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.

Give Your Puppy a Smart Start

saty alert thanks giving advise

Wondering when and how you should start training your puppy? Immediately!

 

March 20, 20203

“Catch her doing something right” whenever possible! When you notice your puppy doing anything you like, such as sitting calmly and quietly, or chewing on one of the toys you bought for this purpose, let her know she’s being a good dog! Offer her a treat, praise, and/or a little bit of calm petting.

When it comes to puppy training, it’s never too early to start. Puppies are more than ready to learn by the time they leave the litter and transition into a home. After all, they’ve been learning since birth, so why not keep the ball rolling as soon as you welcome a puppy into your family?

It’s our responsibility to teach puppies how to successfully live in our human world, which has a rule structure quite different from what they’re used to with their littermates. There are plenty of options for positive-reinforcement training starting at a young age: a well-run, in-person puppy kindergarten class; one-on-one instruction with a trainer; an online program; books and videos; your own knowledge of training; or a combination of options. No matter what you opt for, starting sooner, not later, is key to success. From the first day you bring your puppy home, have these three basic principles in mind:

 

  1. Have clear goals for your puppy’s behavior from day one and support his understanding of them every day.

It’s important to have some basic training goals before your puppy comes home, so you can create clear behavior contingencies from the very beginning.

Your puppy is constantly learning. From the moment he sets paw in your home, he will be learning which behaviors get him things he wants and which ones don’t. Make it easy for him to get what he wants when he does behaviors you like, and prevent him from getting what he wants when he explores behaviors you don’t want him to practice. The more black and white your expectations, the easier it will be for the puppy to figure out what works for both of you.

 

So, as just a few examples: If you don’t want a grown, 80-pound dog jumping on you to get your attention, avoid petting the tiny, 8-week-old puppy when he jumps on you. Instead, if he happens to sit or even just greets you with happy eye contact and all four paws on the floor, go ahead and tell him what a good puppy he is and lovingly give him all the petting he wants! If you want a well-housetrained dog, commit to paying close attention to your puppy’s need to eliminate, not giving him a single opportunity to “make a mistake” indoors. And if you don’t want your adult dog to sleep with you on your bed or your nicest sofa, don’t allow the puppy to do so, either.

Gray areas are challenging for dogs. It’s not fair to make exceptions to what we know our rules will be later (because the puppy is so cute!) and then change the rules as she grows. It’s also harder to “fix” unwanted behaviors than to train correct behaviors from the beginning. (For more about this, see “The Biology of Early Learning”)

 

  1. Make your interaction with your puppy rewarding and engaging.

Teach your puppy that spending time with you is fun! Be generous with rewards of food, attention, petting, and play so the puppy is eager to focus on you in anticipation of enjoyment.

Build a strong history of reinforcement (with treats, toys, praise, and play) for behaviors that you like from your puppy; she will strongly associate you with all these good things, helping cement a solid relationship between you.

A great strategy is to aspire to feed more of your puppy’s daily ration of food from your hand than from a bowl. This makes you the primary source of a pretty great thing and gives you plenty of calories to leverage to your advantage by reinforcing any behavior you’d like to see more of.

Be super generous with rewards with a young puppy because, as the puppy matures, environmental distractions will become more interesting, and it’s helpful for the puppy to have a strong history of finding you rewarding. This makes it easier for the puppy to continue to choose you, and what you have to offer, over the environment. No need to worry the pup will end up “only doing it for the food.” Since the food comes directly from you, you gain value by association. Plus, when you pair praise and petting with the delivery of food, the food increases the value of your praise and petting, so it is more reinforcing in the future if you choose to use fewer food rewards in training.

Don’t forget to mix lots of play into your interaction. It’s fun (for puppies and people!), it breaks up training sessions, and studies show following learning with play can lead to improved performance in subsequent sessions, when compared to immediately following learning with an opportunity to rest. Playing with your puppy, in ways you both enjoy, convinces your puppy that you’re a blast to be around because you know how to play all the best games. Who doesn’t like hanging out with the fun guy or gal?

 

What you can expect?

With frequent, short training sessions, most young puppies can start offering simple behaviors like “sit” in anticipation of “good stuff” as early as 6 to 7 weeks old, even before they leave the litter. If you really want to stack the training deck in your favor, look for a responsible breeder or rescue that provides early enrichment and basic training opportunities to young puppies in an effort to set them up for success when they meet their new families.

