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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Teaching a Dog to Sit, Stay will Improve His Emotional Control

Posted on Dec 26, 2015 in Aggression, Barking, Dog Training, Leash Frustration, Leash Training, Pets, Positive Reinforcement, Posts, Rescue Dog, Training, Unleashed Control |

Briggs is practicing a down stay in the field.

Briggs is practicing a down stay in the field.

This is Blog #4 in helping the dog who is barking and lunging at people.

Step 1. Management; prevent him from practicing the unwanted behavior.

Step 2. Desensitization and counter condition; change how your dog feels.

Step 3.  Understanding your dogs Distance Cues.

Step 4.  Emotional Control Exercises, teaching your dog to sit and down stay will help your dog have better emotional control. 

Begin training sessions of  5-10 minutes several times a day in a low distraction environment.(Some where in your home is a good place to start). The secret to a good stay is to not move through the stages too fast. Build up gradually by adding duration and distractions.

Nice sit stay in the heel position by Layla.

Nice sit stay in the heel position by Layla.

Using the Collar: Say dogs name and ask dog to sit, touch the collar and say “stay” while holding a flat hand in front of the dogs face. Reward quickly with a few treats, repeat.  Now try it without holding the collar, “come, sit, stay” reward, reward, then release. Repeat while standing.

Using the Leash:  Say dogs name and ask dog to “sit, stay” while a raising a flat hand. Reward quickly with a few treats, then release your dog and repeat. 

Duration: You may have to reward with treats every few seconds, then release your dog.  The goal is your dog will want to “stay” as this is rewarding, when you release him the food stops.  If your dog moves before you release him, walk or look away and try the pattern again but reward generously until they understand what it is you are asking.

Add Criteria: Using your dogs daily meal, repeat this pattern “come, sit, stay” or “heel, sit, stay” reward and release, repeat while adding duration in every room of your house.  Add higher criteria by having a familiar person walk past and reward generously if your dog holds his sit, stay.  If he breaks, no worries, show him the food and repeat the pattern until he is successful.  Progress to sit, stay outside in the driveway, yard and street with no distractions then add criteria by having a  familiar person walk past and reward generously for good emotional control.  

Down stay in a public place.

Down stay in a public place.

Success: By now your dog understands that when a person walks by “good things can happen.”  If your dog training is failing, I will bet it is because the criteria is too high for the dog.  Set your dog up for success and reward many repetitions of sit, stay or down,stay in many locations with only familiar friends passing by.  As your dog matures, he will develop better emotional control in a variety of situations AND see people passing by as a predictor that good things can happen.  If your dog does not have strong emotional control at home, then please do not ask him to sit and stay in a public location as this criteria is too high.

Time Frame: Each dog will progress at a different pace and they can only go at their pace.  Factors that change how your dog feels and reacts can include how a person smells, how tall they are, male or female, how fast they move, if they make direct eye contact, if they are nervous,  lean over the dog, cough, laugh or even stomp their feet.  If there is one person or several makes a huge difference how each dog feels.  If your dog goes over his comfort level, he may lunge and snap.  Do not punish, simply slow the progression down until you reduce your dogs fear. 

Personal Experience: I have progressed countless clients through this process, and two of my own dogs! I am not worried

Breakfast was earned holding a down stay in different locations.

Breakfast was earned holding a down stay in different locations.

about either of my dogs lunging or biting a guest.  I rescued my Scottish Terrier at 5 years of age with a history of multiple bites, after 18 months of training she passed her Canine Good Citizen Certification and can now greet people in my house. For months, I had to introduce her to guests on the street, then in the yard and eventually inside my home,  this is a detailed desensitization process.  The good news is you will get there with your furry friend, just take your time, manage when you can not train, train below your dogs threshold and practice daily using his meal.

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Dog Bite Prevention

Posted on Dec 19, 2015 in Aggression, Certified Dog Trainer, Dog Training, Posts, Reactive, Rescue Dog, Safety, Training | 0 comments

This is Blog #3 of a 5 part series on how to prevent your dogs from biting a stranger using a positive approach.

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This Boston terrier is terrified as demonstrated by his wide eyes, ears drawn back, face turned away, lips pulled tight and closed mouth all show his fear.This is the third blog on how to help the dog who is barking and lunging at people using a positive approach.

Blog #1 How to Stop Aggressive Dog Barking at People

Read Blog #1  I discuss the importance of good management; preventing your dog from practicing the unwanted behavior of lunging at people.

Blog #2 Dog Aggression Towards Humans. 

Read Blog #2  I explain how to desensitize and counter condition; or change how your dog feels about people.

