Dog Pod Episode #16
Positive Reinforcement Training with Mel Ritterman from Cooper and Kids
Podcast Episode 16: In this Dog Pod episode, we are excited to talk with Mel from Cooper and Kids to listen to her input on Positive Reinforcement Training.
Listen in as Dog Cloud CEO, Scott Groves chats with IAABC accredited dog trainer, Mel Ritterman.
– How science based positive reinforcement training is proven to be most effective, fear free method or training dogs
– Important tips for training dogs and raising a young family
– What “Balanced Training” is why it can hurt your dog
– How to play “Find-It” and why it’s such a good game / distraction
– Why fear-based training is damaging for your dogs and future family life
– Practical, easy to implement tips for families with young kids and dogs
– and so much more in this informative episode…
Learn all this and more on this special episode Cooper and Kids Founder, Mel Ritterman.
Follow Mel @ Cooper and Kids
Have a Question for Dog Pod? – Follow Dog Cloud on Facebook and leave your question.
We’ll aim to answer on upcoming podcast.
Full Dog Pod Transcript : Episode 16
Scott Groves (CEO Dog Cloud): Welcome to another episode of DogPod brought to you by Dog Cloud, world’s first therapeutic massage bed for dogs that we do and on this episode, very excited to have straight out of Melbourne and almost straight out of lockdown, Mel Ritterman. Mel’s from cooperandkids.com, and Cooper’s your… Now I have to get this right, What sort of dog? Is it a golden?
Mel Ritterman (Founder Cooper and Kids): It’s a golden retriever [crosstalk]. He was my firstborn.
Scott: I thought so. Yeah, gorgeous-looking animal. He’s beautiful. Nine years old? I first came across Mel off a blog post that was an Australian dog lover about Reform Dog Trainer and I want to talk a little bit about that today. I think it was such an interesting topic and I get it that the learnings we have and how we evolve over time. So maybe we could start off talking about that and we’ll talk about some of the concepts that you like to teach but, one of the things that really got me interested and the reason why I wanted to get you on the podcast is because of the type of work that you do with your business, you’re out, then you specialize in a lot of stuff to do with dogs and kids, particularly young kids. Now, we both have kids the same age, my wife is another Mel, so we have a lot in common which I thought was kind of cool too, but we both got a 6-year-old and a 2-year-old puppies and young ones and…
Mel: I’ve got a 5-year-old and 2.
Scott: 5 and 2 yeah, our’s just had a birthday a week or so ago and turned 6 so with young kids and dogs and it’s a difficult thing and it’s a big challenge. So I really want to talk about that today as well but, Mel, welcome to DogPod.
Mel: Thank you for having me, thank you. I’m glad that you stumbled upon my article because I really got it up there on Australian dog lovers because I wanted to try and spread the word, you know, you live and you learn. You make mistakes and can’t dwell on them, but you can learn from them, and I think that’s what my whole business is about. It’s about so many of the mistakes that I made in my p vast and really helping families and dog owners just to not make those mistakes themselves.
So when I started out my dog training kind of “path” that was back in 2010. You know there’s so many different methods out there. It’s like parenting you know, some people use harsh punishment, some people use positive parenting, it just, there’s different parts but I’m a science-based trainer. So my training is based on what’s being backed by science and these days, it’s now positive reinforcement is the way to teach any living being. It is the best way that we learn. Punishment doesn’t actually teach the learner what to do. Yes, it can stop a behavior that you don’t want, but it can then, as a result, elicit fear in that dog or anxiety or stress, or nerves, or whatever it is. So even though you might get quicker results, that way you are often have a dog that has issues down the track. That is just, it doesn’t fix the emotional underlying issue of what’s going on.
So, as I said, when I started out, I was led by a trainer who used correction colors and, dipping leash pops, and that sort of stuff to teach the dog not to pull on the lead and that’s the path I went down. Not when I was training. Just when I got Cooper. I wasn’t training at that point and it worked a little bit but then it didn’t. So I was really striving for other alternatives and what can we do to help our dogs that doesn’t hurt them. I sent Coop off, stay with a girl when we went away and he would have been around one at that stage, and he wasn’t walking well yet on the lead and she “fixed it”. He came home with his huge patch of hair missing on the side of him. But it worked well, and I always wondered what she did to him, you know, and it just terrifies me Cooper hates being patted on the head, he will forever. I mean, lots of dogs, don’t get me wrong, lots of dogs don’t like that because they’ve got a bit of a blind spot, but he is very noticeable in how he ducks and if someone goes for more than once, he might actually bark at them to let them know “please stop.” And I always think, was it that incident staying at that girl’s house that she did something to him that really damaged him.