If you’re starting from scratch with the basics, it’s still reasonable to expect a young puppy to quickly learn to offer a “sit” for a food bowl or when approaching people, or follow a hand signal to lie down. In fact, in many cases, people report their puppies readily respond to cues for “sit,” “down,” “come,” “leave it” and a parlor trick or two by the time the puppy is 3 months old.

The catch? This degree of understanding is generally limited to the home environment. Sound familiar? “But he does it at home!” is one of the most often heard frustrations among dog owners when attending a group class or otherwise asking the dog to perform seemingly “known” behaviors away from home. Learning to do these behaviors in the face of a highly distracting, enticing world takes a little more time and maturity.

Learning the physical mechanics of the behavior is easy. Adding duration, making the behavior resistant to distractions, and properly generalizing the behavior so the dog understands the same rules apply anywhere, anytime is a process that takes time and patience. Try to avoid thinking your puppy truly knows a behavior until you’ve seen him be successful under a wide variety of circumstances. Until that point, he’s learning a behavior. Working in a new environment, around new people, other dogs, interesting smells, etc. makes it harder for the puppy to perform correctly. People often become frustrated and view the pup as being “stubborn,” when really, he’s just not developmentally mature enough to concentrate for long periods and in the face of distractions. He’ll get there with patience, maturity, and continued training support.

 

  1. Keep training sessions short but frequent.

 

Like young children, puppies have short attention spans. The most effective training happens frequently throughout the day, but in short sessions each time, and with a high rate of reinforcement. Three to five minutes is perfect for a young puppy.

Try five repetitions of cheerfully saying your puppy’s name when she’s not looking, and rewarding her when she turns to orient toward you. Practice “sit” and “down” a couple of times, changing your position relative to the pup with each repetition to help her begin to “generalize” the behaviors, understanding that “sit” means the same thing whether you are standing right in front of her or next to her.

Bust out a toy for a quick round or two of tug, trading the toy for a treat to begin a “drop it” behavior, then playfully run away from the puppy, encouraging her to follow you with a happy, “Let’s go!” as you take off. Reward her when she catches up to you, with treats or another one of her favorite toys. Aim for three to five short sessions each day. Also, remember every interaction is an opportunity for learning, so be prepared to help her practice desirable behaviors every time you casually interact with her, too.

Formal training sessions that are short and fun keep the puppy’s head in the game. More importantly, they teach the puppy to enjoy and look forward to training sessions, creating a pup who exhibits a happy conditional emotional response (CER) – that is, she becomes visibly excited – when our behavior starts to predict a training session is imminent.

 

The Big ‘A’ (Adolescence)

Trainers who teach group classes have seen it a million times: Owners bring their young puppies to “canine kindergarten” classes and are delighted with all the cues and behaviors they and their puppies learn to do. After graduation, a few months roll by, and gradually, more and more of those formerly delighted owners start reporting that their puppies “don’t know anything anymore!” Sit, down, come, stay – all the basic behaviors the pups “knew” when they were tiny seem to be gone! What gives?

The simple answer is adolescence.

Adolescence is a natural part of canine development. It’s generally said to begin when the dog is about 6 to 9 months old and lasts until about 18 months old. (Different breeds mature at different rates. Smaller breeds mature faster than larger breeds. Whereas a toy breed might be fully mature at 12 months old, a giant breed won’t fully mature until closer to 2 years old, so the adolescent phase will vary from breed to breed.)

 

 

If you don’t want your puppy to chew your shoes or any other household items, make sure you provide him with a large and varied assortment of “legal” chew items and toys, so he always has “good” choices available.

Dogs go through lots of changes during this time – physical growth spurts, hormone surges, and an increased need to chew in an effort to fully set adult teeth into the skull. These physical changes generally coincide with the secondary fear period, a developmental stage where dogs often react fearfully to things they’ve been fine with in the past.

Much like in human adolescents, a hallmark of canine adolescence is a push for independence. Dog owners often report the adolescent dog is “blowing them off,” “being stubborn,” or otherwise seems to have forgotten everything she’s ever been taught.

Although it can be a trying time, patience is a virtue. Find ways to foster success and prevent failure in training. For example, if your young adolescent is overly distracted by other dogs when in a group class, add distance or use a visual barrier between the dogs to filter the distraction. If the dog is clearly driven by his nose, avoid letting him off-leash in unfenced areas. Avoid scary or painful punishers, as they can erode the relationship you share with your dog. The good news is, this too shall pass.

