Dog Fight or Reprimand?

Posted on Jul 21, 2018 in Aggression, Dog Training, Leash Training, Reaction, Rescue Dog, Socialization, Training | 0 comments

Good dogs resolve conflict — all by themselves! 

Below, I outline an incident that occurred at a local park in detail and include what each dog’s body language indicated. There are good lessons here on how dogs resolve conflict and set the rules for the playground!

Here are the Players:

First we have Mo, a scruffy adolescent female terrier weighing about 20 lbs., who enters other dog’s space quickly and without hesitation. Next we have Nel, a shy adolescent female of about 40 lbs. who approaches other dogs hesitantly when greeting. Our third dog is a small 10 lb adolescent male named, Arlo who would sniff all the dogs and then run away and pee on the nearest tree only to repeat the pattern again. Finally, there is Ann, an adult 55 lb female who enjoys chasing squirrels mostly, and was extremely tolerant of other dogs sniffing her.

This is when it gets interesting!

This is an example of the scene, terrier closing space and insecure dog baking away.

Ann, Nel and Arlo had just politely greeted each other moments before when they spotted the gregarious Mo trotting towards them from a distance with head and tail up. From about 30 feet away, Mo began to sprint and squared off and growled nose to nose at Nel.  Nel stepped back about 6 inches from Mo when Ann stepped in with a reprimand. Ann chest bumped Mo right on her back.

 

This is when it gets noisy!

That is when it got noisy with both dogs growling as Ann stood over Mo and reprimanded her by holding her down with her mouth. I could see Ann’s mouth was open and was fairly sure she was not biting down. I quickly stepped in to separate the two, and Mo ran away.

This is an example of the scene, but not the actual dogs at the park.

Ann never even look at me, which was much appreciated as some dogs will redirect if they are too aroused. She was not. Ann immediately relaxed, and I do not even remember her shaking off. Next, Nel walked over and licked Ann’s face, possibly in appeasement.

 

This is when Mo should have stayed!

Mo’s mom was screaming at the top of her lungs saying what a bad dog Ann was and that Mo just had “poor social skills”.  I attempted to tell her to put Mo back down so that Mo could resolve the issue and learn from it.  I was certain that Ann was quite calm and had resolved the disagreement quickly.  But Mo’s Mom was upset, even though she knew that Mo was not even scratched. She left without understanding that her dog was the one that started the conflict and most likely learned an important lesson. Ann was truly just reprimanding Mo for being rude to Nel. Period.

This is my point:

If you own a dog that quickly charges into unfamiliar dogs faces and growls or gets even mildly stiff, avoid allowing this to happen.  It is a matter of time, before your dog “with poor social skills” gets put in it’s place by an adult dog who is confident enough to do so. You might complain that your dog was “attacked”. However, if there is minimal damage, it means your dog just received a reprimand for being rude. It is often just that simple. The adult dog should not be punished for reprimanding and setting rules on the playground.  Mo is clearly an insecure dog and selected the shy dog Nel to bully. Thankfully, Ann was there to keep the peace!

This is what you can do: Slow down the introduction.

After 5 minutes, this beagle never looked at the lab. The bagle was saying “no thanks”.

Begin by walking your dog toward the other dog on leash, but stop about 15 feet away and let the dogs communicate a few seconds. Call them away and repeat. The insecure dog will eventually learn to read other dogs cues from a safe distance as they mature. I use a very slow approach to be sure both dogs want to greet. If one dog is looking away, turning away, or ground sniffing, then you do not get any closer. However, if both dogs are still expressing loose body wiggles  after 5 minutes of parallel walking, then continue to get closer.

This is an example: 

 How to Introduce New Dogs

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Dog Bite Prevention

Posted on Nov 26, 2017 in Aggression, Positive Association, Rescue Dog, Training | 0 comments

As a dog trainer, I often work with dogs who have bitten people, yet I am able to hand feed and often begin body handling them without getting bitten myself.  Since dog bite prevention is a critical focus of my reward-based dog training, I will share some simple techniques to reduce your chances of being bit by a dog.

Learn to read dog body language:

Relaxed Body Language

If the dog is facing you, look for signs he is calm and relaxed. These would include a loose body (free of tension), open mouth, relaxed ears, soft blinking eyes, relaxed neutral tail and ears. These are communications signs from the dog that he is feeling okay about you near him. This handsome boy is offering me friendly relaxed body language as he stands at an angle showing he is feeling comfortable about my presence.

Stressed Body Language

If the dog is facing you with a closed mouth, or a non blinking eye, with body weight forward, or stiff, or eager to get to you in an aroused state. He may be saying stay where you are.