In this Blog I will teach you how to prevent your dog from biting a person by helping you understand when your dog is feeling stressed and needs more space from an unfamiliar person.  Dogs will offer requests for distance, called distance cues until they learn that their requests go ignored by the human. If they are still afraid, they will simply bite as their fear overrides their ability to think.

Distance Cues are body postures or signs your dog uses to tell strangers (and other dogs) they would like to have more space.  These behaviors begin with the puppy and are called “shy dogs” and can include skittish behaviors such as looking away, leaning away, cowering, hiding under furniture, paw lifted, quick lip licking, and enlarged eyes with the whites of the eyes showing.  

Go away is apparent by this dog leaning away from the hand, his paw is raised in a submissive gesture.

The need for distance is apparent by this dogs lowered head, entire body leaning away from the hand, and his paw is raised in a submissive gesture.

If you see your dog offer a distance cue then you need to help your dog by asking people to ignore your dog, back away or removing your dog from the encounter. Low level distances cues should never be punished, as this can result in a dog that is not allowed to express his fear, hence the dog may bite with no apparent warning.

 Forward stance with a show of aggression works also.

Forward stance with a show of aggression works.

Some dogs learn that these distance cues are ignored by humans, so they simply avoid humans to avoid conflict.  However, many dogs learn to use more aggressive cues and postures  such as head up with a forward stance, growling, lip curling, air snapping, lunging and barking just to mention a few.  

Sadly, I have had hundreds of clients tell me their dog used to be “shy with humans but is now lunging and snapping at them.” If a fearful/shy dog is not properly conditioned to see people as a source of good things, he may learn to use more forward body postures with a show of teeth, growling or air snapping.  When a dog learns that this posture works, of course they will use it as it makes them feel safe.  

Unfortunately, if a fast moving person or child moves into a shy or fearful dogs space, your dog may not have time to show a low level distance cue and may bite as they simply did not have time to think, and they just reacted out of fear.  Imagine when a bee flies at your face, many of you will swat it with your hand, right?  Are you being aggressive or defensive?  My experience is that most dogs bite in a defensive manner.

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This golden retriever mix has enlarged pupils, closed tight mouth, and stress signs around his eyes.

What can you do if your puppy is shy? Find a Puppy Socialization Class with a focus on bite inhibition, also known as a “soft mouth” behaviors.  Judy’s Puppy Socialization Class for the Family Pet  In addition, you can learn the Treat and Retreat Program designed by Suzanne Clothier which can be found in many Shy Dog Classes, Fear Aggression /Shy Dog Class.  In this class I discuss key topics:

  • Invasion of space and how social pressure effects your dog
  • How Reinforcers are used to increase confidence 
  • Safety while adding criteria in a slow progression 
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Note the closed mouth, still body and the tucked tail. This dog is NOT asking you to pet his belly.

Finally, if you are feeling overwhelmed with your dogs growly behavior towards your friend, or even a family member, think about this criteria.

  1. Be sure you teach your dog a soft mouth.Teach a soft mouth
  2. Change how your dog feels about strangers using classical conditioning and desensitization
  3. Learn canine body language so you know when your dog is feeling stressed.

 

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Dog Aggression Towards Humans

Posted on Dec 11, 2015 in Aggression, Barking, Dog Training, Pets, Positive Association, Posts, Rescue Dog, Training | 0 comments

Working at the fence only when you dog is calm.

Working at the fence only when you dog is calm.

In my last blog, I mentioned that changing your dogs behavior begins with good management which prevents him from practicing the unwanted behavior.

I will now explain how to change your dog’s response when meeting a stranger, using the processes of counter-conditioning and desensitization.  Counter-conditioning means changing the negative association the dog has formed about people, and replacing it with a positive, happy association using something the dog loves. Desensitization means exposing the dog to the “stimulus” (in this case, a person) at a distance, far enough away that it does not provoke a fear response from your dog, and gradually reducing the distance to the person until the dog is relaxed with the person nearby. Subsequent training can continue as your dog remains calm, and is able to accept treats or play with toys.

Repeat this process for several weeks in neutral environments, like your street, rewarding your dog when a stranger appears as long as your dog is in a thinking frame of mind and not barking and lunging.   

Pablo looks at me with dogs in the distance

Pablo looks at me with dogs in the distance

Over time, your dog sees a stranger and begins to feel less stressed and can offer a behavior like looking at you for something rewarding, like food or a game of tug.  Changing your dogs emotional state will change his behavior.

