Pawsibilities NY

Blog

Can I Comfort My Dog’s Fears?

As a fairly new dog trainer, doing this job for just over eight years now, I have already come across my first real opinion, and training style, change. For those of you who have met me, and know me, you know I tend not to be hard on dogs, but I did subscribe to the belief that an owner can reinforce his dog’s fears by trying to comfort his dog. I never told an owner to approach a fearful dog with the outlook of “too bad, get over it,” but I did tell owners not to say things like “it’s ok” when their dog shows fear signs.

I even followed this own thought with my horses while horseback riding. I have a somewhat “hot” horse, who tends to think things such as branches, tree routes, or snow piles, could all be a threat. He snorts and freezes and his head shoots straight up. Sometimes it is so bad that there is nothing I can do to get him to continue forward, and I can feel his heart beating in my legs. I certainly never tried using punishment, as I have a clear understanding that you cannot punish fear away, but I did just sit on his back and wait for him to get over it.

There have been several studies done by a lot of well respected dog behaviorist, and they have discovered that the idea of being able to comfort and reinforce your animal’s fear, is fairly inaccurate. The definition or reinforcement is to increase behavior, so if comforting your dog while he is afraid is reinforcing to him, he should become more afraid the next time he encounters the thing that caused that fear, and your comforting. The fear should increase if it is being reinforced. Anyone who has experienced fear while in the presence of a person who provides them with great comfort knows, this person can help us feel better.

In counter conditioning I teach the concept of the good follows the bad. So if your dog doesn’t like strollers, they are the bad, but he likely loves some tasty food, so this can be the good. Every time a stroller passes, your dog gets a treat, and eventually your dog isn’t worrying about the bad thing, but instead focused on the good that follows, this is like taking you child to the toy store if he is good at the doctor. If we apply this concept to a fear related response, the old thinking would tell us our dog should become more afraid of the stroller, as his fear is being rewarded with a treat and thus reinforced, but this isn’t what happens. The dog responds to the counter condition (when done properly) and becomes less fearful, therefore the reward is not reinforcing your dog’s fear because he does not become more afraid.

Your praise and comforting voice, is a reward for your dog too, especially if he isn’t new to you. This praise and comfort can be the good that follows the bad, especially when the bad is bad because of fear. The key to this working, I have found, is that your cannot be afraid of the things your dog is showing the fear of, because he will know your comfort isn’t real. If your dog spooks and get nervous about skate boards for example, it is probably easy for you to comfort your dog because you are not likely afraid of skate boards. When a skate board passes tell your dog “it’s ok, it’s just a skate board” in a comforting and stable voice. If the thing that makes your dog afraid, also makes you a bit afraid, then it will be best to just do what you can to get your dog out of that fear, and you too. If you have a little Maltese, and there is a big Shepherd in your neighborhood who makes you nervous, and your dog too, skip the comforting because you cannot comfort your dog while you are trying to comfort yourself.

I have been testing this very concept with my horse. Lately it hasn’t been difficult with all the changing snow piles, every time I go out to ride, there are different formations, that my horse is convinced are Polar Bears out to get him. I usually only get to go ride twice a week, and rarely two days in a row. But each time I have gone, for the last three weeks, I have tried comforting Saffron, my horse when he gets nervous about the snow piles. Before I started this, I would often deal with his fear by turning around, or waiting until he settled and could pass by, which could have taken up to 15 minutes in the past. Just this past weekend I went out to ride and after only 30 minutes I was able to walk my horse right up to the snow piles, and even through one big snow pile, without a flinch! His fear clearly has not only not gotten worse, but it has dissipated, even with my infrequent training sessions. Just imagine what you could do for your dog if you commit to two 5-minute sessions a day!

You should never flood your dog, or drop him into the deep end and see if he will learn to swim. Flooding is an ancient and inefficient way to try to deal with fears. Taking an animal and dropping him in the middle of his worst fears, will not only not work, it is cruel and can likely cause more problems. As I said you cannot punish fears out of you dog either. If your dog is anxious about being alone, so he barks and cries, you cannot use a “training” collar to correct this problem, because you are simply punishing your dog for saying he is afraid, this will not make him more comfortable and less anxious, it will do quite the opposite. Applying counter conditioning and desensitization needs to be done carefully, please consider consulting a professional if you feel your dog could benefit from a counter conditioning and desensitization protocol. At Pawsibilities we can help your dog to over come his fears with a humane and effective approach.

By in Behavior Modification 0

Does Your Leash Turn Your Dog into Mr. Hyde?

Does your dog turn into a growling, snarling, crazy Cujo while on leash? Or maybe a cowering scaredy-cat who hits the deck? This can be a very common problem in crowded areas such as cities. If your leash changes your dog’s behavior, chances are, he is leash reactive.

The first thing to do is define your dog’s triggers, and be as specific as possible. Is it other dogs that set your dog off? If so, which ones? Are they larger? Or maybe black dogs set your dog off? The more specific you can be, the better! Other common triggers include: children, people whose appearance is different, fast moving objects, things on wheels such as skateboards, or strollers. For some dogs it is only a problem if they are on leash while the other dog is not. Many dogs who are leash reactive to other dogs, are perfectly fine with when off leash.

