What’s better than a pet dog? Two pet dogs. It’s no surprise that millions of pet parents can’t stop at just one four-legged family member. Introducing additional pups to the household is not a decision to make lightly. Just because you’re ready for a new pet doesn’t mean your first dog is quite so enthusiastic about the idea.
Before the Meeting
A little preparation goes a long way in promoting smooth, stress-free interactions between your current dog and new puppy.
Know the dogs: Dogs are social animals, but that doesn’t every dog is itching to see a new puppy introduced to their home. Make sure you understand the personalities and proclivities of both dogs before attempting to make an introduction. Enthusiastic and energetic as most puppies are, some won’t appreciate being asked to share the spotlight with another dog. An adult dog, on the other hand, may not like being asked to engage with a high-energy young puppy. Before bringing a new puppy home, make sure you’ve carefully reflected on both you and your dog’s readiness for a new addition to the family. That’s the first step in ensuring a peaceful multi-dog home.
Work on leash training: Both dogs should be familiar with wearing a leash and understand the proper etiquette for interacting with people and other dogs while leashed before they’ve met. When picking out a new dog, try to learn about how they’ve been socialized and how their communication skills have developed. The team at a shelter or adoption center can help paint a picture of how your pup may respond to a new environment.
Set the scene: Find or create the perfect location for a smooth introduction. Whether you’re indoors or out, create a space that’s free of clutter and offers plenty of room for dogs to engage one another or spend time on their own.
During the Initial Meeting
A proper introduction is just as important in the canine world as it is in the human world. You can’t just assume that two pups meeting for the first time will make fast friends. Here are some dos and don’ts to help you with the initial introduction as well as future interactions.
Dog Introductions: What to Do
Pick Neutral Ground: Making an introduction at home, surrounded by familiar objects, could encourage territorial feelings in your current dog. This could mean a testy introduction or even a serious fight. Look for a neutral territory like a dog park, a friend’s house, or a neighbor’s yard next time you’re introducing two dogs.
Keep Verbal Cues to a Minimum: Offer praise and verbal corrections when necessary, but try not to overwhelm either dog with too much sound. You can reward good behavior more emphatically once the first meeting is complete.
Take Breaks: A little quality time can go a long way. It’s never a good idea to force unfamiliar dogs together for extended periods. If it seems like either dog’s energy is flagging, don’t be afraid to call it a day.
Dog Introductions: What Not to Do
Don’t Allow Dogs to Fight: If you notice that your puppy playdate has taken a turn for the worse, step in immediately to separate the two dogs. While fights may be short-lived, it’s best not to take any chances.
Don’t Leave Dogs Alone: Dogs should not be left unsupervised. If you must leave dogs alone for any period of time, ensure they’re kept in separate areas. For indoor intros, a baby gate, dog crate, or closed door can provide a useful barrier.
Don’t Get Frustrated: It takes time to build strong bonds between dogs. Even if the first few introductions don’t go as planned, persistent pet parents are more than capable of enforcing house rules and helping pets get along.
What to Watch For
A dog’s body language during introductions and other meetings can tip you off to potential conflicts before they occur.
Watch out for these potential warning signs:
Raised tails or hackles (the hair at the back of a dog’s neck)
Standing perfectly still
Either dog putting their head over the shoulders of the other
Always remember that wagging tails do not always indicate happy dogs. A straight tail that’s wagging stiffly is potentially a signal of dominance and aggression.
After the Initial Meeting
Patience and persistence are everything when it comes to ensuring pet relationships start off on the right paw. Supervise interactions closely during your dogs’ initial weeks together, offering praise and positive reinforcement along the way. Keep an eye out for signs of conflict like those noted above and be ready to intervene if necessary. You’ll want to exercise special care around food and favorite toys, which may inspire tussles between your dogs.
Throughout the introductory phase, don’t forget to give plenty of attention and affection to both of your pets. Neither your puppy nor your older dog should ever think that they’re getting any less love than their new sibling.
The most commonly used lawn care products are of fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides and fungicides. When applied according to package instructions or by a qualified lawn care service most of these products are not harmful. Pets are primarily poisoned by contact with concentrated products. This may occur from inappropriate storage, failure to read package instructions, or by intentionally using more product than needed. Dogs are especially good at finding poorly stored containers, chewing them up and drinking the contents. Pet owners should be especially vigilant when using insecticides as these tend to have a higher degree of toxicity.
