Is your dog predisposed to separation anxiety?

Posted on May 19, 2018 in Barking, Dog Training, Pets, Separation Anxiety | 0 comments

Will your dog likely develop Anxiety when home alone?

If you suspect your dog is suffering from a form of Separation Anxiety, contact your vet, as many of the symptoms can also be medical in nature. Your vet may include a complete blood cell count, biochemistry, thyroid test, and urinalysis to gather more information on what may be causing some of your dogs behavior changes.

So, what are the signs you should look for?

This girl is worried, noted by the compressed body, tucked tail, scanning and stiff body.

 

Is your dog slightly environmentally insecure or worried in new places? Does your dog hesitate when walking down some streets or new parks? Do her eyes become enlarged as she scans the area often?  Maybe her body looks compressed, or she moves slower then normal with stiff leg movement. Maybe she sits and refuses to move forward, yet if you turn around, she quickly moves in the direction of home.

 

 

 

 

Is your dog somewhat sound sensitive? Observed by your dogs startle reflex when a truck rumbles in the distance,  you drop something, or you raise your voice.  These dogs may run to another room or cower. They may also become tense or lower their body and head, show the whites of their eyes and push their ears way back. Maybe you need to medicate your dog during fireworks. These dogs often go into flight mode and try to hide somewhere safe. They may stay in a state of anxiety for 30 minutes for more.

 

Lucy is clearly insecure with this greeting, noted by her compressed, stiff, body, tucked tail, ears back, closed mouth. She is side stepping away to the right.

 

Is your dog shy or worried about strangers? Shown by your dogs hesitation to enter guests space. Maybe your insecure dog shows his anxiety by greeting visitors in an over the top excited, jumpy wiggly or mouthy manner. Moderately fearful dogs may rush the door, barking rapidly.  Or maybe your dog has become increasingly territorial of your home or car when people approach or are visible. If you dog is unable to calm quickly after being stressed or aroused, they are showing you that they struggle to rebound from a stressor.

 

 

 

If your dog exhibits any of the above character traits then your dog is more likely to develop a form of Separation Anxiety, than a dog who is:

  1. Environmentally confident
  2. Demonstrates no Sound sensitivity
  3. Is Social with all people
  4. Can Rebound quickly after being stressed
  5. Is Patient by nature

 

Distinguishing between SA and Isolation Stress:

Separation Anxiety: Is described as a dog who is unable to cope when their human is away. Not just anyone is able to comfort these dogs as they have bonded with one or two individuals.  These dogs often have low environmental confidence, low sociability with new people, and are persistent in nature.  Their inability to rebound keeps them in a state of anxiety longer. If the dog is vocal in nature, his anxiety may manifest with barking, if he is high energy, chewing may manifest. They often become extremely excited and aroused when familiar people enter the home and are often labeled velcro dogs.

Isolation Stress: Is described as a dog who is fearful of being alone.  Their fear of other stimuli is heightened when no one is there to make them feel safe. These dogs often have low environmental confidence, and may exhibit some form of sound sensitivity. These dogs are often persistent in nature and therefore whine or pace longer then a patient dog. Vocal dogs may bark and high energy dogs may begin to chew on items nearby. 

Here are a few examples to give you a better picture of what may occur.

Example: Max is fearful of most men and will bark or growl at them when they come too close. He is also very protective of his house and car. When alone in the home and he hears a man’s voice outside, he begins to slowly and stiffly pace about the rooms, he often drools, and will occasionally urinate in the home. This isolation stress will subside when the voices stops as his rebound time is fairly good.

Example: Lucy is a shy pup who takes a few minutes to warm up to strangers. On walks, she often hesitates, scans her environment and only wants to sniff the ground near her. If she hears a siren or any medium/high pitched noise she pulls towards home. Lucy’s family has recently moved into a new home.  She begins to whine when left alone for the first time, which leads to her barking, pacing and scratching at the door. When her familiar humans come home she greets them with such jumpy enthusiasm they scold her and then see the door damage and scold her even more. Lucy’s low environmental confidence and sound sensitivity have contributed to her stress and anxiety of being alone.