It is helpful to think of your leash as a pair of handcuffs. Of course not in the criminal sense, but more in the sense of how limited you are, or would be, while wearing handcuffs. Imagine you are at a dinner party and you are the only guest wearing handcuffs, you would have to ask for a lot of help with things you could normally do yourself. It could be frustrating, and it would be limiting. The same is true for your dog while he is on leash; he gives up most of his control to you. Dogs have a fight or flight mentality and most adult dogs who have spent any amount of time leash have learned that the leash eliminates their ability for flight, so their only option is fight!

If you have turned to a choke or prong collar because your dog is out of control on leash, and you felt you had no where else to turn, unfortunately those tools can really worsen leash reactivity. Prong collars hurt your dog. This is how they work; through painful punishment to lessen behavior. This means that if you are using a prong, your dog should be pulling less, if he is not, you are just harassing him with a painful tool, but not affectively training any behavior. Now think of it in your dog’s eyes; he gets out of your boring apartment, and right outside is his best friend! Hooray! He is so excited to see him and get to socialize a bit, and he runs to greet, and BAM! He is snapped directly in the throat with hard metal pins of a rpong collar, OUCH! He feels that pain, and right after seeing another dog. This happens three or four more times and your dog will start to believe that it is the other dog that causes this painful pinch. Next thing you know, you bring your dog outside and see his best friend, but instead of bounding toward him happily, your dog snaps, growls and barks aggressively. You can’t blame him, he is saying “stay back, when you get close I get hurt!” I have seen exactly this scenario more times than I can count. The truth is even if your dog is on a flat collar and you jerk it when he sees other dogs, or any of the above triggers, you can cause this same problem, but with any of these painful tools, it happens a lot quicker.

No matter how badly you want to, you cannot punish the fear out of your dog. The other most common cause for a dog to be reactive to something is lack of experience, which usually causes the dog to be weary of these things. Again you cannot punish your dog into being alright with something he doesn’t understand, instead you are teaching him to not like these things, and building a negative association.

The best thing to do to avoid this, is to train your dog! Train your dog outside on leash to listen to you, and heel! Next, if you are lucky enough to have your pup while he is still in his crucial socialization period, then you want to socialize him like crazy. See my blog on socialization: To Socialize, or Not to Socialize: This Is the Question.

If your dog already suffers from leash reactivity, it might be best to contact a certified behavior consultant. I think this is the most common problem I deal with in the city on a daily basis! Every dog seems to have something that causes him to trigger, even if it isn’t as serious as some of the others. You want to work to desensitize and counter condition your dog to his triggers. The key to desensitization is it can never be too easy. This means that you want to expose your dog to his trigger(s) in a way he can accept, so that he notices, but does not react. The easiest way to do this is add space, or less exposure time. Usually you can curb your dog’s reaction if you can get far enough away from his triggers, or can interrupt his eye contact before he fixates. Counter Conditioning is working to change your dog’s mind about his triggers. This is like the idea that if you see someone you don’t like, and you scowl at them, but then you look in your pocket, and wow, there is $100! Then the person walks by again, and you think, hmm… and check your pocket, and again $100, by the third time, you aren’t scowling anymore, you might even look for the person! that is what we are hoping for; that instead of your dog fearing the encounter with his trigger, he will look forward to it!

We want to do this with your dog by playing a game called “where’s the trigger?” If your dog’s trigger is other dogs, then the game is “Where’s the Dog?” Again give your dog enough distance to not trigger, so maybe sit on a bench where you know dogs will pass, near a dog park, pet store, or vet. Let the dogs pass and let your dog see them. Try to beat your dog to triggering, so he only needs to look at the other dog for a moment before you have him look back at you and then get a treat. You can even point at the dog and say “where’s the dog” to your dog, then use the treat to lure his eyes to yours, praise and reward him. Little by little you can move closer, or allow him to look at the trigger longer, but the key is to eliminate his triggering, so you don’t want to push it, it is a lot like gambling, quit while you are ahead!

This is not an easy thing to accomplish and most trainers even have decoy dogs, or fake dogs to help with the training. If you are seeing behaviors like this from your dog, don’t wait, contact a professional, because every time he is allowed to trigger it is making this behavior a more practiced behavior, and even a habit.  The sooner you get started on correcting it, the easier it will be!

By in Puppies & New Dogs 0

The Keys to House Training Success

House training, or lack of, causes more dogs to be re-homed every year than any other behavioral issue. No one wants to live with an animal eliminating all over the house, no mater how much you love your pet! If your dog is healthy, and has seen a veterinarian, who has told you there is no medical reason, then there is nothing stopping you from having a house trained pet! If you ever think that your dog simply cannot learn something, remind yourself that dogs are taught to lead around blind people. There is little they can’t be taught, but it will require our time, patients and consistency.

Can my dog use pads indoors and also go out for walks?

It is my experience that this is confusing for dogs! It is best to pick one, and keep this message very clear. Either your dog is allowed to eliminate outside, or he uses pads inside, but not both as this is too much of a mixed message. Also if you have a second home your dog will need to be house trained for this home as well! Even if your dog has shown you he is completely house trained in your apartment, do not take this to mean he will be house trained in your country house. The first time you bring your dog to new places it is best to be sure he has eliminated before he goes inside, and it is a good idea to monitor him and his behavior in this new environment, in a similar fashion to when you first began house training.

5 Rules of House Training

1. Supervised or Confined: your dog is either in you direct supervision, in her crate, or in an appropriate potty spot (outside or pad).

2. Learn your dog’s Schedule: Take her to the right spot as often as necessary. Keep a log to learn your dog’s habits, and when you can predict her potty time bring her outside, or to her pad.

