When Your Dog is Reactive
Is your dog reactive to other dogs while on walks? You know what I’m talking about. That sweet, furry love of your life, who turns Cujo-like when he sees certain dogs (or all dogs). You aren't alone, it happens much more often than you realize. When it happens to you, tho, it seems much louder, much worse than when you see another dog react. This is normal because you aren't emotionally invested in someone else's dog but your dog can skewer your heart with this behavior..
You ARE emotionally invested in your dog and this affects how YOU react to your dog's reaction. Embarrassment, nervousness, fear, shame...these are all normal feelings. That's when we typically begin to yell, cajole, threaten, plead for the dog to behave. "It's no big deal" "STOP IT" "C'mon, you know better than to act like this" "ENOUGH already!" Maybe throw in a prong collar or e-collar for good measure to punish the behavior in hopes that it will fix the situation.
Instead, tho, the behavior eventually begins to escalate, getting worse. The first step in addressing the behavior is not punishment or bribery but identifying what the dog is trying to tell you. What they are trying to say is usually either “I’m so excited I don’t know how to control my behavior” or “I’m scared and need some space”. Either way your dog is over threshold which means that learning is not going to happen. Trying to yell or beg or bribe will not affect how the dog will react next time
So what is a frazzled handler to do? Take a deep breath, step to the side and say “lets go” while turning around and heading the other direction, increasing distance to that which they were reacting to. Once the dog has calmed down and giving you good attention you reward this behavior. Now it is important to make a plan that avoids these situations until your dog is ready and able to handle them.
Contact a professional who is experienced and educated in science based methods to work with you and your dog. One who understands that the research is very clear on how to best address the challenges for best results long term and has the experience to teach you and your dog. No flooding, no forcing, no punishment. Solid behavior help instead. Your average dog trainer is just that, a dog trainer. They aren’t educated or experienced in dealing with behavior issues in the best and most modern ways possible. This isn’t about cookie pushing but in timing rewards so that counter conditioning occurs by changing the emotional response to the stimulus (the other dog). Timing is everything, and must occur at precise moments with a high enough value reward while at the same time preventing over threshold or flooding situations where learning does not happen.
If you can’t afford a behaviorist there are also online resources, such as CARE For the Reactive Dog, that can help the dog owner learn skills to address their dog’s challenges. Beware of any trainer promising fast fixes…these fixes typically require use of punishment which may suppress the behavior but does not fix the emotional response. This can lead to even more challenging and dangerous behaviors later because the dog is still reacting but with a new level of fear added on.
If a friend tries to help you because something worked with their dog remember that not all dogs are the same. Educated and experienced trainers and behaviorists have spent countless hours learning about animal behavior and how to address these things in the best and safest way possible. While your neighbor or friend may mean well, they haven’t put their heart and soul and wallet into learning the best methods to make your dog better.
With the warmer weather (or on rainy days) your dog may not be getting as many walks or even playing in the yard as much. Adding mental stimulation (also called enrichment) to their day can be a big help in curtailing unwanted (and often destructive) behaviors that can be caused by boredom. A few suggestions:
Teaching your dog the "find it" game is an easy one to do. Initially you'll do this while the dog watches from a "wait": toss a few treats on the ground and then say "find it". As the dog gets the point of the game hide a few treats in easy to find spots. Then up the ante and hide the treats in harder to find spots and move the dog out of the room. You can also do this game with a favorite toy.
If you have a "stufficidal" dog that can destroy even the toughest of stuffy toys this works great: Use paper towel or toilet paper cardboard inserts. Put a couple of treats in them and then fold
the ends. You can also use small boxes or paper bags for this.
Lick mats and Kongs are great. We fill them with kibble or treats
and then put peanut butter or plain yogurt (be sure it's not sugar free
as the sugar substitutes can be dangerous to dogs) and then freeze or chill them (soft drink kosies are great to hold them upright so they don't make a mess in your fridge). This makes the Kong experience last longer.
Freezing ice cube trays or cookie cutters filled with mixture of plain yogurt, canned pumpkin, broth, canned dog food, even blueberries in water are great treats in the heat and interesting to the dog.
Hide and seek. One person hides and then the other tells the dog to go find. When the dog gets to the person hiding be sure to ask for a sit before rewarding (in this case you are the reward with big praise and attention.) In addition to alleviating the boredom this also helps your dog learn to give wanted behaviors even when excited.