 

The Bottom Line

When we bring a dog into our life, it’s our responsibility to teach them how to successfully live in our human world. Good training is a partnership. It’s not something we do to our dog, it’s something we do with our dog. It’s also ongoing. We get out of it what we put into it. With modern-day positive reinforcement training methods, it’s easy to make training an enjoyable way of life that creates treasured companions for years to come.

Teach Your Dog to Help With Chores Around the House

lab eat garden

Jessie can, among other things, wake up family members; dust with a feather duster; close a left-open toilet lid; mop up spills with a towel; get the mail; use a Dustbuster; mop the floor; polish shoes and boots; take out the trash; pick up dropped items; turn on lights; carry a shopping basket; and push a grocery cart. Some of these behaviors are just for fun; you couldn’t genuinely expect a dog to understand the point of putting polish on your shoes, much less doing a good job of it! But some of them are legitimately helpful!

 

  1. Fetch the Newspaper

Of course there’s the old standby of bringing in the newspaper. Trainer Clarissa Bergeman, CPDT, owner of In Canine Company, in Round Hill, Virginia, enjoyed sharing a walk down the driveway with Anny, her Pembroke Welsh Corgi, to get the newspaper or the mail. Anny was always happy to carry the paper or a magazine on the walk back. Anny is gone now, but Bergeman’s new Corgi, Simon, is learning the task in her stead.

 

  1. Sort Laundry

I thought this one might be particularly up my 8-year-old Scorgidoodle’s (Bonnie) alley, since she loves to hold soft things in her mouth. In fact, I often have to search Bonnie’s crate for socks; if she finds any lying on the floor, she stashes them in her bed.

Since dogs are partially color-blind, it’s probably too much to expect she could sort clothes by color herself, so I started by placing an article of laundry in each of several spots that I named accordingly: Whites, Jeans, Brights (pronounced “Buh-rights,” to help distinguish it from “Whites”), and Towels. The piles were generously far apart at first (six to eight feet between) so I could point to the proper pile without confusing her. I started by handing her a piece of clothing from the basket, gave the cue, pointed to the appropriate pile, and moved with her to the spot. Then I gave her the “Trade” cue, and when she dropped the item on the pile to “trade” for a treat, I clicked my clicker (one could also use a verbal reward marker, such as the word “Yes!”, to indicate that she performed the desired behavior) and gave her a treat.

 

I quickly faded my movement toward the appropriate pile, finding that the pointing gesture alone sufficed to send her to the proper spot. The “Trade” cue prompted her to drop the item, and a click-treat brought her back to me for the next piece of laundry. We just started this recently, so it’s still a work in progress. Our next step will be to fade the pointing gesture and see if she can identify the proper pile with just a verbal cue.

 

  1. Close Doors

Susan Giordano, CPDT, owner of K9U in Atlanta, Georgia, taught her dog Potter to close the refrigerator, pantry door, and any cabinets that are open. Potter will also fetch a towel so Susan can wipe off the counters. Susan says when they are finished with the chores, they dance!

It’s relatively simple to teach your dog to close doors. Begin by teaching her to target with her nose or paw (hint: using your dog’s nose to close doors rather than a paw reduces the likelihood of scratches to the finish). Offer the palm of your hand to your dog at her nose level. When she sniffs it, click (or say “Yes!”) and treat. Repeat until she eagerly bumps her nose into your hand, and then add the cue “Touch!” as you offer your palm. (If she thinks your offered palm is the cue for “Shake” try the back of your hand, or offer her the knuckles of your closed fist.)

When you are confident she understands the “Touch” cue, hold a plastic lid (such as the top to a tub of cottage cheese or yogurt) in your hand and ask her to touch that. First hold it so it covers your palm, then eventually hold it by the edge.

When she will touch the lid reliably, attach it to a door or drawer with double-stick tape or rubber cement and cue her to touch it there. You may need to start with your hand near the lid and gradually fade the presence of your hand. When she reliably targets her nose to the lid, shape for more powerful touches until she touches hard enough to close the door or drawer. (For tips on using a target stick to teach this behavior, see “Utilize Target Training,” January 2007.)

 

  1. Pick Up Trash

Lots of dogs have been taught to pick up their own toys and put them away in a basket designated for that purpose. Dana Ebbecke, one of the trainers at My Pet’s Teacher in Horsham, Pennsylvania, suggests a variation on that behavior: teaching your dog to pick up trash and put it in a garbage can. This is a perfect behavior to “backchain” – where you teach the last piece of the behavior first, and build the chain backward from there.