Friends who want to help you can participate in this desensitization process but should be coached to not approach your dog, but rather wait for the dog to approach them.  Then they can toss a treat at his feet, then toss one farther away behind the dog to help the dog feel safer.  The friend can continue to walk down the street while leaving a trail of treats behind them for the dog to enjoy. Hence, people = yummy food! 

I suggest you introduce new friends outside your home or down the street, as your dog needs to be calm 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 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: if they become stiff, intense, begin breathing fast, or barking, slow down as desensitization needs to happen to change your dogs behavior.

I rescued my scottie with a 5 bite history, she can now greet strangers in neutral environments with a relaxed happy state of mind.

Avoid trying to “make your dog like guest right inside your front door” as this is often where your dog is barking and growling, therefore he is not calm enough to learn.  Sure, he may gobble up the treats, but if he is still highly aroused such that you need to hold him tight, then he may be over threshold which slows your progress. 

In Summary, to desensitize your dog to strangers effectively, you MUST start in a location where your dog is calm.  If your dog acts aggressively towards strangers at your front door, then start outside in the yard or on your street.  If your dog acts aggressively at the gate or fence, then you need to take your dog to a neutral environment down the street so he can be calm enough to think and learn. If a dog is acting aggressively when you approach his kennel, then start with him outside where he is calm and can think. Many dog owners fail to change how their dogs feel about strangers because they start in locations that are over their dogs threshold so no learning can happen.

This process of counter-conditioning and desensitization may take 6 week, or 6 years! It simply depends on your dog’s current associations.  So be a good dog owner, and if you see your dog acting anxious or skittish around people, begin the process of counter-conditioning and desensitization so you can reduce your dogs stress when around strangers and therefore reduce a potential bite.

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How to Stop Aggressive Dog Barking at People

Posted on Dec 3, 2015 in Aggression, Barking, Dog Training, Leash Frustration, Leash Training, Positive Reinforcement, Posts, Reactive | 0 comments

This is the first of a five part segment, to help dog owners with 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.  If your dog displays these behaviors, at guests when they enter, your dog may be shy or fearful of strangers. Reducing his fear is essential to changing his behavior. Keep in mind this behavior can simply be frustration as well, determining the difference is another topic!

Now, Steps in helping the dog who is barking and lunging at people.

Step 1. Management; prevent him from practicing the unwanted behavior.

Step 2. Desensitization and counter condition; change how your dog feels.

Step 3.  Understanding your dogs Distance Cues.

Step 4. Emotional Control Exercises; help your dog have better impulse control.

Step 5. Adding Criteria and Generalization

 

Let’s start by understanding how to effectively manage the adolescent dog so he is not becoming worse during your training.  The key is to prevent your dog from practicing this barking behavior when in the home, car, yard, or anywhere.

Management: means changing the environment so your dog is not being put in a situation that triggers his fear or pushes him over threshold to this barking behavior.   These negative experiences will slow your training process and are often practiced as they are rewarding to your dog.  Behaviors that are practiced will not fade or change, so management is essential during your training.

I wish all my dogs were this relaxed while riding in a car.

For example, if your dog barks at people when in the car, you can put your dog in a comfortable crate with chew toys and a light sheet over it so your dog cannot see people. Before putting your dog in any crate, you want to condition this crate as a safe and comfortable place to be.  Feeding your dog in the crate for several days can help your dog feel safe in this crate.  Another option is to tape some wax paper up to the inside of the car windows, while not a fashion statement, it can be effective.

For the dog that runs the fence line barking daily, this behavior should not be allowed to occur.  Fences can often cause frustration, so spending time with you dog outside is essential to prevent unwanted chasing and barking. You might consider moving the fence to the back yard only so your dog can not see people passing. 

Windows in the home can easily be covered with wax paper to block the view as this can be a trigger for barking.  Moving the furniture so your dog cannot sit high enough to see out, or using baby gates to block access to these environments is also recommended as effective management.

IMG_1742While out for a walk on a leash, I suggest you have a plan to avoid people within the distance that makes your dog become aroused or stressed until you have a chance to desensitize and counter condition this behavior.  If your dog can pass a person 40 feet away without showing signs of stress or arousal, then this is where you should keep your dog so he is having a successful walk with little stress. 

My next blog in this series will complement the management techniques discussed here. It will detail exactly how to change this type of behavior using the scientific approach IMG_3126.JPGof desensitization and counter conditioning.  This is how I helped many clients dogs and changed my Scotty’s behavior after adopting her at 5 years of age.  The complete timeframe for this process can be from 6-months to 2-years, depending on the dog. For my Scotty this process took 18 months, and it was well worth the effort as she is now living a much calmer and happier life!  See you soon for more practical training for dogs who bark at humans.

 

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