Essential Oils for Dogs

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)

Birch (Betula)

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)

Savory (Satureja)

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)

Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca alternifolia)

Terebinth (Pistacia palaestina)

Thuja (Thuja occidentalis)

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)

Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Cooperative Care: Giving Your Dog Choice and Control

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.

Photo by Zen Chung on Pexels.com

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 

3) Restraint 

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. 

Returning to Normal: Helping

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.

How to Safely Introduce Your Dog to Other Dogs

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.

NEUTRAL LOCATION

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. 

NO SUCCESS?

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. 

7 Effective Habits

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!

6. Synergize.

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.

Swimming With Dogs Can Be Fun If You’re Being Safe

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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.

Are Dogs More Fearful Than They Used to Be?

Dogs who are fearful are becoming increasingly common. Learn how to prevent your dog from developing chronic fear — or, if it’s too late, how to improve his security and happiness.

 

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.

fearful dog

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.

fearful dog

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.

training dog to target

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:

Targeting

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.

playing games with a dog

Find It

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.

playing games with a dog

Play

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.

Understanding Your Dog’s Vocalizations

barking together

Barks, growls, howls, whines, and whimpers-your dog is talking to you, and he’s got a lot to say!

Barking

Dogs bark for many reasons, including alert (there’s something out there!), alarm (there’s something bad out there) boredom, demand, fear, suspicion, distress, and pleasure (play).

The bark of a distressed dog, such as a dog who suffers from isolation or separation distress or anxiety, is high-pitched and repetitive; getting higher in pitch as the dog becomes more upset. Boredom barking tends to be more of a repetitive monotone. Alert bark is likely to be a sharp, staccato sound; alarm barking adds a note of intensity to the alert.

Demand barks are sharp and persistent, and directed at the human who could/should ostensibly provide whatever the dog demands. At least, the dog thinks so. Suspicious barks are usually low in tone, and slow, while fearful
barking is often low but faster. Play barking just sounds . . . playful. If you have any doubt – look to see what the dog is doing. If he’s playing, it’s probably play barking.

Baying

Baying is deep-throated, prolonged barking, most often heard when a dog is in pursuit of prey, but also sometimes offered by a dog who is challenging an intruder. The scent hounds are notorious for their melodic baying voices.

Growling

Growls are most often a warning that serious aggression may ensue if you persist in whatever you’re doing, or what-ever is going on around him. Rather than taking offense at your dog’s growl, heed his warning, and figure out how to make him more comfortable with the situation. Dogs also growl in play. It’s common for a dog to growl while playing tug – and that’s perfectly appropriate as long as the rest of his body language says he’s playing. If there’s any doubt in your mind, take a break from play to let him calm down. Some dogs also growl in pleasure. Rottweilers are notorious for “grumbling” when being petted and playing, and absent any signs of stress, this is interpreted as a “feels good” happy sound.

Howling

Howling is often triggered by a high-pitched sound; many dogs howl at the sound of fire and police sirens. Some dog owners have taught their dogs to howl on cue, such as the owner howling.

Some dogs howl when they are significantly distressed – again, a common symptom of isolation and separation distress.

What is The Dog Nanny’s  view on dominance dog training?

 

In recent years there has been resurgence in popularity of dog training methods that espouse “dominance” models of dog behaviour. Dominance models suggest that wolves live in hierarchical packs with the alpha wolf at the top and that dogs evolved from wolves and also live in hierarchical packs and see us (humans) as part of their pack. Dominance theory assumes that most unwanted behaviour such as aggression is due to the dog trying to be ‘dominant’ or wanting to be the alpha dog in the pack. Therefore, dominance theory suggests, that the way to solve many behavioural problems such as aggression is to establish dominance as pack leader over the dog.

However, many of these assumptions are erroneous and are often harmful to dogs and the human-animal bond. A lot of initial research about wolf behaviour was conducted by studying captive wolves. This is because wild wolves tend to avoid humans and were difficult to study. It was these studies that generated the idea of ‘packs’ with the alpha male and female breeding pair at the top of the hierarchical structure.

However in this false environment wolves could not disperse and escape from confrontation with other wolves, so relationships developed that are not necessarily reflected in more natural wolf groups. More recent studies of natural wolf groups show that they tend to live in families.

