Dog Bite Prevention

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

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


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

Blog #1 How to Stop Aggressive Dog Barking at People

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

Blog #2 Dog Aggression Towards Humans. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Forward stance with a show of aggression works also.

Forward stance with a show of aggression works.

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

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

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


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

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

  • Invasion of space and how social pressure effects your dog
  • How Reinforcers are used to increase confidence 
  • Safety while adding criteria in a slow progression 

Note the closed mouth, still body and the tucked tail. This dog is NOT asking you to pet his belly.

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

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


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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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Bite Prevention – Warning signs

Posted on Feb 13, 2015 in Aggression, Barking, Dog Training, Dominance, Pets, Positive Reinforcement, Puppy, Reactive, Training | 0 comments

Clients often say their dog bit without warning, however if you understood dogs body language, you would have seen signs that your dog was worried prior to the bite.

Signs of Stress:

  1. Head lowered 
    This large tounge flick is an obvious stress signal in a dog.

    This large tounge flick is an obvious stress signal in a dog.

  2. Tail tucked 
  3. Lip licking
  4. Panting and Pacing
  5. barking
  6. Excessive salivation
  7. Ears pulled to the side or way back
  8. Hiding behind the owners or under the furniture, it is not cute, it is a sign of distress.   Recognizing when a dog is needing space would  be beneficial in preventing a dog bite.   

Level One Distance Cue (asking for distance):

The springer is pressing forward and the chow is looking away, closing mouth, eyes round and becoming hard.

The springer is pressing forward and the chow is looking away, closing mouth, eyes round and becoming hard.


  1. Overt eyes away
  2. Turning head away
  3. Turning head and neck
  4. Getting up and moving away
  5. offering only his back to be petted These are Level One Behaviors that a dog is not interested in being pressured by the stimuli present, we refer to these as Distance Cues or request for space.

If these behaviors do not work, then Level Two Distance Cues may be used to obtain distance: 

  1. Growl
  2. stiffening of the body
  3. Brief direct eye contact
  4. Hard eyed stare with closed mouth
  5. Closing of the mouth
  6. Lip Curl or show of teeth
  7. Air Snap

When these Level 2 warnings are corrected, punished or avoided, the dog will not use them but when pressured to the point of fight or flight, the dog may use a Level 3 Distance cue:

  1. Nip
  2. Bite and release
  3. Bite and hold
  4. Bite multiple times
    This spits mix gives the young girl a hard eyed stare just after petting. To avoid conflict the girl looks away and draws her hands away to relieve stress.

    This spits mix gives the young girl a hard eyed stare just after petting. To avoid conflict the girl looks away and draws her hands away to relieve stress.

When a dog bites, they most often run and hide knowing they will be reprimanded.  So, why do they bite?  I do not believe dogs enjoy punishment.  Then how can we explain a dog that bites?  Is it rewarding?  Is it necessary to feel safe?  There are always warning signs


For Guarding Behavior Modification I suggest you read Mine! A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs by Jean Donaldson. If your dog is shy, skittish, insecure, barks or growls at most strangers, then understand canine body language would be a must for you.  You will enjoy reading: Canine Body Language a Photographic Guide by Brenda Aloff. 

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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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What Does Stress Look Like?

Posted on Jun 28, 2013 in Aggression, Barking, Leash Frustration, Puppy, Reactive, Rescue Dog, Separation Anxiety, Training | 0 comments

This dog is worried.

This dog is worried.

When I think of unwanted behavior, I think of stress as the two are often related.

My goal here is to help you identify your dogs stress signals so you can get them help before this stress causes unwanted behavior. Science clearly states that stress leads to health problems, negatively affect relationships with others and can also make us grumpy, irritable, less tolerant and even aggressive.

Is it true if we humans are stressed our dogs can sense it?  Yes, when we feel worried, anxious or angry, our dogs will certainly be effected in some way.  Different dogs will react differently to mental and physical pressures in their environment.

Go Away!

Go Away!

How many of us often turn to physical exercise to relieve stress or tension felt from our environment.  Is your dog able to go for a daily jog to relieve the stress he carries around or is he confined to run the fence line and bark in frustration becoming more and more aroused.  Does he destructively chew your furniture, pace wildly and mouth your arms and hands when you enter?  You may perceive this mouthy greeting as excitement, but it is stress.

An unfamiliar dog has approached to the right, this mix is looking away to avoid conflict.

An unfamiliar dog has approached to the
right, this mix is looking away to avoid conflict.