You know, nowadays if you want to teach dog to walk nicely on lead without pulling. Grab a front clip harness, get a trainer. Let’s teach some loose lead walking. Let’s reward the dog when they’re doing the right thing. Let’s not hurt them for doing the wrong things. I mean, we have dogs because we love them. Why would we want to hurt them? I just don’t get it but the industry is totally unregulated, and that’s the problem. I have clients come to me with dogs that are fearful because of this forceful training that they’ve used, but they didn’t know any, that they got a dog trainer and they trusted them. So, it’s so important when looking for trainers that you do, you know, specify force-free. The Pet Professional Guilds Australia is a great resource as well, for finding force-free trains well.
Scott: It’s kind of true. It like this stick and the carrot off and only works when the stick is present, right? And then when you remove all that sort of stuff, then it’s sort of back to what is happening, you know, what the dog doesn’t know? do they? None of those things are present anymore as cues on how to behave. So talk me through, ’cause you’re a member of what is called the IAABC, can you, first of all, tell us what the hell that stands for?
Mel: It means International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. That’s where I’ve got my accreditation through. It’s like the PPG. It’s an association, it’s an organization, its International and I did a big exam, if through them to get my accreditation and then you have to have continuing education units to keep up your accreditation through them. It’s a great resource as well, lots of lots of information on their website too.
Scott: Yeah, I love it. Let’s talk about the reformed thing first, can we? and then, roll into some of the specifics things you teach now with clients, with kids and stuff, but the tell us about how you’ve seen things change, the changes in the last decade, your experience and maybe whether it’s personal, what you used to do or what you’ve gone to. What you’re seeing more effectively work the stuff, the old-school stuff that just is really outdated and doesn’t work. I think it’s really important to share this stuff because it like, Dog Cloud, we’re all about quality of life for dogs, right? That’s plain and simple. It’s how do you improve the quality of life for dogs and I like what you said about it, it’s evolved and we evolve with it, and we should evolve with it, dog trainers should evolve with it as well. So talk us through some of the examples and yeah, real obvious things that you’ve seen.
Mel: Absolutely. So I think I have just did a post on my Instagram yesterday about this, like three common myths that people believe with dogs and it’s all about, you know, the pack leader and feeling the need to dominate over your dog and they will only listen to you if you’re the boss, you know all of those kind of thoughts, have now been debunked by science, so that isn’t backed by science anymore. What I said to you before about the positive reinforcement, and actually teaching dogs what to do that is all backed by science now as the best way that the learner will learn and you know, that’s also how you build a beautiful relationship.
It’s actually you know, building trust and respect with your dog and like you said, it’s constantly evolving and I’ve been listening to all these things in YouTube recently there’s this if you’re a real dog nerd out there, it’s called “Beyond the Operant” and it really just goes into even looking beyond the science behind positive reinforcement training and looking even further, like looking at the dogs genetics, the environment they in and there’s so many factors that we’ve got to look at when, you know, focusing on dogs and what we need to realize is that their dogs, they’re not the same species as us, and this is a big problem in the pet dog industry is that, we bring these dogs into our homes and we just expect them to know what to do and how to cope, when really, there are a different species and, you know, it’s like putting a lion in a cage at the zoo and saying “alright, just be happy” you know we’ve got to do things with them that enrich their lives, like yes, training and positive reinforcement training is one aspect, but it’s not everything, you know, it’s about giving in to their breed traits and what they need, their requirements, their specific breed if they were bred to work and to herd, we need to give them outlets to be able to do that. Otherwise given, they might pick up the garden and [crosstalks] you know.
Scott: Yeah, we got one of those.
Mel: Yeah, and that’s it, and you’ve also got to “look at some of those again”. Those naughty behaviors is that often, they are just natural dog behaviors. Dogs naturally, they dig, they bark, they’re allowed to, that is a natural way a dog communicates and plays and explores the world but in our human world, we class that as naughty. So it’s just that giving them outlet to do these things in a way that are okay in our human world. So I know kind of went down a different path [crosstalks] but that’s.
Scott: No, It’s good, because it gives some background to where you’re going with your approach and, your approach is unique and, I like the focus that you have on it. And one thing you talked about in the blog is that it kind of the two really practical tips you’ve got is really the reward and ignore. Can you say go into, maybe explain a little bit about that approach.
Mel: Absolutely. So this is for dog owners and for parrots big time, because we use it with our kids too, is if you want to see behaviors happening more, that you like, reward them! So, as dog owners and also as parents with young kids, we’re so quick to jump on the negatives, and look at all the bad things that they’re doing, but so often we missed the good stuff. So, if we can acknowledge the good stuff and tell our dogs or our kids, how good they are when they’re doing the good stuff, they’re gonna do it more.
If we can ignore the bad stuff up with stuff we don’t like, it’s going to happen less. Okay? But you know, for example, a dog jumping on someone at the front door. Yes, we’re going to ignore that because we don’t want to reinforce it but then we also want to be able to train an alternative behavior like sit, when someone walks in the front door. So yes, reward and ignore is great but there’s also that other element of training a desirable behavior as well, when necessary. But yeah, it works with my kids too! I was having issues with my 5-year-old the other day just keeps getting so out of control naughty and my mom just said to me, she’s like “bring back the rewards chart” and she’s so right! I brought it back and his behavior just improved. They love to please and they love to get it right and so do our pets so yeah.
