Training the Territorial Dog

Posted on Mar 29, 2017 in Aggression, Dog Training, Positive Reinforcement, Posts, Rescue Dog, Training | 0 comments

Judy’s recipe to help you change the behavior of your territorial  dog. These are dogs who rush and bark at people through windows, fences, and at the door. 

  1. Management
  2. Understanding your dogs warning signals
  3. Training/Desensitization
  4. Proofing

 

1. Management means changing the environment so your dog is not put in situations that trigger his fear or pushes him over threshold.  As any new negative experiences can make his fear worse. It also means preventing him from practicing unwanted behaviors so that they do not become a habit. Good management should be practiced while you train and desensitize your dog. 

 

 

2. How to read your dog is an important step in changing his behavior. What are your dogs stress or warning signs? What signs does your dog use to tell strangers they would like to have more space?  Have you observed your dog looking, or leaning away, growling, whale eye (whites of eye shows), head up with a frozen forward stance, air snapping, or barking at a person?  If your dog is lunging at people, then you or a previous owner have missed his lower level warnings and allowed people to close, now he has to protect himself.

look away

Low level Distance Cue: Leaning and looking away. This child received a bite to the forehead because her humans did not know this dog was using a low level distance cue.

Learn your dogs stress signals, so you can support your dog. Low level distances cues should never be punished, as this can result in a dog that is not allowed to express his fear, hence he may bite with no warning. 

Looking away from a person, turning muzzle away, turning neck farther away, closing the mouth, ears go back, brow may furrow, dog becomes still and possibly stiff, and the white of the eyes often appear. This is when YOU need to support your dog by calling them to safety or stepping in to reduce their stress. Remember, not all dogs have the same tolerance, your dog may wait three seconds before they bite when stressed while another dog may be more tolerant, waiting 10 seconds. Knowing your dog’s stress signals is essential to his or her success. 

This is a very good warning to respect.  Correcting a dog for being afraid of people never works.

This is a very good warning to respect, correcting a dog for being afraid of people never works.

 

More serious distance cues are more obvious and may include growling, freezing, lip curling, show of teeth, air snapping, lunging and rapid barking, standing tall and motionless with direct eye contact. If a warning did not work, the dog may feel the need to bite to keep himself safe. If your dog skips this warning, it is possibly because he did not have time to give another warning or possibly your dog is not tolerant at all and will react much quicker as his nature.

 

3. Training or desensitizing and counter-conditioning (CC&D) is a wide spread behavior modification technique, whose ultimate goal is to change the emotional response (which leads to an overall change in the dog’s approach to the subject) towards a given “trigger” that caused the dog to react in the first place.

Counter conditioning is a classical conditioning approach where we pair something that created an unpleasant or scary response with something highly rewarding to the dog.

  • If you use treats in various different exercises where your dog has no fear, then your dog most likely has a positive emotional response to the presence of treats which creates the opposite of a fear response.
  • If at any time during your training, you dog stops eating, then slow the progression down, take a step back in your training. This is your dogs way of saying I am not comfortable with the current situation to eat.

By pairing food with a trigger at a sub-threshold distance (a distance where a dog has little or mild to no response) we are getting the “looking forward to” instead of the fearful aggressive response. Our goal is to change the emotional response towards something that was considered unpleasant to the dog before. Specifically, I use a process called Treat and Retreat http://caninebehaviorcounseling.com/regarding-that-dog-bite/

Using positive reinforcement training to teach your dog some emotional control can be very effective with territorial dogs. Teach your dog to sit and stay in different environments to help your dog see you as their leader.  Any dog who has a good leader built on mutual trust will progress faster through this recipe. So be a good pack leader to your dog and ask many behaviors throughout each day and reward with food, toys or affection. These dogs are more likely to look to their leader for guidance when a guest arrives.

Emotion control practice in neutral environments is hugely helpful for territorial dogs.

  •  Train a sit/stay while people pass on the street or local park,  practicing so your dog can be successful is essential to your dogs success. Always begin each training session in an environment where your dog is calm and below threshold.  Progress to environments closer to home, your street, driveway and in the home.
  •  Train a strong “come” or “here” to be able to call your dog away from a stranger when you see stress signals from your dog. Simply take some bits of cheese in your hand and say the cue word “here” when you dog looks at you, say “yes” and toss him a treat. Walk away and repeat “here” say “yes” as he begins to come to you and reward with five or six pieces! Practice in multiple situations and always be generous with the reward.

4. Proofing the behavior gives you the knowledge of how he will respond to a particular stimuli in different locations or situations. When I have proofed my dogs behavior in many different situations, I have verification or confirmation that I know how he is going to respond.  If you are thinking your dog “reacts differently in different situations” than you need to slow your process down and get to know your dogs stress signals better. You are most likely missing some warning cues.

Keep in mind, every dog will progress at a different pace, this pace is set by the dog. Factors that effect how your dog responds can include many variables, such as how a person smells, moves, height, gender, if they make direct eye contact, are nervous, if they lean forward, or stomp their feet, how long they are near, just to name a few.  

