|I am very happy to Announce, that I am|
for Group & Private Classes.
|Our dogs have loved that we are home with them|
The year 2020 & the beginning of 2021, was challenging for most of us, with one notable exception: pets. Not only did a record number of dogs and cats get adopted into new, loving homes, but established pets enjoyed the 24/7 companionship of their families. Many folks worked and attended school remotely, with everyone taking breaks throughout the day to lavish Fido and Fluffy with attention.
However, this new normal will eventually come to an end.
As province and city governments begin to lift COVID-19 restrictions and people prepare to return to the workplace, one big concern many pet owners share is how their dogs and cats will fare when they’re back to being left at home alone for most of the day. After all, many pets adopted during the pandemic never experienced the “old normal” and have no idea that in many households, family members typically leave for work or school in the morning and are gone the better part of the day.
1) Crates – Making use of the crate while your home, for a bit each day.Your taking a Shower/Bath, Cooking, Helping kids with school wok, etc.So, they do not associate the crate with your absence.
1a) Then start introducing your absence, stand outside, start the car (noise recognition), go for a short drive (keep that car battery alive & noise recognition). Increase time slowly, until you reach just beyond what would be the normal amount of time your gone in a day.
(Remember, for dogs under 6 months, the expectancy is 1 hour per month of age).Dog Walkers & Dog Daycares are OPEN, for those that would need a Potty break.
As we have been distancing and keeping too our family units, our dogs are missing out on getting a full and proper experience of the world, sight, sound, smells, people, other dogs etc.
The crucial age for social skills starts to close around 16 weeks of age. Thus why Puppy Group Classes are so important.
Keeping those Social experiences into and through in too Adult brain is also a major priority, as dogs will forget about some of those experiences, as the brain ages up into Teenage and then Adult. Don’t forget training is a major part of maintaining that wonderful puppy you had. Think along the lines of – How well would a child fair in the world in general if they only attended Kindergarten/Grade 1-2.
A long term repeat client & close friend of mine Debra, has been working with a 5 month old, that had not been given the proper social skills and training.
She provided this list for me of stores that allow Dogs in:-
Pet Stores – PetSmart, Ren’s, Pet Valu, Global etc.
Other Stores- Canadian Tire, Rona, Staples, Winners, Home Sense, Bed Bath & Beyond, Designer Show Warehouse and Calbel’s
So, if you need to go out to grab something from one of these, Take the Dog.
The use of Therapeutic Grade 100% Pure essential oils, has become very popular, with the emergence of several MLM Companies offering Essential oils. The has also been in the news feed lately a lot of concern about Dogs & Cats, getting sick, from owner diffusing essential oils, some even dying. What these articles do not seem to state is if the oil in used were 100% Pure Therapeutic grade. So I caution everyone, if your using Essential Oils be sure what you buying from an MLM or herbal store is certified as 100% Pure Therapeutic Grade.
However, there are a few oils, that are not good for dogs, no matter the grade, so here is a list, of No No oils.
Here is a list of essential oils NOT to use
if you have a dog at home
Anise (Pimpinella anisum)
Bitter Almond (Prunus dulcis)
Boldo (Peumus boldus)
Calamus (Acorus calamus)
Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora)
Cassia (Cassia fistula)
Chenopodium (Chenopodium album)
Cloves (Syzygium aromaticum)
Garlic (Allium sativum)
Goosefoot (Chenopodium murale)
Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana)
Hyssop (Hyssopus sp. with the exception of Decumbens)
Juniper (Juniperus sp. with the exception of Juniper Berry)
Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)
Mustard (Brassica juncea)
Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)
Red or White Thyme
Rue (Ruta graveolens)
Santolina (Santolina chamaecyparissus)
Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)
Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)
Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca alternifolia)
Terebinth (Pistacia palaestina)
Thuja (Thuja occidentalis)
Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)
Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
How a little bucket can improve a dog’s quality of life – and your
relationship with that dog.
My wonderful Dogue De Bordeaux Cadbury, suddenly did not like her nails trimmed. She was relatively tolerant of my insistence on trimming her nails, except when it came to her hindquarters. When I would try to trim her back feet, she tensed up and sometimes even growled.
Then she learned the Bucket Game, and as a result of her learning a new way to communicate her feelings to me about being groomed – one that didn’t require the escalation of aggressive behaviors – her attitude during grooming went from tolerance to complete relaxation and enjoyment. She was a classic study in the behavioral value of giving our dogs choice and control in their world through cooperative care.
Cooperative care involves training an animal to not only tolerate handling and husbandry procedures, but also to be an active, willing participant in these experiences.
All dog owners need to perform basic husbandry tasks on their dogs at some point – pull burrs out of the dog’s coat, examine and clean a wound, administer eye drops, clean ears, brush teeth, and so on. To gain their dogs’ willing participation in these tasks, first, dog owners teach their dogs some basic behaviors for cooperative care – skills that will ease your way through almost any dog-care procedures that owners are likely to face. Teachs these essential skills in a specific order, so the dog learns them in a systematic and progressive way. “10 Essentials” for cooperative care are:
1) Chin Rest (or Bucket Game)
2) Lie on Side
4) Wear a Muzzle
5) Foot Handling
6) Mouth Handling
7) Taking Medication
8) Injection or Blood Draw
9) Eye Exam
10) Ear Exam
THE BUCKET GAME – A GAME OF CHOICE
There are a variety of protocols that can help your dog learn to enjoy these procedures. The Bucket Game is one of the most inventive and versatile. The Bucket Game was developed and introduced to the dog training world by trainer Chirag Patel, owner of Domesticated Manners, a training business in London. Once taught, the Bucket Game can be used for several of the 10 essential behaviors, as well as for everyday husbandry procedures such as grooming and nail trimming.
This fun and easy dog-training protocol empowers the learner, by creating an environment where your dog has choice and can communicate her willingness to participate. Using the Bucket Game, your dog can tell you:
• When she is ready to start
• When she needs to take a break
• When she wants to stop
• When you need to slow down
All you need to play the Bucket Game is a little bucket or some other container to hold treats and a lot of small, high-value treats.
STEP 1: TEACHING IMPULSE CONTROL IN THE PRESENCE OF THE BUCKET
1. Start by holding the bucket out to your side. Reward your dog (feed a treat from the bucket) for looking at the bucket but maintaining some distance from it (two to four feet).
Usually, once your dog has seen you reach into the bucket, take out a yummy treat, and feed it to her, she’ll look at the bucket again, wondering what it’s all about. Be ready! When you see her glance at it, take a treat out of it and give her one. You’re on your way. Repeat a number of times.
If your dog tries to jump up or dive into the bucket, don’t admonish her; just hold it higher. It shouldn’t take long for her to realize that the best way to get more treats is to keep returning her gaze to the bucket without trying to jump up and help herself to them.
2. Put the bucket on the ground, a chair, or a table, and reward the dog (feed a treat from the bucket) for looking at it but not trying to get it. Your dog can be in any position; you are simply rewarding her for looking at the bucket. Repeat several times.
3. Gradually begin increasing the duration of her gaze, by rewarding her with treats from the bucket for looking at it for longer and longer periods. Don’t wait too long, increasing the duration too much, too quickly, as this may cause the behavior to extinguish.
Remember, this is a game of choice; your dog is allowed to look around between focusing on the bucket. Don’t call her, tap on the bucket, or do anything else to draw her attention to it. Let your dog choose to engage to participate.