Scott: Yeah. Is it… in humans we get that, when we get rewarded with something our brains give us that shot of dopamine and we get that Reward Center activated. Same thing in dogs?
Mel: Absolutely! for sure. So, yeah where you can, acknowledge the good stuff, let your dog know, and it doesn’t always need to be with food either. You know, with positive reinforcement training that’s a big one is, yes, when we’re training a new behavior, we use food, and when we’re training really important skills like teaching your dog to come when you call them, we’re going to use food a lot at the beginning until they get that, but then we want to build in other again forces too.
So you want to be able to use the “good dog”, or a pat, or a game of tug, or a play with the ball. But, what does “good boy” mean to a fresh puppy? You know, you’ve got it, they’ve got to learn what that means as well, so you can’t use that initially. You can absolutely pair it with the treats initially so that they start to learn but yeah, food at first, and then we slowly wean it down. I still take food with me to the dog park. When I go with my kids and my dog, just on the odd chance or in case something happens, and I need to call him back. And I’ve also, you know, when I’ve seen stray dogs as well to be able to get a hold of him to so.
Scott: Yeah, nice. And, do you find foods are really good interrupter to when the dogs are getting over-excited, you find that something that sort of pulls their attention back to you. Is that another example of how you might use that, or?
Mel: It really depends, for example, my dog, because we’ve been in COVID lockdown, on and off, since what? March last year, it’s now June. He gets really over-aroused now when we have visitors come over and, you know, I don’t say over-excited because I’m not sure if it’s excitement. I think it could be overwhelmed because we haven’t had lots of visitors in the home so I’m really actually mindful about what food I use in those moments and I do use food because I want to reward his calm behavior, but it’s really important that I used really low-value food. If I use food that’s too high value in those moments, he can’t settle, he’s too hyper, it’s just too much for him because he just wants it, and he can’t relax. So, I actually just use his dry food in those moments when he is, as I said over-aroused. And I think that’s the same with dogs too if, you know if you’re out at a dog park and you just got to be careful with where and when you use food in those moments. It just depends.
Scott: So can you just, you know, that was great and I think just, there’ll be some people that, you know, I mean, I’ve got a mate who’s a first-time dog owner and look, I hear what you’re saying and I get what you’re saying with high foods low-value foods. Can you maybe just explain that a little bit more with some specific examples and times when with Cooper, you might use a high-value food and what that food is, why you’d use it in that moment and I get the low-value food with the dry food. It’s not as Gourmet, but how, could you maybe just explain that there will be some people that just won’t quite get, maybe how and when you might use those and some distinctions.
Mel: Oh, so, like I was talking before about reinforces, you want to have a hierarchy so you want to have what he’s up to the very top of your reinforcer list, and then you want to have ones down the bottom and like I said, probably good boy is going to be down the bottom. Whereas, a piece of roasted chicken is going to be at the top with a steak. You know, it’s gotta have all those little pieces in between and you’ve got to know when to use them. So, like I said before, teaching a dog to come when you call them, can save your dog’s life. So I have had three puppy clients in the last few months, have their puppies run out the front door, and they’ve stopped in their tracks and thought “Right? What would Mel do?” and they’ve, instead of chased the puppy down the street, they’ve just shouted out the dog’s name “Cooper, come!” and the puppies come running back to them and that’s because they’ve got a very strong learning history of getting really high reinforcement food.
Every time they hear their name with “come” And the more we can hear those words, those cues, like “Cooper, come” with something really high value, the more they’re going to remember it. The more it’s going to be learned and embedded in their brains and they’re going to come running back when they hear it. Even on that odd time when you don’t have the food. So like I said, when we’re teaching it, we want to use high value when they’ve learned it at home and they’ve got it. Absolutely. You can bring it back down and start using some kibble, or, I love using fresh fruit and vegetables too, you don’t even need to go out to the pet shop and buy, you know, really high-value treats. You can if you want, I use wag, I use their kangaroo liver treats, when I’m using dog food, but my dog will work for anything.
So yeah, we use cucumber, carrot, apples, pears like, whatever scraps of food, the kids have leftover. You’ve got to find what they work for and once you dog has that skill in the house, then taking it out onto the street or to a friend’s house, or to a dog park, that’s a whole new level. So you bring back those high-value treats again when you’re in those new environments because that’s going to be harder for the dog and more challenging. So yeah.
Scott: Yeah, So you transition them into the home into lower-value food which kind of checks at the behaviors working, the commands are working, and then you can go out to a more stressful unfamiliar environment with more craziness going on in [crosstalks] and go back to, I like that.
