Aggression Modification

never tell a dog off for growling

My first choice with most clients is this: changing the dogs’ opinion of each other through counterconditioning and desensitization (CC&D).

CC&D for intra-pack aggression involves changing your dogs’ association with each other from negative to positive. The easiest way to give most dogs a positive association is with very high-value, really yummy treats. I like to use chicken – canned, baked, or boiled, since most dogs love chicken and it’s a low-fat, low-calorie food.
Here’s how the CC&D process works:

1. Determine the distance at which your dogs can be in each other’s presence and be alert or wary but not extremely fearful or aroused. This is called the threshold distance. If one dog has a greater threshold hold distance than the other (often the case), work at the greater distance.

2. With you holding Dog A on leash, have your helper appear with Dog B at threshold distance “X.” The instant your dog sees the other, start feeding bits of chicken, non-stop. Your helper will feed chicken to her dog, too, the instant he notices your dog.

3. After several seconds, have the helper step out of sight with Dog B, and you both stop feeding chicken.

4. Keep repeating steps 1-3 until the sight of the other dog at distance “X” consistently causes both dogs to look at their handlers with a happy smile and a “Yay! Where’s my chicken?” expression. This is the physical presentation of the dogs’ conditioned emotional response (CER); each dog’s association with the other at threshold distance “X” is now positive, so they can deliberately look at you to get their chicken, rather than staying intensely focused on each other.

5. Now you need to increase the intensity of the stimulus by increasing the length of time Dog B stays in sight. Continue to feed chicken when they are in view of each other, occasionally pausing to let them look at each other again, and immediately feeding chicken when they do.
6. When length of time seems to make no difference to either dog – you’re getting a consistent “Yay, where’s my chicken?” response regardless of how long Dog B stays in view, increase the intensity again, this time by increasing Dog B’s movement. Have the handler walk back and forth with her dog, still at distance “X,” slowly at first, then with more energy, even adding in some other behaviors such as sit, down, and roll over.

7. Now you’re ready to start decreasing distance by moving Dog A a little closer to the location where the Dog B will appear. When you obtain consistent CERs from both dogs at each new distance you can decrease the distance a little more, until both dogs are happy to be very near each other.

8. Then return to your original threshold distance and increase intensity stimulus by having Dog B move around more and more, as you gradually decrease distance and obtain CERs from both dogs along the way, until they are delighted to be near each other.

9. Now go back to your starting distance and increase intensity again, by having both dogs move more naturally as the distance decreases, offering CERs at each new distance before you come any closer, until they can be within six feet of each other, moving around, still relaxed and happy about chicken.

10. Finally, find ways for your dogs to engage separately in mutually enjoyable activities together. If they both enjoy car rides, take them for a drive, but be sure they are seat-belted or crated far enough apart to avoid any tension. If they love hiking, take them on “parallel” walks, one with you, one with your training partner, with humans between them at first, and eventually with dogs between humans when you’re sure their emotions are appropriate. Parallel swims, for dogs who love the water, can work well too.

When you feel the dogs are ready to finally interact with each other again, be careful not to undo all your hard work. You might first let them greet each other through a barrier, such as a baby gate or exercise pen.

Changing Bad Behavior

It can be frustrating when your dog misbehaves. A dog’s actions often don’t make sense to humans, and it can be hard to understand why a dog behaves in a destructive fashion.

Let’s discuss the causes of bad behavior and methods for correcting it.

Changing Bad Behavior

If you have a dog that is behaving badly, you need to correct the problem, but to do that, you need to understand your dog’s behavior. First and foremost, remember that dogs are pack animals and your dog sees themselves as part of your pack. If you allow your dog to continue their detrimental behavioral, they will think that they are the alpha dog, and behavioral problems will persist.

How many times have you uttered the words, “No! Bad dog!” only to find that it has no effect on your dog’s behavior? That’s because punishment doesn’t work. Most of the time, dogs don’t understand what they’re being punished for.

Changing dog behavioral problems isn’t quick and easy; it can take weeks or months to achieve. The most important thing to remember is that any attention rewards your dog, regardless of whether that attention is good or bad. If you are trying to change levels of dog obedience, always remember that punishment doesn’t work.

The key to changing behavior is not to allow your dog to be rewarded for it. Instead of yelling, give your dog the chance to succeed, and reward them when they triumph. For instance, if your dog is jumping up, tell them to lie down—and when they do, give them a treat. This is the type of dog training that will eventually stop obedience issues.

Also remember the old adage, “a tired dog is a good dog.” It’s true! A tired dog is less likely to exhibit behavioral problems, so make sure that your pup gets plenty of opportunities to run and play. Exercise is important for all dogs, as it helps them use pent up energy, so they’re less likely to direct that energy toward unwanted behaviors.

 

What Is a Dog Behaviorist?

