Every Dog Trainer needs a Pablo

Posted on Jan 20, 2019 in Barking, Dog Training, Leash Frustration, Leash Training, Reactive | 0 comments

Reactivity Defined:

I will define another category of Reactive Dogs. In the past, I have written about dogs who are very social and react because they are “Persistent Players” and love to play with dogs.  Our canine friends have different reasons for reacting at the sight of another dog. Once you are able to identify “why” your dog is acting this way, then we can put a training plan in place. 

For this Blog, I am defining “Persistent Sniffers”  These dogs  primarily investigate their environments using their nose, as seen by their heads to the ground often. They are slow to come when called because what they are sniffing is very important to them.   They become activated at the sight of a dog seen by their chaotic foot movements and exaggerated joint flexion.  They are environmentally confident and have no hesitation navigating new places. They may be vocal when they are unable get to what they want. They are persistent in nature, seen by their continued attempts to get to what interests them. When off leash, these dogs may have a history of greeting unfamiliar dogs with a thorough head to tail scent intake, yet are quick to disconnect and move along.  Some will initiate play, but only after they have fulfilled their olfactory needs.

If I just described your dogs preferences, then it is likely your dog has already been labeled reactive.  Now you can see that he is indeed frustrated, and better understand that his temperament is partly responsible for driving his behavior. For dogs who are food or toy motivated you can often reward an alternative behavior. For dogs who are less food motivated management is often recommended as some dogs are so persistent nothing will override their preference.

This was the case recently with a handsome Golden Retriever mix who was lunging on the leash at the sight of any dog. As he entered my office, I noticed he immediately put his nose to the ground and sniffed the rug, toy box, dog bed, shelf and furniture. At one point, he briefly made eye contact with me as he entered my space, I reached out to him but his awareness went to sniffing my pants and shoes.  He was unable to be off leash as he would not come when called, he always had his own agenda when outside.  While he ate the treat I offered, he was more interested in using his nose once again along the dog bed.

When outside, he did as his owners predicted.  He began to jump around with chaotic foot patterns, barking rapidly, and pulling on his leash to get to my dog, Pablo who was sitting calmly ignoring the bouncing Golden.  I let the Golden walk past Pablo a few times so the Golden would clearly see that Pablo was not engaging him in any way. Pablo went so far as to give a few low growls, but there was no change in the Goldens behavior. I then let them take their boy far away for several minutes so he could recover from his highly aroused state. At this distance, he was rewarded for reorienting to his handler. We repeated this approach and retreat many times as described in Behavior Adjustment Technique (BAT). Each time we were about 30 feet apart, the Golden repeated his request to engage Pablo’s.  Pablo’s preference is food, so he completely ignored and even sat with his back to the Golden for 15 minutes or more.  

Eventually, Pablo turned towards the Golden and gave a hard eye stare accompanied with a stiff body and low growl. The persistent Golden paused briefly, but was unable to change his behavior.  We took a break and walked far apart to aid in the golden’s recovery. It is rare for a dog to not read Pablo’s cues, he is known for being very clear.

What happened next was a rare behavior for Pablo, having only witnessed a few times with persistent barking dogs. Pablo’s tolerance wained and he told the Golden in his own way that no amount of persistent barking and jumping was going to change his mind. Pablo was very clear that he did not want this Golden in his space.

Every dog trainer needs a Pablo! 

My recommendation: 

  • This golden was to avoid leash greetings as he was unable to respond to dogs appropriately. His preference to get at the dog near him was overriding all thinking.  It was a matter of time before his persistent nature got him a severe reprimand from a dog who had said “go away”.
  • After Pablo’s clear message, the golden was able to reorient to his handler and be rewarded. This is a version of Look at That (LAT) and can be successful with many dogs.
  • Because he was so frustrated and not showing any aggression, I suggested he gain further socialization with good dogs while off leash. This was our next session and he did as expected, he sniffed all the dogs and the entire park. While there was no play from him, there was also no aggression. 