The group usually consists of Mum and Dad, the current litter, and possible juveniles from one or two previous litters. Dominance contests in such packs are rare and the breeding pair is able to maintain group harmony without aggression.

 

Most scientists accept that dogs evolved from wolves or they had a common ancestor. However dogs are not wolves. They are different anatomically, physiologically. The biggest difference between wolves and dogs is their ecological niche. Wolves, as a rule avoid humans whereas dogs have evolved to live near humans.

It is now widely recognised by animal behavioural specialists that dogs that use aggression towards humans or other dogs are not trying to be ‘dominant’. Rather, the aggression is usually the result of social confusion, frustration, fear, anxiety or learning. Dogs may use aggression as a means to control situations in which they feel frustrated, fearful or anxious. Some dogs are unable to navigate certain social and interactive demands placed upon them without showing aggression or reactivity. With repeated exposure to such situations dogs can learn that aggression ‘works’ and are more likely to use aggression to control similar situations in the future. If your dog is showing aggression, we suggest that you seek help from a veterinary behavioural specialist.

The ‘dominance’ model for dog behaviour poses serious dog welfare problems. Dominance models may use aversive training techniques such as “alpha rolls”, staring the dog down or other confrontational methods and punishment which can cause fear, pain and distress to dogs. In addition, these methods generally do not address the underlying cause of the unwanted behaviour which is why they are often unsuccessful. In fact, dominance training methods are not scientifically proven to be effective.

Aversive methods may also increase the dog’s underlying fear and anxiety which can actually make the unwanted behaviour much worse. Aversive methods can also reduce the quality of the relationship between the owner and the dog and they can place the owner at serious risk of physical injury.

 

When trying to change behaviour, try to think about the behaviours you would like your dog to perform and reward only for the responses that lead to those outcomes. This might include sitting rather than jumping on guests or chewing on a toy rather than your favourite pair of shoes. This approach revolves around positive reinforcement- i.e. rewarding behaviour that we like. Rewards can be food, toys or verbal praise. Basically, anything your dog will ‘work’ for.

Conversely, we also need to ensure that rewards for unwanted behaviour are removed. So, keep those shoes out of reach and try wherever possible to avoid any situations or triggers for unwanted behaviours.

The Dog Nanny’s position is that dogs should be trained using programs that are designed to facilitate the development and maintenance of acceptable behaviours using natural instincts and positive reinforcement. Aversion therapy and physical punishment procedures must not be used in training programs because of the potential for cruelty.

Why you should care whether your dog is chronically stressed

Stressed Out

Why you should care whether your dog is chronically stressed, how you can tell – and what you can do about it.

Lots of people joke about how they would like to have their dog’s life – no job, sleeping all day, having food delivered…but the truth is, that life can be very stressful for a dog! Dogs evolved to live in groups, not staying alone all day. Being subjected to our unpredictable schedules, often without so much as the ability to go outside to relieve themselves when they want to, can actually cause a lot of stress in some dogs.

Stress is not specific to humans – it affects all species, including our dogs, and it takes a toll on every living thing that it affects. The growth rate and production of plants decreases when they are stressed by unseasonal weather. Bees sting when they are stressed by threats to their hive. Humans get ulcers, are more susceptible to illness, and are more likely to lash out at other humans (or our pets!) when stressed.

As kindred mammals, the dog’s response to stress is very similar to our own: It can make them sick, and it can affect their behavior in ways that no one around them enjoys. It behooves us, as well as our dogs, to recognize the stressors in our shared lives and do our best to minimize them.

 

WHY STRESS IS BAD

There are two kinds of stress. “Good” stress, known as eustress, can actually enhance our lives (“eu” is Greek for “good”). Eustress is defined as: “The positive cognitive response to stress that is healthy, or gives one a feeling of fulfillment or other positive feelings.” This is the stress you feel getting ready for a promising date, or waiting to go pick up your new puppy. It’s the stress your dog feels when she hears your car turn into the driveway gets happy and excited because you’re home after you’ve been away at work all day. We’re not worried about eustress – ours, or our dogs’.