 

Offer your dog a piece of trash (that she won’t want to eat) directly over the center of a garbage can and say “Take it!” When she takes it, praise her, then cue her to “Drop.” If she already knows a “Drop” cue, she will drop the trash and it will fall in the can. Click (or use another reward marker) and treat. If she doesn’t know the “Drop” cue yet, say “Drop” and offer her a treat. When she opens her mouth for the treat the trash will fall in the can. Click and treat.

When the “Drop” is working over the center of the garbage can, move the trash slightly to one side, but still over the can, and cue the “Drop.” If it falls into the can, click and treat. If it misses, say “Oops!” and try it again. Gradually move the “training trash” farther from the center of the can, until it’s no longer even over the can. You are helping the dog understand that she needs to move it back over the middle of the can to make sure it falls inside, not outside the can.

When she can bring the trash that you hand her to the can from some distance, start offering it to her closer to the ground, so she understands she has to lift it up and move it to the can. Finally, place the trash on the ground, and add your “Pick up the trash!” cue before you say “Take it!” In fairly short order you should be able to fade the “Take it!” cue and your “Pick up the trash!” should prompt her to pick up that item and drop it in the can.

Now you’ll need to generalize the cue to a variety of different trash items. Make sure you don’t leave valuable objects on the floor when you ask her to pick up the trash! You can’t expect her to make good judgment calls about what is trash and what is treasure; your smart phone could end up in the garbage.

Ebbecke suggests adding to the “Wow! factor” of this behavior by using a garbage can with a push-pedal lid, and teaching your dog to step on the lid to open the can before she drops the trash in. (Just don’t teach this one to a dog who is likely to help herself to items in the can rather than putting more trash there.)

 

  1. Pick Up/Find/Bring

The “seek back” used to be a behavior performed in advanced obedience competition. You walked around the ring and, when cued by the judge, dropped an item, such as a glove. Your dog was supposed to continuing heeling with you until you stopped and gave him the cue to, go back, get it, and bring it back to you. Very useful!

 

It’s relatively simple to get your dog to pick up something you just dropped. Your “Pick it up!” cue (from “pick up the trash”) can generalize to anything you indicate you want your dog to pick up – and it sure beats stooping over to get it yourself.

Just think how even more useful it would be if your dog could search for and find, by name, items you’ve misplaced such as your car keys, the TV remote, your cell phone, or your glasses. I realized many years ago how capable dogs are at finding lost stuff when our wonderful Terrier-mix, Josie, found our missing tortoise without even being trained to do so.

I didn’t realize I had taught Josie to associate the word “Turtle” with Fred and Wilma, the two yellow-footed tortoises we had adopted from the shelter where I worked at the time. But apparently I had. One day I couldn’t find Fred. I frantically searched the yard, repeating aloud to myself, “Where’s the turtle?” I eventually realized that Josie was coming to me, and then running to the spot where Fred had fallen behind a retaining wall. Because of that amazing little dog, Fred was found, safe and sound.

Chaser, the brilliant Border Collie and subject of multiple cognition studies, now knows the names of more than 1,000 objects, and can retrieve them by name.  Surely your dog can learn the names of a handful of objects, then learn to find them for you when they go missing.

You’ve probably already taught her some, simply by using object names in your conversations with her. “Fetch the ball!” “Go to your bed.” “Get in the car.” So it’s not a stretch to think you can teach her more.

Use your targeting cue, followed by the name of the object. Hold the TV remote in your hand and say “Touch, Remote.” Click (or say “Yes!”) and treat when she does it. Hold your car keys and say “Touch, Keys.” Click and treat. Then place them on a table or floor (one at a time) and do the same. When you’ve done it several times with each item individually, place both on the floor six to eight feet apart, stand six to eight feet away, and ask her to touch one. If she gets the right one, click, treat and party! If she goes to the wrong one, cheerfully say “Oops!” and try again.

If she gets more misses than hits, go back to working with just one object at a time for a while, then try again. Eventually teach her the names of other objects you’d like her to be able to find for you.

When she’s identifying the correct object at least 80 percent of the time, start adding the “Find it!” element. If you’ve already done nose games with your dog, this will be easy as pie. Just as you have been doing already, place one of the objects on the floor in plain view and say “Find Remote!” When she goes over and sniffs it, click and treat. She found it! Repeat several times.