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.
Those Darn Nails
One of my hardest challenges as a dog owner is trimming the nails. I'm always nervous that I'll get the quick and that nervousness makes the dogs antsier. Not to mention how hard it is for me to exert enough pressure to clip a Great Dane's nails.
Zoinks breeder has been showing off how easy it is to dremel dog nails so I finally broke down and got the right bit and have been conditioning Zoinks to let me dremel her nails. This started slowly, first with the dremel off and then gradually increasing the speed (and noise) before ever touching the nails. I've now done a few sessions with her and it's gone amazingly well so we are now conditioning the others to it.
To make a positive association with the dremel we use a lick mat smeared with peanut butter (make sure it doesn't have xylitol in it). Just use a small amount, smeared on the mat, and then chilled it goes a long way. You could also use plain yogurt, cheese, liver wurst or even canned dog food.
Service Dog Laws
One of the most frequent requests I receive is about training your own service dog. The ADA covers Service Dogs but NOT Service Dogs In Training (SDiT). SDiTs are regulated by most states. Some states, such as California, mimics federal SD law with either a trainer or disabled handler. Others states may have much tighter laws on who can train and what, if any, access rights the dogs have.
Dogs wear muzzles for many different reasons, not just aggression.
Why is it a good practice to teach a dog to wear a muzzle? Putting a dog into a situation where they are already uncomfortable and then adding the never-before-worn muzzle adds even more stress to the situation. This means their next experience with training, at the vet or groomers will be even more stressful.
My dogs are all muzzle trained. Over the past couple of years our Desi has had a lot of vet visits due to skin issues. As the vets and vet techs are climbing over this 150 pound Great Dane to examine and obtain scrapings and biopsies they need to feel safe in order to give him the best care. I am not offended and actually offer to muzzle him. I want to make sure he's getting the best care but I don't want him stressed out, either, since that can make his issues worse.
We start muzzle training early. We show them the muzzle, let them sniff and check it out, giving them treats. Then we put treats in the muzzle so they can put their faces in to get the treats. Once they are consistently putting their snouts in by their own choice we add the strap. Then we secure it, very briefly, with a high value squirt of spray cheese added. Gradually they wear it for longer and longer periods of time, adding activities such as going outside or for walks, always keeping it fun with high value treats.
Pets as Christmas Presents
Pets should not be surprises. If you are thinking about a holiday gift I recommend doing a "gift certificate" instead. Parents can encourage and demonstrate responsible ownership by doing a certificate that says "after we have researched species, breeds, needs and training we can choose a pet that will best fit our family". It then becomes a great family project.
During a dog's second year they go thru fear phases as well as cement their personalities. Building on the foundation of socialization and good manners of the first year should be a priority in helping your dog be the best family member they can be.
How Does Basic Obedience Work
seHow does basic obedience work?
Well, first, it takes a commitment to your dog and family to do what it takes to make it work. It's not magic, it is work.
Second, you need to understand who you've hired, what their philosophy is, what protocols will be put in place and be comfortable following thru. If you aren't comfortable following thru and, with some research into it still feel that way, then it might be best to look for a trainer who's philosophy more aligns with yours. Everyone needs to be on the same page for it to work. This is not to say one trainer is right and another is wrong but a matter of which one is right for you.
Third, you have to understand that it starts with baby steps, in the very beginning, at the simplest point in order to capture and keep the dog's attention, establish communication and trust. Each following behavior is added in a specific order so that it reinforces the previous behavior while adding the new behavior. Each step has to be climbed in order to get to the landing. You can't skip a step without losing progress. And sometimes, if we move too fast, we go backwards a little bit to make sure we don't leave anyone behind.
As the behaviors come together, working with each other, and the dog learns when to provide these different behaviors we have success. We have a well mannered dog that knows how to listen, what to provide and can continue to learn new, even more exciting, behaviors.
Above you see Henley. Henley has learned his basics thru AKC STAR Puppy and CGC classes. He can provide these basics in different environments with different distractions. But it all started with the first step. Each behavior leads to the next behavior. Your commitment to the training to follow thru. It's not magic, it's work. And a sense of accomplishment when you get the end.