Summary:

Many dogs are labeled “reactive”, however this is a big bucket term. If you observe your dogs preferences, how he engages with his environment and how he responds to both familiar and unfamiliar dogs, you may be able to identify why your dog is acting this way. If he is simply frustrated, determine his preference and find a way to allow him what he so desires.

If you have tried “reactive” dog classes with no luck, consider your dogs persistent nature and how it effects his every day behavior. It may be that your dog is unable to change because his preference is so extreme,  you may not be able to offer him anything more valuable. You may just need to meet a few Pablo’s to help your dog with his impulse control. 

 

 

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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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Dog Bite Prevention

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

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

Learn to read dog body language:

Relaxed Body Language

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

Stressed Body Language

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

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

 

 

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

What do I do to avoid being bitten?  

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

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

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

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

Video:   Treat and Retreat with Contact

In Summary:

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

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

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

relaxed!

Relaxed, stressed, relaxed

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

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

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Don’t touch me!

Posted on Jul 9, 2017 in Aggression, Positive Association, Positive Reinforcement, Reactive, Training | 0 comments

My scottie, Sophie is not happy about this stranger petting her.

Most humans are comfortable greeting others by stretching out their hands, and making direct eye contact. As a result, humans often interact with dogs in human ways, including but not limited to, quick hand movements, forward social pressure, leaning over, staring directly at the dog and sadly, reaching out. Haptic communication is a branch of nonverbal communication that refers to the ways in which people and animals communicate, and interact via the sense of touch. Again, it is normal for humans, but rude and scary for many dogs.

Most dog owners want a dog that will willingly accept being petted, even by complete strangers. When children are involved this is even more extreme, with dogs enduring fingers in their mouths, ears and eyes.  It is true most dogs are social and do love a good scratch, let’s just not assume they like it from a stranger.  Touching a dog should only be done if the dog chooses to make contact with the person, avoid approaching dogs and DO NOT reach your hand out to let them smell you.  Seriously, I can think of  several dogs that have bitten, specifically when a stranger reached out.

Based on this dogs body language, she is enjoying be scratched.

I suggest you ask your dog and see how he or she feels about being touched by you or a friend. Call your dog into your space and begin to pet her with two hands for just a few seconds, then stop and lean a bit away. If your dog moves away just a bit or shakes off, then your dog is telling you that at this moment, in this environment, that touching was not very rewarding. If however, your dog leans into you and asks for more touching, then your dog finds this interaction rewarding.  Watch your dogs body language in different environments, and he will tell you how he feels about the hand that is coming closer to him.  

Old School training would have told you to hold your dog down for growling or snapping at a friend. This use of force will only increase the dogs fear and will break his trust in you completely.  Fearful dogs that are handled with force often get worse over time, and their behavior can escalate to a point that people think euthanasia is the only solution.

Fortunately, there are steps for changing how your dog feels about being touched. Please note, if your dog is showing severe aggressive signs, or has bitten already, contact a behavioral specialist for professional help. To teach our dogs to be comfortable with body handling, I recommend you use a traditional counter-conditioning/desensitization program (CC/DS). While each program is unique to each dog, here are some general and important things to know about CC/DS. 

  1. My Experience: Not all dogs feel relaxed with a human hand coming at them. My own dog growled at my children for about three years before he learned to trust them when they were petting him with one hand. In addition, my scottie nipped many hands as strangers would reach out to touch her. Both rescue dogs took over a year to learn to tolerate being touched by a strangers and much longer to enjoy it.