Remember, this is a recipe, if you leave out one ingredient, your final product will not be what you expected. All the ingredients must be included over a period of time. My wire haired terrier took over a

Passed!!

year to finally trust tall men and my scottie nearly double that time to trust any human, as she was five when I adopted her. She also came to me with an 8 bite history and two police reports in her file. Unfortunately, her previous trainer shocked her when she growled at people — yes, this did make her much worse.  With Counter Conditioning how she felt about people, she began to see them as a predictor of good things and safety. You can imagine how gratifying it was when she passed her Canine Good Citizen Certification by a trainer she had never met before. Parenting a territorial dog is a process, stay positive and celebrate the small successes with your dog.

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Reactivity and Aggression in the car

Posted on Jan 29, 2017 in Aggression, Dog Training, Posts, Training, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Why do some dogs bark and lunge at people and dogs when confined inside the car?  There are several possibilities for this reactive behavior to develop. For example, genetic protection gene, learned behavior, fearful response to stimuli, unpleasant association within the car, or just poor emotional control to name a few. This blog will focus on how to change your dogs response when in the car.

Some breeds have a genetic trait for guarding or protection, which can effect the results of a behavior modification plan. In other words,  “The persistence of such breed-specific behaviors as herding, pointing, tracking, and hunting in the absence of training or motivation suggests that these behaviors are, at least in part, controlled at a genetic level[34,35]. ” Rigterink, Amanda, et al. “Genetics of canine behavior: A review.” World J Med Genet 4.3 (2014). Therefore, some dogs may never be 100% free of their response.

My Recipe is broken down into three areas of focus.

  1. Relaxation, teaching your dog to be truly relaxed when confined in the car.
  2. Management, is a necessity, to your dog’s success.
  3. Conditioning, changing how your dog feels about a person passing your car.

 

Relaxation Training sessions between 5-10 minutes several times a week in a low distraction environment are best. The secret to a bomb-proof behavior, is consistently rewarding the wanted behavior and not the unwanted behavior. Daily repetition is best.

IMG_2169

Relaxation can be practiced anywhere

The purpose of this exercise is to teach your dog to relax, even in highly distracting and stimulating environments. Relaxing is not typically a skill we think to teach to our dogs, and yet it is extremely helpful to have a dog that chooses to lie down and relax, regardless of their surroundings. This is highly recommended for the dog with poor impulse control!

  1. Get a pocket full of bite sized treats, leash your dog, go to a quiet, low distraction environment and sit down in a chair or on the floor.  
  2. Reduce your dog’s movement by wrapping it around your waist, or tethering it to a piece of furniture. The leash should be long enough that your dog can lie down comfortably and take a couple of steps, without being so long that he can wander off and find something else to do. Make sure there is nothing highly distracting in reach, such as toys or chew bones. 
  3. Before beginning the exercise, practice some human Zen on yourself! Your dog will not be able to relax unless you are relaxed. Loosen your body and slow your breathing down. Settle into a relaxing position parallel to your dog.
  4. Put a treat to your dog’s nose and lure him into a down position by dragging the treat slowly to the ground. Release the treat for your dog when he is lying down,  feed him 2-3 small treats while he is lying down. Don’t ask your dog for a “down” cue, just lure him. We want to teach your dog to lie down and relax on his own, not because we have asked him to.
  5. Most dogs will get back up again right away; repeat the process of luring down to the ground a few more times, continuing to reward the dog for lying on the ground. Don’t correct your dog for standing back up, wait a minute to see if he lies down on his own, if not, lure him down again. 
  6. After luring into position a couple times, it is time to stop giving your dog direction and wait to see what he does. Some dogs will be a little confused at this point, not knowing what you want
    FullSizeRender-11

    Practice in different environments.

    him to do. He may bark, or try to get your attention by pawing at you; stay relaxed, ignore any fussiness and wait him out! Eventually, your dog will get bored and lie down. This may take a few seconds, or up to a few minutes. As soon as he lies down, slowly and calmly deliver several more treats. Continue this exercise for a few minutes, calmly rewarding your dog every time he lies down using your voice, massaging or food. If he stays lying down, continue rewarding him slowly and steadily. End the session after a few minutes. 

Management, means changing the environment so your dog is not going to be put in a situation that triggers his unwanted response or pushes him over threshold. As any new negative experiences will simply make his behavior worse. It also means preventing him from practicing unwanted behaviors. 

  • Management is not training, however, training will take much longer (or may not happen properly) if, during the process, your dog is continually placed in situations that push him over threshold that cause his high aroused unwanted behavior. Good management should be practiced while you train/desensitize your dog.  
  • Threshold is the point at which a dog becomes overwhelmed and switches from a thinking
    IMG_5253

    This scottie is at threshold, note the stiff body, hard eyed stare, tightly closed mouth. She needs her environment to change or she will be over threshold and react.

    state of mind to a reactive or shut down one. This looks different for each dog but can be observed as a refusal to eat food, vigilant staring, barking, growling, lunging, snapping, shaking, or the inability to respond to a well known behavior. Learning occurs best if the dog is below their threshold. If you find your dog in a situation where he is over his threshold, immediately adjust the situation (i.e.by asking the stranger to leave and come up with a new plan.

