The angst of adolescence. That cute puppy is now an adolescent (think teenager) and has her own opinions and wants what she wants when she wants it. That marble in the brain is rattling around without a place to land How do we deal with adolescence without resorting to aversives which may cause dangerous fallout behaviors later? I'd like to say easy but it isn't. It takes patience, lots of micro training, enrichment and management.
Patience: Remember, this too shall pass. Be patient, you will see the change happening as your dog matures, usually by the age of two. Why 2? Because this is typically when the frontal cortex of the brain is fully developed and the frontal cortex is where self control originates.
Micro training: What is micro training? It's small sessions that you can scatter through out the day so that it turns into real life training. Asking for and reinforcing those sits, waits, leave its and settles so that they become habit. Remember, reinforcement drives behavior. You work for cash, your dog works for treats, toys and/or attention. Teaching Fido the calm dog with good behaviors gets the rewards.
Enrichment: This is a biggie. Dogs need to use their brains. Mental exercise can tire out a dog just as well as a long walk does. We include it in our day by scatter feeding breakfast, a kong (we have several different versions to keep it mixed up), tricks, putting a few treats in a box, paper towel tube, or a paper lunch bag or even a game of find it.
Management: As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The better you prevent an unwanted behavior from happening the easier it is to teach your dog what you want them to do. Prevent door darting by teaching wait at doorways. Prevent jumping on people by giving them a spot to hang out when your guests arrive. Gate off the kitchen to prevent your dog from counter surfing or getting into the trash. Once these types of behaviors start it is so much harder to stop because they are self rewarding.
We shall be grateful that adolescence in dogs is so much less than in humans. Be patient, do lots of small training sessions, engage his brain with enrichment and prevent his opportunity to get into trouble. Show them love and keep them safe.
Does your dog have a reliable recall? Many don't and most dogs only respond when they want to. When a puppy or rescue comes home they often will follow us around and recall doesn't seem necessary until they begin to get a little more interested in the environment. They will appear to develop selective hearing, at least part of the time anyway. There are some easy steps to developing a reliable recall. It also is a matter of safety that your dog will respond.
How do you build a solid and reliable recall in your dog? Easier and a lot more fun than you think. Here are some tips:
Puppy Insanity. This is RuhRoh, our newest baby. Today she turns 13 weeks old. What have we been working on at home? She came from a great breeder who uses Puppy Culture to raise her puppies. Thanks to that RuhRoh arrived with an excellent sit already in her repertoire. We built on that sit to get some nice waits. Wait before eating, wait before coming out of her crate and after, before going outside, basically a wait anywhere that her puppy craziness might take over.
We’ve all seen the stories of the shelter dog who finally finds his person and they live happily ever after in perfect harmony. Unfortunately, this is not the norm. When a dog ends up in a shelter they have suddenly lost their family with no idea why. The reason doesn’t matter because the dog does not know that reason, just that his home and family are gone. The rescue or shelter may be amazing but it is not their home.
It can be very hard for a dog to adjust to shelter life. Staff and volunteers come and go, as do the dogs around them. They can hear other dogs barking, sometimes in fear, as well as smell the disinfectants. They don’t know what is going to happen from one moment to the next as they are moved from one kennel to another to a play yard with strange dogs. When a person or family makes the decision to adopt the dog they are then thrown in to another new place with new people and maybe even new dogs. This also applies to the "rehomed" dog.
Be patient. You will want to show off our new family member but please remember that Fido’s world has been turned upside down and he needs time to decompress and adjust. Supervision is very important to make sure he doesn’t escape his new home and is safe with the new people and pets in his life.
Dogs do not generalize behaviors to all locations unless taught. They may have been house trained but that doesn’t mean they are trained to your house. They may have had a doggy door which allowed them free access. Set up a way for the dog to tell you they have to go by using a bell hanging from the door. Take them out frequently, ringing the bell before you open the door. Soon Fido will be ringing the bell to let you know.
For the first three weeks your new dog is building his trust in you and learning some of the family rules. Separate Fido from children and other pets when you are not there to actively supervise. What may be normal activity in your home may not be something he is familiar with and may cause fear. He needs time to process and learn the family rules. Now is not the time to take him to the dog park. You will start to see his personality come out. You may also see some challenges that need to be addressed with a positive reinforcement trainer.
It takes about 3 months for most dogs to fully adjust. Fido may need a trainer to help him learn how to follow family rules, social skills, leash training and safely introducing to new dogs and environments. Adding lots of enrichment can help him learn to settle and keep him out of trouble.
A great resource for bringing home an adult dog is Patricia McConnell, PhD book Love Has No Age Limit, Welcoming an Adult Dog Into Your Home. She discusses the Rule of 3s and how to apply it to making your new family member feel welcome and wanted.