  2. Take it Slow: It is critical that you never push the dog to the point of being scared or stressed.  Because of this we can only ever move as fast as the dog will let us. Yes, the dog sets the pace. Depending on the severity of the dog’s anxiety around being touched, this process may take as little as a week or as long as several months. For dogs that have a history of getting defensive or aggressive when touched, you will want to go even slower to prevent your dog from getting overwhelmed and snapping.
  3. Have a Plan: It is a good idea to write out the steps you plan to take for the CC/DS program. This will help you be sure to move very slowly, and not try to skip steps that your dog may not be ready to skip. You can change the plan as you go, either taking more or less time depending on your dog’s response. 
  4. Make it fun: For this systematic desensitization program to work, you must always stay below a dogs “threshold” — this is the point where your dogs fear is so high, he is shutting off the thinking part of his brain. In order for this not to happen, you must stop if your dog begins to show signs of anxiety or fear.  Just because your dog is not trembling or fighting to get away does not mean he is completely relaxed about the process.  If your dog panics, shows signs of significant stress or anxiety, does not recover quickly or refuses to eat, you have moved too fast and need to go back to the previous step and increase more slowly. 
  5. Lets Talk: Your dog relies on you to be able to read his body language to tell when he is feeling relaxed, and when he is feeling stressed.

This dog is stressed , noted by his lowered body and head, ears back, paw raised, mouth closed, eyes on hand.

a) Signs of relaxation: a relaxed body posture, relaxed open mouth, slow relaxed panting, slow, loose wagging tail, readily responds to petting and talking from owners, readily accepts treats and remains loose jointed.

b) Signs of stress: rapid panting (when not hot), drooling, shaking, yawning, “shaking off” as if wet, lifting a front paw while leaning away, licking lips often, sniffing at the ground, whining or growling, hesitant to take the treat or takes it very roughly.  

Other elements of this training:

  1. Timing is critical, the timing of your treat delivery can mean the difference between success and failure with your CC/DS program.  Your dog should be happily snacking the entire time your friend or groomer is touching him,  as soon as they stop petting, the treats should disappear. This will allow for your dog to easily make the association that handling means yummy treats, no handling means the yummy treats go away.  Make sure to pause several seconds in between each treat delivery/body handling episode before starting again, this will allow the message of “hands = good food” to really sink in. This sounds easier than it is, you will need to practice to set your dog up for success. 
  2. Pay for petting is a method I like to use to change a dogs association to being touched. This is great for dogs that have nipped a hand that came at them. Start with someone the dogs knows well, they pet the dog under the chin, then feed a treat. Pet the dog on the side of his face and over his eyes, then feed a treat, look in each ear then feed a treat. Repeat this process while increasing the time you are petting or the body part you are touching. Repeat over and over using the dogs meals so that a hand coming at his face is not scary anymore. 
  3. To help you see the process here is a video: Body Handling Conditioning Diego
  4. Make sure to use high-value treats (ideally that your dog doesn’t get for any other reason) such as boiled chicken breast, liverwurst or cheese. The higher value the food items, the faster the positive association will be made.  You can also use a longer lasting treat such as a Kong, hollow sterile bone or Dixie cup filled with peanut butter or squeeze cheese. If using something like this, hold the container right up to your dog’s face the entire time you are handling his body and remove it as soon as the handling stops. 
  5. Frequent training sessions of about ten minutes, rather than trying to do a long body handling session is best. Remember, you are trying to take it slow and make it fun for your dog.

The Time Line at which you get through this conditioning depends on how stressed or anxious your dog is as well as how quickly he or she rebounds. Some dogs change very quickly and begin to seek out touch. While others do not seem to be able to change and need this conditioning with every new person they meet for many years.  The end goal is not for your dog to seek out every hand, but to feel relaxed when a hand comes at him.  When this program is done correctly, your dog will begin to associate a hand coming at him as a source of good things. Because you use high value treats, your dog might even begin to drool rather than growl.

Tip: During this desensitization training period it is important to avoid putting your dog in a situation where he might bite or snap.  Exposing your dog to the scary situation while trying to counter-condition him, is going to slow your progress. 

 

 

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Aggression or a Normal Response?