Management Examples:

  1. Have the dog ride in a covered crate that he has been conditioned to.
  2. Cover car windows with wax paper to reduce the inducement of the response. 
  3. Calming caps and snug thunder shirts can be worn by some dogs, after conditioning.
  4. Park away from foot traffic.
  5. Leave the dog home when you know you cannot avoid people near your car.

Training includes Classical Conditioning and Desensitization Classical conditioning is an approach where we pair something that created an unpleasant response with something highly rewarding to the dog, often food or toy play.  Desensitization means to make less sensitive. Its goal is to eliminate or reduce the exaggerated, response.

  • Desensitization is exposing an animal to a weak, less threatening version of the thing he fears or dislikes. We weaken the thing(person)  by making it smaller, slower, shorter lasting, farther away, less noisy, or still rather than moving. Over time, as the pet habituates at that low exposure, we gradually make the trigger, (person) stronger, for example, bringing it closer, increasing its volume or having it move. So a systematic desensitization plan starts with exposure to the least scary version of the feared thing and gradually moves to stronger versions until full or normal exposure is reached.
  • Start your CC/DES program with your dog out of the car, this will set your dog up for success as Imagehe will be below threshold and in thinking brain. 
  • Have a person walk by at a distance that your dog notices them but is not showing signs of stress. Reward your dog with a treat for noticing the person. Repeat this process of exposing your dog to the trigger and rewarding with high value food.
  • Once your dog is able to sit calmly while a person walks past, then you can start training your dog in the car, but with the door opened, so the dog does not feel trapped. Repeat the process of CC/DES until your dog is able to sit calmly in the car with the door open while the stimuli walks past.
  • If at any time during your training, your dog stops eating, or begins to show signs of nearing his threshold, then slow the progression down and take a step back in your training. This is your dogs way of saying I am not comfortable with the current situation. 
  • With your dog in the car and the door closed, keep the window open half way. Allow the person to walk past at a distance while you reward your dog for remaining calm. As this person gets closer to your car, you can have them toss high value treats in the car window. 
  • With each training session, I suggest you start with your dog way below threshold as this is beneficial to your dogs success.
  • By pairing food with a trigger at a sub-threshold distance (a distance where a dog has little or mild to no response) we are getting the “looking forward to” instead of the aggressive response. This process is also known as conditioned emotional response (CER) and the purpose is to change the complete emotional response towards something that was considered to be unpleasant to the dog before.
A relaxed dog is calm dog.

Core characteristics will prevent some dogs from reaching this level of relaxation, but all dogs can be conditioned to feel calm and physically settle in a car when people are passing.

The only way to control car aggression 100% is to never take your dog in the car. For many, that is unthinkable as we enjoy having our dogs with us. So if  your dog reacts in the car, first, teach your dog to relax in your home and other environments including your car with no distractions.  Again, this is hugely helpful for the dog with poor impulse control. While you are teaching your dog to relax be sure to use management, so your dog is not practicing this unwanted behavior. Train your dog to have a different response using a systematic approach of classical conditioning and desensitization. Finally, be realistic about how much progress you hope to make. No one said it is easy to change a dogs response, but imagine if you lower your dogs reaction by 20% in 30 days of training. How about the idea of 50% reduced reaction in 60 days of training.  With this recipe, I hope you get started today!

 

 

 

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Aggression or a Normal Response?

Posted on Nov 13, 2016 in Aggression, Dog Training, Leash Training, Positive Reinforcement, Posts, Reaction, Reactive, Socialization | 0 comments

 Based on their maturity and tolerance, dogs respond to other dogs behaviors in different ways. Let’s be honest, many of you reading this have disagreed with another person, lost your temper, and became angry in response to someones actions. 

Consider:  Una, a beautiful long haired German Shepherd, loves to play with dogs and has shown friendly behaviors to all the  dogs she has ever met. Until last week. As she was running on the beach with a Sheltie she just met, and all was well until she saw a tennis ball go flying over head.  Already on the run, Una bolted after the ball, but was immediately body slammed by a Retriever mix who was in hot pursuit of his beloved tennis ball. Upon crashing into each other, Una snarled at the Retriever mix as a reprimand for causing her a bit of pain, Una is six years old. He did not respond to her reprimand, yet remained running at her hip, Una beat him to the ball and snatched it up.

The Retriever Mix again body slammed Una, aroused from the chase, and feeling another shot of pain in her back, she dropped the ball and reprimanded the Retriever Mix by putting her mouth on his neck and giving him a good hard shake, then let him go.  The Retriever  snatching up the ball, and returned to his owner as if nothing had happened.  

Red, the Chow is being pushy.  Kandi, the Chow on the right will tolerate this for a bit, and then will growl and snap. Red takes the reprimand every time as is their relationship.

Red, the Chow on the left is engaging. Kandi, the Chow on the right will tolerate this for a bit, and then will growl and snap. Red takes the reprimand every time as is their relationship.

Una’s response to this Retriever’s use of body contact when playing was very appropriate in her mind, and she tried to return to playing chase with the Sheltie as she was enjoying this type of play. 