First introductions should be outside, preferably in neutral turf. Take the dogs on a side by side walk. This helps tire an active puppy and while providing a happy back drop before entering the yard and home.
It is important that all early interactions be supervised. Whether a new puppy or an older
dog it can take a few weeks for everyone to get used to the new family member and new normal. Watching body language closely during this adjustment period can help prevent future problems. Separate the dogs if you are not able to closely supervise, especially during the first 3 weeks, until they have time to adjust to each other.
Baby Gates, crates and Xpens make great separators so that the dogs can have down time where they feel safe and comfortable. Separate eating areas since new puppies can be overly curious and older dogs may not appreciate a puppy interrupting them.
Make sure there is always an escape route so that the dogs don’t feel cornered. Have a clear path to get away can make the difference in whether a dog goes for the bite or not.
No matter what happens do not punish either dog. Punishment can make a bad association between the dogs resulting in escalation of aggressive type behaviors.
Reward when the dogs are getting along, whether playing with or simply being in the same room, be sure to reward with attention, special treats or even going outside. This will help cement that good things happen when the other dog is around.
Watch for body language that indicates a problem may develop and intervene early with time apart to de-escalate. Older dogs may be tolerant up to a point so watching their eyes, ears, tail position and watch the puppy for signs that he is getting too ‘in the face’ of the older dog and needs time apart to calm down.
Give the dogs time to become acquainted and adjusted. This creates a foundation rather than forcing them into a relationship that isn’t comfortable. Following the Rule of 3s, after about 3 weeks you should see things moving toward a comfortable co-existence and, depending upon the ages, playing together.
Watch the body language. Lots of licking can be a sign of increasing anxiety which means the dog is not adjusting to the new dog. If the puppy yelps and the older dog does not back off but instead escalates it’s time for a break. You’ve hit the 3 week mark with no improvement. Any of these should net a consult with a fear-free professional.
As the song says, "All I'm askin' Is for a little respect".
Pet owners often tell me that, in preparation for having a baby, they have started pulling tails and ears in order to get the dog "used to it" before the baby comes. The dog is not 'getting used to it" but is simply tolerating something that is annoying, uncomfortable and may even be painful. It may even increase their anxiety.
Tolerance only goes so far, tho, and then a dog may decide enough is enough. If someone was poking you with their finger how long would you tolerate the behavior before finally reacting? You can say "stop" but a dog can only say it thru body language before they eventually resort to biting. If you aren't going to stop your child from pulling the dog's ears then separate them.
How does Fido say "enough, I'm not comfortable with this"? You may notice the dog licking you and/or the baby. Yawning. Very round or "whale eye" (where the white is quite visible). Lip licking. Ears pinned back. Tail tucked. Body shifts away. Whining. Lip lifting / showing teeth. Growling. These are all ways the dog is telling you they are not comfortable. What should you NOT do? Punish the dog who is trying to tell you there is a problem. Respect your dog and teaching your child to respect the dog you will help you protect them both.
A false sense of security can develop when a baby first comes home. The dog may be curious and even want to be near this new bundle that is taking up so much of your attention. You let your guard down, feeling a sense of relief that Fido appears to be accepting the baby. The baby, tho, is pretty stationary at this point. As months pass and the baby becomes more mobile, as well as more curious about the dog, Fido's anxiety can build. Baby's are unpredictable and some dogs don't handle this as well while some may tolerate for awhile but may eventually say "enough".
What SHOULD you do? Institute a very strict supervision and separation plan. Try to keep yourself positioned between the child and the dog, offering treats to the dog. Use stuffed toys to show the child how to pet the dog and make sure you are always there. Teach them to never put their face near a dog's face. Don't leave them alone for a moment as a quick run to another room to get your phone or a soda or that project you were working on could spell disaster, remember dogs and babies are FAST. They only need a moment for something to go wrong. When separating the dog be sure not to make it a punishment. It's a great time for the dog to enjoy a snuffle mat, stuffed Kong, or a favorite toy while in their own space.
Hire a reward based or Fear-Free certified trainer who is experienced in behavior challenges, a behaviorist or Veterinary Behaviorist to work with your family and the dog. Talk to the vet and make sure there aren't any physical causes for the dog to be anxious. Even a small tug on an ear or tail or the pat of a hand or a toddler climbing on the dog could be painful for an arthritic dog, prompting the dog to be less tolerant.
It's our job to protect both the child AND the dog. The bond between a child and dog can be wonderful but it needs to be safe.