Mel: Exactly. That’s it and when you find that they’re not working, it’s because they’re not motivating enough for the dog, they’re not rewarding enough. So if they’re not working for what you’ve got, yeah, then either if the dog’s not hungry, or they don’t like what you’ve got and you’ve got to go something even higher. So you know, you can use their meal for your training and that way they are hungry, I haven’t had breakfast, you know. So you just think about it like that.
Scott: I was going to ask you about their meals because my immediate first sort of question is, how do you then mix up what you’re feeding them at meal time versus their treats and the example in our home and we do a lot of cooked chicken and barbecue chicken and rice and mix it up with some dry food and stuff here or there. But she eats pretty chicken and rice like a human kind of sort of stuff. So for me to find a high-value treat is almost like a typical meal. It might not be that exciting. How do you, how do you do it? How do you do it with your meals? And how do you recommend?
Mel: My advice is if you are wanting to training with your dog, is to stop free-feeding the chicken in a bowl. You know what a waste? You used that chicken in those moments and you want to teach your dog something. Absolutely. You should be saving that good stuff for teaching moments, for sure. Yeah.
Scott: And then just feed dry food and scraps and other stuff the rest of the time.
Mel: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s really important because like, you know, I’ve got a Golden Retriever and they’re so prone to arthritis and weight issues so I’m so on top of his waste, you know, if you know how much dried food in a day, your dog’s meant to be getting, you want to portion that out in the day and also know that if you’re giving extra things to actually pull back on some of the dry food. And this is for dogs for puppies, getting good quality puppy food and the right quantities is really important.
But for older dogs, absolutely, you can just remove some of the portion of their dried food and add in fresh food. It’s so good for gut health and mood and behavior. It’s great to have all these extra things, but do it in a creative way. Don’t just feed it in a bowl. You know, feed it in a, if you’re not feeding it during a training session, use, I know what we’re on a podcast here, but I’ve got so many different enrichment toys that I use for my dog. You know, there’s the KONG Wobblers that they’ve got to roll around to work out how to get the treats out. There’s Licky Mats. There’s another great option is scatter feeding the food so if you’ve got a garden you can just get your dog’s meal and throw it in the garden and get them to find it, and that’s a really beautiful way to get your dog to use their brain. It’s a form of enrichment, dogs, weren’t meant to eat out of bowls, you know they were meant to scavenging and foraging for their food and it’s really enjoyable. It’s a great way for them to use their noses like they were meant to.
Scott: Yeah I love that. Yeah, It’s a terrific recommendation. Talk to me a bit about balanced dog training. You mentioned it in the in the article and obviously we’ll put the article in the link of the podcast and on the on YouTube and stuff as well, but the balanced dog training. Can you maybe talk a little bit about that and what it means and what it was about. So balanced dog, training is a training that uses both methods positive and punishment. Yeah, that’s that’s pretty much what it is. So I.
Scott: Why do they call it balanced?
Mel: [inaudible] Because I do use [inaudible] in a training. But I will also use a correction collar or punishments and spray bottles and things like that where they enforce fear on a dog. You know, I had a client the other day tell me that she had a “positive” trainer come out to her. But he told her, when the dog barks she throws spoons at it, and I mean that isn’t training.
Scott: Oh my God!
Mel: And that’s not gonna teach them what to do especially not a fearful dog. So that was her big red flag when she called me and said, alright we need a we need to change this training.
Scott: That is unbelievable.
Mel: Yeah, just be mindful when you are looking for a trainer you do want and you know there are going to be trainers that might listen to this and totally disagree with me. It’s like what I said to you before, it’s like parenting with all of our different opinions and our different theories. This is just me, I think if we can train a dog, and this was my big takeaway message in that article. If we can train a dog and we can teach a dog using beautiful methods, that don’t hurt them. Why wouldn’t we use those options? Even if sometimes it takes a little bit longer, you know, we love our dogs, they’re part of our family. Let’s treat them like that. Yeah, let’s make them trust us and not fear us. Yeah, that’s mine. I really love that because I think at the end of the day.
Scott: It’s also about how we can look at ourselves in the mirror and go, for me to get a result. I could do it this way. I got frustrated, I resorted to this and we started throwing spoons at our dogs. I mean, I hope I sleep well at night, you know, that’s, I can’t believe that, far out. Oh my God.
Mel: I know
Scott: Let’s talk about, let’s talk about kids. I think a huge challenge is and look we’ve just experienced Lunas, 9 months, 10 months, old now, I’ve lost count, nine months, you know, puppies and young kids is such a challenge. You’re trying to teach a 2-year-old or a 4-year-old how to behave, so that you can help train a dog, you specialize in this. I love that you’ve built your business around it. You get calls from families all the time to consult on this sort of stuff. Talk me through your philosophy around this because it is a really challenging time and then this, maybe maybe share some nuggets of wisdom.
