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

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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?

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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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Why is my Dog Lunging on the Leash?

Posted on Sep 17, 2014 in Aggression, Leash Frustration, Leash Training, Reaction | 0 comments

Do you own a dog that does not act “normal” when he sees another dog on leash? 

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Learning good emotional control takes practice.

Many dogs do not have good coping skills to greet another dog when confined by a leash.    You may describe this type of dog as fearful, hyper vigilant, aggressive, reactive, out of control, barks all the time, rude, pushy, anxious or even clingy.  Dogs who exhibit these behaviors are cruelly labeled and often given up on, but the truth is that these behaviors are your dog’s way of begging for some help.  If your dog is displaying these emotions he is clearly not a calm dog, and therefore not a balanced or content dog.  Unbalanced dogs are riddled with emotions they cannot control, which make them difficult to live with and own, but these are the dogs that need us the most…..

With effective behavior modification programs, these anxious reactive dogs can thrive in our homes and communities.  Having a plan to keep them safe, predictable exercise routines, desensitization tools, healthy nutrition, doggie Zen and possibly medication, these dogs will love us unconditionally.  Just look in there eyes and help them feel safe, always..

If you have taken on the task to raise a dog with fearful reactive behaviors, know you are not alone.  I personally have three dogs who each have different levels of fears and often use distance cues with humans and dogs.  I understand your stress of owning an unbalanced dog….  Even my family members have called them names, not truly understanding my dogs level of stress. I feel an enormous amount of empathy for these animals as I see in their body language how much more worried they are then other dogs.  I have spent hours counter condition their fears to various stimuli and I work very hard to have a plan each time I take them in public so I can set them up for success.  I manage for safety, continually counter condition their fear emotions to positive ones so they know what to do in different situations and cherish each calm moment we have together.  My two females came to me with bite histories and have each received their Canine Good Citizen Certification from two different trainers.  One has gone on to be Therapy Dog International Certified, so do not lose hope and celebrate each small daily success!  
Thinking through arousal...

Thinking through arousal…

Using the right balance of tools, your dog will one day be able to think through his arousal so you can reward him and not be frustrated with him.

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Don’t Shoot the Dog – Jackpots Revised

Posted on Jul 22, 2014 in Aggression, Clicker, Dog Training, Leash Frustration, Leash Training, Positive Reinforcement, Rescue Dog | 0 comments

Many of you have read Karen Pryer’s book, Don’t Shoot the Dog  It is an educational book for parents as well as dog owners.  After 20 years, Karen explains how the use of jackpots can work when used effectively.  The below insert is straight from Karen’s Blog and is worth reading:

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A non-contingent reward “just because.”


Remember, though, that no one is always right. We all keep learning things all the time, revising and adding to what we knew before. That’s one of the joys of science and a valuable phenomenon in the clicker training world.
 
Looking back at the jackpot section in Don’t Shoot the Dog, now, twenty years after it was written and six years after the revision supervised by Murray Newman, I think that I failed to differentiate between jackpots as I see them, and another tool altogether: the non-contingent reward.
 
A non-contingent reward is also something you get by surprise, but it is not associated with any particular behavior. One example in the book was the two free fish we gave to a discouraged dolphin, which perked her up and set her to trying to earn reinforcement again. Another example in the book was the ticket for ten free riding lessons that my parents bought me when, at sixteen, I was behaving poorly for weeks on end. It instantly corrected my bad mood. I included these as jackpots, but they were not; they were both examples of a non-contingent reward. The most powerful use of a non-contingent reward is to counteract the effects of an extinction curve; I know the dolphin in question was undergoing extinction of a bunch of operant behaviors; probably this sulky teenager was, too. Getting the news that good things are still available revived the efforts to seek reinforcement again.
 
Like the jackpot, a non-contingent reward is a tool to use rarely. And, like a jackpot, if it is going to work, you only need to do it once.
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Dog Aggression and Communication Signals

Posted on Jul 5, 2014 in Aggression, Barking, Certified Dog Trainer, Clicker, Crate Training, Dog Training, Leash Frustration, Leash Training, Pets, Positive Reinforcement, Reaction, Reactive, Rescue Dog, Socialization, Training | 0 comments

Why is my dog so aggressive to other dogs?  This can usually be diagnosed with a detailed history: no play ever, hereditary, mother was sick or a guarder, or over socialized with aggressive or rough playing dogs.

Cycle of On-Leash Aggression (created problem from humans), as described in the Culture Clash, by Jean Donaldson, “The Bully dog” is often kept away from other dogs for long periods of time, he is usually rude with crude behavior brought on by a super motivated greeting as a result of deprivation when meeting other dogs, and has poor social skills.  The owner is alarmed by intensity and tightens the leash and get’s too excited or nervous when interactions occur.  High arousal, lack of social skills, scuffles with defensive dogs can occur.  Barrier frustration such as windows, fences and leashes can increase the dogs frustration which makes you want to “correct” the behavior,  which = punishment  which = more Aggression = total isolation.