STEP 2: INTRODUCING THE CONCEPT OF CHOICE
1. Practice until your dog is able to focus on the bucket for a duration of at least 10 seconds. Remember that it doesn’t matter what position she’s in; it could be a sit, down, or stand.
2. Choose what procedure you want to introduce to your dog as part of the Bucket Game, such as being groomed or looking in her ears. I’ll describe the steps as if we were working on brushing the dog.
3. When she is focused on the bucket and able to hold her focus for at least 10 seconds, start moving your hand toward her side (not touching her). If she continues to look at the bucket, stop moving your hand toward her and feed her a treat from the bucket. If she looks away from the bucket, probably to look at your hand or face (“What are you doing?”), just draw your hand back.
Remember, this is a game of choice. She may not yet understand that she can communicate to you that she is uncomfortable – she may have just been curious, but she will come to understand as you continue the process.
4. When she re-engages with the bucket, the game begins again. This time, don’t move your hand so fast or far. If she is able to maintain focus on the bucket, reward her with a treat from the bucket.
Repeat this process with your hand moving toward her, closer and closer, giving her a treat every so often as long as she continues to gaze at the bucket, and withdrawing your hand if she looks away from the bucket.
5. Eventually, you should be able to touch her as she gazes at the bucket. The first time you make contact with her, she will likely look at you. Just withdraw your hand, and try again after she gazes at the bucket again. She should be starting to figure out that the only way to get treats is to keep gazing at the bucket, no matter what you do with your hand. Touch her with increasing pressure at various locations on her body where you will be grooming her, rewarding her every so often. Again, don’t wait so long that she starts to think it’s not worth playing the game, but she should be able to hold her gaze on the bucket for at least 10 or 15 seconds while you touch her.
6. Now pick up her brush and repeat Step 3, this time with the brush in your hand. After several repetitions with the brush held near her, start touching her with the brush. This continues until you are able to groom your dog with her looking at the bucket.
THE MOST IMPORTANT RULE OF THE GAME
When your dog has learned the game for one procedure, you can easily generalize it to others, including ear and mouth exams, foot handling, nail trimming, etc.
However, this game of choice will only work if you allow your dog to communicate that she wishes to begin, take a break, and stop the game. If your dog looks away from the bucket, stop the game. When she re-engages with the bucket, the game continues. It’s imperative that you honor her request to stop and only use the procedure when you are able to honor her request to stop.
If you use the Bucket Game while working with other animal-care professionals, they also must be willing to stop any procedure when your dog looks away from the bucket. If they are not willing to do so, don’t use the Bucket Game with them. If they are doing a procedure that cannot be stopped once it has started, don’t use the Bucket Game with that procedure.
Clients and Their Pets Prepare
The year 2020 was challenging for most of us, with one notable exception: pets. Not only did a record number of dogs and cats get adopted into new, loving homes, but established pets enjoyed the 24/7 companionship of their families. Many folks worked and attended school remotely, with everyone taking breaks throughout the day to lavish Fido and Fluffy with attention.
However, this new normal will eventually come to an end. As province and city governments begin to lift COVID-19 restrictions and people prepare to return to the workplace, one big concern many pet owners share is how their dogs and cats will fare when they’re back to being left at home alone for most of the day. After all, many pets adopted during the pandemic never experienced the “old normal” and have no idea that in many households, family members typically leave for work or school in the morning and are gone the better part of the day.
A survey conducted by Rover.com found that a majority of dog owners (58 percent) are worried about their pets experiencing separation anxiety when they return to work, and 63 percent said they think their dogs will suffer stress once they start leaving home more often. The Wall Street Journal tells of one office returnee who was so anxious about leaving her dog that she had her teenage daughter, who was still attending remote classes, arrange Facetime calls several times a day.
It’s unclear whether these “visits” did more to relieve the dog’s or owner’s separation anxiety. Still, it does illustrate the depth of concern many people have about leaving their pets when they move back into a normal routine.
This is where I can step in and offer help and support to nervous owners. I can show clients how to prepare their pet for the family’s eventual return to work and school—and make the transition back to normalcy as anxiety-free and happy as possible for everyone.
Gradual Social Distancing
The key to a successful transition is to start prepping the pet for the new routine before work or school schedules change. I would suggest to my clients that they begin by gradually social distancing themselves from their dog or cat. In many cases, the pet might have spent months curled up beside a family member with little or no physical separation. Instill a sense of independence in your pets by spending small amounts of time away from them—going into a separate room, closing the door, stepping outside, etc.
These sessions should be very brief at first, lasting just a few minutes. Upon reuniting, your clients should praise their pets enthusiastically and give them a treat. Distancing exercises should be done throughout the day, gradually increasing the amount of time spent apart. Eventually, you should work up to leaving your home, going for a walk or a short drive. This way, the pet will get used to being left alone at home, secure in the knowledge her owner will return.
As with any behavior-shaping exercise, positive reinforcement is essential to weaning pets from constant togetherness and helping them overcome separation anxiety. For example, the rewards should be extra delicious and used only for social distancing exercises so that the dog will develop a special association with the owner’s absence.
Ease into a Routine
Along with social distancing, my clients should start easing back into a daily routine similar to the one you will be following when you return to your “normal” lives. As months of COVID Restrictions dragged on, many of us have slipped out of a consistent routine, but now is the time to reverse course. You should start getting up when you typically would for work and go through your usual morning routine.
Dogs and cats should be put on a schedule where they are fed and walked or played with at the same time they will be when the family returns to work. If you have plans to use a dog walker or a pet sitter for midday visits, now is the time to introduce them.
One activity you should include in the daily routine is at least 15 minutes of brisk exercise—walking, running or vigorous play—before you leave the house in the morning. This will help pets burn off excess energy and remain calmer and more relaxed throughout the day.
There are other things you can provide to keep your pets calm, happy, and busy during the workday. Interactive toys that can be stuffed with treats to keep dogs and cats challenged and occupied. Leaving on music or the TV can be comforting to some pets. There are also numerous animal videos available that are designed to keep pets engaged while watching TV.
Pet Cams: A Helpful Tool
One of the best pieces of advice I can give to returning-to-work clients is to invest in a pet cam. This will allow you to monitor their pet’s behavior and alert you to signs of stress and separation anxiety such as panting, pacing, whining/meowing, chewing and other destructive behavior. For example, if a dog tends to chew on a particular sofa pillow, the owner can move it out of his pet’s reach.
A pet cam can also be a valuable tool in determining which things make a pet happiest while home alone. Owners can see how their dog or cat reacts to different interactive and puzzle toys, which ones are her favorites, whether she likes watching videos, where she feels the coziest sleeping, etc. This will allow you to provide more of the things that make your pet feel safe and happy.
You can also see how your pet responds to dog walkers and sitters you have hired and how these individuals treat her. Not to be underestimated, having a pet cam can help owners deal with their own separation anxiety. After all, you too have to adjust to no longer being with your pets 24/7, and just “seeing” them during the workday can lift their spirits immeasurably.
Dominance Term Defined
The use of dominance and pack theory in explaining dog behavior has come under a great deal of scrutiny as of late. The Dog Nanny wishes to inform the dog owning public about the ramifications of a reliance on dominance theory as it relates to understanding dogs, interpreting their behavior, and living harmoniously with our canine companions.