 

Now start hiding it. First have her sit and wait, and let her watch you hide it in a very easy place. Return to her side and cue, “Find Remote!” When she goes to where it is, click and treat. If you want to teach her a “tell” – a behavior she performs to tell you she found it – start asking her for that behavior when she locates the object. You could have her sit or lie down at the spot where the item was, or she could come back to you and touch you with her paw to let you know she found it, then lead you to it.

Gradually hide objects in harder and harder places, and eventually hide them when she isn’t watching and then ask her to find them. The final step is to have her find things when you’ve really lost them.

You can even take this one step further by teaching her the names of family members and having her find them. Just as you did with objects, have your human hide first in easy places, then harder and harder. If, heaven forbid, a family member is ever truly lost, your dog can join in the search!

 

  1. Reveille

Now that you’ve taught your dog the names of family members, you might as well make every day use of it. Send her to wake up family members who are sleeping in too long. Teach her to pull the covers off the sleepyheads! Have her deliver messages to the kids – carried in her mouth or attached to her collar. Ask her to bring everyone to the table at dinnertime. The sky’s the limit!

 

Unexpected Help

A dog trainer friend, posted this on her Facebook wall, just as I was writing this article. It’s a great testimonial for the value of teaching your dog a few general purpose helping behaviors. Miller-Riley wrote:

“This morning I attempted to change a small latch on a screen door. I was standing on a 4-foot high front porch, which is bordered by 6-foot high bushes. In my clumsy attempt to screw in the small metal bracket, it flipped out of my hands and landed under the bushes next to the house – a place I would have great difficulty reaching.

“So I called for Rivets, my service-dog-in-training. I showed her a short pathway to the spot where the item fell and told her to ‘Bring,’ her cue to seek and bring something back to my hand. The object would have my fresh scent on it and would most likely stand out to her like a bright color to us. She went right into the bushes, nosed around and pawed at the object. I said, ‘Yes, bring!’ She picked it up, crawled out and delivered it to my hand. She is such a cool dog, her mind and willingness astonishes me. I completed my door repair after a treat fest with my little paw-hero.”

Steps to Take When Your Dog Growls at You

never tell a dog off for growling

Growling is a valuable means of communication for a dog – something that dog owners should appreciate and respect rather than punish. Of course, we don’t want our dog to growl at us, but neither do we want him to fail to growl if something makes him uncomfortable; that’s very important information in a successful canine-human relationship.

It’s very common for dog owners to punish their dogs for growling. Unfortunately, this often suppresses the growl – eliminating his ability to warn us that he’s about to snap, literally and figuratively. On other occasions, punishing a growling, uncomfortable dog can induce him to escalate into full-on aggression.

So, if you’re not supposed to punish your dog for growling, what are you supposed to do? The next time your dog growls at you, try this:

 

1.) Stop. Whatever you’re doing, stop. If your dog’s growl threshold is near his bite threshold – that is, if there’s not much time between his growl and his bite, get safe. If his growl doesn’t mean a bite is imminent, stop what you’re doing but stay where you are. Wait until he relaxes, then move away, so you’re rewarding the relaxed behavior rather than the growl.

2.) Analyze the situation. What elicited the growl? Were you touching or grooming him? Restraining him? Making direct eye contact? Taking something away from him? Making him do something?

3.) Figure out a different way to accomplish your goal without eliciting a growl. Lure him rather than physically pushing or pulling him. Have someone else feed him treats while you touch, groom, or restrain him. If you don’t have to do whatever it was that elicited the growl, don’t – until you can convince him that it’s a good thing rather than a bad thing.

4.) Evaluate the stressor’s in your dog’s world and reduce or eliminate as many of them as possible. For example, if your dog is unaccustomed to strangers, then having your sister and her husband and three kids as house guests for the past week would undoubtedly stress your dog. Noise-phobic dogs might be under a strain if city crews have been digging up a nearby street with heavy equipment or there was a thunderstorm last night. The vacuum cleaner is a common stressor for dogs. A loud argument between you and your spouse could stress your dog as well as you, and your stress is stressful to your dog. Harsh verbal or physical punishment, an outburst of aroused barking at the mail carrier, fence fighting with another dog. The list could go on and on.