Mel: Look, there’s so much to unpack when we talk about dogs and kids, you know, I do, I’ve got one area of my business that focuses on expecting parents and babies and, dogs, and really preparing the dogs, the baby, the life of the baby, as well as then moving into toddlerhood when they start crawling and walking because that stage for a dog can be really really frightening. But then the other part of our business as well is helping families with young kids that want to then introduce a puppy into the home and how to do that safely and how to train the dog and how to train the kids. And that’s a really big one and I know you’re brave, like, you got a puppy with a 2-year-old. That is something that [crosstalks] that’s actually something I…
Scott: I don’t know what we were thinking.
Mel: My recommendation is usually to wait till the youngest child is about 4 to 5 before bringing a puppy into the home. But every family and every circumstance is different, just to have really beautiful management in place, you know, using playpens and baby gates and things like that to help control the madness. The reason for my recommendation of that age is because 4 to 5-year-olds listen, you know. they take on instructions, they take them on board and every moment is a learning opportunity for a puppy. So throw a 2-year-old in the mix puppy jumps by it, nips, chases, whatever it is that you don’t want the puppy to be doing, the two-year-old is going to run and scream and wave their arms in the air and do all the wrong things.
That’s just going to reinforce all those behaviors. Whereas when you’ve got a 4 or 5-year-old, you can ask them to freeze and stand like a tree and be really still until the puppy moves away. And that’s a really big tip that I use with my family, is to stand like a tree. I’ve got a blog post on it on my website as well. That’s got some images to show you exactly how to stand. It’s something that is great for when the puppies nipping, jumping, or even chasing you, or if you walk into a friend’s house and they’ve got an older dog, and it’s really excited and you’re just a bit. You don’t like it. You can just literally stand still, hold your hands together and stare at your feet and do not move and that is a stance for parents as well, to see their children doing and know that that moment is when they need to step in and help.
So often when a puppy sees you freeze like a tree. They might actually just sit at your feet because when you freeze like a tree, you become really boring. So if they do see a child can absolutely reward the puppy and give them a pat and say, “Well done”. But it could also be an opportunity for the adult to then call the puppy away and just give the child a break from whatever was going on.
Scott: Yeah, I love them. Just to rewind for say, you said that toddler stage can be really dangerous for dogs as well. Can you just explain why?
Mel: Yeah, so when kids are literally, from the age of moving till about 4:00 they’re unpredictable little drunks I guess that’s the right term for that no? The milestones that they go through, you know, from a newborn to rolling, to sitting, to moving, to climbing, to crawling, to stand. All those milestones that they go through. We know that they’re coming. Okay, because we’ve got all the apps and we’ve got all of our friends and Instagram Pages. We follow that tell us what is coming next. But dogs don’t. So for a dog that’s never been around kids before and then all of a sudden they see this blob doing nothing, all of a sudden then crawling towards them trying to grab them, that is incredibly frightening, it can be incredibly frightening.
And a little saying family, paws that we use is invites decrease bites so we want to give our dogs choices. We don’t want the kids to be closing the gap.
If we, even as adults want to engage with our dogs, we should be calling our dogs to us and giving them the choice. And if they want to engage with us, we engage. If they don’t, we leave them alone. And that’s a really hard thing for a toddler to understand. So as parents, it is so important to be on top of management like I said, when your little one starts crawling. Get a playpen, get you know and I love a pipe in for the child. It doesn’t necessarily need to be for the dog. I mean you can absolutely have one for both if you want you can use baby gate, dog too. But your dog will feel so much safer if they can have a resting place where they know that they can be undisturbed and this leads me, I guess bit of about body language, because when, you know, when you hear about, yep. Go, sorry.
Scott: So I just wanted to throw you a kind of a live case study from our family life and then we’ll come back to body language if that’s okay. So let me give you a scenario and you probably get this almost in every home. You go do with a 2 or 3-year-old when our dog Luna’s asleep. 2-year-old goes up wants to lie on top of it. Hug it, wakes the dog up, the dogs not resting as good as it should, you know, we’re trying to tell CJ to stay the hell off the dog but that’s a constant challenge for us. You know, the dog finally settles goes for its relaxed time. It’s sleeping on a bed. Kids, go up, climb on the bed, climb on the dog. Wake the dog, disturb the dog, dog’s getting grumpy and look, we’re got a very, very patient dog. She’s not biting the kids. She’s not very tolerant. She is learning to be extremely tolerant with these kids, which is amazing. But it’s a challenge.
Mel: It is a big thing that I preach Scott in my articles is we shouldn’t let dogs tolerate things. We just shouldn’t. We want them to enjoy their interactions with kids. So it’s your job and it is so hard, I have a two-and-a-half-year-old myself and it is such a hard age, but we need to constantly be reminding them a sleeping, a resting or an eating dog, must be left alone. And I don’t want to alarm you but I absolutely have had clients, I had a golden retriever client recently bite a 2-year-old in the face for that exact reason. The parent, the dad had his back to what was going on. He was on his computer working and the child jumped on top of the dog. While the dog was asleep and golden retriever bit the 2-year-old in the face.