Posted on Nov 13, 2016 in Aggression, Dog Training, Leash Training, Positive Reinforcement, Reaction, Reactive, Socialization | 0 comments

Based on their maturity and tolerance, dogs respond to other dogs behaviors in different ways. Let’s be honest, many of you reading this have disagreed with another person, lost your temper, and became angry in response to someones actions. 

Consider:  Una, a beautiful long haired German Shepherd, loves to play with dogs and has shown friendly behaviors to all the  dogs she has ever met. Until last week. As she was running on the beach with a Sheltie she just met, and all was well until she saw a tennis ball go flying over head.  Already on the run, Una bolted after the ball, but was immediately body slammed by a Retriever mix who was in hot pursuit of his beloved tennis ball. Upon crashing into each other, Una snarled at the Retriever mix as a reprimand for causing her a bit of pain, Una is six years old. He did not respond to her reprimand, yet remained running at her hip, Una beat him to the ball and snatched it up.

The Retriever Mix again body slammed Una, aroused from the chase, and feeling another shot of pain in her back, she dropped the ball and reprimanded the Retriever Mix by putting her mouth on his neck and giving him a good hard shake, then let him go.  The Retriever  snatching up the ball, and returned to his owner as if nothing had happened.  

Red, the Chow is being pushy.  Kandi, the Chow on the right will tolerate this for a bit, and then will growl and snap. Red takes the reprimand every time as is their relationship.

Red, the Chow on the left is engaging. Kandi, the Chow on the right will tolerate this for a bit, and then will growl and snap. Red takes the reprimand every time as is their relationship.

Una’s response to this Retriever’s use of body contact when playing was very appropriate in her mind, and she tried to return to playing chase with the Sheltie as she was enjoying this type of play. 

Response: Unfortunately, her owner saw her as being aggressive, and called Una in a harsh tone.  Una went to her owner who is usually trusting and gentle, but not this time, she was stiff and grabbed Una’s collar — nearly lifting her front feet off the ground.  Her owner is usually very excited when she comes when called, so Una was quite confused by this aggression.  The ride home was scary as her owner verbally scolded Una in a harsh tone.  Once home, Una was grabbed firmly by the collar and put into her crate while her owner continued to stomp around the house and gave Una hard-eyed stares. Una has now learned when her owner calls her it makes her feel very unsure and afraid.

The Malamute is moving forward as the Tuverian Shepherd is moving away.  These two dogs have very differnt playstyles as they are beginning to discover.

This Malamute, Loki is moving forward as the Tuverian Shepherd, Nell is moving away. These two dogs have very differnt play styles as they are beginning to discover, having just met.

Humans also respond with different levels of feedback depending on age and life experiences.  If the Retriever had lightly rubbed Una’s shoulder as he was heading to the ball or lightly bumped her body when she won the ball, she may have only turned away or growled. 

Did I mention Una initiates play with a play bow followed by a game of chase. She does not enjoy wrestling. Did Una have time to tell the Retriever Mix how she liked to play? Did he even ask? Is it possibly the Retriever has learned that a hard body slam is therefore more likely to win the ball?  Will Una’s feedback prevent him from body slamming another dog?  Doubtful, however it depends on his temperament and his sensitivity to a reprimand.

DSC08325

This Alaskan Malamute, Loki has not seen me in about a year. His use of space is very clear, he likes to be close!

My point: If your dog scuffles with another, consider the entire incident.  How well do they really know each other?  Was their contact made before an invitation was offered?  Was one dog trying to steal a resource from another?  Do the dogs have different styles of play?  If one dog is a wrestler and another only enjoys chase, then you can expect some conflict to occur. If the reprimand or feedback given ends in a puncture or broken skin, take a breath and ask your self how many times has your dog played with other dogs and not broken skin?  If the answer is many, then you can assume these two dogs were very different and conflict was somewhat expected. If your dog is beginning to reprimand dogs more often, then slow greetings down and be sure  the dogs have similar personalities, play styles and time to signal intentions. This will not only reduce conflict, it will reduce the level of reprimand, and make for a far more enjoyable ride home!

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