 

Keep in mind that stress causes aggression, and stressor’s are cumulative; it’s not just the immediate stimulus that caused the growl, but a combination of all the stressor’s he’s experienced in the past few days. This explains why he may growl at you today when you do something, but he didn’t growl last week when you did the exact same thing. The more stressor’s you can remove overall, the less likely he is to growl the next time you do whatever it was that elicited the growl this time.

5.) Institute a behavior modification program to change his opinion about the thing that made him growl. One way to do this is to use counter-conditioning and desensitization to convince him the bad thing is a good thing.

 

Another way is through the careful use of negative reinforcement as in a Constructional Aggression Treatment (CAT) program to teach him a new behavioral strategy when presented with the discomfort-causing stimulus.

If you need help to create and implement a behavior modification protocol, contact a qualified behavior professional who is experienced and successful in modifying aggressive behavior with positive, dog-friendly techniques.

The Dog Nanny

Why Your Puppy Needs So Many Shots

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Puppy Vaccines: Why Your Puppy Needs So Many Shots

Ever wonder why puppies need multiple shots” in order to become fully immunized? Here are the reasons behind puppy vaccine schedules and how best to strategize your puppy’s immunizations.”

The first rule of puppy vaccinations is that there are no hard and fast rules for puppy vaccinations; the best way to make sure a puppy is fully immunized against the most common contagious diseases totally depends on the health and past history of the puppy’s mother, his age, and his environment. A puppy being raised by a responsible breeder may require only one combination vaccination in order to become immunized; whereas a puppy raised in a shelter might be given as many as six or seven combination vaccinations before being declared fully protected.

There are several reasons why puppy vaccination protocols vary so wildly, but the most important one to understand is that every puppy is an individual, presenting a unique and unpredictable immunological history to his veterinarian. If you understand the reasons that veterinarians recommend multiple “puppy shots,” you will be better prepared to both protect your puppy from risky exposure to contagious diseases and, possibly, help reduce the number of vaccinations the puppy receives on the road to becoming fully immunized.

Few new dog owners understand why puppies need multiple “shots.” Most veterinarians recommend that puppies are vaccinated for distemper, parvovirus, and adenovirus (hepatitis) a number of times, starting when they are about four to six weeks old, and again every three or four weeks, with their last “puppy vaccination” given after they are about 16 to 20 weeks old. The most common guesses as to why puppies need all those vaccinations?

A) Because it takes at least four vaccinations for full immunity.
B) Each shot “boosts” the immunity from the first shot.

The actual answer would be C) Neither of these. Repeated puppy vaccines do not increase or “boost” the immunity in any way. Vaccines are repeated in order to make sure the puppy receives a vaccination as soon as his immune system is able to respond as we want it to – to respond by developing antibodies to the disease antigens in the vaccines. Let’s do a bit of review, to make sure all the terms used here are understood.

Dog Vaccination Terminology

Let’s do a bit of review, to make sure all the terms used here are understood.

An antigen is a substance that induces a response from a body’s immune system. In this discussion, when we talk about antigens, we mean a form of the diseases that commonly infect puppies and dogs.

vaccine is a form of disease antigen that has been altered in some way so that his immune system will recognize it as a foreign invader and respond to it by destroying substances that resemble that antigen in the future. Some vaccinations are made with “killed” viruses; some are genetically altered so they resemble the disease antigen but cannot make the animal ill (“modified live”); and still others are highly weakened, live strains of the disease.

Antibodies are the immune system protective substances that recognize and destroy the agents of disease (antigens).

When we administer a vaccine to a puppy, we are in effect training his immune system to recognize the disease antigen and mount an immune response to it – to form antibodies that will recognize and destroy those antigens whenever the dog comes into contact with them again.

When a puppy has been vaccinated and his immune system has formed antibodies to the disease antigens in the vaccines he received, he is considered immunized against those diseases.

How Maternal Interference Affects Puppy Immunization

Immunizing puppies is a tiny bit more complicated due to a mechanism called maternal interference.

All puppies who are nursed adequately by their mother in the first two or three days after birth receive some of her protective antibodies from drinking her “colostrum” – the yellowish substance that the mother produces before she starts actual milk production.

The mother’s antibodies protect the puppies for a highly variable amount of time – anywhere from about three weeks to about 12 weeks. These antibodies gradually “fade” from the puppies’ systems as the puppies’ own immune systems develop.