Theory and Misconceptions
Contrary to popular thinking, research studies of wolves in their natural habitat demonstrate that wolves are not dominated by an “Alpha Wolf” that is the most aggressive male, or male-female pairing, of the pack. Rather, they have found that wolf packs are very similar to how human families are organized, and there is little aggression or fights for “dominance.” Wolves, whether it be the parents or the cubs of a pack, depend on each other to survive in the wild; consequently, wolves that engage in aggressive behaviors toward each other would inhibit the pack’s ability to survive and flourish. While social hierarchies do exist (just as they do among human families) they are not related to aggression in the way it is commonly portrayed (incorrectly) in popular culture.
As Senior Research Scientist L. David Mech recently wrote regarding his many years of study of wolves, we should “once and for all end the outmoded view of the wolf pack as an aggressive assortment of wolves consistently competing with each other to take over the pack.” (Mech, 2008) In addition to our new understanding of wolf behavior, study into canine behavior has found that dogs, while sharing some traits with their wolf cousins, have many more significant differences. As a result, the idea that dog behavior can be explained through the application of wolf behavior models is no more relevant than suggesting that chimpanzee behavior can be used to explain human behavior. Unfortunately, this idea that dogs are basically “domesticated wolves” living in our homes still persists among dog trainers and behavior counselors, as well as breeders, owners, and the media. Although, dogs are descended from an Asian species of Wolf and maintain a 99.99999% DNA sequence. Dogs have developed to work with and alongside humans.
One of the biggest misconceptions we find ourselves faced with is the definition of “dominance.” Dogs are often described as being “dominant” which is an incorrect usage of the term. Dominance is not a personality trait. Dominance is “primarily a descriptive term for relationships between pairs of individuals.” and moreover, “the use of the expression ‘dominant dog’ is meaningless, since “dominance” can apply only to a relationship between individuals. (Bradshaw et al., 2009) Dominance comes into play in a relationship between members of the same species when one individual wants to have the first pick of available resources such as food, beds, toys, bones, etc. Even between dogs, however, it is not achieved through force or coercion but through one member of the relationship deferring to the other peacefully. In many households the status of one dog over another is fluid; in other words, one dog may be the first to take his pick of toys, but will defer to the other dog when it comes to choice of resting places. Dogs that use aggression to “get what they want” are not displaying dominance, but rather anxiety-based behaviors, which will only increase if they are faced with verbal and/or physical threats from their human owners. Basing one’s interaction with their dog on dominance is harmful to the dog-human relationship and leads to further stress, anxiety and aggression from the dog, as well as fear and antipathy of the owner.
Living with Dogs: What’s Important?
When it comes to living and working with dogs, the concept of dominance is largely irrelevant. This may come as a surprise to many dog owners. The truth is, when working with dogs that have a training or behavior issue, the goal of the dog professional is to develop a behavior modification or training plan that will address the problem at hand. This generally does not require understanding a dog’s motivation and emotional state, but rather focuses on what the dog is doing (behavior), and what we want the dog to “do,” helping the dog understand how to perform the desired behaviors and then rewarding him for doing so.
Far too many times dog owners have been given advice to “show the dog who’s boss” and “be the alpha.” The unfortunate side effect of this thinking is that it creates an adversarial relationship between the owner and their dog with the belief that the dog is somehow trying to control the home and the owner’s life. Such misinformation damages the owner-dog relationship, and may lead to fear, anxiety and /or aggressive behaviors from the dog. Dogs cannot speak our language and they can find themselves thrust into situations in our homes that they find difficult to comprehend, by owners trying to behave as they mistakenly believe “alpha” wolves do.
Rather than dominance, it is most often a lack of clear interspecies communication that leads to behaviors we find troubling. It is the human’s responsibility to teach our dogs the behaviors that we find appropriate, and reward them when they do the things we like. Just as importantly, it is our role to show them which behaviors are not appropriate in a constructive and compassionate manner that does not lead to further anxiety on the dog’s part.
Aggression is Not the Answer
Actions such as “alpha rolls” and “scruff shakes” have no basis in fact when studying wolf or dog behavior, and they only lead to creating unnecessary fear on our dog’s part toward us, fear that ultimately can lead to aggression because the frightened dog knows of no other way to protect itself other than using its teeth. We all owe it to our dogs to see the world from their point of view in order to create a more harmonious relationship. Whether we are looking at a dog or a wolf, actions such as grabbing a dog and forcing it into a down, growling at the dog, and other aggressive behaviors directed toward the animal will only lead to the animal developing a “fight-or-flight” response where the animal fears for its life. In this situation, the dog will either freeze out of fear, flee far away from the threatening animal or person if an opportunity presents itself to get away, or, fight to save itself. When we engage in such behaviors toward our dogs, we are not telling the dog we are “boss,” instead we are telling the dog we are dangerous creatures to be avoided or fought off. There is no “dominance” in these scenarios—only terror and the instinct to defend oneself against attack.
Fortunately, many trainers and behavior professionals now present concepts that focus on building a caring and happy relationship with your dog, instead of relying on dominance.
If Not Dominance, Then What Do We Use?
Fortunately, many trainers and behavior professionals now present concepts that focus on building a caring and happy relationship with your dog, instead of relying on dominance. Some trainers refer to the term “leadership” or other similar terms that are less adversarial than “dominance”. What these trainers have in common is a desire to explain effective, non-confrontational and humane ways of living successfully with dogs. These educated approaches aim to strengthen the bond between the owner and the dog and teach owners more effective ways of communicating with another species. For dogs with behavior problems, trainers employ programs such as “Nothing in Life is Free (NILIF)” which works along the principal that the dog must “do” something to earn what he wants (i.e. sit to get dinner, walk on a loose leash to move forward, etc.) These programs are effective because the dog is issued a structured set of rules that are consistently reinforced and the dog learns what he needs to do in order to get the things that he wants such as food, petting, playtime, etc. Because dogs do not have the power of human speech and language, behavior problems and anxiety can result when they are left to fend for themselves in deciding how to live in our world without guidance that makes sense. Just like with people, we behave better and thrive in a world that “makes sense” to us and has a clear structure.
Few dog owners handle this frequent and often-tense encounter in a way that protects their dog and preserves his good behavior and positive feelings about other dogs.
Given that our canine companions are a social species, you might think introducing two dogs would be a simple matter of turning them loose together and letting them take care of the rest. If only it were so?! If you have ever been present when a canine meet-and-greet suddenly exploded into a whirlwind of growling, snarling, lunging dogs, you are probably aware there is more to it than just “Go play!”
Certainly, there are some dogs who are so socially adept that they can easily meet and greet new canine playmates with ease, but a significant percentage of our dogs can benefit from some assistance to effect successful introductions.
ORCHESTRATE GOOD GREETINGS
So then, how do you successfully introduce your dog to new canine friends?
For starters, you’ll want one handler per dog. One skilled handler, that is. Someone who panics and intervenes unnecessarily can botch the whole job by adding stress to dogs who are still sorting out relationships.
Barring skilled handlers, at least find handlers who are good at following instructions and don’t succumb easily to hysterical behavior. If you can’t find those, you’re better off with fewer handlers, although you should have at least one other person present, if for no other reason than to call 9-1-1 if the situation gets out of hand.
You probably already have a pretty good sense of your own dog’s canine social skills, and hopefully the other dog’s person does as well. Do they play well with others at the dog park? During playtime at good manners class? With their own canine family members? How do they act with doggie visitors to their homes? During chance encounters with other canines on the streets?
If you’re not reasonably confident that introductions will go smoothly, you might do well to engage the services of a qualified behavior professional to help your dog meet new friends, at least the first time or two. She will be able to help you read and understand the dogs’ body language and optimize the potential for success.