If you are having trouble with a misbehaving dog, one option to get them back on the right track is to consult a dog behaviorist. These specialists try to find triggers for a dog’s mischief by examining their environment and noting factors that may lead to bad behavior.

 

Dog Behavior Training Tips

Did you know that behavioral problems are the number one reason dogs are surrendered to shelters or euthanized?

 

Here are some training tips for common behavioral issues:

Inappropriate Chewing. Dogs explore their environment with their mouths, so chewing comes naturally. Chewing on its own is not necessarily a bad thing, as it can help relieve boredom and stress, and it can help keep your dog’s teeth clean. The key is to get your dog to chew appropriate items. So, if you find your dog chewing on your shoe, redirect their chewing elsewhere, like to a chew toy or rope. It is also important to praise your dog for selecting the appropriate chew toy.

Digging in the Yard. The activity of digging is extremely rewarding to dogs. Your dog may dig because they caught a scent in the air or simply want to release some energy. If you don’t want your dog to dig holes in your yard, redirect their digging activities. Give your dog a sandbox or section off a portion of the yard where it is okay to dig. Reward your dog with treats and toys to make this new digging spot more exciting than their previous point of interest.

Begging at the Table. Consistency is the key to stopping poor behavior, so it is important to make sure that no one in the family feeds the dog at the table. Try to distract your dog from your family’s mealtime by giving them an appropriate activity, like enjoying a food puzzle.

Barking at the Doorbell. Your dog might bark at the doorbell because they are anxious or excited about visitors. Some dogs believe that their barking is what makes you open the door, so by barking they are attempting to train you. Redirect your dog’s attention from the doorbell, and try to get them to sit quietly on the doormat and wait for you to open the door.

Urine Marking. Dogs urinate on different items and places to mark their territory or to leave messages for other dogs. When you catch your dog urine marking in the house, interrupt the activity with a “no” and take them outside immediately. When you get outside, make sure to reward or praise your dog for urinating outdoors. Also, to prevent your dog from continuing to urinate indoors in the same spot, use an enzyme cleaner to remove the scent.

Ways to Keep Your Dog Active During Winter

Ways to Keep Your Dog Active During Winter

Cold, rain, snow, and ice can complicate our dogs’ exercise and training plans – but winter weather shouldn’t cancel them!

It can be very challenging to keep your canine family members happy during the ravages of winter. Even those who live in the warmer southern states may face long stretches of forced idleness from winter rains. Without ample enrichment activities, weeks and months of short, dark days can turn even a calm canine into a hyper hound.

Fortunately, the ever-creative modern dog training world has come up with countless ways to keep our dogs happy in inclement weather, so that dogs and humans can spend more time snuggled together in front of the warm fireplace and less time worrying about frostbite or drowning (see “Winter Warnings,” next page).

adorable animal canine cold

KEEPING ACTIVE IN THE WINTER

One of the best ways to stave off your dog’s winter crazies is to provide her with a wide variety of enrichment activities. Some are easy and can be implemented immediately, while some take a little more investment in time and resources. Let’s start with easy:

Indoor Fetch. If there’s only one of you and your dog will fetch, you can stand at the top of the stairs and toss her ball or toy to the bottom, have her run down to get it, run back up to you. If she will chase it but not bring it back, have a laundry basket full of toys or balls, call her back, and just keep throwing new ones. When you have thrown them all, go down the stairs, collect them, and bring them back up. If you don’t have stairs (or she can’t do stairs) use a long hallway. Get added benefit by putting barriers across the hall for her to jump over as she runs back and forth.

Jump the Jumps. When I was a wee child, I used to take broomsticks and mop handles and lay them across chairs all around the house, and then run with my Rough Collie, Squire, as he sailed over my makeshift jumps. You can do the same! If you prefer, you can get sections of PVC pipe at a hardware store. Start with the poles on the ground and use a treat to get your dog to walk over them, then trot over them.

When she is ready for more, use poles to make low X-shaped jumps before you use straight poles to make higher jumps. (Note: Young puppies shouldn’t jump until they are old enough not to be harmed by the repeated impacts. Check with your vet to make sure jumping is a safe activity for your pup.)

Round Robin Recall. You need at least two humans and a dog who loves to come when she’s called for this game. The larger your house and the more humans (within reason!), the better.

Put Billy (B) on the third floor, Janey (J) on the second, Mom (M) on the ground floor, and Dad (D) in the basement. (If stairs are not safely carpeted or dog has trouble with stairs, put all humans in different rooms on the same floor.) Each human has yummy treats and a toy that the dog likes for reinforcement when the dog arrives. Write up a random calling order and give each person a copy to ensure two humans aren’t calling her at the same time, and let the fun begin.