Response: Unfortunately, her owner saw her as being aggressive, and called Una in a harsh tone.  Una went to her owner who is usually trusting and gentle, but not this time, she was stiff and grabbed Una’s collar — nearly lifting her front feet off the ground.  Her owner is usually very excited when she comes when called, so Una was quite confused by this aggression.  The ride home was scary as her owner verbally scolded Una in a harsh tone.  Once home, Una was grabbed firmly by the collar and put into her crate while her owner continued to stomp around the house and gave Una hard-eyed stares. Una has now learned when her owner calls her it makes her feel very unsure and afraid.

The Malamute is moving forward as the Tuverian Shepherd is moving away.  These two dogs have very differnt playstyles as they are beginning to discover.

This Malamute, Loki is moving forward as the Tuverian Shepherd, Nell is moving away. These two dogs have very differnt play styles as they are beginning to discover, having just met.

Humans also respond with different levels of feedback depending on age and life experiences.  If the Retriever had lightly rubbed Una’s shoulder as he was heading to the ball or lightly bumped her body when she won the ball, she may have only turned away or growled. 

Did I mention Una initiates play with a play bow followed by a game of chase. She does not enjoy wrestling. Did Una have time to tell the Retriever Mix how she liked to play? Did he even ask? Is it possibly the Retriever has learned that a hard body slam is therefore more likely to win the ball?  Will Una’s feedback prevent him from body slamming another dog?  Doubtful, however it depends on his temperament and his sensitivity to a reprimand.

DSC08325

This Alaskan Malamute, Loki has not seen me in about a year. His use of space is very clear, he likes to be close!

My point: If your dog scuffles with another, consider the entire incident.  How well do they really know each other?  Was their contact made before an invitation was offered?  Was one dog trying to steal a resource from another?  Do the dogs have different styles of play?  If one dog is a wrestler and another only enjoys chase, then you can expect some conflict to occur. If the reprimand or feedback given ends in a puncture or broken skin, take a breath and ask your self how many times has your dog played with other dogs and not broken skin?  If the answer is many, then you can assume these two dogs were very different and conflict was somewhat expected. If your dog is beginning to reprimand dogs more often, then slow greetings down and be sure  the dogs have similar personalities, play styles and time to signal intentions. This will not only reduce conflict, it will reduce the level of reprimand, and make for a far more enjoyable ride home!

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Your Dog Bit Me!

Posted on Mar 22, 2016 in Aggression, Dog Training, Dominance, Leash Frustration, Pets, Posts, Training | 0 comments

Your dog has bitten a human and everyone is telling you to “euthanize your dog”.  First, take a breath and let’s assess the situation and understand why this bite occurred before making any decisions.  Consider the environment first and see what was happening.  Now, think about the dogs emotional state, shy with new people, startled by a sound or stimuli, sleeping, highly aroused, barking frantically, sitting nicely beside you, or guarding a resource?  

SNAP!

Snapping at this boy would be a normal response for this golden.

Most dog owners feel utterly shocked and embarrassed their dog would bite a person. They feel to relieve their guilt, they need to succumb to the pressure of family and friends and kill their dog.  I have taught many dogs with bite a history a soft mouth, yes, an older dog can learn and change.

Here are a few reasons dogs bite

  1. Guarding a resource that is worth fighting for.
  2. Being approached while confined by a lead.  
  3. When a stranger enters their home.
  4. While being body handled.
  5. Waking a fearful dog can result in a bite.
  6. Medical imbalance can cause dogs to over react.
  7. While trying to defend themselves from being attacked by another dog.
  8. If the growl does not get you to back off, a bite may just work.
  9. When a fearful dog is cornered.
  10. Some dogs actually learn that biting works.

Giving the dog a choice in the relationship.  We have all heard, “My dog is protective, ignore him.” If you are afraid then put him in a safe zone. If not, play a treat and retreat game,  to keep you safe and let a shy dog know of your intentions.    

Treat and Retreat Game

  1. With the dog on a 6 foot leash let the dog approach you, stand at an angle to the dog, stay soft in your joints and, blink often. 
  2. Toss a high value treat at his feet and then toss one behind him, repeat.
  3. If a dog chooses not to come near you or make contact, then you do not touch him.
  4. If he chooses to approach you, continue tossing treats or hand feed then toss a treat behind him.
  5. Hand feed him again then tossed one behind him, repeat.
  6. Turn to walk away, toss a treat and walk away from him, toss a treat and walk away, repeat. 
  7. If he is coming closer to you and has an open mouth and soft body, hand feed him, toss a treat away as you walk away.
  8. Ask the dog if he can sit or shake.
  9. If a dog can not do a behavior then do not touch them.
  10. If however he sits and or gives a paw, toss him a treat and repeat this pattern.
  11. Ask him to sit, give paw, hand feed and toss treat way behind him, repeat
  12. Ask him to sit, touch him under his chin, feed him and tossed him away.
  13. Continue this pattern of letting the dog approach you, sit, touch briefly and with the back of your hand, then toss him away. 
  14. Be aware of the dogs body language, any change will tell you you are moving too fast for his comfort.
Unknown-4

This dog is about to move away from the lady and her child.