Your best bet is to find a neutral, safely fenced, outdoor area in which to begin the relationship. Indoors is too cramped and confining – a less-than confident dog can easily feel trapped as the other dog backs her into a corner. Wide open spaces tend to work better.
A neutral spot (neither dog’s home) is ideal, so that neither dog feels defensive of his yard or people. If you can’t find neutral, your own yard might work, as long as your dog doesn’t have a history of reactive behavior in that space.
But maybe you don’t have a safely fenced yard, or your dog does have a history of reactive behavior in your yard. A large, uncluttered garage or warehouse space might work. Perhaps a friend, neighbor, or co-worker has a fenced yard you can borrow for a bit.
Absolutely No Nose-to-Nose, Leashed Greetings!
The Labrador on the right is a gregarious, friendly dog who gets overexcited every time he sees other dogs – and highly frustrated when he can’t dive in and greet them boisterously. Unfortunately for him, many dogs misinterpret his “incoming missile” approach as an attack, and he’s provoked many dogs into defensive aggression. Leashed, nose-to-nose greetings like this just add to his frustration.
It seems intuitive that it would be safer to hold your dog’s leash during greetings, so you can separate the dogs easily if it doesn’t go well. However, there are a number of reasons why this practice is fraught with hazards (and why I don’t allow this at, my training center):
* Leashes restrict a dog’s ability to behave naturally during greeting. If a dog is uncertain about meeting another, she might normally move away. But if she is restrained by a leash and knows she can’t move away, she’s more likely to behave defensively aggressive. In a normal, leash-free greeting, dogs might circle and sniff, retreat, and then approach again. Leashes get in the way of all that – and also tangle quickly if one dog suddenly tried to initiate play – and the other dog might panic at the sudden proximity she’s forced into by the tangle. Ack!
* A tight leash adds stress, and stress causes aggression. I have seen more than one greeting that appeared to be going well until one or both humans tightened their leashes and – boom! – triggered an aggressive response from their dogs.
* Routine on-leash greetings can create an expectation for your dog that she will be able to greet every dog she sees. This may result in frustration reactivity on those occasions when she isn’t immediately allowed to meet and greet. Often, these dogs get along beautifully with others off-leash at the dog park, but become extremely aroused – even at a considerable distance – when they are on leash and see another dog that they can’t run up to greet. I’d estimate that about one-third of the dogs who come to my Reactive Rover workshops exhibit this frustration reactivity. These are almost invariably dogs who frequently have been allowed to do on-leash greetings with other dogs.
START WELL APART
With the space secured, the process I use and recommend to clients is to start with dogs on leashes on opposite sides of the enclosed space. Keep the leashes loose, if possible. Watch the dogs’ behavior. They should seem interested in each other, alert without excessive arousal. Ideally, you’ll see tails wagging at half-mast, soft, wriggling body postures, play bows, ears back, squinty eyes, and no direct, hard eye contact. These are clear expressions of non-aggressive social invitation.
Warning signs include stiffness in the body, standing tall, ears pricked hard forward, growling, hard direct eye-contact, stiffly-raised fast-wagging tails, perhaps even lunging on the leash, and aggressive barking.
If you see appropriate social behavior, proceed with the approach until the dogs are about 10 feet apart. If they continue to show unambiguous signs of friendliness, drop the leashes and let them meet.
Yes, I said drop the leashes. I prefer not to let dogs meet and greet with handlers holding the leashes. Leashes tend to interfere with the dogs’ ability to greet normally, and can actually induce dogs to give false body language signals. For example, a tight leash can stiffen and raise a dog’s front end, causing her to look more tense and offensive than she means to be, which in turn can cause the other dog to react offensively. A defensive dog who wants to retreat may feel trapped because of the leash and act aggressively because she can’t move away.
Leave leashes on the dogs initially, dragging freely on the ground, so you can grab them and separate dogs easily if necessary.
Keep monitoring the greeting. You are likely to see some normal jockeying for position and some tension, as they sniff and circle and then erupt into play.
As soon as you can tell that they’re getting along, remove their leashes and let them play unencumbered.
Choose Your Dog’s Friends Wisely
When you select your dog’s playmates, it’s important to consider what sort of dogs might make good personality matches – and which might be a disaster.
If your dog likes to assert herself, you’re wise to choose a play pal who’s happy to maintain a lower profile. If your dog is a shrinking violet, she’ll be happiest with a new companion who doesn’t come on like a freight train or bully her playmates mercilessly. If you have one of those canine gems who gets along with everyone, then you have more playmate options. If you want your gem to be able to be “queen of the hill,” then look for soft, appeasing-type dog friends.
If you don’t care where your easygoing dog ends up in the new relationship, then you have the entire canine personality continuum to choose from. Of course, you should avoid dog-aggressive dogs who might give yours a bad experience that could color her future canine relationships.
IF IT STARTS TO GO BAD
Watch that the play doesn’t escalate into excessive arousal (which can lead to aggression) but remember that it’s normal and acceptable for dogs to growl and bite each other in play. As long as both dogs seem to be enjoying the action, it’s a good thing.
If arousal levels escalate, especially if one dog starts to appear concerned about the arousal level, cheerfully call the dogs away from each other for a calming time-out. Take a break until they are both quite calm, then release them to play again.
If you see warning signs as you approach with the dogs on leash, you’ll need to go more slowly. If you observe behavior that looks like outright reactivity or aggression, you’ll need to make a judgment call about whether the intensity of the behavior is such that you need to stop and seek professional assistance, or mild enough that you can proceed with caution.
If you do decide to proceed, interrupt prolonged hard eye contact by having each handler divert her dog’s attention with bits of tasty treats. Continue to work with the dogs in each other’s presence, watching for signs of decreasing arousal.
Walk around the available space with the dogs at maximum distance, gradually bringing them closer together until they are walking parallel to each other. You might take them for a walk around the block, maintaining safe parallel distance. It’s important that you stay calm and relaxed during this process. If you jerk or tighten the leash, badger one or both of the dogs with a constant stream of warnings (“No … no! Be nice! Don’t even think about it! No growling!” etc.), or yell at them, you’ll add stress to the situation and make it harder for them to relax.
When you see signs that the dogs have relaxed with each other, spend a few (or several) more minutes sitting quietly near each other, far enough apart the dogs aren’t trying to interact. When they continue to appear reasonably relaxed, you may choose to end the introduction for the time being. Do several more on-leash sessions over a period of several days before dropping leashes. Alternatively, you may decide to proceed with dropped-leash greetings. This is where your experience and instincts come into play. It’s generally better to err on the side of caution and do several more on-leash sessions to make sure the dogs are comfortable with each other.
Again, if you’re not confident in your judgment about canine body language, you may choose to enlist the help of a professional at this point.
Keep in mind that while dogs are a social species, humans are, too – and we don’t get along with everyone we meet! It’s unreasonable to expect our dogs to want to play with every dog they meet. Respect your dog’s opinion and don’t try to force a relationship between on a dog who is clearly saying “I don’t want to hang out with that guy!”
If tensions between the dogs escalate or maintain at the same level of intensity despite your on-leash work over several sessions, the wise choice may be to look for a different playmate. If, however, you are trying to introduce your dog to a dog that you really hope will become a compatible friend – perhaps because the dog belongs to a good friend, dating partner, relative, or co-worker (in the case of dogs who come to work), or perhaps even one you’re considering adopting – this would be a good time to do ongoing work with a behavior professional to try to make the relationship work, knowing that management may be a large part of the relationship for the foreseeable future.