Be sure each person has a fun party with the dog when she gets there! This not only burns off dog energy, it gives the kids something to do, and it helps improve your dog’s recall.

huskey sled reverse

Ball Pit. For this one you need a kiddie wading pool and a generous supply of non-toxic, sturdy ball-pit balls. Put a towel down to cover the bottom of the pool (so the sound doesn’t startle your dog), fill the pool with balls (no water!), and let the fun begin! If your dog doesn’t take to it immediately, toss treats and favorite toys into the pool and let her – or help her – dig for them.

Snuffle Mat (and other food toys). Interactive food-dispensing toys are a simple solution to many dogs’ winter blues. We particularly like “snuffle mats,” where you bury treats in the cloth fingers of a textured mat and let your dog go to it. If you have a dog who wants to eat the mat or, in contrast, just isn’t interested, there are many other options, including treat-dispensing toys your dog pushes around, and puzzle toys she has to solve to get the treats. (See “Play with Your Food,” WDJ April 2019).

Flirt Pole. This is simply a sturdy pole with a rope fastened to one end and a toy fastened to the rope. You can make one or buy one. To play, stand in one place and swing the toy around for your dog to chase. (You can also practice “Trade” to get the toy back once your dog has grabbed it; see “Trade Agreements,” WDJ February 2017).

Woody chases the Tail Teaser with typical intensity. Be careful about baiting your dog into too many tight turns with these toys if she has knee or other joint issues.

If your dog tends to bodyslam you (or your kids) while playing this game, stand inside an exercise pen for protection while your dog chases the toy around the outside of the pen.

These toys are available in better pet supply stores and from online sources such as Chewy.com and Amazon.com. Outward Hound makes one called the “Tail Teaser” and sells it with an extra replacement toy for about $13; Chewy.com also sells one called the Pet Fit for Life Plush Wand Teaser Dog Toy for $11.

Nose Games. Scent work is surprisingly tiring, and because most dogs love to sniff, it’s also very satisfying for them. It’s also usually an easy game to teach. Have your dog sit and wait (or have someone hold her collar). Hold up a treat, walk six feet away, and place it on the floor. Return to your dog, pause, and then say “Search!” Encourage her to run out and eat the treat.

After a few repetitions, let her watch you “hide” the treat in an easy spot (on the floor behind a chair leg, etc.). Return and tell her “Search!” Gradually hide the treat in harder places, then multiple treats, and eventually have her in another room while you hide treats. This should keep her quite busy and tire her out nicely. (For much more information, see “How to Teach Your Dog to Play Nose Games,” WDJ September 2019.)

Treadmill. Now we’re getting into activities that require more investments in time and resources. First, of course, you need a treadmill. Be sure to get one that is safe to use with dogs. Dog-specific treadmills generally are smaller than human products (some are made just for small dogs!) and have appropriately sized siderails (for safety, to keep the dog from falling off on the sides).

You will need to do a very gradual introduction, associating the machine with treats and toys until your dog is very comfortable being near it, and then on it, before you even think of turning it on. Be sure not to overdo the exercise; check with your veterinarian about how much exercise is appropriate for your dog to start with and how you should increase the time (gradually!).

Cognition Training. Those winter shut-in months are a perfect time to experiment with cognition training for your dog. You don’t need a lot of room, and this brain exercise is surprisingly tiring. You can teach your dog to imitate your specific behaviors (see “Copy That,” October 2013); explore choice (see “Pro-Choice,” November 2016); learn to demonstrate object, shape, and color discrimination and even read! (see “Are Canines Cognitive?” October 2017), and much more.

Indoor Parkour. If you really want to get creative, you can set up an indoor parkour course for your dog, made out of household items. After you’ve taught your dog each of the various obstacles, put them all together into a complete course. Here are some suggestions for obstacles that you can train your dog to navigate:

Laundry Leap: Get a laundry basket that’s an appropriate size for your dog, and teach him to jump into and out of it.

Hoop-De-Do: Best use of a hula hoop ever! Hold it up for your dog to jump through, or wedge it between a chair and a wall for a fixed jump.

Sweet Roll: Roll up a carpet runner and let your dog unroll it with her nose. (Teach this one by placing treats inside the rug as you roll it so she finds them as she unrolls it.) This would be especially fun if you had a red carpet that your dog could unroll for special guests!

That Was Easy: A smack of the paw lets your dog share her editorial opinion. These buttons are available from Staples stores and its website – or you can find a variety of wonderful talking buttons online.

Go ’Round: A simple orange traffic cone makes a perfect loop-stacle to send your dog around the bend in a different direction.

Walk the Plank: Place an eight-foot long 2×8 board across two low stools and let your dog walk the plank! Increase the level of difficulty with narrower planks.

Tunnel o’ Chairs: If you have a smaller dog, start by teaching her to crawl under one folding chair, then add a second chair, then a third, eventually making your crawl tunnel as long as you want it to be!

Whatever your fancy, there should be some activities here that you and your dog can enjoy together when the weather outside is frightful. Stay warm, stay safe, and have fun!