3. Reward her every time she gets right! When your dog eliminates in the right place, give her lots of praise, and three small treats in a row. Make this reward bigger than any other!

4. Don’t scold accidents you didn’t see: If you catch your dog eliminating in the wrong place, then quickly get her to the right place. We don’t ever want to scold accidents we didn’t catch because next time your dog may try to get rid of the evidence by eating her poop, or even worse becoming too afraid to eliminate in front of you!

5. Clean up all accidents well: Do your best to not clean up in front of your dog, she may try to imitate you, and this can also lead to coprophagia.

We consider habits to be changed once a dog has gone 30 straight days without having any accidents, so you should not consider your dog house trained until you have had at least 30 accident free days! I also encourage owners not to fade the food rewards for house training… ever! Certainly make them more sporadic so that your dog isn’t expecting a treat every single time he eliminates, but every once in a while he does get rewarded for getting it right. This will keep your house training in tact, as your dog will never know when the sporadic reward is coming, so he will try to keep up the behavior! Rainy, cold or snowy days are great days to add a reward.

If you are considering sending your dog to a house training boot camp, please be aware that this will not definitely solve your problems as your dog may learn not to go to the bathroom in the house where he is doing his boot camp, but not in yours! House training is the one thing that you have to be committed to with your dog, trainers and dog walkers can offer support and help, but as a dog owner it is really up to you at the end of the day to be sure your dog learns the proper potty habits. Take the time to do it right so that your dog never finds himself homeless over such a simple thing!

The Things You Shouldn’t Share with Your Dog

There are a lot of things in our environment that can be very hazardous to dogs. A lot of us have heard that chocolate is bad for dogs, but what else is on this list, and what can you do if your dog does ingest a poison? Hopefully this will help you to better understand those things that you need to keep far away from your dog, and what to do if your training and management fail.

It is a very good idea to teach your dog a formal “leave it” command. To me this means a command that teaches your dog the behavior of turning his head away, or backing away from an item that he will never get. This is not a parlor trick where you will release the “leave it” and allow your dog to “take” the item. If you have taught “leave it” this way, I would just teach the behavior the way I have described with a different command.

Human medications can be very hazardous to your dog. Ibuprofen, and antidepressants are just two examples of drugs that can be very dangerous. I find it is best to take any medications behind a closed door with your dog on the other side! Management is the safest way to deal with medications as your dog can dive for, and ingest a pill more quickly than a box of cookies.

Be very careful when applying your dog’s flea and tick prevention! If you have a small dog be very careful not to use a dose for a dog that is much larger, or be cautious not to use the entire vile if you are on the lower end of the suggested weight. Also be very careful about placement of the oil, use a fine tooth comb to separate the hair directly between your dog’s shoulder blades so you can get as close to the skin as possible. Be careful about petting the area, especially if you have children! Discard the empty vile by placing it a plastic bag, one of your dog’s poopy bags can be a good option, tying it tightly in a knot and bringing it directly to an outdoor trash. Don’t risk your dog getting into the garbage and eating this!

Some seemingly healthy foods are very dangerous for dogs. Avocados can be deadly, they contain persin which acts as a poison causing vomiting and diarrhea. Grapes, raisins, milk, onions, garlic cloves, and macadamia nuts are all to be avoided as well. When cooking with any of these foods, chocolate too, I find it best to block your dog out of your kitchen, or use your leash to tether him away from the area. This way if you drop something it will not cause him any harm. If he cries or begs then try a food stuffed toy, you can read more about food stuffed toys in my previous blog: The Kibble-Dispensing Toy Comparison. Some foods that aren’t too healthy for us can cause more problems for our dogs, such as alcohol, coffee, caffeine, and xylitol or artificial sweeteners, these are all to be avoided!

The products you use to clean your home can also be very hazardous to your dog. Some may seem obvious like nail polish remover, drain cleaner, and bleach, but others may be more surprising to you. PineSol and any pine cleaners are very bad for your dog. Laundry detergents can be very dangerous because they can have sweet smells that attract your dog, and can cause seizures if ingested. I would highly recommend cleaning your home while your dog is out, perhaps on a park run, or if nothing else, at least removed to another room. Also use caution when discarding and storing batteries, as a strong chewer could try to make toys of them and they are also poisonous! Finally human toothpaste can be deadly! Be careful with toothpaste, store it in a place your dog definitely cannot get to it, and throw it out directly outside when you have finished a tube! Only use pet approved tooth pastes when brushing your dog’s teeth.

You will also want to use caution when choosing flowers and plants for your home. Lilies, tulips, and azaleas can be dangerous for your dog. If you can’t place these plants out of your dog’s reach, then eliminating them from your home will be the safest way to deal with this. You can also teach you dogs to leave the plants alone, but it will be best to train this behavior with plants that are not poisonous, for obvious reasons!

Finally you want to use caution when choosing your dog’s food, treats, and toys. Keep an eye out for any recalls linked to your dog’s food as these happen. When choosing toys, don’t always choose the least expensive, even if your dog is very destructive. In fact the cheaper toys usually contain more sub par materials so when torn apart or ingested can be even worse for your dog. Tennis balls can cause problems for dogs for many reasons. Tennis balls and other toys that can be crushed or smushed, run the risk of reinflating in your dogs mouth or throat which can cause choking. Also a chewed up tennis ball is not made of good materials so remove it before your dog eats it! Be very cautious of treats made in China. Waggin’ Train Treats are also to be completely avoided, if you can find them, as the company has voluntary removed them from stores, but they have been responsible for many dog related deaths. Be cautious of other similar jerky type treats, such as Dogswell’s jerky treats. Always read the directions on your dog’s food and treats! Some treats will include an proper amount over a certain time, don’t over do it!