When a puppy is vaccinated during the period of time that his mother’s antibodies are still active in his system, those maternal antibodies will detect and destroy the disease antigen in the vaccine, rendering that particular vaccine useless to the puppy. He can’t develop his own antibodies to disease antigens until his mother’s antibodies have faded from his system. Also, while some puppies may have received a whopping dose of antibodies from their mom, others may have received few or none. If the mother was never vaccinated herself, and never came into contact with those disease antigens, she would have none of these antigens to pass along to the pups in her colostrum.

So, should puppy owners just wait to vaccinate puppies, until the time when any amount of maternal antibodies are sure to have faded (12 to 14 weeks is generally considered as the outer limit of any maternal interference)? The answer is NO, because we don’t know when any given puppy’s maternal immunity is going to fade, and he would have no protection from disease in the period between the fading of his mom’s antibodies and receiving his first vaccination.

A mother’s antibodies might fade when he’s three weeks old, when he’s 12 weeks old, or any time in between. If the protection he got from his mom fades at three weeks, and we don’t vaccinate him until he’s 14 weeks old, he is vulnerable and without any protection whatsoever, until at least a few days after his vaccination. That’s too long to go without protection, unless you plan to raise him in a sterile bubble. And there are many compelling reasons having to do with his behavioral development to not just keep him home.

Why Puppies Might Receive Excess Shots

Instead, we give the puppy a series of vaccinations, about three to four weeks apart, starting when the puppy is four to six weeks old. The idea is to try to reduce the size of the “window of opportunity” when the mom’s antibodies fade (leaving the puppy unprotected) and the next vaccine is given, to reduce the chances that he comes into contact with disease antigen when he is unprotected.

It might be that the mother’s antibodies faded early, and the first vaccine was given at four weeks, and he developed his own protective antibodies. In this case, he doesn’t actually need any further vaccines, but we don’t know that, so he is given additional vaccinations every three to four weeks until he’s about 20 weeks old. It’s more than he needs, but at least he was protected.

Or it might be that the puppy was vaccinated at five weeks, again at eight weeks, and again at 11 weeks, but his mother’s antibodies were still circulating until he was about 12 weeks old. The mom’s antibodies would have neutralized all those first vaccines, so when the antibodies finally faded, he was left without protection from disease until his next vaccine was received at 14 weeks. This is actually the worst-case scenario, because many puppy owners are taking their pups into high-risk environments at this age, thinking, no doubt, “He’s had three shots already; he must have at least some immunity by now!”

There is no practical way to know whether the mother’s antibodies are still circulating in a puppy’s body or when they have faded. And each mother and each puppy is an individual; she will pass along a variable amount of antibodies, and these will fade at different times in each puppy. So we vaccinate several times, until we are past the point in time when any maternal antibodies can interfere with proper immunization.

Dog Shelter Vaccination Protocols May Vary

Puppies who have been bred and raised by a professional, responsible breeder are likely to be given far fewer vaccines than puppies who came from a shelter environment. In a professional breeding program, the mother dog’s vaccination status will be known, and her first nursing session will be observed, so better assumptions can be made about how much protection the puppies will receive from her maternal antibodies. Further, the breeder will likely have experience with keeping the puppies from being exposed to disease antigens, by requiring visitors to remove their shoes, wash their hands, and so on. These protections may allow the breeder to administer the first puppy vaccines at eight weeks or later, and perhaps just one or two more vaccines (with the last one given after 16 or 18 weeks).

Puppies who have the misfortune to be born in or surrendered to a shelter after birth may not receive any antibodies from their mothers; if their mothers were not vaccinated or otherwise exposed to the core diseases, they wouldn’t have antibodies to pass along. Also, puppies may not have had sufficient access to colostrum. In addition, shelters are often teeming with infectious disease agents. For all of these reasons, puppies who are born and/or raised in a shelter environment may be vaccinated much more aggressively – some might say excessively – than puppies who were born with more advantages.

Shelters often vaccinate puppies for the first time at just four to six weeks of age. At four weeks, the puppies’ immune systems are just barely mature enough to develop antibodies following exposure to disease antigens; this is done in an effort to immunize puppies who didn’t receive any maternal antibodies as quickly as possible.

Another vaccination protocol common in shelters is vaccinating every three weeks until the puppies are 16 to 18 or even 20 weeks of age. In this case, it’s the possibility that the puppies received far more than the usual amount of maternal antibodies than usual that causes shelters to take this tack.