What we’re concerned about is the “bad” stress, technically called distress, and defined as: “Psychological discomfort that interferes with your (or your dog’s) activities of daily living.” If you’ve lived with a dog or dogs for any length of time, you have probably seen some of the signs of their distress (we’ll just call it “stress” for the rest of the article). Here are a few you may have seen:

 

  •  Tension and trembling on the exam table at the vet hospital

 

  •  Hackles raised and growling at the UPS delivery person

 

  •  Hiding in the back bedroom when guests are visiting

 

  •  Crawling behind the toilet when a thunderstorm hit

 

  •  Drooling or foamy mouth at the dog park

 

The list could go on for pages, but you get the idea. So why is stress such a bad thing? For starters, a huge percentage of what is perceived as canine “misbehavior” is actually a dog’s response to stress. Eliminate the stress in your dog’s world and you might be amazed at how much better behaved she is.

The other significant reason stress is bad is that it affects your dog’s physical health. It is well known that anxieties trigger the release of stress hormones – adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine – and chronically increased levels of these hormones can negatively impact the immune system. A compromised immune system makes your dog more susceptible to a variety of infectious diseases as well as serious long-term health issues, including cancer. A 2016 study suggests that dogs who are diagnosed with cancer are significantly more likely to have lived in stressful environments than those who are cancer-free. 1

 

CAUSES OF STRESS

There’s no end to the things that can stress your dog – but some are more common than others. Life with humans can challenge dogs in a number of common ways, including:

Change. Life changes are stressful for all of us. For your dog, this can be something as small as a change in routine (such as when daylight savings time changes mealtimes) or as significant as the loss of a human or canine companion. Moving is another big stressor that often results in unwanted canine behavioral changes (although a move that removes stressors can be a good thing!).

Presence of an aversive stimulus. An aversive stimulus is defined as “an unpleasant stimulus that induces changes in behavior.” If your dog doesn’t like or is afraid of other dogs (or men, or children, etc.), the presence of another dog (men, children) is an aversive stimulus. If your dog is sound-sensitive, thunder, fireworks, a pan dropping on the floor or even the “ding” from a microwave oven could be aversive stimuli. The greater the intensity of an aversive stimulus – more dogs, dog(s) closer in proximity, louder volume of sound, repetition of the sound, etc., the more stressful it is to your dog.

Forced restraint. Many dogs prefer not to be restrained – and some find it very stressful. Forced restraint most often occurs during husbandry procedures – veterinary visits, grooming, nail trimming, etc. The shift toward cooperative care in the veterinary, grooming, and training communities is a change that will be appreciated by many dogs (and their humans). (See “Fear Free Veterinary Care,” WDJ August 2019, and “Fear Free Vet Visits,” December 2015.)

Force-based training. By definition, force-based training involves the use of techniques that are aversive to the dog – usually both verbal and physical force and coercion. These are significant stressors for dogs, and studies support the position that dogs trained with these methods are considerably more stressed and exhibit more problem behaviors than dogs trained with force-free methods.2

Medical conditions. Whether illness or pain (chronic or acute), medical issues are extremely significant stressors. This is why it’s critically important to rule out or identify and treat medical issues as soon as possible in a behavior modification program. You are likely to still have to do behavior modification after the condition is treated or managed, but your likelihood of success is greatly enhanced when you remove the medical stressor.

Owner stress. We have long known that dogs are very aware of their humans’ emotional states. A recent study supports our also long-held belief that dogs mirror their owners’ stress levels. If you are stressed, you are stressing your own dog, so mitigating your own stress can be beneficial to your dog as well as to you! 3

This is by no means a complete list of stressors. It will behoove you – and your dog – for you to sit down and make as complete a list as you can of your dog’s own personal stressors, so that you can begin to address them and help you and your dog have a better life together.

 

SIGNS OF CANINE STRESS

If you are not fluent in canine communication, it’s time to study the language so you can better understand your dog and be prepared to help her when she needs it the most. Here are some of the common signs you might see that tell you your dog is stressed:

Aggression. With one very rare exception (idiopathic aggression), aggression is caused by stress. The best thing you can do for aggressive behavior is reduce stress. The worst thing you can do is punish the dog, which merely adds stress to your already stressed dog. (See “Good Growling,” December 2016.)