This cute fuzzy face is facing me directly with his head and neck raised up, closed mouth, still body, with round eyes that are not blinking. All signs the dog is unsure, and asking me to stay away.

 

 

Consider the history:  Dogs who have been physically grabbed, alpha rolled, held down, and dominated are 100% more likely to feel stress when approached by a stranger.  These dogs often panic, are unable to think clearly and overreact to a strangers approach by lunging, growling or snapping as their safety is paramount. Dogs who have not experienced positive associations with humans will be less trusting and may take a while to trust. The dog must set the pace in the relationship.

What do I do to avoid being bitten?  

  • I stop moving, turn my face away, raise my chin up and slowly turn sideways to the dog, relax my joints as I take a deep breadth.  
  • IMPORTANT! I never reach my hand out (BAD IDEA). 
  • I Begin by asking the dog to come into my space. If he looks at me then looks away, he is telling me he is worried and I should not approach.

If you ask a dog to come to you and they turn away, let them be. This dog is removing herself from what she perceives is a scary situation.

  • If the dog is displaying  low body compression, curved back, I will often get low and turn slightly away, offer a toy or treat to the dog, if he moves towards me, then I engage by tossing a toy or treat.
  • I wait and see if the dog stays in my space or immediately retreats.  A dog who immediately moves away or maintains a forward stance is not ready to be petted, this is a low level distance cue and should be respected.

How can you make Friends with a territorial Dog?  Treat and Retreat is a progressive training program I use to build a trusting relationship with stressed or conflicted dogs.  This is simply a game to reduce the dogs stress as I am in the dogs presence, this is not about petting the dog. Reducing a dogs fear will reduce territorial aggression, leash lunging, air snapping, and biting. Click the link to view a video of me playing Treat and Retreat with a shy dog.

Video:   Treat and Retreat with Contact

In Summary:

  1. A dog who approaches me and leans against me has invited contact. I can slowly pet his back one or two strokes and then stop, to observe the dogs body language and wait for the dog to invite more contact. 
  2. A dog who turns his face away should not be appraoched.
  3. Learn Dog Body Language:
    1. A dogs relaxed body language, often offered by a dog at feeding time.  Open mouth, soft eyes, relaxed loose jointed body, neutral tail and ears.
    2. Fearful/stressed body language, often offered at the vets. May include stiff or curved body, slow body movements, tucked tail, looking or turning away, tightly closed mouth, wrinkled brow, refusal to eat treats, lowered head, growling or lip curling, ears pinned to head, paw lifted, whites of eye showing.
  4. Have a plan when you see the dog. If you do not have treats on you, ignore the dog completely.  With high value treats on you, you can begin the Treat and Retreat game.
  5. The dog always sets the pace, if the dog attempts to look or turn away, just stop and ignore the dog.  Give the dog a break, sit down or start farther away from the dog. If the dog begins to bark or lunge at you then slow the progression down as you are just making him more fearful/stressed.

Dogs give plenty of warning before they bite, it is up to you to ignore any dog that is not seeking out your touching. With the above advice you will be able to slowly make friends with fearful/protective dogs without pushing the dog to the point of using his teeth to resolve conflict.

I have added a few photos below for you to practice your observational skills in reading dogs body language.

relaxed!

Relaxed, stressed, relaxed

Stressed as shown by her closed mouth, squinty eyes, stiffly held legs, tucked tail

Stressed as shown by her rounded, compressed rigid body, moving away, closed mouth, ears way back, tail dropped.

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Training the Territorial Dog

Posted on Mar 29, 2017 in Aggression, Dog Training, Positive Reinforcement, 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 https://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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How Does this Dog Feel?

Posted on Apr 10, 2016 in Leash Training, Pets, Positive Reinforcement, Puppy, Rescue Dog, Training | 0 comments

images-1

Looking at this dogs body language, the boxer is leaning away from his best friend, his ears are pinned back in fear, the whites of his eyes show the level of stress. This dog is not thinking about what he did but how he feels right now.  Why does it matter how a dog feels? Because his feelings will effect his behavior.  Dogs will often avoid humans who make them feel stressed or worried.

 

IMG_0367

 In contrast, look at the body language of these two young girls, and how they are making each other feel?  This is a baby sitter and a child she is responsible for.  The baby sitter is building trust, mutual communication and a connection. We can see a positive relationship building based on body language.

 

IMG_1561

 

 The body language of this Scottie is pretty clear how is she feels about the hand petting her.  She was just groomed by the hand now petting her, do we have a trusting relationship, mutual communication and a connection?  