Criteria changes here for each dog depending on how they feel about the environment and progression.  

Removing social pressure and letting the dog choose to be approached or touched is key for many shy dogs. Please respect your friend’s dog by giving him a choice in the relationship. Remember, not all dogs are social with people.

 
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Dominance: Reality or Myth

Posted on Feb 5, 2016 in Aggression, Certified Dog Trainer, Dog Training, Dominance, Pets, Positive Association, Posts, Puppy, Rescue Dog, Training |

I felt the need to share this article again as many dog owners and some dog trainer’s are not familiar with the Best way to train a dog.

by Donald J. Hanson, BFRAP, CDBC, CPDT-KA

It was in the September of 2000 that the first version of this article appeared in Paw Prints, the Green Acres Kennel Shop newsletter. I have updated the article ten years later because sadly there are still too many people, some of them animal professionals, and some who try to play the part on TV, promulgating the dominance myth.

Unfortunately a popular reality TV show has captured people’s attention and is talking about dogs as pack animals and again perpetuating the idea of using “calm-assertive energy” (read: fear and intimidation) to resolve issues with problem dogs.  Like most “reality” TV shows there is very little that is real here. The methods and approach used on this show are contraindicated by science and behavioral experts and many consider them inhumane. Unfortunately, many viewers do not seem to understand that the show is edited but instead believe “miracles happen in 30 minutes.” Even though each show contains a disclaimer; “please do not attempt any of these techniques on your own, consult with a professional,” people do try these techniques at home and cause further harm to dogs that are already suffering. As result the two largest organizations of professionals that deal with animal behavior; the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) have issued official positions warning against the use of the dominance approach in training or dealing with behavioral issues with dogs. Green Acres has elected to do the same in an effort to educate dog lovers about our position on this topic. That position statement can be found on our web site at www.greenacreskennel.com

If you attended a dog training class anytime  through the 1990’s, if you read any dog training books written during this period, or if you have had any behavioral issues with your dog, then you have most likely heard about dominance. You were probably told that in order to prevent your dog from becoming dominant that you had to: 1) always go through doorways first, 2) always eat before your dog, 3) never allow the images-2dog on furniture where they might be elevated above you, 4) never allow the dog to sleep on your bed, 5) always punish your dog for stealing or chewing things that belong to you, 6) push your dog away when they jump up or paw at you, and 7) never let your dog pull on leash. Essentially you were told that you had to be ever vigilant and that you had to do whatever it takes to show your dog that you were the boss in order to prevent him from taking over your home and becoming disobedient and even possibly aggressive.

The Myth

The concept of the dominant dog was based on a model of how wolves interact socially within a group. The wolves being studied were described as having a strict, force-based hierarchical structure where one male and one female were always the imagesdominant ones in the group. These dominant wolves had first access to the resources necessary for survival: food, water, and a mate, and fought to maintain this access. The other wolves in the pack were constantly challenging the alphas so that they could take their position and have access to the resources. Someone then extrapolated that since wolves and dogs are biologically the same species, dogs must also be struggling for dominance amongst each other and with us, and that this drive to be dominant is why dogs are disobedient and may even become aggressive.

This idea that dogs were striving to be the alphas over us resulted in the recommendation that we must always be dominant over our dogs and that the best way to do that is to use physical and mental intimidation, just like the captive wolves used with another. This philosophy was captured in a popular book of the 1970’s, How to Be Your Dogs Best Friend, by the Monks of New Skete. The Monks include detailed instructions for physically disciplining your dog. They recommended hitting your dog hard enough under the chin so that it hurts and shaking the dog by the scruff of their neck while yelling at them. The Monk’s described something they called the alpha-wolf roll-over as the ultimate punishment for the most severe disobedience. This involves grabbing the dog by the scruff of their neck and firmly and rapidly rolling the dog on its back and pinning it while making eye contact and yelling at the dog. In their book the Monks asserted that these disciplinary techniques are what a mother wolf would use in the wild to discipline her pups.

My first personal experience with the alpha-wolf roll-over occurred in the very first dog training class that I attended. Paula and I were taking our new Cairn Terrier puppy to a dog training class based on the recommendation of our veterinarian. We knew nothing about training dogs and assumed that the people teaching the class did. Gus was approximately 12 weeks of age and had no prior training. It was the very first night of class and ALL the puppies were expected to sit on command. When Gus images-1would not sit, the instructor told me I had to show him who was boss and make him sit, and if he still wouldn’t do it, then I should alpha roll him. Well Gus wouldn’t sit (I know now he had no clue what I was even asking for) and so I was told to “roll him!” I soon had a terrified (unknown to or disregarded by everyone) Gus, flat on his back, pinned to the floor, eyes rolling, body writhing, mouth growling and snapping at everything. The instructor was really adamant now: “We can’t have that! Grab his muzzle and clamp it shut!” My instincts said “Whoa! That’s not safe!” but these people were the “experts” so I grabbed Gus’ muzzle in my hand. Instantly, I felt his canines puncture my palm as my blood started dripping on the floor. Gus broke free and moved as far away from me as he could. There is something to be said for listening to your gut instincts. Gus listened to his. I failed to listen to mine. Unbeknownst to me at the time, everything that I had read and been taught about the Alpha Wolf Roll-Over was based upon flawed knowledge. My puppy was afraid for his life and it was my fault.