So it’s just, you know, a sleeping dog, we let sleeping dogs to sleep, we let resting dogs to rest and a big thing I teach all my clients and my child to is we wave, we blow kisses. Oh my gosh, the dog looks so cute but he’s sleeping. We’re going to leave him alone. Let’s blow a kiss.
Scott: I love that. Yeah, and this is a great example Mel, of what you said before and maybe it’s a mistake that you know, I’m making with the kids too. But instead of just telling him, don’t do this, don’t do that. We’re not giving them instruction on what they should be doing. So I love these little alternatives, you have a blow them, a kiss or I think that’s great.
Mel: That’s probably one of my biggest take-homes with working with kids and dogs is to not always say, “no, no, no, no, no” But to have other options. So, we want to be, we want to be proactive, we don’t want to be reactive, and that is a huge take-home message, you know, where you can see your toddler approaching your dog. Instead of jumping in and saying, “no, no, no, no, don’t do this” you know, how can we redirect our toddler away or how can we redirect our dog away because if we also keep reacting in a negative way, we could potentially create a fear or a negative association between dog and child and we really don’t want that to happen.
Like, you don’t want Lunar to be scared of your 2-year-old approaching or vice versa. If, every time Luna approaches your child. You don’t want them to then be scared of the dog. Yeah, so the more we can be proactive, the more we can give them the things that they can do and reward them for doing it correctly. The more they’re going to do that.
Scott: Yeah, I love that and we don’t want to be raising the stress levels around it either so I don’t to be raising my own stress levels either. Now, I love that, it’s a terrific approach and I remembered reading that when I went through, cause I’ve read your blogs and that key point of dogs, not just tolerating but enjoying the behavior I think was it really hit home for me actually just even reading that because it’s so true, we think “oh geez, the dogs doing great because look, how accepting she is of the kids who are doing this and shouldn’t be or – but there’s a tipping point right where that can go really bad really quickly and there’s nothing we could do to stop it, but it’s not, that’s not really the lifestyle we’re trying to create for these dogs. We want them to just have a great time and really enjoy the interaction. So that was a really key point for me, when I read through your stuff, it’s one of the things I really loved about your work. Um.. body language, let’s talk body language.
Mel: Body language, so, well body language comes, you know, I think it should be taught in every single puppy school, in every single dog training school. I don’t know why it’s not the first thing that is taught. But it’s how you build a relationship!
Scott: Why do you say that? Why is the importance of it so profound?
Mel: Because if you can tell when your dog is happy, you can do more of what makes them happy. If you can tell when they’re uncomfortable in the moment, we can help them. We don’t have to put them through those situations where they feel uncomfortable. So, you know, we hear about dogs biting children out of the blue, but I promise you, they’re never out of the blue. It’s just a matter of about missing the signs and I can put my hand up and tell you, when I had my first two kids, I didn’t have a full understanding of body language and I have a beautiful amount of photos to show for it.
That I thought were really cute and now I look back at them and I actually realized my dog was not enjoying those situations. He was tolerating them and he was giving me body language signs very clearly that he was feeling uncomfortable and I was missing them.
So, you know, when we hear about kids and dogs, we hear people say you got to supervise, never leave them alone, but if you don’t know what you’re looking for, if you don’t know what the signs are, if a dog feeling uncomfortable, then really, what does supervision mean? So yeah, body language is crucial, there’s so many reasons. In the kid and dog space, just in general. And if you take your dog to a dog park and they’re hating it, why stay? you know, put them on the lead and go for a walk instead. You’ll have moments like that the vet or at the groomers where they might be feeling a bit stressed and we can we can pair that with food and try and make it positive but there are situations where they do have to push through sometimes but body language is.
Scott: So, where are you looking on a dog? So for people and I know you got a good blog on this as well too. I think you show some photos, don’t you? of your family and some before and afters of, is it all Cooper, when Cooper or was young or was there? is that right? Or yeah, okay cool. Now I got that right. I did read them. Yeah, I went through these are great but it was about a week ago. Where are you looking on a dog for, for a lot of people, they might just be listening as a podcast for this summer will tune in visually by YouTube and we can obviously I’ll put your links in out of these blog.
So I think people should really go look on cooperandkids.com and have a look at the blogs have a look at the photos and see what you’re talking about because it’s subtle to the untrained eye to the trained eye. It’s really obvious and these things are becoming more obvious for me but I kind of know where you’re going to say but can you elaborate on where you as a trained dog trainer, where are you looking for these body language cues?
Mel: So it’s about looking at the whole body and about looking at the whole situation, okay? So a dog that yawns when they’re tired, about to go to sleep, or just woken up. It’s probably just a tired dog. But a dog that is lying there resting on the floor and has a toddler crawling over to them. And then lets out a really big yawn. It’s likely that yawn is not a sign of being tired, but actually a sign of feeling a little bit stressed and conflicted and in that moment because they actually don’t want that toddler to approach them.
