: While we’re on the topic of a dog’s diet, let’s circle back to chatting about the dog getting into the litter box, and that being scavenging behavior. We’ve found that scavenging in the litter box is more due to a nutrient deficiency. Does diet play a large part in our dog’s behavior?
SM: Absolutely, and something to look at is that your dogs love to work for food - it’s just kind of the back end of that when they try to get into the litter box. They may be seeking out additional nutrients in what was food or something in their diet they are looking for, so they are trying to ingest as much of it as possible. In this case, it’s something to chat about with your vet.
In other cases, when they get into the litter box and eat something, they might often think it tastes pretty good, and so they will keep doing it. Until we put management and training in place to redirect them to other things, this will keep happening.
DB: So we know as pawrents when we see our dog eating out of the cat’s litter box, it’s gross, and we have a big reaction. Is this big reaction reinforcing our dog’s litter box snacking?
SM: Yes! This is actually something that many people do (and not just with litter box snacking). Owners will have a dog that does something they don’t like and react to it. The dog will notice the reaction, and next time they are looking for attention and aren’t getting it, they know what works.
We need to just let our doggos know that we don’t love whatever they are doing or have done and redirect them to something else instead. We want to let the dogs know that this way of getting attention is not going to work and instead show them another, better way of doing that.
DB: With Door Buddy, people think it can be mean to dogs. When it comes to reinforcements, is there a thin line between trying to help your dog and creating a negative association or an adverse reaction?
SM: Yeah, so realistically, when we’re using things like Door Buddy or baby gates, or anything that prevents them from having access, we need to look at the deeper problem. If you don’t want your dog to have access to a particular room, then maybe that is a problem for them because that room also happens to be where you work all day. You might be preventing your dogs from having access to you.
Can we change the environment? Can we teach them to be comfortable hanging out outside of that room for a few hours so that we can do what we need to do? Teaching your dog to be okay with spending time on their own and doing their own things can be really helpful for their success, without having to resort to scary punishments.
DB: What are some of the basics you can do when bringing home a new dog to help this dog feel as comfortable as possible?
SM: Whether you’re bringing home a new puppy or an adult dog, the first thing we want to do to help them is giving them time to settle in. Allow them some time to decompress whatever stressful experience was coming to your house. You want to make sure that they have their own space and that the other people and animals in the place have their own space.
We want everyone to accept the new concept of having a new dog in the house and establishing a routine before building relationships and having interactions.
DB: We’ve heard that scents play a large role in introducing new dogs (or babies) to existing pets. Would you agree with this?
SM: Yeah, I actually recommend a very subtle version of this, instead of using the blanket with the pet’s scent. We want our pets to get used to this new scent, whether of another pet or a baby, without making it a big deal. If you make the smell a big deal, then the new arrival becomes a much bigger deal when they finally do meet.
I always recommend a closed-door at first, so everyone feels safe, but Door Buddy is a good stepping stone from the closed door to the open door when introducing new pets.
DB: We know the old wives' tale, but can old dogs really not learn new tricks?
SM: They can learn new tricks as well as any dogs of any age. The main thing we want to take into consideration is their physical abilities. They may not be able to sit repeatedly or lay down on hard surfaces. Take your dog's needs into consideration.
They absolutely can and love learning new tricks, and it’s a way for them to engage and communicate with their human.
DB: What is the best way to socialize and train a puppy when they aren’t fully vaccinated yet?
SM: Yes, this is a great and really important question! The socialization window for a puppy is only up to that 14-16 weeks, and most puppies aren’t fully vaccinated until after that. We need to take advantage of that socialization window, and there are many ways we can both do socialization and training with our puppies while they are very young.
There are a lot of virtual training options right now - I actually even have a puppy pre-school - but I also recommend we look for opportunities where we can give our puppies some exposure to the world without it being a threat to their health.
I suggest doing little socialization adventures, where you maybe just go and sit out in your front yard or porch and let your puppy smell and hear the things out there. You can also drive to a shopping market parking lot, hang out in your car with the windows down, and let your puppy process, see, and hear what’s happening.
DB: With puppy training, is it better to get your pup onto a schedule or go at your own pace and see what works?
SM: So I always recommend that my puppy pawrents record when their pup is going to the bathroom as they are starting to set up a schedule because we want to make sure it’s the proper schedule for the person and their puppy. There is a lot of general advice out there, and every puppy will be different. By tracking it, you can work out what works best for everybody!
As for a schedule, you want to take your puppy out to the bathroom after they’ve just woken up, eaten, are drinking lots of water, or even after play. This will help them establish a routine and prevent accidents from happening regularly.
DB: People who have dogs with separation anxiety and that get destructive when they are not home; what would you advise pawrents to do in this situation? How do we make our pets feel secure when we’re not physically able to be there?
SM: There are a couple of things to address before we get into separation anxiety in dogs. Occasionally people will think their dog has separation distress or separation anxiety because of destructive behaviors in the home. They may just be bored and not know how to be alone, so they just start looking for stuff to do, and it’s not necessarily the correct behavior.
We want to make sure that the concern is evaluated by people who are experts in separation anxiety to really make sure it’s not just boredom with which we’re dealing. If it’s a real phobia, we need to address the issue and offer the dog the proper support it needs.
Working with a professional trainer who is an expert in separation anxiety will be helpful here, and I can refer people to some great trainers who specialize in this. These dogs are great candidates for virtual training. Also, working with a vet who specializes in separation anxiety or an animal behaviouralist will be helpful. There’s a lot of support available for you and your pup.
DB: As a dog trainer and expert, we’d love to know why you would recommend Door Buddy to other pawrents? What is it about our product that you love?
SM: It’s the perfect solution for everyone to use that door that they are trying to keep their dog from entering no-go rooms. Door Buddy is so easy to use, it’s so easy just to unlatch it, and you’ve got your regular door, so it doesn’t hinder you from going in and out of a room. If you think about Door Buddy versus a cat door or baby gates, there are many reasons why baby gates aren’t a good option based on an individual's physical capabilities.
There’s also the door stopper in the Combo option that can be put on the door so that there’s no danger of any situation where the door closes and leaves someone out or in. It’s a thoughtful product, and I love it and love recommending it to my clients!
HOW TO TRAIN MY DOG
There are so many benefits to training your dog, and it does help with making them feel like part of the furmily! In saying this, it takes time and patience to see and enjoy results, but it’s all worth it. So, if you’re looking to do an in-person session, get searching for “dog training near me” and get started.
If you're asking yourself “how to train my dog,” then chances are you need a little advice from the experts and probably some reinforcements. You're onto a winning combination between Smiles Dog Training and Door Buddy.
We learned so much from Sara, and we hope this answered some of your questions about how to train your doggo. Thanks to the internet, we no longer have to worry about searching for “dog training near me” and can also enjoy virtual classes and sessions with our favorite trainers, like Sara.
At Door Buddy, we'll about bringing our pawsome audience helpful content. If there's any subject you'll like us to cover for our next Live, follow us on Instagram and let us know.
Here’s to becoming better dog pawrents and creating a safe and happy space for all furmily members to exist in!