Why does my dog respond that way?

Posted on Mar 18, 2018 in Dog Training, Leash Frustration, Leash Training, Reactive, Training | 0 comments

“Why” your dog may not be able to change her behavior like other dogs…

Have you attended a dog training class, maybe a Leash Lunger or Reactive Dog Class?  You see other dogs in class improving, but your dog continues to scan the environment instead of looking at you.

Some of these dogs still lunge at dogs, but they have met each other and no longer have a need to be persistent.

Where I Start…

When a client brings me a dog, I begin with identifying who the dog is prior to setting any expectations. Each dog is an individual, and will show you how they will respond if you know what to look for. I will share a recent consultation with you below.

Consultation : REACTIVE DOG (short version)

Dog: Stella, 2 year old spayed solid black German Shepherd in good health. Lives with her mom and a 4 year old child who she enjoys being with.

History:  Stella does well in daycare, and never shows aggression to any people or dogs. They describe her as tolerant of the young adolescent dogs and will play with any dog that engages her. Mom says she allowed Stella to greet other dogs on leash when she was a pup to socialize her, she has never acted aggressively with any dog she has met.

Owners Complaint:  Stella’s Mom complains that she cannot walk Stella on a leash, as she pulls extremely hard to get to any dog she sees in her environment. Even if she puts treats to her nose, Stella will not reorient to her, she physically has to pull Stella away. 

Observations…

When I observed Stella’s behavior it was immediately apparent that she was extremely visually aware of her environment, as she constantly turned her head to anything that moved. She is fairly high energy and trots, not walks, to whatever interests her. When she saw a bird over her head in the tree, she stood still staring at it for several minutes, not moving a muscle. When her mom called to her, she ignored the calling and remained focused on the birds as a second bird joined the first one. Finally, her mom said “Stella, want a treat?”, Stella twitched her ear and then looked at her mom, then returned to watching the birds for a several seconds before responding to her mom for the treat. Once she ate the treat, she trotted back to the tree and visually watched anything that moved.

Who is Stella?

Stella showed us that she is extremely visually aware of her environment and she is very persistent in this visual behavior when the stimuli is interesting to her. She also showed us that she is not willing to come to us, unless she knows the reward is worth it to her. She has her own interests and is persistent when something interests her. She also loves playing with all the neighborhood dogs.

Realization…

Would Stella likely be a leash lunger?  Yes! Now you see how the combination of her temperament plays a significant role in her (response) behavior. 

Implementation…

What key change could Stella’s mom incorporate in her leash training? Increase the value of the reward to something that Stella finds very rewarding. We determined she liked dried liver extremely well.

Effective behavior modification programs work on many dogs but will not work completely if your dog loves dogs, is visually persistent by nature and is not very food motivated. When this is the case, patience and understanding is key!

I am having trouble getting this pups attention as she is extremely aware of her environment, loves dogs and is somewhat food motivated. Patience is needed here as we allow her to be who she is.

Now you know…

If you are wanting to change your dogs behavior, first try looking at your dog to see who they are, what is their nature, their temperament. Some traits to consider: sociability with people and dogs, patient, vocal, high energy, lazy, becomes extremely aroused when near people or dogs, biddable with or without food, visually or olfactory aware and persistent. Understanding who your dog is will help you understand WHY she responds the way she does.

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Your Dog Bit Me!

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

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

SNAP!

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

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

Here are a few reasons dogs bite

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

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

Treat and Retreat Game

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

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

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

 
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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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How to Stop Aggressive Dog Barking at People

Posted on Dec 3, 2015 in Aggression, Barking, Dog Training, Leash Frustration, Leash Training, Positive Reinforcement, 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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5 Body Postures: A Dog is Asking For Space

Posted on Nov 26, 2014 in Aggression, Certified Dog Trainer, Dog Training, Dominance, Leash Frustration, Leash Training, Pets, Rescue Dog, Safety, Training | 0 comments

 If humans better understood dogs body language then we would have less dogs resorting to a bite when they feel stressed or threatened.  We see several cues that this scared boy does not want to be touched.  Signals that are asking for distance are often very subtle.

Level 1 distance Cues:
1. Dogs body is leaning away from the approaching hand.
2. Dogs paw is raised in a submissive manner.
3. Head is moving away asking for increased distance.
4. Eyes are avoiding the stranger
5. Mouth is closed, rather than open and relaxed.