So, what I want you to do is I want you to look at as I said the situation. But overall body of the dog as well, you know, a really loose swaggy dog is generally a happy dog. Whereas, a stiff tense, dog, is generally a dog that’s not so happy and a tail can wag even if they’re stiff and this is a really big misconception, is that people believe that a wagging tail always equals a happy dog and it absolutely doesn’t. So, a loose relaxed dog with a you know, a little too relaxed, I’m sorry I’m doing all these movements but we’re on a podcast, you know and that’s got a really loose backside and the tail’s wagging quite free-flowing you know, with a relaxed face is probably a happy dog. But a dog whose body is stiff, its tail is raised really high.
It could be moving really fast, is more likely a dog that’s on really high alert and if you’re out walking you probably want to avoid that dog. Whereas a really slow, low wag is a dog that’s feeling nervous, stressed, unsure in a moment. So we want to again, give that dog a bit of space if they’re feeling a bit stressed-out or uncomfortable and then, it’s about looking at the eyes, the ears, the tail, the muzzle. It’s about the whole pieces of the puzzle, you know, looking at where there is being, and the more you can look at your dog when they’re happy and when they’re relaxed, the more you’ll be able to notice the difference when they’re not and that’s a big thing I tell all of my clients because I can show you all these photos but every breed and every dog is different. So it’s about really learning to understand your dog and in that moment. But some of the subtle things that people often miss, the yawns, lip-flicking so a dog that’s flicking their tongue. I had a client send me a video, they thought was so cute of their dog.
They were like holding their dog up and dancing and the whole video, the dog is constantly flicking its tongue and afterwards, when we talked about Body Language they were like, “Oh my gosh! that video” and then “Oh my dog was terrified” and he just wasn’t enjoying it, you know? But It’s really beautiful because now that like, once you know that stuff, it’s so easy to see and to just stop. You see that your dogs not enjoying it? Okay, let’s stop. If I Pat my dog on his hips, like I told you before he doesn’t like it. Yeah, he’ll let out a yawn. So I’m like, okay he doesn’t like that. Give him a scratch on the back and “Oh he loves that. So I’m going to do more of that.” And what else is there? There’s a tense mouth. That’s another one. So we’ve got that scrappy[?] and we’ll have a really relaxed mouth.
Scott: That’s when you captured in some of your photos really well too and that’s one I’ve not noticed myself all that closely but that become a lot more obvious once I saw the photos on your blog, I thought that was really interesting. But yeah, so all around the. It’s a really good one to look for, obviously.
Mel: It’s communication, you know, I played fetch with Cooper the other day and I was throwing the ball backwards and forwards and his face was really loose, happy, and relaxed. And then in one of the shots, I held onto the ball a few seconds longer and he tensed his mouth and then I threw the ball and he relaxed, you know? and it was that was his way of communicating “Mum. Come on, hurry up” speed things up. It doesn’t mean he’s gonna bite me, you know? It just means he’s going to tell me something and where we can, let’s listen, let’s learn to listen and understand and help.
Scott: Yeah, because their body language is their words, isn’t it? I mean, it’s the way they’re trying to-
Mel: Yeah, that’s it. Like when dog bites happen it’s often not the dog’s fault. It’s just that there were so many different bits of communication happening that the people missed and I have this really nice ladder that I often show on my socials. It’s called the aggression ladder. I don’t like that it’s called the aggression ladder, I feel like it should be called the ladder of communication. It’s actually not on my blog post on body language [Note: it is now. Mel added it to her blog]. I really want to add it in because it’s really important to show you how many steps there are before a bite and you’ve got a look at a bite as you know, the dog has given you all these signs that they’re uncomfortable, and you’ve just missed it.
You haven’t seen them. So, they have got no other way of getting out of this situation that they don’t like and when you hear a growl, so growls, are really important.
A growl is one of the steps before a bite. So, when you were hear a growl, you should never ever punish it. Yeah, you’ve got to really look at the situation and think “Hey, what just happened?” and “How can I never let that happen again because my dog really didn’t like that” Okay? and that’s especially around kids, you know, I have some clients who, their kids are picking up the puppies and the puppies are already growly and kids just shouldn’t be picking up puppies.
So you know, as soon as you hear that growl, you’ve got to think. “Okay, we’ve got to stop that from happening. Let’s tell the kids that if the puppies growling, it could bite next.” So yeah, communication. I love it. I love body language is one of my favorite things to talk about and to teach people about because it’s so important.