Be careful if you see no interaction between the two dogs you’re trying to introduce. What appears to be calm acceptance may in fact be avoidance behavior – neither dog is comfortable with the other, and they choose to deal with it by not dealing with it. The problem with this is that sooner or later the dogs will interact if they’re in each other’s presence frequently, and the discomfort may well develop into aggression. I really want to see some interaction between dogs in order to be comfortable that they will play well together.
ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL
I’ve had clients ask me, “If dogs are a social species, why don’t they all just get along with each other?” My response is, “We humans are a social species, and we certainly don’t all get along!”
Fortunately, the majority of our dogs can have canine playmates, although we sometimes need to help them be friends. Even dogs who don’t normally do well with other dogs can, with careful introductions, learn to accept new canine friends and family members. And if you have a dog who can’t, accept him for who he is. He’ll probably be much happier if you stop trying to get him to like other dogs.
Use extra caution when introducing a puppy to an adult dog to avoid physical injury or psychological trauma to your pup. While many adult dogs recognize the importance of being gentle with baby dogs, some do not. Some will play too roughly and some will be actively aggressive. A bad experience with an overly exuberant playmate or an aggressive dog can have a significant negative influence on a pup’s future social behavior.
Use extra caution when introducing a new dog to a senior dog, especially if the new dog is a high energy adolescent or a puppy. Protect the senior dog from being physically damaged – bumped, bruised, body-slammed, or knocked over by a rambunctious pup. Keep the youngster on leash or use baby gates to keep them separated until the pup learns to modulate his behavior around the fragile, perhaps grumpy senior. Geriatric dogs shouldn’t have to defend themselves from overwhelming attentions from fractious youngsters. Unless this is a new dog you are introducing to your own family, you are better off selecting more appropriate playmates.
Consider size. Noted trainer and behavior professional Jean Donaldson recommends no more than a 25-pound difference in size between dogs in a household or play relationship. More than that, she warns, and you risk injury to the smaller dog if the larger one is too energetic or aroused.
When working with particularly large or strong dogs, or dogs who have been involved in any past incidents involving aggression, it’s a good idea to have some tools within easy reach, in case you need to interrupt an aggressive interaction. These tools might include:
• Loud noises, such as a loud yell, banging two metal pans together, or a marine air horn.
• Aversive sprays, such as lemon juice in a spray bottle, Halt! dog repellent spray, or a blast from a hose or a fire extinguisher.
• A separating board. Keep your hands out of the danger zone by using a physical object to break up a fight. (You have to plan for this in advance.) Attach two handles to a sheet of plywood. When a fight happens, lower the board between the sparring dogs. The board will push them apart and provide a physical barrier between them to prevent a new grab.
• Blankets. Tossed over fighters, one over each, blankets muffle outside stimuli, reducing arousal. This also allows humans to physically separate the combatants by picking up the pups-in-a-blanket and pulling them apart with less risk of a serious bite; the blanket will cushion the effect of teeth on skin if the dog does whirl and bite.
• A “parting stick” (also known as a “break stick”). This tool can be inserted into the mouth of a dog who won’t unclench his jaws and let go of another dog. Often carved from a wood hammer handle, the stick is tapered to a rounded point at one end. When dogs are locked in combat, the parting stick is forced between a dog’s teeth and turned sideways to pry open the jaws. Caution: Parting sticks can break teeth, and a dog whose jaws have just been “parted” may turn on the person doing the parting.
Are dogs stubborn? Here’s what you need to know about training a ‘stubborn dog’.
I laugh whenever I hear someone refer to a dog as “stubborn.” It is patently unfair to label a dog as stubborn.
Dogs do what works for them (as we all do), and when they aren’t doing what we ask, they have a good reason.
When your dog doesn’t respond to your cue, perhaps he’s come to associate it with something aversive, perhaps he doesn’t understand what you’re asking, or perhaps he’s too distracted or stressed and your request doesn’t even register in his brain.
In any case, it’s our job, as the supposedly more intelligent species, to figure out how to get our dogs to want to do what we want them to do.
Some people believe dogs should do what they are told, simply because we tell them to. “Because I said so!” hearkens back to childhood, when parental directives were often accompanied by the implied “Do it, or else!”
In these days of a more enlightened dog training philosophy, this coercive approach isn’t what many of us want with our dogs. We prefer relationships based on a cooperative partnership.
If your dog isn’t doing what you ask, consider these questions:
Are you training competently?
Remember, dogs shouldn’t have to do what we say just because we tell them to – or just because they love us. We want them to want to do it. Make sure your reinforcers are valuable enough that your dog will eagerly offer the behaviors you ask for, and that you are marking and/or delivering the reinforcer with good timing so your dog associates the reinforcer with the desired behavior.
Is there something aversive about the behavior?
Years ago, my first Doberman, Karla, started refusing jumps when we were training for obedience competition. I didn’t punish her for not jumping – I took her to my veterinarian and discovered she had bad hips. It hurt her to jump.
A behavior can also be emotionally aversive.
If a car ride always means a trip to the vet, your dog could become very reluctant to jump into the car. Your challenge is to make car rides consistently predict “good stuff” – a hike in the woods, a trip their favorite canine pal for a play session, or? If he’s refusing to enter his crate because he has mild separation distress and associates crating with you leaving, alleviate the separation distress through behavior modification (and possibly appropriate medications), and then convince him that crating is wonderful.
Does he not understand?
You may have taught your dog to respond to a cue for the desired behavior, but perhaps you’ve used body language prompts in the past without realizing it, and now, absent the prompt, he doesn’t understand what you’re asking of him.
Fade all prompts if you want him to respond reliably to verbal cues. Perhaps you’ve always trained in the kitchen in front of the refrigerator, and so he thinks “Sit” means “Sit in the kitchen.” When you ask him to sit in the living room, he doesn’t sit because it’s not the kitchen. He’s not being stubborn – he needs you to help him generalize his behavior so he understands that “Sit” means to put his tail on the ground wherever you ask him to do it.
Your tone of voice does matter. If you usually give cues with a happy voice but your own emotional state causes your voice to sound different, he may not understand.
Is he distracted?
If you haven’t generalized your dog’s behavior to distracting environments, his attention will naturally be drawn to the multitude of exciting things happening around him. He’s not ignoring you; he probably isn’t even hearing you because he’s so focused on the fascinating world around him. Help him hear and respond to your behavior requests by training in various environments with gradually increasing distractions.
Is he stressed?
“Stressed” is an even bigger challenge than “distracted.”
When stress happens, the thinking part of the brain (the cortex) shuts down and the emotional part of the brain (the amygdala) takes over.
We even have phrases in the English language to describe this phenomenon: “I was so scared I couldn’t think straight.” “I was out of my mind with worry.”
When your dog is so stressed, he can’t think straight, it’s unfair to blame him for not doing what you ask. Relieve his stress (remove him from the stressor, and/or do behavior modification to change his association with the stressor) and try again.
Your relationship with your dog will be so much happier when you stop characterizing him as stubborn and realize how you can help him be more responsive to your behavior requests. Now get busy helping him want to do what you want him to do.
As a professional dog trainer, I get to work with people from all walks of life and the dogs they love. Interestingly, no matter who they are, what they do for a living, or what kind of dog they have, their issues are similar: They call me because they want their dog to stop doing “X.” Usually, they say they have “tried everything, but the dog just won’t listen.”