If you think your dog has ingested a poison, but you are not sure, you should contact a veterinarian immediately. The Animal Medical Center in New York City is open 24 hours: http://www.amcny.org, and the ASPCA offers a poison control hotline: (888) 426-4435. There is a $65 consultation fee for this service. If you have seen your dog ingest a poison and can react fairly quickly to this, then you can give your dog 3% Hydrogen Peroxide. This will cause vomiting, and hopefully will cause your dog to vomit up the poison. I like to do this somewhere I don’t mind if my dog throws up and I begin to give him one capful of the peroxide until he begins to vomit. Be sure to give him plenty of water once he has thrown up.

The ASPCA’s center for poison control reports that their most common poison calls are for dogs who have ingested medications. Don’t let this be you! It is easy enough to shut a bathroom door, prepare a medication, take it and come out, so your dog has absolutely no chance of coming into contact with those medications. Take the time to manage your environment so you can keep your dog safe!

The Kibble-Dispensing Toy Comparison

For the past five days I have been experimenting with different toys that allow me to put Nadia’s kibble in them to make her work for her food. I have compared the differences between 5 food toys. They all have pros and cons, but I was hoping this would help you to pick the right one for you and your dog! It is important to note a few things, first of all they were given to Nadia in the order they appear below, prior to being used for her breakfast Nadia has used each toy at least once, with treats in it. She regularly eats out of a stainless steel bowl, she gets 1/3 of a cup of kibble with a few broken up treats mixed in. Prior to the start of this experiment I made five bags of her pre measured food with the treats mixed in, ready to go each morning so that the time preparing her food would not be taken into consideration with everything else. As for the length of time each toy takes, it is important to remember that Nadia, like most dogs, gets better and better at “hunting” for her food the more I give her toys like this, so this may account for the shorter time lengths of the later tested toys.

Premier Busy Buddy Kibble Nibble

The Kibble Nibbler comes in two different sizes to accommodate dogs of different sizes. With my dog since she is 20 pounds I find I can use either size.
Preparation: The rubber teeth at either end need to be trimmed to accommodate your specific kibble size, and this can be a somewhat difficult process. Try not to trim too much off all at once because this will make this toy far too easy for your dog and the kibble will fall right out! The process took me about 15 minutes when I first bought the toy. I took a large piece of my dog’s kibble and tested how easily it would fall through the opening as I trimmed one tooth only slightly at a time, until I had trimmed all four a bit.
The rubber that surrounds this egg shaped toy makes it good for tough chewers and helps make it quieter. This toy does tend to roll under things, which can be annoying. When there are only a few pieces of kibble left, they don’t come out easily, Nadia kept trying, but it could be frustrating for some dogs.

Time to Fill: 1 Minute

Time: 20+ minutes Nadia ended up with about 5 pieces of kibble that wouldn’t just fall out on their own so I ended up opening the toy and letting her eat them, but this was easy enough and did not take extra time to empty. Cleaning with warm water and gentle soap was easy enough.

Average Price: $12

Premier Busy Buddy Magic Mushroom

The Magic Mushroom comes in two different sizes to accommodate dogs of different sizes. With my dog since she is 20 pounds I find I can use either size. The Premier website does not reflect their new smaller size available in the magic mushroom, but I have both sizes and have seen the smaller one in several pet stores. The Magic Mushroom is noisy! I practice with Nadia to teach her to keep her toys on the carpet, but when it would roll off onto the wood floor it made a lot of noise, and Nadia loved to pick-up and drop this toy even on the carpet it made a lot of noise. Nadia loves this toy and will continue to play with it long after it is empty. As a general rule, to keep these toys high value, I don’t allow her to play with the toys too long after they are empty, but with this one I notice she stays interested in chasing it around.

Preparation: There is an opening where the kibble will come from and it can be opened half way or the full way depending on the size of the kibble you are using.
This toy also tends to roll around and under things a lot.

Time to Fill: 1 Minute

Time: 20 minutes

Average Price: $15

Nina Ottosson Dog Treat Maze

The treat Maze comes in several different sizes including a cat option! Hand wash only, but not difficult to clean. Only good for dry foods and treats.

Filling this toy each day is a bit tedious, and does take about 3 minutes, which is the longest of all the toys. The kibble starts to fall out as it gets full. This is a sturdy toy that will likely hold up to the serious chewers, especially with the different size options.

Nadia finished this one very quickly.

Preparation: None it is ready to use right out of the box
This toy is very skinny and does spin and roll under the furniture.

Time to Fill: 5 minutes

Time: 5 minutes, Nadia worked through this one the fastest.

Average Price: $16

Northmate Interactive Green Dog Feeder

This is large, and does not come in different size options. It is also a bit more expensive than the other toys. This is the only toy that is advertised as being dishwasher safe, but I don’t have a dishwasher so it was rather tedious to clean, it took the longest to clean by hand. It is well made and seems like it would hold up to even the strongest of chewers.
Preparation: None, this is ready to use, out of the box.