Dogs may be exposed by digging up treated earth, chewing on pellets, or rooting around ant mounds shortly after insecticides are applied.
Many pets chew on plants in the yard and garden. Fortunately for dogs, who for some unknown reason seem to enjoy eating grass and then vomiting, most grasses are non-toxic. Holiday ornamental plants such as poinsettias and Easter lily are often put outside for the summer. Ingestion of poinsettia stems and leaves may cause some mild gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting but is not deadly. Ingestion of all parts of the Easter lily causes depression, vomiting and diarrhea in cats. Left untreated most cats die of kidney failure. Tulips (bulbs), Lily of the valley and azaleas are all springtime plants that can be deadly to pets if ingested in large enough quantities. Dogs should be watched carefully when these plants are being cared for.
Most lawn seed and Mulch products are generally not associated with toxic problems in pets. Cacoa bean mulch is perhaps the only product known to cause poisoning in dogs. This mulch is made from the hulls of cacoa beans and when fresh has a rich, chocolate aroma associated with it. Some larger breed dogs have actually eaten several pounds of the mulch, more than enough to develop poisoning associated with the chocolate remnants. These over eager dogs should be kept away from the mulch until the aroma has dissipated. Generally a heavy rainfall or thorough watering is all that is required.
As you work outside be sure to take an extra moment or two to protect your pets. Read all package instructions carefully before any applying products to your lawn or garden. Be sure not only that it is safe to use around your pets but that you are mixing or applying it correctly. Check with your local garden center about the safety of plants you are putting in your garden. Finally, be sure to close the top tightly on all containers and put them in an area where your pets do not have access to them.
With a little careful planning, you and your pet can enjoy a safe and relaxing garden environment. Whether you’re planning a large garden to feed the family or decorating a small space with hanging baskets and containers, here are a few factors to be considered.
Plants and flowers are nature’s attention getters. Their fragrance, appearance, and cool shade they create are natural attractants for you and your pet. Curiosity often leads pets to consume the flowers and foliage of ornamental plants, which can produce irritating and sometimes life-threatening side effects.
Plants for a Sunny Location
If the location of your garden, gives you 4 or more hours of direct sunlight, a day, you have a long list, of annuals and perennials from which to choose. Annuals grow from seed and last one growing season. They are good choices for fast, instant color impact. Garden and discount centers will offer a wide variety of annual plants at economical prices. Perennials return year after year from growth at the roots, they are a little more expensive, but do not need to be planted every growing season. Most gardeners have their favourites and mix both types for the longest possible color show. Safe choices for sunny locations include:
Zinnia (Zinnia sp.)
Snapdragons (Antirrhinum sp.)
Cosmos (Cosmos sp.)
Calendula (Callendula sp.)
Petunia (Petunia sp.)
Bee Balm (Monarda sp.)
Phlox (Phlox sp.)
Roses (Rose sp.)
Catmint/catnip (Nepeta sp.)
Coneflowers (Echinacea purpura)
Plants for Partial Sun
If your garden receives less than 4 hours of direct sunlight a day, the following list of non-toxic annuals and perennials requires less sunlight.
Butterfly flower(Schianthus sp.)
Spider flower (Cleome sp.)
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum sp.)
Coral Bells (Heuchera sp.)
Turf Lilly (Liriope sp.)
Goat’s Beard (Aruncus dioicus)
A shade garden receives little to no direct sunlight, although the sun may filter through the trees for dappled light. Plant selection for these areas may include the following:
Begonia (Begonia sp.)
Impatiens (Impatiens sp.)
New Guinea Impatiens
Violet (Viola sp.)
Coleus (Coleus sp.)
Bugbane (Cimifuga racemosa)
Yellow Corydalis (Corydalis lutea)
Astilbe (Astilbe sp.)
