Pawsibilities NY

Year: 2012

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:

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!