Time to Fill: 1 minute

Time: 10 Minutes

Average Price: $35

Home-Made Kibble Toy, using a plastic bottle

Prep Time: 20 minutes to clean, and cut the bottle so it will be a fun treat dispensing toy. I have used a knife and scissor to cut four holes into a long narrow plastic bottle. I used a piece of Nadia’s kibble to be sure the openings were big enough but not too big.

Time to Fill: 1 minute

Time: 10 minutes

As far as the time goes you can make this toy as easy or as hard as you want because you can cut as many or as few holes in the bottle to accommodate your dog. If she is great at food stuffed toys, then maybe only cut one or two holes into the bottle. If your dog is just learning about these toys and sometimes isn’t too food motivated, cut up to five holes in the bottle so it is easier for your dog to earn a reward.

Average Price: It depends on the kind of bottle used, but you also get whatever was in the bottle, so technically this toy could be considered free!

In conclusion, there are several different food dispensing toy options out there, and they are great for you dog for so many reasons! Make your dog work for his meals to help get his energy out, allow him to use his cognitive skills for problem solving, and slow down his food intake to keep him healthier. I think it is best to have a few different options for your dog, and hopefully you can choose the one that is right for you and your dog using the above information!

By in Training Philosophy 0

BSL: What It Is, and Why It Is Wrong

BSL stands for Breed Specific Legislation, and in short the best way to describe this concept is: people’s feeble way to address vicious dogs, without actually doing so in any logical, or even statistical way. It allows governments to go after specific breeds as a target for dog bite incidents in that area. The problem is we are blaming the wrong end of the leash! Any dog can be vicious, and this is more often than not, caused by human error, but certainly not limited to any one kind of dog, or even a sub category of dogs considered to vicous.

BSL goes after several breeds, but let’s face it the real “witches” in this witch hunt are the pit bulls. Further this makes BSL even more unfair because the group of dogs that fall into this “pit bull” category are actually several different types of dogs who may even be mixed, but the Center for Disease Control compares the incident of pit bull related dog bites to specific breeds. For example the Husky and Malamute are considered separately, but in the case of a the pit bull, two dogs who were this similar would both qualify, so really the group comparison is not a fair and accurate comparison. The proof should even be in their name; we capitalize the names of specific breeds, such as Doberman Pinscher, but we do not capitalize pit bull. The best reasoning I can give for this is that it would almost be like capitalizing the word “mutt.”

A few things I want to clear up right here and now: pit bulls jaws do not lock! Some say the pit bull’s jaw is as strong a crocodile, also not true. Now a few truths: The city of Denver has euthanized 4,000 pit bulls since 1989. These dogs were not temperament tested, or involved in any incidents, they simply were pit bulls living in Denver, taken from their loving homes, where most of them were companion animals-family pets! Now I am sorry, you don’t have to like pit bulls, and you can even be afraid of them, but this is plain wrong. In case you don’t believe me, check the statistics because Denver County has the highest incidents of dog bites resulting in hospitalization in the years between 1995 and 2010, and the breed that topped this dog bite list: The Golden Retriever! Who is the true danger here; these dogs to humans, or vice versa!

The media is shaping our opinions in a similar way that plane crashes scare us more than car crashes. To me the way the media reports on a pit bull dog bite is similar to a very heinous plane crash, whereas other dog bites by breeds such as Cocker Spaniels are reported on more in a fashion of a small car crash. The headlines involving pit bulls more often include the dog’s breed, whereas when it is any breed other than pit bull the headline usually reads “dog bite.” The word “attack” is very often used in conjunction with pit bull stories. Don’t let the media determine how you feel about these dogs, meet a few for yourself and see what you actually think, because if you think you are scared of pit bulls, after you meet one, I bet you will be pleasantly surprised!

Please don’t just take my word for it! Educate yourself about pit bulls, especially if you are fearful, because fear leads to irrationality, not only in people, but in dogs too, this is one of the reasons as a trainer I push so hard for dogs to be socialized and see lots of people and things, so they will know what they are, and not be afraid. The same applies to the knee jerk reaction of people towards pit bulls, perhaps if they educated themselves about these dogs, they would not be so fearful and want to be so aggressive towards them. I highly recommend taking an hour and half of your time and watch Libby Sherrill’s Beyond the Myth: http://www.beyondthemythmovie.com

You may be thinking that this doesn’t affect you. You might have read this whole blog thinking pit bulls are fine with you, but you will never have one, so it doesn’t really matter. Well it should matter to everyone! If it starts with pit bulls today where will it end? BSL is already spreading to Rottweilers, Huskies, Great Danes, and more, so don’t just sit back and think it cannot affect you because before we know it there will be more banned breeds than allowed. If we continue to think the problem is with a specific breed, and not in our own handling, training, socialization and treatment of that dog, the problem of vicious and dangerous dogs will continue to exist. The question is which breed the law makers will target next, will it be your dog?

By in Behavior Modification 0

All Dogs Resources Guard, Part 1

All dogs resource guard. In fact I would say that all people resource guard too! What is resource guarding? Lately I have been seeing more and more low level resource guarding cases, where the dog is not a threat to bite immediately, but they are stressed, anxious and uncomfortable with a threat to something they consider a resource. A resource is anything that means enough to us that we do not want it taken away. The reason is not so important, but it could be something we like, or even something we feel we need for survival. Guarding is any behavior the dog will show that demonstrates she is uncomfortable with someone or something approaching her resource. It does not mean your dog needs to snap or bite you over the resource. Speed eating, freezing and even just walking away with the item, are all signs of our dog resource guarding. Your dog should feel comfortable enough to be able to eat and enjoy her resource at leisure, not have to eat it fast or under the dining room table. These are minor signs of guarding, but they still show a dog who is anxious, so why not help your dog get better?