So called "balanced trainers" will often say that trainers must have more than one tool in their toolbox when justifying the use of aversives (prong collars, choke chains, e-collars, squirt bottles...) Science based positive trainers have many tools in their tool box but NONE of these tools hurt or scare. Balanced trainers often jump to the aversive because they think a treat isn't working or "it's faster" but they don't step back and look at the big picture. How does a science based trainer approach differ? We look at the big picture and then break it down and then focus on changing the dog's behavior. Let's take that common unwanted behavior of jumping on people.
1. What is the unwanted behavior: Jumping
2. When does it occur: People coming in the door
3. What is the motivator: Attention
4. What is the wanted behavior: Sit
What do we need to do: Manage the environment to prevent the behavior from continuing, teach and motivate the new behavior, teach the human how not ro reinforce the unwanted behavior when reintroducing the dog to the environment.
For the jumper we manage the environment by preventing Fido from being in the environment where the jumping occurs. When someone is coming in the door have Fido outside or in another room. Next, we teach the new wanted behavior, sit, until sit is generalized to many situations, locations and with distractions. Before we bring Fido back in we must teach the human that any attention is good attention to a dog and rewards the unwanted behavior. Yelling, waving your arms, pushing Fido away can be a favorite game. Take all of this attention away by turning sideways with your arms crossed and no eye contact. Say "sit" once and then wait for it. It's hard not to repeat the cue but it is important that the dog makes the choice to provide that behavior and it will get faster as they connect the reward to the behavior.
In the beginning this takes time so don't try to do this part while you are in a hurry. Jumping has given Fido a lot of attention in the past so he's going to have to work thru it in his brain that jumping no longer nets him any attention. He may even do the sit a few times and then suddenly you may have what is called an "extinction burst". This is when Fido, after doing well, reverts back to that unwanted jumping with a little more gusto in a last ditch attempt to get that jump to reward him with the attention. He is thinking "it worked for a long time, surely it will work again". Now is the time to stand firm. Practice this every day with family members first, then ask friends to work with you. Have treats by the door and tell visitors what you are working on and what you want them to do so that Fido has the best chance at being successful in learning to make the right choices.
This is how reward based training works. We identify the challenge, identify the motivator (or reward). We identify the wanted behavior. We manage the unwanted behavior by preventing the situation. We teach the wanted behavior. We ask for the wanted behavior while ignoring the unwanted behavior. This way we avoid punishments that the dog does not understand and, according to repeated studies, reward based training helps set up solid foundations that can prevent long term problems. It allows the dog to learn to make right choices and build self control, creating a life long family member that you enjoy spending time with rather than a dog who is submitting out of fear of the next punishment.
Does your dog like to dig or tear things up? These behaviors can be frustrating and very hard to stop. There is a simple solution, tho, that reduces the frustration for the dog and the human.
Destruction Use enrichments that allow the dog to tear something up. Toss a couple of treats into a cardboard box, a paper towel insert or a paper bag that you then roll up. Yes they will make a mess but iti's an easy one to clean up and may save your furniture.
Digging set up a digging area where it is allowed. Motivate the dog to use this area by partially burying some favorite toys and then redirect this area. They will learn to dig there rather than in your garden, along the fence or other areas.
Remember, the more mental stimulation they get the less you will see these types of unwanted behaviors.
Make a new toy out of an old toy and get rid of one of those old t-shirts stuffed in the back of your drawer at the same time.
The holiday season is almost upon us. Wait, Leave It and Place can keep your dog from getting into trouble. Spending time now teaching, proofing or fine tuning these behaviors can help keep your dog safe as well as a welcome part of the celebrations.
Wait. Wait tells the dog to wait a moment, be patient and something else is going to happen. Wait while you hook their leash up, wait while your food is prepared, wait before going out the door, wait before getting in or out of the car. This gives you time to do something safely and without mishap from a dog jumping, darting, even knocking things out of your hands.
Leave It. This cue prevents a dog from snatching or eating something they shouldn’t have. With all the food , breakable decorations and even extra medications due to seasonal illnesses that are around knowing your dog has a rock solid leave it can save their life.
Drop It. Teaching a dog to drop an item that they’ve already picked up, such as the random sock, wrapped gift, shoe, will end those unwanted games of chase. With a solid Drop It cue the dog will drop the item instead.
Place. A dog who knows to go to their safe spot while you answer the door, carry packages thru the room, clean up a mess, can alleviate a lot of tension. This is a great way to prevent them from darting out the door when holiday visitors or deliveries arrive.
If your dog already knows these cues start practicing now. Just a few minutes per day, adding them in here and there, will help the dog be ready to deliver the requested behavior when you ask for it. If your dog doesn’t know these cues or they aren’t working like they should, then reach out for help. It can eliminate some of the stress of the season.