Example: Mika is a high energy German Shepherd mix who will play fetch for an hour and will persist to find the ball when it goes into the tall grass.  Mika is also verbal and barks when aroused or frustrated. When left alone, she runs and barks in the home after her owners leave for nearly 10 minutes, then chews her toys or an occasional pillow or article of clothing for 10-15 minutes and then climbs in her bed for a three hour nap. Mika is not exhibiting anxiety when alone, yet her high energy, verbal temperament and her enjoyment of chewing can mimic that of anxiety. 

To determine these dogs anxiety levels, we set up a camera to determine what the triggers were, how their behavior changed and if they were able to recover.

 

A successful Behavior Modification Program will use counter conditioning and desensitization to slowly help these dogs become comfortable in their environment and cope with being alone.  

Counter conditioning is about changing the associations that the dog already has to something.  When we desensitize our dogs, we make them less sensitive to what they fear. Conditioning for this training purpose is about building their confidence and giving them the tools to feel safe when alone.

Basic Plan:  Disassociate each of your routine habits before you leave so your dog stays calmer. Example:  If putting on your shoes is a reliable predictor for you leaving, put them on many different times a day.  Pick up your keys, walk around and sit them down, without looking at your dog. You get the idea. Stop to breathe several times to help lower your dogs anxiety and aid in his resiliency.

Condition: Help your dog become more confident in your home by having many short positive training sessions each day to a particular bed/mat or place.  

  • Condition your dog to go to this bed/place, using a positive approach. This is never forced or it will have a negative association and impede your goal.  
  • Build some duration on the mat/place by rewarding your dog often for staying on his mat while you go across the room.   I never say “stay” I just let the dog learn that when he is on his mat, good things happen. Sometimes when I return I drop 10 treats on his mat to increase association.
  • Condition your dog to his favorite interactive food toys using high value food items. This conditioning must be done for several days before offering it to them and walking out. If your dogs association is not strongly compelling and positive, this toy or treat may

                 Four pups enjoying daily kong time


    become a predictor of you leaving, and increase your dogs anxiety.
  • Increase your dogs daily physical and mental exercise.
  • Teach your dog a cue, “Be good” or I’ll be back”. This gives your dog feedback, that you will be gone but will return. You can begin to teach this in small pieces while you leave your dog from one room and go to another and return, reward with calm praise. Over time you gradually increase the time you are gone and always return with calm praise. 
  • Generalizing this behavior to different rooms, the car, deck, yard, vets office and more will aid in your dogs coping skills.
  • Add white noise to drown out noise for sensitive dogs.
  • Talk to your vet about medication as it is often helpful for dogs who are environmentally worried, or sound sensitive.

Summary: I hope you now have a better idea of why some dogs are predisposed to and suffer from Separation Anxiety Issues.  What to look for in your dogs temperament, and some positive intervention techniques to support your dog. Always be mindful that an underlying medical condition may also be a factor. Inform your vet of your concerns, and seek a professional Dog Behavior Consultant to aid in your dogs training plan.

Dogs who engage in chewing when alone will benefit from a variety of toys options.  Interactive toys that encourage dogs to work for their food keeps their mind engaged.  Chew toys should be safe, appealing, and virtually indestructible. Many chew toys can be stuffed with dog food or healthy treats to increase their appeal. 

Below are a few toy options for you to consider, listed by the Toy Name Description Manufacturer/Website

Bustercube Hard plastic cubes with inner maze.  Slowly dispense kibble when rolled Kruuse  www.bustercube.com

Chewber Durable rubber frisbees  designed for chewing, tossing and tugging     Chewber  www.chewber.com

Classic Kong / Treat Ball Rubber toys with various hollow areas that can be stuffed with food Kong Company  www.kongcompany.com

Nylabone Synthetic and edible bone shaped chew toys Nylabone  www.nylabone.com

Orka Ball / Orka Jack Pliable synthetic hollow toys that can be stuffed with treats   Petstages  www.petstages.com

TireBiter nylon tire-shaped toy can be tossed, tugged, and stuffed with spreadable food Mammoth Pet Products www.mammothpet.com

 

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Reactivity and Aggression in the car

Posted on Jan 29, 2017 in Aggression, Barking, Certified Dog Trainer, Dog Training, Training | 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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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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Bite Prevention with Guests

Posted on Dec 31, 2015 in Aggression, Barking, Certified Dog Trainer, Dog Training, Positive Reinforcement, 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.
Moore_Judy030

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, 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 Aggression Towards Humans

Posted on Dec 11, 2015 in Aggression, Barking, Dog Training, Pets, Positive Association, 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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