Well the truth is, throw your own feelings about it out the window, and don’t over react. If you stop yourself from getting upset, and instead turn the situation into a game you find much more success. Run away from your dog, leaving her with the item she is guarding, run into your kitchen, and start to take out some tasty treats. Make a lot of fun noises, and even say things like “oh my goodness, what do we have here…” If your dog happily follows you and comes into the kitchen, then reward her! If she brought the item with, then trade her, and if she left it in the other room, you can toss some treats across the room, let your dog go get them, and calmly go get the item.

Another way this could break down would be that your dog steals an item, and she guards it from you, her owner, the provider of all good things that come to her. Why on earth would she do this? In a moment of emotional stress you decide to try to punish her in some form for this resource guarding. Any kind of correction from physical, to yelling or scolding can really impact your dog’s resource guarding. If we stop and think about it from her perspective, she has something she really wants, and then you come along and try to take it away, rather rudely in her eyes, and then she gets into trouble for this, when all she was doing was enjoying herself. The next time you come over to her and she has something she doesn’t want you to take, her behavior will likely escalate to growling or showing teeth, or perhaps even snapping at you. You really can’t blame her, in a way you resource guarded her own item from her, and all she is doing is defending herself and her resource. If you can imagine for just a minute that instead of this happening, you approach with a super tasty treat and trade her. The next time you approach, she won’t have her guard up, she will be looking for the tasty treat!

Your actions have consequences! The more your dog thinks you want something, the more she is going to want it. Also your words have an impact on your dog’s resource guarding. I have seen the exact scenario with a Yorkie I work with. If I approached him with his bone, and I yelled at him, something like “oh no what does he have?!” he would grab up the bone, run away and even growl, almost as if to mimic my growly scolding. If I then approached him, immediately following this first try, and I keep my body language exactly the same, even running towards him with arm streteched out, but I keep my mouth shut, and much to my surprise he drops the bone, sits up and looks at me like I am crazy… My scolding and words were not only useless, they made the situation worse, so be careful with this.

I always try to teach people that your words should mean something to your dog. Sit means you want the dog to lower her rump to the ground, drop it means I want the dog to let go of whatever is in her mouth, but what does “NO!” or any scolding really mean to our dog? No barking, no jumping, no chewing on the sofa, no stealing underwear out of the laundry… there are just so many “no’s” at the end of the day, just forget it and teach your dog the yes’s! Teach your dog a formal leave it, and drop it command. These are two different commands, and can be used as a powerful pair! For this “leave it” will be a command we use for something our dog will never get. That being said, you can give your dog the treat you use during training leave it, but do this in a different context, in other words move it after your leave it, and ask your dog to sit, and reward her with the treat for sitting. “Drop it” is used for items that your dog picks up, and can sometimes, have back, especially during the training period. “Drop it” is great for balls, sticks and toys.

Leave it can be complicated to learn, so I made this instructional video to help:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z43B81l2DjQ

For “leave it” I like to keep a treat in my closed fist and allow the dog to smell, lick and to try to get the treat, eventually she will give up and likely just sit back, or sniff the floor, when this happens we immediately praise and reward from the other hand. I find it best to switch hands, so the leave it hand goes behind your back, and you can always put your hands back behind your back to start again. After a few repetitions, your dog will likely start to get the picture, and we can say “leave it” when we see her leave the treat, praise and reward. In this case the CPR will all happen right in a row, when we see the behavior. “Leave it” is an important command all dogs, it teaches impulse control. Once you have completed this first part you can switch the order. Say “leave it” first and then show your dog the treat in your leave it hand. If your dog goes for the treat, at all, even leans towards it, just take it away and try again. If she doesn’t go for the treat, then praise, switch hands, and reward from your other hand.

“Drop it” as a command can be used with food and items you can and will give back to your dog. We want “Drop it” to be such an easy decision for her, she hears it, drops what is in her mouth, gets a very tasty treat and gets the item right back! What could be better than drop it? To start, give your dog something she really wants to hold onto, like the bully stick. Let her chew it a while, and then put a very tasty treat, like boiled chicken, in your closed fist, place your fist up to her nose so that her nose rests almost on the palm of your hand and she can smell the treat, try not to grab for the item in her mouth, instead just let it fall onto the floor. Say “Drop it” only once, and then praise as soon as she does, open your hand and let her eat the treat. Then bend down, pick up the bully stick and give it right back to her. If she is laying down chewing the bone intently, you may need to put the treat on the floor to get her to drop the bone, and this will also be a good way to practice a few times, without taking the bone. Just say “drop it” toss the chicken on the floor, praise her when she drops the bone, and let her eat the chicken and go right back to chewing on the bone. We don’t want her to think we are always taking things away from her.

Practice these commands, and teach your dog that you are certainly not a threat to her resources, you provide them, and when you ask for them back, you do it nicely and in a way that makes your dog think giving up these items to you is the best thing in the whole world. It can be emotional, and we as owners tend to take resource guarding personally, but these feeling don’t help the situation, and can even make it worse in a lot of cases. Leave your feelings out of it, and teach your dog that there is no need to worry! This is only the beginning, there is a lot you can do to prevent and work through resource guarding issues, so keep an eye out for future blogs!