Queen of the Meadow (Filipendula ulmaria)
If you’re interest is vegetables, you’ll need 4 or more hours of full sun for most plants. Keeping your pet out of the vegetable garden may be your biggest task, especially when plants are young and fragile. Some clearly visible fencing may help. Avoid hardware cloth as pets can become entangled. Motion detector sprinkler systems can be useful in keeping pets and wildlife out of newly planted areas, and are not harmful. Most vegetable plants do not pose toxicity problems with a few exceptions. Onions, chives and garlic, which a lot of pets do like, contain compounds that, if ingested, can cause anemia. The leafy part of the potato plant, and the green part of the potato skin contain compounds that are toxic if eaten in sufficient quantities. Fruits also contain toxic chemicals in their seeds/pits. Apple, plum, cherry, apricot and peach seeds/pits contain cyanide, which can cause fatal seizures.
The 10 Least Wanted
The following is a list of plants that is best to avoid altogether due to their toxic nature. It is not a comprehensive list, if you are considering any plant of which you are unsure; consult your local plant nursery.
It is very easy to reach for a chemical pesticide, fertilizer or fungicide when faced with a problem in the lawn or garden. Fortunately for the average home gardener, safer alternatives are available for most commonly encountered problems, reducing the risk of a toxic exposure for your pet. You would not think that your pet would have any reason to consume these products but sadly they do, either intentionally or inadvertently and these types of poisonings are all too common. Remember before applying any product to your lawn, vegetables, or ornamental plants to read the label and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Many of these products are designed to persist in the environment days to weeks after application, so a pet can have an exposure days to weeks after initial application.
Alternatives to Chemical Pesticides
If you notice damaging insects on your plants such as aphids, spider mites or thrips, these insects can be eliminated or reduced by a simple spray of water. These soft-bodied insects are easily dislodged. Adjust the nozzle of your hose so a firm spray will not harm your plants and wash them away. If you have only a few plants, use a good stream of water from your watering can and a little hand washing. It may take a day or two but an infestation can be cleared by no more than a good shower!
Soap and Water
If your insect problem is more serious, add a teaspoon of dish soap to a gallon of water and use it in a garden sprayer. The soap is an irritant to a lot of insects and can help break down the protective barriers of their external skeleton. There are commercial insecticidal soaps available that are less toxic than most chemical alternatives.
The “black gold” of the garden, recycled kitchen and yard waste can be combined to produce the best garden fertilizer at no cost and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers. It can be applied to the lawn and garden twice a year and it will replace the essential nutrients that growing plants and grasses require.
And Don’t Forget
Sometimes we forget the simplest things! Put your pets inside when mowing the lawn. A lawn mower can make a projectile out of a stick or rock that can injure your pet. Paint your garden tools a bright color such as red or yellow so you can see them out in the yard. Many pets step or trip on sharp garden implements. Store your chemicals out of reach and in their original containers. Don’t assume your pet will not be interested in consuming these products. If there is a toxic exposure or consumption, call your veterinarian immediately with the information from the product label. Keep your pets inside when applying any chemicals to the lawn or garden. With a little planning you and your pet can enjoy a safe
Fix these little things to make your dog far more comfortable
If there was something simple you could do that would make your dog much happier, you’d do it in a flash, right?
Every day I see owners going to great lengths, and spending small fortunes, to indulge their dogs. That’s why I’m perplexed when I see those very same folks ignoring the smaller, easy-to-rectify issues that diminish their dog’s daily quality of life, causing anything from mild irritation to major pain.
Some of the most important keys to our dogs’ happiness are free or low-ticket items that nobody advertises – so they can often go under the radar. Here are five simple things that you can fix to greatly improve your dog’s quality of life:
1. LONG NAILS. Ready for the hard truth? You need to be clipping or grinding your dog’s nails every three weeks.
I know. Your dog hates it. You hate it. So you put it off, and ask the vet or groomer to do it whenever your dog goes in. Unfortunately, unless you’re in the habit of monthly visits, that’s not nearly enough.
Here why too-long nails have a giant impact on your dog’s day and can become a true emergency:
* Each step your dog takes on those nails puts inappropriate pressure on the toes. That makes them twist unnaturally – and hurts!
* The pain causes dogs to compensate by adjusting their posture. That can cause orthopedic issues and can eventually be the source of hind-end weakness/soreness.