 When I introduce a new rule structure to my dogs or my clients dog, I make sure good things happen when the dog performs the wanted or desired behavior. We can all agree that consequence drives behavior in all of us, but I want you to think of a consequence as a rewarding one.  It is not just that I believe it works, it is scientifically proven that if a dog does a behavior and what follows is rewarding, the behavior will be repeated.  This repeated behavior performed several times per day and continued over a few weeks becomes a desired habit.  Is that not what we all are trying to do?  Shape our dogs behavior into good habits? 

Below is an Example of how I make a dog feel during a training session.

With a foster dog, I grab a handful of treats and lure the dog to his mat, if he sniffs it, looks at it or step on it, I say “yes” or 2015_0207 Family Dog Two-29click my clicker and drop a treat or two between his paws.  Then I ask the dog to get off his mat, pick it up and walk a few steps with it in my hand.  I repeat the process of laying the mat down and rewarding the dog for moving onto the mat.   When he steps onto it, say “yes” and reward generously.  Initially, put the mat away between sessions and play this game a few times per day.  When your see your dog get excited that you are about to lay the mat down, add a cue like “go to your place” just before you lay the mat down.  Once your dog is walking on the mat quickly, wait on the “yes” and see if your dog offers you a sit, then say “yes” and reward.  Eventually your dog will offer you a down and then you can jackpot this behavior.

To maintain the desired behavior of “go to your mat” I will randomly reward my dog when I see him go to his mat without being asked.  Rewards can be a slow massage, stuffed yummy kong time, favorite chew bone, yummy treat, a good scratch, whatever your dog finds rewarding.  I use this each morning as we enter the kitchen, each of my dogs will move towards their mat and I will eventually feed them while they are on their mat waiting patiently.  I no longer ask them to go to their mat, they know going to their mat predicts they will get fed, which is rewarding to them and nice for me  to have then out of the kitchen.

IMG_0109If you are reading this Blog, then I assume you have a dog or are thinking about getting a dog.  My hope is that you are a positive influence in training your dog, and not one who feels they need to “dominate” a dog.  Consider how your behavior makes your dog “feel” when you are training.  I hope your dog feels good when you are near, when he looks at you and when you reach to touch him.  If not, read more of my blog to learn how to train your dog while also having a happy, healthy and trusting relationship.

 

Remember, how you make a dog or friend feel, will effect the relationship.  In my experiences,  your dog will not remember what you say, but he will remember how you make him feel.

 

 

 

 
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Dominance: Reality or Myth

Posted on Feb 5, 2016 in Aggression, Certified Dog Trainer, Dog Training, Dominance, Pets, Positive Association, 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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Is It Just the Dogs Breed?

Posted on Jan 31, 2016 in Barking, Dog Training, Pets, Positive Association, Puppy, Reaction, Reactive, Rescue Dog, Training |

Does your hound constantly have her nose to the ground?  Is your retriever pup a bit too mouthy?  Is your Pyrenees, Chow or Catahoula mix

Don't kid yourself, this girl is a loud barker when on a leash!

This sweet girl is a loud alarm barker!

acting a bit growly with strangers? Does your terrier like to grab and shake toys?  How about your adorable herder? Ever nipped at anyones heels?

Ray Coppenger, author of Dogs: A New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior and Evolution explains Breed Specific Behaviors. Not that long ago, dogs were chosen and bred based on their ability to be useful.  For example, dogs were kept around if they were able to:

  1. Protect the herd from predators by alarm barking.
  2. Could find or flush out the bird or grouse to be hunted.
  3. Retrieve a kill after it was shot.
  4. Kill pesky rodents and small animals that jeopardized the crops.

Desired traits which were specifically bred for in the past may not be so desired for a family pet. A lazy, relaxed calm dog was not as desirable and therefore not chosen for breeding.

Isolated Behaviors in Breeds

I recently participated in a Webinar by Ken McCort. Here are some things I took away: 

  1. Hound dogs were used to search and track, which meant their nose needed to be on the ground.
  2. Sporting dogs were used to search, stalk and point at their prey. 
  3. Herders were bred to drive and chase, and, yes, even nip at heals when needed. Example, the Corgi was encouraged to nip the heels and bred low to avoid the kick back from the hoofed animal they were moving.  Shelties were bred to bark when herding as they used noise to drive the herd.
  4. Terriers and heelers were bred to grab and hold and were even knows as “catch dogs” as this was a desired motor pattern.
  5. Retrievers were used to bring birds back to their handler using a soft mouth.

To learn more, here’s a useful link: Ken McCort, Wolf Park Educator

If you find yourself wanting to change a behavior in your dog, first

Alert but not overly aroused.

Alert and ready to hunt.

consider if this behavior is a normal one to your dog’s breed.  You may never extinguish a behavior trait that your dog was specifically bred for.  While this behavior can be modified by rewarding another behavior, you must be realistic with your expectations during the behavior modification process.  

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