Dogs often ask for distance in the only way they know how, but if the scary hand keeps coming, your dog may resort to a level 2 distance cue like a Growl, lip curl or show of teeth with a rigid body.  I HOPE your dog growls rather than bites. Hence, do not punish the growl as it is an effective distance cue.  When the dog is punished for growling, but is still afraid of that hand coming as it predicts pain, he may bite to protect himself.  
 
Have you heard of someone who was bitten by a dog in the face while they were attempting to pet him or rub his belly?  It is probable the dog used some distance cues before he resorted to a bite. Unfortunately, it is likely the human did not understand the signals and continued forward until the dog felt so threatened he did not have time to use a more moderate level one or level two response.

Dogs that are fearful or have been threatened by a previous human will be on guard and defensive.  Canine behaviors asking for distance are far better than an attack with a bite, so please do not punish them. Rather, simply remove the approaching stimuli. Can you teach a dog a level 1 distance cue like a look away? Absolutely, but it takes time and patience — and it is well worth the effort!

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Fight or Flight Response in Dogs?

Posted on Nov 16, 2014 in Aggression, Certified Dog Trainer, Crate Training, Dog Training, Dominance, Leash Frustration, Leash Training, Pets, Positive Reinforcement, Rescue Dog, Training | 0 comments

IMG_0367

It is easier to understand human intentions.

On a recent trip, I found myself in a nice hotel lobby visiting friends.  I decided it was time for “goodbyes” so I headed for the elevator.  When the door opened, there were three rather imposing-looking men standing along the back wall.  I froze for a second!  Do I get in and turn my back to them?  Do I step in and continue to face them? Do I walk away as if I forgot something?

Depending on our past life experiences we may all feel differently about being in this situation.  Many of you might say “Wow, you are overly sensitive” or “I would flee, for sure!”

At only 5’1″ I often feel vulnerable when alone, but knowing I was in a nice hotel, I chose to step into the elevator, turn slightly sideways and push the appropriate button.  As the doors closed I felt an intense hot flash rush over my entire body. Feeling trapped with no flight path, I was over come with fear.  I decided I would fight if needed and looked into the nearest mans face and said “Hi.” He smiled and nodded his head. I looked at the young man in the middle and he nodded before I could speak and looked quickly away at the ground. I looked straight at the third man and his head was resting on the back wall with his eyes closed.  With this information, I did not feel as threatened and was able to relax just a bit, although I was still on guard as the elevator took FOREVER to get to the 10th floor.  I waited until the door began to open and then quickly stepped out of the door in a sideways movement and looked behind me to see if anyone would follow. Thankfully the doors closed and I was free to hustle to my room. The feeling of being safe was oh so good!
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Am I clear? says the golden. Good, I don’t want to bite you.


Fight or Flight, also called the acute stress response are terms ethologist’s and behavioral psychologist use to describe the behavior of numerous species — including humans.  If a stimulus is perceived as a threat, a more intense and prolonged discharge of locus ceruleus activates the sympathetic division of the nervous system. For a thorough understanding on how the body reacts, visit:  (Thase & Howland, 1995)

We think of prey animals such as the horse, deer and other animals with wide set eyes to use flight as their way of staying safe.  Predators such as wolves,  cats & dogs will often choose flight if given the opportunity.

However, if a valued resource is worth fighting for, or if a predator is trapped and prevented from flight, then it will likely use a fight response to keep himself safe.

Fight-or-flight responses are as normal in our canine friends as in our human friends.  When you see a dog use a fight response such as a growl with a specific stimulus, consider if the dog has a good reason to do so.  Is the dog trapped?  Is this dog given a chance to use flight?  Could this dog have good reason to not trust a particular stimuli?

blitzatt

Back off, I am in fight mode as there is no flight accessible.

I suggest if you have a dog that is using a fight behavior, consider first the dogs history.  Assess the situations, observe the dogs entire body, seek to understand before you consider how to proceed.  Do not immediately correct or punish, as this dog may have good reason to growl or snap. The dog may simply be afraid.  Help me prevent dogs from being punished for choosing fight when they are left with no other option. Dogs that have been punished for simply being afraid, are much harder to counter-condition later.

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