* Long nails give dogs even less grip on slippery wood or tile floors, increasing the likelihood of muscle strain. This is particularly hard on older dogs who’ve lost muscle tone. Imagine trying to walk across an ice-skating link wearing shoes with a smooth sole. That’s how your dog feels on slippery floors!
With a few exceptions, if a dog’s nails are clicking on the floor, it’s time. And if you’re thinking that’s not true for your own dog because clipping that short would absolutely mean cutting the quick, I have more bad news for you. The quick – the nerve inside the nail that bleeds when you cut it – grows along with the nail. So if you let the nails get too long, the quick gets too long, too.
The only remedy is an intense phase of even more frequent trimming! The quick always recedes back from the edge of the nail. After six weeks or so of weekly careful trimming, you should have a quick short enough that you can keep those nails from clicking on the floor.
Maybe you’ve always known how important nail trimming is but want to leave it to the “experts” because you still remember that time you cut a nail too short and made it bleed? My own “Aha!” moment came when my daughter interned at the local vet, and let me know that there is not some kind of perfect nail magic happening in that back room. Instead, they do their best, and sometimes they mess up. The difference is that you don’t see it happen and they use styptic to stop the bleeding. It’s a pain-free experience – but only for you.
That information was huge to me. I realized I was putting my dogs through extra stress so that I could avoid the drama myself. I decided that if this is to be done every three weeks, surely it’s better for my dogs to experience it with me, in the comfort of their own home. So, I worked on this skill; it’s not brain surgery! I’m pretty good at it now, and you can be, too. Here’s what will help:
* Make sure your clippers are sharp! Dull blades compress the nail before they cut through and so they can cause discomfort, even when the quick isn’t nipped. As soon as you notice that they require more force to snip through your dog’s nails, buy some new ones. I buy new clippers regularly since I clip a lot of dogs.
* Try a grinder! I was always afraid of these but have come to adore this option which leaves the nails with nice soft edges and avoids the possibility of cutting the quick with a single snip. (For more tips on using grinders, see “Grinders vs. Clippers,” WDJ October 2020.)
* Take the time to condition your dog to the experience. Pair even just the sight of the clippers or the sound of the grinder with something delicious. Dried fish! Feta cheese! Do that as frequently as you have to until you see that happy head swivel at the sight of the tool. Next step: Touch the tool to the paw, then treat. A baby-step approach can work wonders. While this may sound like it will take tons of time and patience, each interaction like this takes only seconds.
* Start small. Remember there’s no rule that you have to do all of the nails at once. With some dogs, I do two nails and call it a day.
I implore you to work on this. You’ll screw up at first and you’ll want to give up. Stick with it because the more you do it, the better you get. And once you are skilled, you’re going to hit that every-three-weeks mark. It may never be your favorite part of the day, but you and your dog can get to the point where you don’t dread it. The sooner you get brave and learn to deal with this, the sooner your dog will find walking to be much more comfortable.
Some owners enjoy hearing the jingle-jangle of their dog’s ID tags; some use the sound to help keep track of their dog’s whereabouts in the house or yard. But consider that your dog may be irritated by the constant noise.
2. CLINKING TAGS. Does the sound of your dog’s clinking tags ever bug you? Now imagine those tags were around your own neck 24/7, and you had incredibly acute hearing. Sad, right?
Sure, maybe most dogs get used to it. But why in the world should they? There are fantastic products out there that make clinking tags a torture device of the past.
Before you examine those new options, take the easiest step: simply reduce the number of jingling objects. Remove outdated license or rabies tags, and ponder whether you really need that rabies tag. Most counties do not require them as the license itself indicates an up-to-date vaccination history.
Once you’ve minimized the number of tags, it’s time to make them quieter. One option is to bundle them so that they don’t bang against each other. Plenty of do-it-yourself-ers have always done this using rubber bands or electrical tape. Sure, it’s not easy to get to those tags, but if your dog never gets lost nobody will ever need to read them! However, if you’re looking for a cuter option, there are now great little pouches that can slip on, and wrap those tags together in silence.
Another thought is to take advantage of silicone. You can opt for a silicone ID tag rather than a metal one, or buy rubbery silencers that fit around the edge of the tags. Easily available online, they come in all sorts of colors and in the typical tag shapes.