The Reality

The wolves being studied that resulted in the conception of the dominance construct were not a pack of wolves living in the wild but were in fact a mixed non-familial group of wolves living in a fenced enclosure with far less resources than what would be available in the wild. This was not a normal wolf pack nor were these wolves in a typical environment.

We now know that true wolf packs, living in the wild, do NOT have a strict, force-based hierarchical structure. In Alpha Status, Dominance, and Division of Labor in Wolf Packs, biologist L. D. Mech notes “… in natural wolf packs, the alpha male or female are merely the breeding animals, the parents of the pack, and dominance contests with other wolves are rare, if they exist at all. During my 13 summers observing the Ellesmere Island pack, I saw none.” What Mech observed was a family of wolves: a breeding pair, pups and possibly some of last year’s pups. The breeding pair provides for and raises the young until such time that they move on to start their own pack and families. This is how a typical wolf pack in the wild interacts. In order to survive they must work together. If they were constantly fighting one another they would not live to reproduce.
While we know that wolves and dogs are biologically the same, we also know that behaviorally they are very different. On page 24 in the book Dogs, evolutionary biologist Dr. Raymond Coppinger states: “Dogs may well be closely related to wolves but that does not mean they behave like wolves. People are closely related to chimps but that doesn’t make us a subspecies of chimpanzees. Nor does it mean we behave like chimps.” Coppinger goes on to explain some of the differences between dogs and wolves: 1) dogs are not as quick at learning and have poor problem solving skills, 2) dogs have smaller brains, 3) dogs are easily tamed, 4) dogs are better scavengers, and 5) even when feral, dogs do not have a pack structure. As Coppinger states on page 67: “I don’t think a dog knows what people are talking about when they exhibit this “alpha wolf” behavior. Dogs do not understand such behaviors because the village dogs didn’t have a pack structure; they were semi solitary animals.” “In fact, contrary to popular belief, dog’s around the world do not (or only rarely) exhibit ‘pack’ behavior.” Coppinger’s observations are made based on his study of dogs throughout the world.

As for Gus and me, I do not really remember much of what happened next other than being offered ice for my hand as Paula worked with Gus for the remainder of the class. In fact, Gus and I were rather wary of each other for quite some time and I let Paula images-2take him to the rest of his classes for the next couple of years. Over time and lots of games of tennis ball, Gus and I learned to trust one another again and started having fun. As I started to learn more about dogs I discovered that there were far better ways to train a dog than with fear and intimidation and trying to be dominant.

So, if my dog Is not dominant, why does he misbehave?

So, if wolves do not have a rigid force-based hierarchy and dogs are not really wolves and do not form a dominance hierarchy, why then do some dogs exhibit some of the obnoxious, undesirable behaviors which in the past have been attributed to dominance? I believe there are some of the most common reasons we see undesirable behaviors in dogs:

Unrealistic expectations – Many people expect dogs to be furry little people with human values and morals. They do not like that dogs exhibit normal canine behaviors such as mounting other dogs, sniffing dog butts, and jumping up on people, just to name a few. Some of the behaviors we find undesirable are perfectly normal for a canine. To not accept these behaviors is simply unrealistic.  However, if we find a behavior such as mounting undesirable, we can easily teach our dog a behavior such as “off,” which gives them something else to do, which is mutually exclusive to mounting. For some illogical reason people expect a dog to always comply with every command they give. How many people do you do know that always do everything they are told to do?

Failure to manage the dog and its environment – Every dog has at least two trainers; its guardian and the environment in which it lives. The typical guardian probably spends less than an hour per day actively training their dog while the environment is working 24 hours a day seven days a week. Therefore, part of training any dog needs to be the proactive and intelligent management of the environment in which the dog lives. For example, dogs are scavengers and are always looking for food. If your dog steals a steak off the countertop it is not because they are trying to become dominant, it is because we left the steak somewhere the dog could get and then left the dog alone in that room. Instead, we need to take advantage of the fact that we are smarter than the dog manage the environment to prevent undesirable behaviors. If a dog is successful in a behavior, it will be repeated, not because it is dominant but because it has learned the behavior is rewarding.

Failure to train the dog – Too few people take the time to take their dog through at least one training class. These people often end up with a dog that has “issues” and is then labeled “dominant”. Every dog needs to be trained and training needs to continue throughout the dog’s life. The best way to train any animal, dog or human, is by rewarding them for the behaviors we like and managing their environment to prevent behaviors we do not like.

Unintentional training – Many people do not realize that they are rewarding the dog for the behaviors they do not like. Chasing the dog when he steals a sock rewards the dog for stealing, pushing him off when he jumps up rewards him for jumping, and letting him go forward with the leash tight is rewarding him for pulling on leash. We cannot blame the dog when we reward these undesirable behaviors.