Scott: Yeah, it’s a cracker. I’ve got a good idea for you. I think you should scroll through, everyone’s dancing Instagram dogs, and all that, and then you could capture them and show us all the happy ones versus all the other grumpy ones because the.-
Mel: Oh…you just can’t even look on social, you know, especially when it comes to kids and dogs. When you kind of look at the hashtag and dogs, it makes me cringe, so a lot of-
Scott: Some of the stuffs really scares me. I see photos of, you know, kids going right up face-first to a dog and my sister was bitten right in the face when she was a young girl, and the dog, got a right over the top lip and underneath and I still remember it happening and in the hospital and all that sort of stuff when we were young kids. Never forgot it. And but again she shouldn’t have been, you know, right up in a dog’s face that way. And I wasn’t there when it happened.
Yeah, it can happen so easily but that photos like that really make me cringe. I think what’s about to happen and really that worries me seeing stuff like that out there. Yeah.
Mel: Yeah and that’s why when you understand and you can see body language. You can tell if the dog is enjoying it or not and if they’re not you just stop the interaction. As I said, redirect them away from each other, teach your dog to come when you call them or to go find daddy or like have some different skills that the dog to split up that moment.
Scott: Can you give me maybe two or three things that you would use as good diversions that you mentioned saw before like a tug-of-war game or stuff like that. But what are some diversions you would use to just kind of change the scenery and change the tune for a dog so that they can shift their focus?
Mel: A really really easy one is to tell the dog to “find it”. So this is one that requires zero skill. So let, I’m going to just give you a scenario. A 2-year-old walks up to a dog, grabs its coat and gives it a pull, instead of saying to the toddler, go and give the dog a kiss and apologize. We’re going to throw a handful of treats on the floor and tell the dog to find it and we’re just going to redirect the toddler away.
That is a much better way of saying sorry to the dog, then going in for a kiss after you’ve just hurt them.
Scott: Yes, love that.
Mel: But yeah, I’ve thought so I find it is literally just dropping a few treats on the floor telling the dog to find it. That is a great way to kind of separate, you know, and just redirect the mind from what it was doing. What else, as I said calling the dog over to you and my husband and I we’ve got like a little thing going that you know if I say to him call the dog, he’ll call the dog and he comes running, that’s a really good way as well to redirect in the moment. But you know also to have different things that your dog can do, like asking them to go to their bed or asking them to go get their toy.
I’ve got a retriever it so I’m lucky enough that he loves to retrieve things for me. So I’ve named certain toys and I can say go got your rope, and he will go get his rope and bring it back to me and it’s such a beautiful [inaudible] it’s just switching his mind. You know, if a child was approaching or a situation was about to happen that I could see him feeling uncomfortable with. Yeah, or even just a simple “Cooper, come” you know, it just to get him away from that situation.
Scott: Yeah, I love that. Yeah, I do that with Lunar too, I say you know “Lunar get your ball or get you Kong” She actually knows the difference between Kong and ball. I found that really good. Yeah it’s good and they go hunting for it. They go searching for it. It works really well. But I love that, I love the find it. I’m going to-
Mel: You can redirect the child too
Scott: Yeah with food on the floor. Yeah. No, I’m joking! I’m joking! I’m joking! I’m joking! I’m joking.
Mel: I saw my little one back when he was about to stomp onto his tail the other day and I was lucky enough that I had one of his favorite toys sitting next to me at the time and I just said “Brooks, look, I’ve got the truck!” and I played the noise and he just turned around and came straight over to me and that just stopped that situation from happening, but you know, like baby playpens and that sort of stuff is great to use to kids and dogs when he’s can’t be so on top of it.
Scott: Yeah. Awesome. Me, I really love your approach. I want to thank you for being on today. Do you have maybe one or two sort of takeaway messages you’d like to leave with dog owners when you finish a consultation that sort of parting bit of advice that you want to leave and look up as we finish up I want to really encourage everybody to go and check out cooperandkids.com, if you’re in Melbourne, and you want to see Mel, get in contact, get her out and come and see you. You’re on Facebook, Instagram. All the usual socials. Yep? What’s your best to follow from a social point of view?
Mel: I probably do a lot on Instagram, I do a lot of Insta stories and I’m constantly sharing stuff on body language there and giving tips and advice. I do share most of it on the Facebook as well, so either or really. Yeah, I had a little, I forgot where I was going. I was going to say my-
Scott: Parting advice, I was going to ask about.
Mel: I think it’s just get educated, you know, we’re always learning. I’m always learning too and I just think the more you know, the more tools you’ve got to have to be able to use. So the learning never stops, just build a beautiful bond with your dog based on trust and respect and teach that to your children.
That’s one thing that we didn’t talk about, you know, our kids model our behavior. So the more we can do the right things in front of our kids, the more they’re going to copy and they’re going to learn from us. So that is super important too.
Scott: I love that, Mel, thank you so much for being on today. We will have to have you back again and we’ll try and get Cooper on as well, love, he’s a beautiful dog. You got a beautiful family. Yeah. And we really enjoyed chatting with you today. All the best as lockdown relieves down in Melbourne for you and kids back to school and life’s back to some sort of semi-normal and now we’re all hanging. All right, take care. We’ll see you again soon. Thanks Bye.
Mel: See you