Finally, there’s the no-dangling-ID-tag approach. There are slide-on tags that loop over the collar and lay flat. (I use these, with our generic family ID information, for my foster dogs, because I can easily move them from collar to collar.) You can also order a custom collar with ID information either engraved on a metal plate that’s riveted to the collar, or stitched on the collar itself.
Even if you don’t really want to change anything about your dog’s tags, give mealtime a consideration. I had a client who was perplexed about why her dog was finicky about eating at home, but happily wolfed down the exact same food at the pet-sitter’s house. A little investigation revealed the difference: The pet-sitter used a low plastic plate rather than a high steel bowl to serve the dog’s food, reducing the noise that was interfering with the dog’s ability to eat in peace! Now that he has a new dish at home that tags don’t bang against, that pup eats normally.
Many owners find it handy to leave their dogs’ harnesses on all the time, especially for dogs who are difficult to “dress”. This practice not only poses the risk of rubbing a raw place on your dog but also is not as comfortable as being “naked” when he’s home.
3. ILL-FITTING, 24/7 HARNESSES. Harnesses have many uses, but they must fit perfectly, and in most cases, they should not be left on 24/7.
While it’s easy to get a collar to fit well, a harness is another thing entirely. There are so many contact points – so many spots where, depending on how the dog is sitting, moving, or lying down, there may be rubbing, pinching, and discomfort. When you get a harness, it’s critical to invest the time needed to figure out exactly how it’s supposed to fit. Many manufacturers have posted video instructions on YouTube – those are always worth watching. After that, make sure you check and adjust regularly, particularly if you have a growing puppy.
Even if you have a perfectly fit harness, though, remember that in most cases it is specifically for leash walks. It feels like you need a PhD to get your dog into some of these contraptions, which is one reason people simply leave them on. But … gosh. Would you want to wear that every minute of your life? Many dogs just tolerate this, but why do we ask them to do that if we love them so much?
4. MINOR SKIN/COAT/EAR ISSUES. We’ve all had that moment when we discover something on our dog that we should have found earlier: a tick, an infected ear, a mystery cut, a burr tangled deep in fur. No matter what it is, the sooner it’s found, the easier it is to fix. That timing can mean the difference between a simple at-home treatment and an expensive vet bill. More significant is the amount of discomfort your dog had to endure for goodness knows how long!
When your life is busy and your dog is active, though, it’s easy to miss things. The more you groom your dog, the more you have a chance to catch all sorts of things: new lumps and bumps, changes in fur texture, hair loss, parasites, mats that could be painful.
Whether you use a groomer or not, it’s a great idea to get into a once-weekly home exam routine. I now keep my tools (brush, nail clippers, little scissors, ear cleaner) in a basket near the TV so that when we’re relaxed at night I can slip over and make sure everybody’s in good shape. If I had to walk over and get it, I probably wouldn’t, because I’m lazy! This way, grooming has become a habit and I feel I’m always well aware of each dog’s status – and confident nobody’s suffering in silence.
All the previous “fixes’ we’ve proposed are inexpensive or free. Providing your dog with regular dental care can be costly – but not as expensive as treating the health problems that neglected dental issues can cause.
5. NEGLECTED TEETH. If your dog’s breath is super stinky and her gums are red, please contact your vet’s office and schedule a dental exam!
Dental problems not only cause daily discomfort but also can have serious downstream health effects, like endocarditis from a chronic bacterial infection caused by the buildup of dental calculus. Endocarditis is six times more likely to occur in a dog with advanced gum disease as a dog with healthy gums.
Dental problems also cause chronic pain, which can make a dog cranky, reactive, and/or anti-social. Those of us who work in rescue have seen formerly neglected dogs with dental problems who seemed unfriendly and shut-down transform into seemingly younger, happier, and more engaged dogs after they had a veterinary dental cleaning and extractions or repair of broken or rotten teeth.
I’m all for indulging dogs with luxuries to make them happy and comfortable, but I think if we asked our dogs, they’d ask us to address the issues above first. It’s the low-hanging fruit of canine quality of life!
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Barks, growls, howls, whines, and whimpers-your dog is talking to you, and he’s got a lot to say!
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 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.
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 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.
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.