Signs of Stress come in many different forms:

    • Does your dog ever bark rapidly, scan the environment for a threat, pace back and forth, tremble, chew in a ripping or destructive manner, pant when not tired, flatten his ears back, lower his head when approached (guilty appearance), cower or urinate when you or anyone else approaches, hide between your feet, growl, lick his lips when not eating,  yawn when not tired, turn his nose away from his favorite treat when in an unfamiliar environment.  Urinate or defecate when arriving at a new home, or training center.  
    • Young adolescent pups may playfully mount dogs or humans or do this as a sign of stress as is biting the leash and excessive mouthing of human hands. Exaggerated self grooming which can cause hair loss, sudden outbreak of dander can also be stress related. 
  • Does your dog often begin to sniff the ground when meeting new dogs, stop to scratch just as a greeting is about to occur, avoids the new dog completely?  We know stress can effect health, stress that continues over a period of time can cause a dogs immune system to become fragile due to increased cortisol in the system.  Have you ever considered that a dogs unpleasant body odor or bad breath can be the result of high stress. 
    White dog is fearful and sniffs to avoid greeting

    White dog is fearful and sniffs to avoid greeting

Environmental triggers are everywhere,  who is present, how many stimuli, if they are approaching slowly or quickly, how your dog feels at that moment, what smells are near, what he sees and hears are all triggers that can cause your dog stress and they are constantly effecting your dogs behavior.

Where is this dogs weight shifted?

Where is this dogs
weight shifted?

Knowing the signs of stress in your dog is essential to keep him safe, happy and healthy.

For more information consider reading Stress in Dogs by Marina Scholz and Clarissa Von Reinhardt, well worth the time to read.

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My Dog is Fearful

Posted on Mar 24, 2013 in Dog Training, Leash Frustration, Positive Association, Puppy, Reactive, Training | 0 comments

Many dogs are afraid of other dogs, men, strangers, children, loud trucks, bikes, scooters, skate boards, odd scents, noises, and many more stimuli.   I have spent the last 10 years helping my own dogs and many others live happier, less stressful lives.  The first thing you need to realize is that you are not alone! Many many dog owners are feeling just as you are.  While we are all at different stages of conditioning our dogs to feel better about certain stimuli, we all have similar fears and stressors.  Staying positive is essential! Right now, think about all the behaviors your dog has learned recently.  You know your attitude effects your dog, so stay positive! And remember: you are not alone!

Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Seek out a Certified Trainer who has experience with insecure, anxious and fearful dogs, as they will have a better understanding of what you and your dog are feeling.  Find someone who has current testimonials or good references so you know they are using Positive methods.
  2. Avoid expecting a specific goal, or anxiety will creep in when you fear you may not reach this goal.
  3. Instead, set simple goals that you and your dog can meet together every moment, every day, week by week and be happy with these small steps.
  4. Be honest with yourself right now that your dog will never be the “perfect” dog. It is okay, you will still love and protect him or her because he needs you to.
  5. Think of the advantages of owning a shy or fearful dog:  
  • He gives you unconditional love because he is worried about others.
  • He only needs to be by your side to be content with life.
  • His love is without strings attached.
  • There are no pressures to earn titles, win ribbons or be the best.
  • You will never lose him, as he is too worried about going too far away. 
  • You will learn more about dog behavior than your neighbor.
  • He will not pull you to greet everyone.
These are just a few but there are many advantages to owning a shy or fearful dog.  Sure, it can be scary at times! Just remember your dog is not acting this way to make your life miserable. Rather, he is coping the best way he knows how and is begging for some help!

IMG_5290As an example of a positive training attitude,  the photo below shows a handsome dog to the far left that is fearful of people, yet he is able to give nice eye contact to his owner.  When we began with this boy, we were happy when he could simply offer a quick glance at his owner when strangers were near by. After months of positive conditioning, he is much more comfortable as you can see in this photo.

I can assure you that his owner was thrilled with each small progression he made at gaining confidence, and was happy to reward him for looking at her even for 1 second when 50 feet away!  We slowly progressed, and while he will never be a therapy dog, does that really matter?  What sets this owner apart?  Her expectations are reasonable, and, when not met, she is still okay with the outcome!  Why?  Because she knows when her dog does fall back into an old, unwanted behavior it is because we pushed him too far too fast.

So please, set your criteria such that you and your dog can succeed together! Otherwise you will be disappointed and your frustration will simply make your anxious dog even more stressed. Keep your training sessions relaxed, and positive. Don’t push your dog beyond what he or she can handle comfortably, or else the negative experience will just set you both back. Stay patient, stay positive and celebrate all the small successes along the way. You and your dog will be much happier as a result!

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