If an unvaccinated dog contracts and then survives a disease like parvovirus, she actually develops far stronger immunity to the disease than she would had she been vaccinated against the disease in the first place – and she will pass along this very robust protection to her puppies (as long as they receive an adequate amount of her colostrum). Her antibodies will likely take the longest amount of time to fade in her puppies, so her puppies need to have their final vaccines a bit later in order to prevent this strong maternal antibody interference.

Finally, there is the sad fact shelter staffers often have to guess at the age of the puppies in their care. Shelter immunization protocols are usually designed with enough overlap to ensure that a puppy has every possible chance of receiving adequate protection from contagious disease.

Finishing Your Puppy’s Vaccinations

A puppy is considered fully immunized against the “core” (the most common, and most problematic) diseases of adenovirus (hepatitis), distemper, and parvovirus when he has received a vaccination for these diseases after the age of 16 to 18 weeks. (Note: Until recently, the “puppy shots” were considered complete when the last one was given at 16 weeks. New research states that final puppy parvovirus vaccine should be at or after 18 weeks of age.)

Rabies is another “core” vaccination, but it is not given to puppies before 12 weeks of age. A puppy can receive his first rabies vaccine at 12 weeks (but no sooner), and should be given another rabies vaccine a year later. A vaccination is required by most states every three years afterward. (This is a matter of state law, put in place for the protection of human health; a dog who has received two or more rabies vaccines is likely protected from that disease for life.)

Until the final “puppy” vaccines are given at 16-18 weeks, the puppy should be protected from potential exposure to disease antigens, but this doesn’t mean he shouldn’t ever leave the house until the time of his final “puppy shot.” It just means that his exposure to the outside world should be carefully considered. Do bring him to the homes of relatives and friends whose dogs are demonstrably healthy, vaccinated, and friendly. Do not take the puppy for walks in places that are highly trafficked by unknown dogs, such as sidewalks, parks (especially dog parks), pet supply stores, and so on.

Also, if someone in your home has tracked through places that are likely to be covered with agents of contagious disease – such as a dog park or veterinary clinic – keep their shoes outside the front door, and ask them to wash their hands before they play with the puppy.

If you attend puppy training or socialization classes, be sure the instructor takes the following precautions:

  • The puppy school should require each puppy’s vaccine records, to make sure all the puppies are in the process of receiving veterinary care and proper protection from either catching or spreading disease
  • A puppy with any signs of illness (such as lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or an increased temperature) should be disallowed from attending class.
  • There should be equipment on hand so that every “accident” that a puppy has in class can be quickly cleaned up with a proper antibacterial solution.

Passing the Puppy Titer Test

The vast majority of puppies will be successfully immunized after the series of vaccinations described here, but a tiny percentage will be what are called “non responders” – incapable of developing protective antibodies in response to vaccines. These dogs will be vulnerable to infection by these diseases, no matter how many times they are vaccinated, and thus should be protected from high-risk environments (wherever a lot of dogs congregate).

There is a way to determine whether the final vaccination (at least) that was administered to your puppy triggered his immune system to develop protective antibodies for the “core” diseases he was vaccinated for. At least two weeks after what is hoped will be the puppy’s final vaccination – at approximately 18 to 20 weeks of age – you can ask your veterinarian for a “vaccine titer test.” A blood sample is taken, sent to a laboratory, and tested for the presence of antibodies that protect the puppy against parvovirus and distemper. If these antibodies are detected, he’s done with his core vaccinations.

However, if the vaccine titer test comes back with a negative result, it’s recommended that the puppy be vaccinated one more time, perhaps with a different brand of vaccine than was used previously. Two weeks later, the vaccine titer test should be repeated. If the result is still negative, the puppy will be considered a non-responder, vulnerable to contracting any of the core diseases he may be exposed to.

Vaccine titer tests are being increasingly used by knowledgeable owners who want confirmation that their puppy is protected from disease, but there are still many veterinarians who are unfamiliar with the tests, and/or skeptical of their usefulness. Some clinic managers may be unable to quote a price for this test, or unsure of what test to order from the laboratory they use. We’ve heard of clinics charging as much as $200 for the test, which is ridiculous. In contrast, highly progressive clinics may offer a SNAP (in-office) test that will reveal the results within a half-hour.

Alternatively, ask your veterinarian to take a blood sample, and send it to the Dr. Ronald D. Schultz Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin (Madison) School of Veterinary Medicine. Price for distemper/parvo vaccine titer test is currently $40 at the CAVIDS Titer Testing Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, School of Veterinary Medicine.