By in Training Philosophy 0

Should I Punish My Dog?

I have been seeing a lot of dog training and handling techniques lately that really make me sad, and I feel like we are reverting back to the 80’s! Just when I started to think the world of dog training had really taken a turn towards positive, I find that I am sadly mistaken. I wanted to take this opportunity to voice my opinion on these matters, and point some major flaws in punishment based training.

First of all I want to say that if you need to use painful or scary punishment, or employ intimidation tactics, then it is you who is lacking as a dog trainer. This is a fact, not an opinion. There are plenty of things I do not know how to teach a dog to do; dogs can learn so much! When I am not certain how to help a client with his dog, I refer him to a trainer who I know can help. I feel this helps my accountability far more than simply just trying to work through what the client has asked. I know it is hard to admit you don’t know something, but it is necessary when working with animals. I feel that I always have more to learn, and the day I stop feeling this way will be the day I stop training animals, because it is this sort of arrogance that usually results in someone getting very badly hurt, and I don’t only mean the humans! I find that people turn to punishment when they don’t know what they are doing, or they don’t know how to properly train the desired behavior. It is for this reason that I do not turn to harsh punishments to get through training. The fact is that dogs can be trained through positive methods, therefore there is never a reason to not do all we can to use these methods, even if we don’t understand them at first. It is much easier to jerk a choke chain than train using counter conditioning, desensitization and positive reinforcement.

Don’t fall victim to quick fixes! Your dog is not a toy, he is not a machine, he is a living breathing animals, with real emotions and a quite complex psychology. If something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is! Don’t fall for anti-barking, anti-pulling, and electronic training devices. Teach your dog what you want, practice throughout his life! This is the only way to truly get the behavior you want. Dogs have an incredible ability to desensitize to a lot of things. This is something we can often use to our advantage, but it is important to remember this when trying a quick fix. If you don’t pair the device with training, your dog will eventually learn to do the undesired behavior even with the deterrent. Believe me your dog can continue to pull you in that harness, and he can even learn to bark through an electronic shock, so he will just be getting shocked for no reason-this is not effective, and it is cruel!

Why is positive punishment so negative? Positive Punishment is one of the four quadrants of operant conditioning. The four quadrants are Positive Reinforcement, Negative Reinforcement, Positive Punishment and Negative Punishment. It is best to think of the positive and negative as they are referred to in math; as adding or taking away. Reinforcement is anything that will make a behavior increase, so that you see it more often. Punishment by definition is something that lessens a behavior. When we say positive punishment, it means the addition of something that lessens behavior. The shock of the shock collar is positive punishment. When you use harsh or scary punishment to lessen behavior you risk serious side effects. If you jerk a prong collar because your dog is pulling on leash, but a child happens to be right in your dog’s eye-line when you administer this punishment, in one trial you may have taught your dog that children being in his vision causes a painful jerk. After only one trial you could see a difference in your dog’s behavior. Not in that he will stop pulling, but in that the next time a child is in his vision he will have a negative, and possibly even an aggressive response to seeing the child. He will do this to try to avoid the pain that came the last time he saw a child, as in his eyes it was the child that caused the jerk, not his own behavior. If you use treats to train your dog, sometimes it takes longer to see a behavior stick, but it is simply not worth the risk that comes along with harmful punishments. If your dog pulls on leash, and you live in a city, in one walk on a prong collar you can give your dog a negative associally with children, bicycles, other dogs and even people, just think that if he gets a painful jerk anytime any of these things are around, you are working towards a quite fearful dog.

Punishment can be necessary, we have all been punished, and it probably made us better, so this can be part of dog training. The thing that you have to remember is that is is simply not fair to punish your dog for something you have not taught him. If you do not want your dog to pull on leash, teach him to heel, if you don’t want your dog to bark, teach him a “quiet” command. It is also crucial to remember that you must teach your dog things in different environments and under different circumstances. Once you feel your dog knows a behavior you can use a punishment to lessen the behavior of him not listening, but again this punishment should not be harmful or scary. The best punishment I have ever experienced is in newer cars; when you don’t buckle your seat belt the car beeps at you repeatedly, until you buckle your seat belt. This is a perfect example of positive punishment; the addition of the beeping alarm, lessens the behavior of people not buckling their seat belts, because I know I buckle my seat as soon as I can so I don’t have to listen to that annoying beeping! As is the case with Positive Punishment is usually means using more than one quadrant; at it’s onset the seat belt beeper is positive punishment, but as it beeps in turns into negative reinforcement. The removal of the beeping reinforces the buckling of one’s seat belt. It doesn’t scare me, or shock me, and it doesn’t have to; the same is true for the punishment you administer to your dog. I like to train with a treat jar near by. If I am practicing commands and behaviors my dog should know, and she simply does not respond to me for some reason, or does something wrong, I take whatever treats I am holding, stand up put them into the jar, close it and walk away. The punishment is the end of her chance to earn the treats. I have only actually had to do this three times with my dog before she understood that listening to me was far more rewarding than ignoring me. To take this one step further you can even add an “oops” or “uh-oh” command by saying this command before the punishment. So say “uh-oh” and then get up and put the treats away.