I love the opportunities I have to work with so many amazing dogs. But a lot of what I do comes down to coaching the dog’s owners on how to look at things differently to obtain a new outcome.
1. Be proactive.
Much of the old-fashioned dog training we were exposed to growing up focused on waiting for the dog to make a mistake and then harshly correcting him. While most of us simply accepted this as “how you train a dog,” we were missing the bigger picture. This method never taught the dog what he was supposed to do in that situation the next time.
It doesn’t make sense to let an untrained dog loose in your house and then follow behind correcting him with “No! Don’t! Off! Stop! Get down! Quit that!” for every wrong decision he makes. It is much more effective and productive to take the time to teach this new family member how to act appropriately in your home.
In modern, science-based animal training we understand the importance of teaching the learner, in this case the dog, what to do by being proactive. To use the example above as what not to do when you bring your new dog or puppy home, start things off on the right foot by first showing your new family member where she is supposed to go potty – before you ever bring her indoors! Stay out there until she goes, and immediately reward her with treats and praise!
Allow her to relax in an area where it’s safe to explore without being able to make any major mistakes and where her water, food, toys, and beds/carates are located. Reward her for sitting politely as she meets each member of the family and each visitor to the home!
Dogs do what works for them and what’s safe for them. If you introduce behaviors that are safe for the dog and work for you both, your dog will begin to choose them naturally.
2. Begin with the end in mind.
To change an unwanted behavior, you first need to decide what you want your learner to do instead. It is very easy to say, “I want my dog to stop jumping” or “I don’t want my dog to bark at the mailman.” You need to turn that around and decide exactly what you’d rather have your dog do in those moments.
To modify the unwanted behavior, we must be able to picture the final goal. If your dog is jumping on guests, you would probably prefer that he sit politely instead. If your dog is barking, you may decide you want him to play with his toy or go to his bed while the mailman passes by. These are the finished behaviors you can have in mind so you know exactly what you’re going to teach your dog to do.
If you don’t have a goal in mind and you’re only focused on stopping a behavior, your dog will never learn what he’s supposed to do the next time a guest comes to visit or the mailman delivers a package. This will set up an endless cycle of wrong behavior, harsh correction, confused and scared dog, frustrated guardian. This cycle can be broken easily if you begin dealing with your dog with your end goal in mind.
3. Put first things first.
Prioritizing is a necessity in all aspects of our lives. Working with your dog is no exception. There will probably be several things you wish to change or work on with your dog, but certain ones should take precedent. Any behavior that is necessary to keep your dog and other family members safe should be a top priority. This could be teaching your dog to come when called because you live near a busy street. It may be working on creating positive associations for your dog with babies because you’re expecting. If you’ve recently brought home a new puppy, proper and humane socialization should be your number one priority due to the brief window of time puppies have to learn about their world and whether it’s safe.
Focus on teaching your dog whatever behaviors meet your immediate needs; usually, the rest can be handled with proper management such as baby gates, fences, a leash, stuffed food toys, etc. There is nothing wrong with using management to keep everyone safe and happy until you have a chance to work on that next issue with your dog.
4. Think win-win.
Always think in terms of mutual benefit when working with your dog. I doubt you added a dog to your family to spend the next 10 to 15 years in an adversarial relationship. Therefore, it’s not helpful to think in terms of dominating your dog or expecting your dog to spend his life trying to please you.
Instead, make the things you ask your dog to do just as beneficial for him as they are for you. Thankfully, this couldn’t be easier, since most dogs will gladly work for food, toys, praise, and/or petting.
Your relationship with your dog should be like any other in your family, built on mutual respect and love for one another. If you stop and consider how your dog must feel in a given situation – just as you would for your partner or child – you can then approach it in a way in which you both receive what you need in that moment: a win-win.
5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
Humans are quick to demand full and complete comprehension from our dogs. It’s surprising when you consider we expect this from an entirely different species – one that doesn’t speak our language! On the flip side, consider that dogs speak to us all day long with their ritualized body language. Sadly, the majority of humans have never learned this language.
We must remember that our dogs have their own thoughts and feelings and that the environment we subject them to affects both. If you cue your dog to sit or lie down while at the vet clinic or on a busy street corner and he doesn’t do it, it’s not because he is being stubborn. Your dog may be scared, anxious, or overwhelmed in this situation and feels that it would be unsafe or uncomfortable to sit or lie down. He is not defiantly disobeying your orders. He is responding to his instinct and emotions in the moment. Every one of us does this when we feel scared or threatened.
Learning how your dog communicates with his body means you care about this family member with whom you share your life. It also shows your dog that he can trust you to help him out of overwhelming moments and you will understand what he needs. What an amazing gift to be able to offer him!
This means recognizing your own strengths and celebrating the strengths of those around you. You may have adopted a dog because you thought it would be nice to visit nursing homes and cheer up people with a sweet, fluffy therapy dog. However, the dog you end up with might be full of energy and better-suited for an agility field.
Instead of seeing this as a failure in your dog’s ability to be a therapy dog, consider the amazing possibilities you could have doing something more active together. Perhaps this unexpected development will open up a new world to you, with like-minded friends and fun travel. (And perhaps your dog will grow to share your interest in providing comfort to people later in his life!)
Just as you would with a child, try meeting your dog where he is, accepting him for who he is today. Be open to discovering the wonderful gifts he can bring to your life right now.
7. Sharpen the saw.
There isn’t an individual on this planet that ever stops learning. In fact, learning is always taking place, even when we don’t realize it.
If you think of training a dog as something you do haphazardly (when you find the time) for the first few weeks he’s in your home, you will not be happy with the results. Alternatively, if you weave training into your everyday life with your dog, thinking of each brief interaction as a teaching moment, you will be amazed by the outcome. Your dog will receive clear and consistent messages from you in all types of settings and situations. This will allow him to develop into a calm, confident dog who truly understands what is expected of him and which behaviors are appropriate to choose on his own.
It’s not uncommon for someone to ask me, “How long will it take before my dog is trained?” The truth is, there really isn’t an answer to this question because there should not be an “ed” on the end of the word train. As long as we are alive, learning is always happening and none of us is ever fully “trained.”
Instead of being disappointed by this and thinking that you will have to train your dog for the rest of his life, I encourage you to flip that narrative and become excited about the opportunity to share a mutual journey in learning alongside each other – a journey that builds a bond like no other.
Both dogs and their owners may love to swim but how about swimming with dogs? This can be a fun way to exercise, cool off, and bond with your dog. Below we will share some important water safety and swimming tips that are critical to the safety of you and your dog.
Water Safety Tips
The water can be a fun place to go and exercise but it can also be associated with possible dangers. Hazards include drowning, near drowning, poor water quality, toxins in the water, infectious agents or parasites, exposure to other animals, and possible trauma from things in the water that may not be visible.
Some dogs are really great swimmers and comfortable in the water and others are not. Breeds known to be good swimmers include the standard poodle, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Newfoundlands, Portuguese Water Dogs, American Water Spaniels, Irish Water Spaniel, Newfoundland, English Setter, Irish setter, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, and Spanish Water Dog. Lots of mixed-breed dogs are also good swimmers.
Any dog can be a good swimmer but some breeds that are not known for their swimming abilities including the Bulldog, Pug, French Bulldog, Shih Tzu, Basset Hound, Boxer, Corgi, Chow Chow, Maltese, Pomeranian, and Dachshund.