Allowing the dog to train you – A lot of “dominance” issues involve dogs that have essentially become spoiled brats. Their guardians have not taken the time to learn about dogs but instead treat the dog as if it were a furry child, allowing the dog to train them. Dogs do what works, and if they find they can stay on the couch by growling or get attention by pawing at you, then that is what they are going to do. These dogs are not dominant; they have quite simply done a very effective job of training you, instead of you training them.

Physical Punishment – People who choose to train their dog with physical punishment are more likely to see “dominant” like behaviors such as growling, images-1because they put their dog in a position of fearing for their safety. Tools such as shock collars, prong collars and choke collars are designed to cause pain which often results in the dog becoming fearful. When your dog is afraid or feels pain he will respond accordingly, and that response may be aggressive in nature. Rather than rewarding desirable behaviors, these people focus on punishing for undesirable behaviors and in so doing create a dog that is always on the defensive and afraid that making the wrong choice will cause pain.

Failure to meet the dog’s needs – A common reason for undesirable behaviors in dogs is our failure to meet the dog’s most basic needs including physical exercise and mental stimulation. Stealing a sock or your underwear is a great way for the dog to get the attention from you he wants and needs. To a dog, it can be very rewarding to be chased and yelled at, especially if this is the only exercise their guardian provides.

Emotional issues – In my experience most aggressive behavior by dogs is not due to “dominance” but is due to an emotional reaction, fear and anger being the most typical. A dog that is afraid is a dog under stress and like a person under severe stress can react very irrationally and if they feel threatened very forcefully. Sadly there are Unknown-2still trainers that tell people to punish their dogs for growling or advise them to force the dog into a sit-stay and allow people to pet it until the dog becomes comfortable. This would be akin to taking a person afraid of snakes and tying them in a chair and allowing snakes to crawl all over them. This approach is certainly not humane and is more likely to make the fear worse. Dogs with emotional issues can be helped, but a training class is usually not the answer.

Undesirable behaviors in dogs that are attributed to “dominance” are not due to a pack driven instinct of the dog, but rather are due to our failure to take responsibility for the dog’s needs, and to properly, humanely train ourselves and our dog. If a dog is “dominant” it’s because we have trained them to be so.

Strive to be good guardians and provide your dogs with everything they need, including food, water, shelter, training, mental stimulation, physical exercise and common sense management. Then they will not learn the undesirable behaviors that in the past have been erroneously attributed to dominance.

Originally published in Green Acres Kennel Shop Paw Prints, September 2002.

Update August 2010

© Donald J. Hanson, BFRAP, CDBC, CPDT-KA

For a more information on the dominance myth, we recommend the following books and articles:

Recommended Reading for Further Education

Books

Dogs: A new Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior and Evolution, Raymond and Lorna Coppinger, University of Chicago Press, 2001.
Dominance: Fact or Fiction, Barry Eaton, 2002.
Dominance Theory and Dogs Version 1.0, James O’Heare, DogPsych Publishing, 2003.
Don’t Shoot the Dog – The New Art of Teaching and Training (2nd edition), Karen Pryor, Bantam Books, 1999.
On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals, Turid Rugaas, Dogwise Publishing, 2006.
Stress in Dogs,Martina Scholz and Clarissa von Reinhardt, Dogwise Publishing, 2007.
The Culture Clash, Jean Donaldson, James & Kenneth Publishers, 2005.
The Power of Positive Dog Training, Pat Miller, Howell Book House, 2001.

Articles

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior 2009. AVSAB Position Statement on the  Use of Dominance Theory in Behavior Modification of animals. (http://www.avsabonline.org/avsabonline/images/stories/Position_Statements/dominance%20statement.pdf –  http://bit.ly/4rUf20)

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior 2007. AVSAB Position Statement – Punishment Guidelines: The use of punishment for dealing with animal behavior problems. (http://www.avsabonline.org/avsabonline/images/stories/Position_Statements/Combined_Punishment_Statements.pdfhttp://bit.ly/acLqtl)

Association of Pet Dog Trainers 2009. APDT Position Statement on Dominance and Dog Training (http://www.apdt.com/petowners/choose/dominance.aspxhttp://bit.ly/6lmj7w)

Association of Pet Dog Trainers 2009. Dominance Myths and Dog Training Realities (http://www.apdt.com/petowners/choose/dominancemyths.aspxhttp://bit.ly/6Gigqd)

Blackwell, Emily J., Twells, Caroline Anne, Seawright, Rachel A. Casey. 2008. The relationship between training methods and the occurrence of behavior problems, as reported by owners, in a population of domestic dogs. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, September/October 2008, pp 207-217. (http://www.journalvetbehavior.com/article/S1558-7878%2807%2900276-6/abstracthttp://bit.ly/bgbtBX)

Bradshaw J.W.S., Blackwell E.J., Casey R.A. 2009. Dominance in domestic dogs – useful construct or bad habit? Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, May/June 2009, pp 135-144. (http://www.pawsoflife.org/pdf/Library%20articles/Bradshaw%202009.pdfhttp://bit.ly/aborOI)