Vocalization. Dogs vocalize for a long list of reasons. Vocalization is normal canine self-expression, but it may intensify under duress. Dogs who are afraid or tense may whine or bark to get your attention or to self-soothe.

Dogs with separation anxiety may bark or scream for hours. Your dog may howl to express her unhappiness, or because the fire truck is going by with sirens blaring. When your dog vocalizes, check to determine the trigger. If it’s from stress, it needs to be addressed to mitigate her emotional distress, whatever the cause. (See “Oh Shush,” March 2017.)

Destructive behavior. Left unsupervised, puppies can wreak havoc on a home in almost no time. That’s often just normal puppy behavior. When an adult dog is destructive, we tend to think she’s being a “bad dog.” In many cases, however, she’s destroying things because she’s in a stress-related panic. Reduce her stress, and you’re likely to see a significant behavior change.

Unusual elimination. Just as with anxious humans, nervous dogs can feel a sudden urge to go to the bathroom. House-soiling in an otherwise well housetrained dog is a big red stress-flag. Marking (especially indoor marking) is commonly a function of stress rather than a house-training issue. Diarrhea can be a sign of stress, and the sudden release of bladder and/or bowels can also indicate significant stress. (These can also be medical issues, so be sure to discuss  with your veterinarian.)

Not eating/losing weight. If your dog turns up her nose at your high-value treats during a counter-conditioning session, she is probably stressed because the aversive stimulus (the thing you are trying to change her response to) is too close or otherwise too intense. Move farther away or otherwise reduce the intensity of the stimulus (by decreasing its volume or movement, as appropriate). If a dog with an otherwise good appetite isn’t eating well, consider illness first and consult your vet, but don’t rule out generalized stress.

Avoidance, escape, and displacement behaviors. When faced with an unwelcome situation, your dog may “escape” by focusing on something else. She may sniff the ground, lick her genitals, suddenly start scratching an itch, avoid eye contact, or simply turn away. If your dog avoids interaction with other dogs or people, don’t force the issue. Respect her choice.

Some dogs will move behind their human to hide – an extension of avoidance. Other escape behaviors include displacement activities such as moving/running away, digging or circling, or hiding behind a tree or parked car.

Hypervigilance. The dog who can’t seem to settle, is always on alert, reacting to every noise or change in the environment, is very likely a stressed dog. This behavior is common with dogs who are identified as having generalized anxiety disorder – they rarely or never relax.

Stressed body language. There are a multitude of ways that dogs tell us they are stressed, with their eyes, ears, tails, faces, mouths, and body posture. In fact, your dog is talking to you all the time; be sure to “listen” with your eyes. (See “Listen by Looking,” August 2011, and “About Face,” March 2013)

Comfort-seeking. Your stressed dog may seek you out for comfort and reassurance. Contrary to an unfortunate popular myth, it is okay – no, it is good – to calmly comfort and reassure your stressed dog. A stressed, frightened dog may also tremble – again, provide calm comfort and reassurance.

Yawning, drooling, licking, scratching. Of course, dogs yawn when they are tired or bored, just like we do. They also yawn when stressed, just like we do. A stressful yawn is more prolonged and intense than a sleepy yawn. Dogs may also drool, lick, and scratch excessively when nervous. Again, rule out medical conditions and fleas when you see these, but also consider stress.

Excessive shedding. It’s normal for dogs to shed a lot in the spring and fall, getting rid of their old coats to prepare for the new season. Some dogs also normally shed year-round – Labrador Retrievers and Huskies (and several other breeds) are notorious for this. However, shedding can also increase when a dog is anxious, so watch for this type of shedding as a stress indicator.

Panting. Panting when hot, excited or having just exercised is, of course, normal. If, however, your dog is panting absent those conditions, it is quite likely due to stress.

This is not a complete list of all the signs exhibited by dogs who are stressed. Your dog may display some of the stress signs listed above or others. Take time to observe her and identify her particular signs of stress so you can recognize them and help her when she is stressed.

Most importantly, remember that when your dog is behaving inappropriately it is most often because she is stressed and cannot help it, not because she wants to misbehave. One of my new favorite aphorisms is, “Your dog isn’t giving you a hard time, she’s having a hard time.” Remember this, and help her times get better.