14 Swimming with Dogs Safety Tips
Some dog lovers jump into swimming pools, streams, rivers, oceans, ponds, and lakes to swim and this can be with their dogs. It can be fun. Some dogs love to fetch balls, Frisbees, or just float around.
Below are 14 tips to help keep you and your dog safe when you are swimming together.
Supervision. Ensure your dog is supervised while he or she is in the water. Things can happen quickly. A dog can get caught on something in the water or caught in a current.
Life vest. Get a life vest or water safety jacket for your dog. Even dogs that are good swimmers can have problems. If you are just floating in the water – it is a good idea to have a life vest on for you as well. Choose a style that is comfortable for your dog and has a handle over the back so you can lift him out of the water if needed.
Have an exit strategy. Ensure your dog has an exit ramp to get out of the water and knows how to use it. Show your dog how to get in and out of the water. Dogs can drown as they struggle to get out of pools or deep lakes without an accessible shoreline.
Restrict access. Prevent water access when you are not around. Dogs can fall in the pool or jump in because there is a duck in the water and drown. Dogs can also run out on the ice and fall through.
Monitor water temperature. Ensure the water temperature is neither too hot nor too cold for your dog.
Monitor water quality. If you are swimming in a lake, pond or stream, it is important to be alert for signs of algae bloom. Some forms of algae can be toxic to dogs and people. Additionally, if you have a pond on your property, consider having the water tested for bacteria or toxins.
Provide quality drinking water. Take plenty of fresh clean drinking water for both you and your dog when swimming together. This will help minimize your dog’s desire to drink from the pool, pond or ocean water. Some of the water can be unsafe to drink or can make your dog sick. Additionally, it is important not to allow your dog to drink too much.
Boat access. If you are swimming with dogs off a boat, make sure that you have a dog-safe ramp to help your dog get out of the water if he jumps in and swims or falls in. Learn more about How to Ensure Safety When Boating With Dogs.
Monitor for signs of heatstroke. Many dogs LOVE the water and what is better than being with you in the water. However, some dogs will overdo it especially if they are working hard swimming in the direct sun. Take frequent breaks and ensure your dog has plenty of water to drink. Signs of heat exhaustion can be excessive panting, fatigue, and/or lethargy. This can quickly advance to signs of heatstroke such as collapse, weakness, vomiting, bleeding, and death. Learn more about Heatstroke in Dogs.
Prevent fishing hook hazards. Keep your dog away from fishing bait and poles. Some dogs will step on or even try to eat the bait and swallow the hook which can be a huge problem.
Monitor the water exits for hazards. Just as it is important to ensure your dog can get out of the water, it is important to understand that there are hazards lurking along the edges. Glass and metal can wash up on beaches and shores, debris can be in the water that can cut the paws of dogs.
Post swim bath. Just as we often like to shower after swimming, dogs can benefit from an after-swimming bath. This helps rid them of pool chemicals such as chlorine, algaecides and baking soda you place in your pool as well as parasites, bacteria, and algae that can be on your dog’s fur from lakes, or the ocean.
Dry out. Dry your dog’s ears after swimming to prevent infections. Some of the adorable floppy-eared dogs have ears that never dry out if they get water in them, making them prone to infections.
Animals and parasites. Depending on where you are swimming, in addition to water dangers, there are other dangers. The ocean can have sea lice and jellyfish that can bother dogs. Sea lice are microscopic organisms that can cause severe itching. Jellyfish can sting dogs causing swelling and pain. Other dangers can be snakes, cockatiels, and alligators depending on your location. Please see your veterinarian if you have any concerns that your dog might have been bitten or infected.
If you don’t have time to go swimming with dogs, one thing you can do is create a doggy pool at your home.
I hope these tips help you know more about swimming with dogs.
An increasing percentage of clients are bringing dogs to me for help with fear-related behaviors. Many of my fellow behavior professionals agree: They, too, are seeing more fearful dogs than they used to.
The increase in clients seeking help could be because more people are realizing that it might be possible to modify their dogs’ fearful behaviors.
However, it might also be because more shelters and rescue groups are re-homing fearful dogs who, in the past, would have been euthanized as “not adoptable.”
Many of us trainers also have been called upon to help owners with extremely under-socialized and fearful dogs imported from elsewhere, such as the Chinese and Korean meat-market dogs and “street dogs” brought here from Puerto Rico, Mexico, and elsewhere.
Whatever the reason for the seeming increase in the population of fearful dogs, good behavior professionals will do their best to help these dogs (and their humans) have a better quality of life – and there definitely are things that can help.
Differentiating Between Fear, Phobia, and Anxiety
In order to successfully modify fear-related behaviors, it’s important to understand the difference among the closely related behaviors of fear, phobia, and anxiety.
Fear is defined as an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat. Most of us who have had dogs with fear issues (or are fearful ourselves) can agree, especially with the “unpleasant emotion” part. We tend to think of fear as a bad thing, but fear is also a life-preserving response to physical and emotional danger. If we didn’t feel fear, we would likely fail to protect ourselves from certain threats.
Phobia is an exaggerated, persistent, excessive fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation. Common canine phobias include loud noises (thunder, gunshots, fireworks, household sounds), intense fear of humans, and riding in cars.
Anxiety is the anticipation of future dangers from unknown or imagined origins that result in normal body reactions (known as physiologic reactions) associated with fear. Fears and phobias occur in the presence of the emotion-causing stimuli, but dogs who are anxious present emotional and physiological fear responses even in the absence of the stimulus.
Of the three “shades” of fearful behaviors, the best prognosis is for dogs dealing with fear. At least we’re working with something real and present, rather than something exaggerated or imagined! A fearful dog may have significant behavioral responses, including a lowered body posture, trembling, salivating, hiding, fleeing, growling, snapping, biting, shutting down, and more.
Phobias and anxieties can also manifest in these behaviors, but also may include more extreme panicked responses such as jumping through windows, chewing through walls, urinating, defecating, and worse. Dogs with true phobias and anxieties often require pharmaceutical intervention before any modification efforts can even begin to be successful. (See “What About Drugs?” below.)
If you think your dog’s emotional responses go beyond fear into phobia or anxiety territory, please seek the help of a qualified behavior professional and a behavior-savvy veterinarian.
What About Drugs?
As a non-veterinary behavior professional, it is inappropriate for me to suggest specific behavior modification drugs to my clients or to our WDJ readers. Medication can and does have a vital role in behavior modification, however, and I have – on many occasions – suggested that my clients discuss behavior medications with their veterinarians. Here’s the rub: Most veterinary schools don’t require their students to take a single course in behavior, and the field of behavioral medicine is a complex one that most vets know very little about.
Here’s the solution. There are now about 70 veterinary behaviorists in the U.S., and many of them will generously do phone consults with general practitioners to help guide appropriate selection and dosage of behavior medications. Some offer this service to other veterinarians for free, others charge a reasonable fee for their time.
In any case, when I do ask my clients to discuss medications with their vets, I urge them to ask their veterinarian to take advantage of this service in order to ensure they are getting the best advice regarding pharmaceuticals. This helps to avoid the bad experiences some clients have (“the drug turned my dog into a zombie, or made her worse”) when well-meaning but uninformed veterinarians select an inappropriate medication or an improper dosage.
A complete list of board-certified veterinary behaviorists can be found here. If medication is in the cards for your fearful dog, urge your veterinarian to make use of this resource.