Herron M.E., Shofer F.S., Reisner I.R. 2009. Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors. Applied Animal Behavior Science, 117, pp. 47-54.  (http://www.k9events.com/dog_training_method.pdfhttp://bit.ly/84g7my)

Hiby, E.F., Rooney, N.J., Bradshaw, J.W.S., 2004. Dog training methods—their use, effectiveness and interaction with behaviour and welfare. Anim. Welfare 13, 63–69. (http://www.antrozoologisenteret.no/artikler/art_training_methods.pdfhttp://bit.ly/8JkPfE)

Mech L.D. 1999. Alpha Status, Dominance, and Division of Labor in Wolf Packs. Canadian Journal of Zoology. (http://www.wolf.org/wolves/learn/basic/resources/mech_pdfs/267alphastatus_english.pdfhttp://bit.ly/4TZ89P)

Mech L.D. 2008. Whatever happened to the term alpha wolf? International Wolf. (http://www.4pawsu.com/alphawolf.pdfhttp://bit.ly/c7Cyel)

Ryan, David. 2010. Why Won’t “Dominance” Die? Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors website, www.apbc.org,

Hanson, Don, 2010, Brambell’s Five Freedoms, Green Acres Kennel Shop web site, (http://www.greenacreskennel.com/pages/Articles/ART_Brambells_5_Freedoms.htmlhttp://bit.ly/au2LOn)

 

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Bite Prevention with Guests

Posted on Dec 31, 2015 in Aggression, Barking, Certified Dog Trainer, Dog Training, Positive Reinforcement, Posts, Reactive, Rescue Dog, Safety | 0 comments

This is the fifth of a five part segment, to help dog owners with insecure dogs that act aggressively to strangers.  A practical guide to helping owners with dogs who rush and bark at people through windows, fences, at the front door and on leash.  

The steps we discussed in weeks prior are:
Step 1. Management; prevent your dog from practicing the unwanted behavior.
Step 2. Desensitization and counter condition; change how your dog feels.
Step 3.  Bite Prevention; understanding your shy dogs Distance Cues.
Step 4. Emotional Control Exercises; helping your dog have better impulse control.
Step 5.  Adding Criteria; discussed below.
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The dog has a choice to follow the person as they treat and retreat backwards.

Adding Criteria in general: Now that your dog has better emotional control in quiet settings, I recommend you begin to add some criteria to your training in very small steps.  When training fails it is often because we humans want the behavior to be corrected or stopped without changing how the dog feels. Small criteria additions would be training your dog in your driveway or yard, staying a safe distance from the street.  If you are in a city environment, then begin this step inside the house near a window, inside the front door or in the back yard.  Another option is to drive your dog to a safe location at the end of your street where you have a friend waiting with instructions on how to toss a treat at your dogs feet, and then toss one further away as you walk a bit. Have a successful short training session then return home to relax.

 Adding Criteria with guests:   If your dog is highly aroused inside the front door, begin your training with a guest outside your home or down the street, as your dog needs to be in a thinking brain for desensitization to work.  If your dog is on a leash, be sure the leash is slack and the handler follows the dog, rather than directing the dog’s movements. This gives your insecure dog a choice in how close he wants to be to the stranger, which allows desensitization to be effective, and it allows you to constantly see how your dog is feeling. Pay attention to your dog and note the difference in his body language with guests in your home compared to on the street.  BEGIN training where your dog is calmer. If your dog gets stiff, begins breathing fast, growling, or barking, simply take a short break and move farther from his territory.  When you begin again, increase the number of times you toss the treat far away so the dog does not feel like you are trying to “trick” him, as this will halt any desensitization you expect to accomplish.  This process may take three or four session with the same person down the street before your dog can relax, that is fine, just go at your dogs pace.

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happy, soft eyre, open mouth, relaxed ears on this scottie

Adding Criteria in your home:  As long as you are seeing your dog with a relaxed face and body outside your home, you can continue with your guest entering your home first, ahead of you and your dog, then continue the treat and retreat game, with your dog on a slack leash remembering the dog has a choice.

Regardless of how the people are positioned (standing, sitting, moving etc.) the dog is free to approach or avoid at any time. The dog may choose to come into a person’s space or not, may choose to enter and stay in that space, or may choose to enter and then leave. This process helps the dog feel safe because he is in control, preventing him from sliding into fight mode. When your dog feels safe, he will be able to think and learn and associate your guest with a positive association.

Time frame: Each dog will progress at a different pace and they can only go at their pace.  Factors that change this time frame are how the person smells, how many guests you have, how tall they are, male or female, how fast they move, if they make direct eye contact, if they are nervous, if they lean over the dog too far or stomp their feet.  If your dog goes over his comfort level, he may lunge and or snap, I do not recommend you punish your dog, simply slow the progression down until you reduce your dogs fear. 

Reducing your dogs fear of humans will be a process if you own a shy or insecure dog.  Your guests or friends participating in the desensitization process should be coached to not approach the dog, but rather wait for the dog to approach them to begin the treat and retreat game.  Giving the dog a choice in the relationship will keep him feeling safe and in control so he is able to change how he feels about humans.

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soft eyes, ears, open relaxed mouth are signs of a relaxed dog

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