Your actions can reinforce and punish your dog’s behavior; this can be a good thing, if we use it properly! If you are seeing more of a behavior, good or bad, then it means this behavior is being reinforced, in some way. It could simply be by getting your attention. If your dog takes books off a book shelf, and it results in your getting up from the couch and chasing him around the house; plan to see more book stealing because you have reinforced this with a fun game of chase! You can also use your attention to your advantage, if your dog jumps all over you when you come home, and you don’t like this behavior, then as soon as you come home and see the behavior, turn around leave agin. Walk right back out the door as if to say “I don’t even know you when you behave that way!” You can come back in and try again after only a few seconds. I will give you a hint, this won’t take 3 or 4 tries, especially if it is a behavior that has previously been reinforced with attention. The good news is you don’t ever have to stay mad at your dog, as soon as he offers you a behavior you like, give your attention to reinforce this. If your dog jumps on you when you come home, so you walk out the door once, and then come back in and he jumps again, and you leave again, and then you come in a third time and he looks at you a bit like you are crazy, and sits, then stay and say “good dog.” Be careful with your praise as it might excite your dog enough to go back to breaking the rules, so keep this praise red light and low toned.

Breaking habits takes time, ignoring and allowing bad behavior means your dog has been able to practice this behavior to form a strong habit. Take your time, and remember that as much as you can avoid allowing your dog to indulge in the naughty behaviors the less practiced they will become. Training you dog never ends, it only gets easier, if you use consistency, patience and compassion!

By in Behavior Modification 0

Separation Anxiety: What It Really Means for You and Your Dog

Separation Anxiety: What It Really Means for You and Your DogSeparation Anxiety, in it’s true form, can be the hardest behavior to cure in dogs, especially without prescription medications. If your dog has true separation anxiety it means that he cannot be left alone for up to fifteen minutes, without losing control of his bladder and/or bowels. If this is what you are experiencing with your dog, then please consult a trainer or veterinarian. If your dog cries sometimes, or shows slight signs of separation anxiety then perhaps some of these tips will help. If your dog does not have or show signs of separation anxiety then by following these simple steps you can help make sure it does not develop.

First of all it is important to leave your dog alone for at least 20 minutes every day. Start this from the moment you bring him home, regardless of his age. It is important for your dog to accept being alone, so even if you work from home, go out for a walk, or grab a coffee, and leave your dog at home.

While it can be difficult for us, as people to accept and understand, it may help your pup to limit his space while alone. This does not mean you have to use a crate, but I will say that in all the dogs I have worked with, those that were crate trained, never exhibited separation anxiety, maybe it is a coincidence, but I tend to doubt it. Even if you do not want use a crate, limiting your dog’s space, including keeping him away from your front door, can really help him to settle while you are away. If your dog has no choice but to rest, because that is all there is space for, then he will do so, but if he can pace, or patrol your windows, this can heighten his anxieties while you are away.

Do not make a big deal out of leaving your dog, or coming home to him. When you come home if your dog is barking, jumping or excitable, then just ignore this behavior, and don’t say hello to him until he settles down. We don’t want this anxious excitable energy to be rewarded with attention, because then we are reinforcing this, and we will see more of this. If your dog is in the crate and he is barking, do not let him out until he settles down and is quiet, or he will learn that barking gets him out of his crate. I always tell owners to think of barking like a game of red-light, green-light. When your dog is barking: red-light, when he stops: green-light!

Practice your “leaving routine” without actually leaving. We all tend to do things in a specific order when we are leaving our home, make a list of these things and do them, out of context, when you are not leaving. Put on your shoes, pick up your keys, and go sit down on your couch. Also on days you are actually leaving, do these things in a different order to throw off your dog. Practice going in and out of your front door. Go in and out, over and over, without any lag time, until your dog is so bored with it, he walks away and ignores you.

Feed your pup on a schedule! This is important for so many reasons, but as it relates to separation anxiety, it allows us to predict when our dog is hungry. If we know when our dog gets fed, and eats his food, we can use this to help prevent separation anxiety. The way we can use this is to plan our trips out when our pup is most hungry. If your dog eats breakfast around 9 a.m. then consider planning a trip out around 10, and skip his breakfast that day. Then at 10 before you leave, stuff his food into a food stuff-able toy, and give it to him when you leave. If you happen to come home before he has finished, then take this food toy away. This will teach your pup that he only gets to play with such a fun toy, while he is alone.

Finally if your dog does suffer from separation anxiety and he barks or cries a lot while you are gone, please contact a trainer, do not turn to a temptation like a citronella collar or even worse a shock collar. This will make your dog’s anxieties much worse, and will likely take a dog who was only barking while alone, to a dog who defecates in your home when left alone-believe me I have seen this exact scenario many times. The fact is that if your dog has to wear one of these collars when you are gone, this will only give him a reason to be afraid of being alone; he only get shocked when alone. Also this is a true anxiety, I relate it most closely to a fear of flying, which most people can understand. If you told someone who you cared about that you were afraid of flying, and they just told you to suck it up and be quiet, it wouldn’t help you feel better, your dog feels this way about being left alone, and the collar is saying to him: “just suck it up and be quiet.” You haven’t addressed the anxiety so while the symptom of barking might get better, the problem is still there, and I assure it is getting worse!

The best thing to do to prevent separation anxiety is by following these steps and considering crate training. If your dog has separation anxiety, I would consult a trainer as soon as possible, the more time wasted, the more time your dog has had to rehearse his anxious behaviors, and form bad habits. It is never too late to help overcome these habits, so start today!