Preventing Fear in Dogs
My students have all heard me say this before: “We’re always better off preventing unwanted behaviors than we are trying to fix them.” Here’s another of my favorites: “Behavior is always a combination of genetics and environment.” A good fear-prevention program recognizes both – hence the importance of breeding behaviorally solid dogs as well as proper puppy socialisation. Of course, you will also need to diligently protect your dog from traumatic events throughout her life.
If you raise two puppies – one genetically confident, one genetically fearful – in the exact same environment, giving them equal socialization, the odds are very good that the genetically solid pup will turn out just fine, while the one that came from a line of fearful dogs will likely be fearful.
Since many puppies come from shelters and rescue groups with little or no information about their genetic background, and because even good breeders sometimes receive unexpected rolls of the genetic dice, the best approach is to socialize every puppy properly, extensively, and thoroughly. Poorly socialized fearful dogs can be helped and their behavior improved upon, but will probably never be the dogs they could have been if they’d had a better start in life.
The puppy’s environment – even in utero – has as large an influence on him as his genetics. We now know that puppies born to mothers who were significantly stressed during pregnancy are likely to suffer from fear and stress-related behaviors throughout their lives, due to the flood of cortisol they were subjected to while still in the womb.
Note to shelters and rescue groups: This means you need to work very hard to place your pregnant dogs in appropriate foster homes, rather than subjecting them to the stress of a shelter or kennel, to give those pups the best chance for a long and happy fear-free life.
Puppies observe and learn from their mothers, so if their mother is fearful, they learn this from her as well. It’s no wonder that recent studies suggest that puppy-mill puppies have significantly more and greater behavioral issues throughout their lives than dogs born in more suitable environments.
Significant life events can create fear in an otherwise confident adult dog, even one who is genetically sound and well-socialized. These events may have the biggest impact during puppyhood and adolescence, but can also cause fear later in life. A car accident can cause a previously car-loving dog to become fearful of cars. A single significant attack by another dog can turn a canine-loving hound into one who is fearful and defensively aggressive toward other dogs. And inappropriate actions by other humans toward your dog can convince her that people should be feared.
So the better you are at protecting your dog throughout her life from events that cause her to become significantly afraid, the less likely you will need to manage and/or modify her fear behaviors at some point. And, with a “get back on the horse” recommendation, science suggests that the sooner you work to modify a negative association (fear) due to a traumatic event, the more successful the modification efforts are likely to be.
Managing Your Dog’s Fear
I’m sorry if this sounds daunting, but in order to successfully modify fear-based behavior, you must painstakingly manage your dogs exposure to the fear-causing stimulus.
Every time your dog has an over-threshold (fear-causing) exposure it can sensitize her further, making it even harder to convince her that she doesn’t need to be afraid. Barking, lunging, hiding, running away: whatever her avoidance strategies may be, each time she employs them she will become even more convinced that the strategies are effective, because she didn’t get injured or killed. Those behaviors are negatively reinforced (her behavior made a bad thing go away), and behaviors that are reinforced persist and increase.
If you want her to get more confident and less fearful, you must control your dog’s environment to protect her from the things that frighten her. Be your dog’s invincible advocate. If your dog is afraid of strangers, you must vehemently prohibit strangers from approaching her, even the sweet little lady who insists, “It’s okay, dogs love me!”
If your dog is fearful of visitors, put her in a safe place before anyone arrives – shut in a back bedroom, or even at a friend or family member’s house so she’s far away from the action, not trapped in a crate in the corner of the living room where guests can frighten her even more. Avoid taking her places where fear-causing sights or sounds might occur, and use appropriate medications to help her deal with scary situations that you cannot avoid, like trips to the veterinary clinic.
Modifying Your Dog’s Fear
So, how do you help your fearful dog get brave? My favorite approach is tried-and-true counter conditioning and desensitisation giving your dog a new, happier association with the scary stimulus. CC&D is simple and straightforward, and after a training/coaching session, my clients are usually able to practice successfully on their own, without me holding their hand every step of the way.
There are even more simple exercises you can use to help your dog maintain her equilibrium while you are working with your preferred behavior modification protocol. Many of these involve “priming” – putting your dog’s brain in a happy place by asking her to do something she loves so she can more easily cope with the stress of the fear-causing stimulus. Here are some examples:
It may sound like a marketing technique, but it simply means teaching your dog to touch a designated body part to a designated target. That description doesn’t do it justice – targeting is tons of fun! Nose-targeting draws your dog’s eye-contact and attention from a worrisome stimulus to a pleasant one and can be very useful for timid dogs.
To teach it, hold your open palm in front of your dog, nose level or below. When she sniffs it (because she’s curious!), say Yesss and feed a treat (or use a verbal marker – a mouth click, or a word). Remove your hand, then offer it again.
Each time she sniffs, click and treat. If she stops sniffing (“Boring! I’ve already sniffed that!) rub a little tasty treat smell on the palm of your hand and try again. When she deliberately bumps her nose into your hand, add the “Touch!” cue as you offer your hand. Encourage her with praise and high-value treats. Make it a game, so her eyes light up when you say “Touch.”
When she loves the targeting game, try playing when your dog is a little nervous about something. Scary man passing by on the sidewalk? Hold out your hand and say “Touch!” Your dog takes her eyes – and brain – away from the scary thing and happily bonks her nose into your hand. Click and treat!
She can’t be afraid of the man and happy about touching your hand at the same time. And she can’t look at your target hand and stare at the scary man at the same time. By changing your dog’s behavior – having her do something she loves – you can manage a scary encounter and eventually change her association with something previously scary to her.
Like targeting, “find It” is a behavior many dogs love and another game you can play to change behavior in the presence of a fear-causing stimulus.
With your dog in front of you, say “Find it!” in a cheerful tone of voice and toss a treat at your feet. When your dog finds the treat, click just before she eats it. Then say “Find it!” again and toss another at your feet. Click – and she eats the treat. Do this until your dog’s eyes light up and she looks toward your feet as soon as she hears the “Find it” cue.
Now when a scary skateboarder appears, say “Find It!” and toss treats at your feet. Your dog will take her eyes off the scary thing and switch into happy-treat mode. You’ve changed her emotion by changing her behavior.
These games can also work to walk your timid dog past a scary, stationary object, like a manhole cover, or a noisy air conditioning unit. Touch-and-treat as you walk past, or toss Find It treats on the ground ahead of you and slightly away from the scary thing, to keep her moving happily forward.
You can use any behavior your dog already loves – a trick, toy, or game – to convince her that good things happen in the presence of something scary. If she loves to roll over, ask her to do that. If she delights in snagging tossed treats out of the air, do that. High five? Crawl? Spin and twirl? Do those.
The key to making any of these games work is to be sure you stay far enough away from the scary thing that your dog’s brain is able to click into “play” mode. You’ll be more successful if you start the games when you see low levels of stress, rather than waiting until she’s in full meltdown. If she’s too fearful, she won’t be able to play. If she’ll play games with you while the scary thing is at a distance, you’ll be able to move closer. If she stops playing and shuts down, you’ve come too close.
Be Patient and Kind to Fearful Dogs
Whatever protocol you use, always err on the side of caution, and remember that your canine pal is not being a “bad dog” – she is truly terrified. It should go without saying that any application of force, coercion, or punishment will only make things worse in the long run, even if it succeeds in shutting down behavior in the short term. With empathy, patience, and appropriate management and modification, you can help make your dog’s world a happier, safer place.