I believe dogs need time to express their intentions before they greet unknown dogs.  Personalities among dogs differ as much as a classroom full of kindergarteners, therefore, expecting your dog to like every dog they meet is not that simple. Some dogs are very soft and have appropriate greetings, these are the dogs who are able to visit the beach and off leash parks without incident. 

 
Helping your dog greet new dogs much slower will give your dog important and necessary information about the other dogs intentions.  To the left, you see the brown dog in the middle of this pack at a local park.  He is standing quite still with head lowered, visible tension in his jaw, mouth closed, low tail, ears back and a his hair beginning to stand up on his back.  He is very uncomfortable about being so close to a strange dog and was called away quickly to avoid any conflict.  This particular dog’s behavior tells us humans that he needs a much slower greeting with new dogs.
 
In this photo to the left , this beautiful girl has just seen a new dog and is reading the other dogs intentions and clearly expressing hers as well.  Note the open mouth and soft eyes, lowered tail which is in motion and she is beginning to offer a play bow.  While she is expressing intentions that she does want to greet the new dog, she is very excited and the other dog is a bit alarmed by her intense need to visit.  After about 30 minutes of walking near each other, this girl and the other dog became play mates as you will see in the video below. 
If you have a new puppy, please keep him/her safe and find nice friendly dogs to socialize with.  Your dogs friends will influence his/her behavior! Just like you were influenced by those you visited with as an adolescent.  So, know who your dogs friends are and watch for signs of fair play between the two and you let’s try to prevent aggression from spreading.  
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Preventing Dog to Dog Aggression

Posted on Jan 30, 2014 in Aggression, Dog Training, Leash Frustration, Leash Training, Pets, Positive Association, Puppy, Socialization | 0 comments

Protect your dog from becoming aggressive by knowing where he is and who his playmates are.  The topic of leash aggression arises so often, I feel the need to address it often in my blogs.  For dog trainers it is very clear why we do not let our dogs greet unknown dogs while on leash. I want my dogs attention on me when I have him on a leash.  I prefer he not pull my shoulder off  when on leash, so I never let him greet other dogs when on leash and guess what? He does not ask anymore because he knows the rule structure. In my opinion, the BEST reason to avoid letting your dog greet unknown dogs while on leash is to keep him or her safe.  Once your dog gets into a scuffle while on leash, just the site of a dog while on leash can become very scary for your pup.

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Tight leash is nearly unavoidable.

We have all seen or heard stories of two dogs greeting on leash and it ends badly.  Let’s think about it, when dogs greet off-leash they are able to circle, sniff and have the freedom to move away if one dog becomes stiff, defensive or worried.  When on-leash we often tighten the leash, which makes the dog feel trapped because it cannot flee the environment. As a result, the constrained dog may send the other dog a distance cue like a hard eyed stare, a lip curl or a low growl. Depending on the social skills of the other dog, this may turn into an unwanted scuffle. If you want your dog to have good social skills and avoid aggression, let him have an opportunity to socialize and play with other GOOD dogs. Start with an AKC STAR Puppy class, teach your dog leash manners throughout his adolescence and set up off-leash playdates with dog-friendly dogs that you know he enjoys playing with and who have owners that you are comfortable with.

A large part of my business is helping dog owners understand why their dog is jumping and snarling when on a leash in the presence of another dog.  This behavior is done by your dog for a variety of reasons. He may have learned that it keeps him/her safe.  Dogs that have been traumatized by another dog, or multiple dogs, learn that their best defense is a good offense.  If this behavior works for them, why would they need to change? Being safe simply feels good.

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Social dogs can relax in the presence of other dogs even while being on a leash.

I do understand your dog needs daily exercise to get him through his adolescence. If your dog plays well with the neighbors dog, then your dog is already social! Walking on-leash together is a great way to learn leash manners around other dogs. Or, hire a dog-walker who only brings one dog to your session and watch how your dog interacts with that dog.  Your dog-walker will help him learn leash manners and prevent any unwanted behaviors from being reinforced.  Many dogs are surrendered because they can no longer cope with being on a leash in society.  Who’s to blame?  These dogs were not born dog-aggressive. Rather, it is learned by putting them in environments that are out of control and scary.  So please know who your dog is playing with, and if the play is appropriate.  We can all agree that aggression breeds more aggression, so please know who your dog’s friends are!

In the photo to the right, my Outdoor Adventure Class is open to dog friendly dogs.  Dogs that have good emotional control, dogs that can sit and watch a dog go by without demanding to get to it, and dogs that are not overly pushy.  If your dog is demanding to say “hello” to every dog that goes by, think about why that behavior is developing and where it is being reinforced.   I hope to see you and your dog in a training class, while on-leash and enjoying each other’s calm company!

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