Archive for the ‘Behavior and Training’ Category

12 Games for Dogs to Keep Your Pup Entertained and Healthy

Saturday, April 25th, 2020
  • From ApartmentGuide
  • We have 12 games you can try playing with your dog
  • Stuck indoors? Try out the indoor games and puzzles
  • Looking to get some exercise in the yard? We’ve included outdoor activities as well

Similar to humans, dogs need their exercise to stay healthy. While walking your dog can be a good way to release energy, sometimes you don’t have the time or space to go on a long walk. In these situations, use these games for dogs to tire your pup out.

Whether it’s a sunny day and you can spend time in the yard or you’re confined to your small apartment, we have a variety of games for your pup. When playing, be sure to consider your dog’s size and age. Bigger dogs tend to have more energy and might need longer games. Small dogs may tire more easily. When considering age, older dogs are more prone to hurting themselves. This means you may want to choose games that are easier on their joints.

No matter your dog’s breed, size or age, we have twelve games for dogs to keep them healthy and happy.

DIY puzzles for dogs

You’ve found the perfect pet-friendly apartment and now you need games to entertain your dog throughout the day. Luckily there are plenty of indoor puzzles for dogs that you can try out in the comfort of your home.

graphic showing dog doing a scent experiment

1. Scent experiment

Try out a scent experiment with your dog to test its snout. This can be played in a variety of ways. In the most basic version, you’ll hide a treat somewhere and have them find it.

Muffin tray tennis ball game

For this activity, you’ll need a muffin tray, four tennis balls and treats.

  • Step 1: Start by having your dog sit. Place a few treats in different cups of the muffin tray as they wait patiently.
  • Step 2: Instruct them to find the treats.
  • Step 3: Now that they are familiar with the game, repeat step one but this time put tennis balls over the treats.
  • Step 4: Instruct your dog to find the treats. See if they can sniff them out and figure out how to move the tennis balls out of the way to retrieve them.
  • Step 5: As your dog gets better at sniffing out the treats, set up some decoy tennis balls with no treats under them.

This game can last as long as you’d like it to. For variety, try changing which treats you are using or use a more difficult treat to gobble up like peanut butter.

graphic showing dog with treat dispenser

2. Treat dispenser fun

Give your dog a treat puzzle to figure out. You can either buy a treat dispenser like the popular Kong toys or make your own.

How to DIY a dog treat dispenser

For this project, you’ll need a water bottle, dog treats and a drill.

  • Step 1: Wash the bottle so that it’s clean and remove any labels.
  • Step 2: Drill a hole in the side of the bottle. The size of the hole will depend on the size of your treats. The hole should be a little smaller than your treats so they don’t easily fall out.
  • Step 3: Put the treats in the bottle and screw on the top.
  • Step 4: Give the treat dispenser to your dog and see how long it takes them to solve the puzzle.

Be sure you are supervising your pup when they play with this toy. If they manage to chew off the lid or tear through the plastic, you’ll want to take it away.

Active indoor games for dogs

Just because you are confined to your apartment, doesn’t mean your dog can’t release some energy. Try out one of these active indoor games to keep from going stir crazy.

graphic of dog playing hide and seek

3. Hide and seek

A fun indoor game to play with your dog is hide and seek. Have your pup sit and stay. Then go hide somewhere in the house. When you are hidden, tell them to come. When they find you, reward them with a treat.

graphic of dog racing up the stairs

4. Stairway race

Release some energy by having an indoor race with your dog. This is best for homes that have carpeted stairways to prevent any injuries. Have someone say, “On your marks, get set, go!” Race up the stairs and see who can make it to the top first. Have everyone in the family race in different heats to determine who is the champion.

Training challenges to try with your dog

While you might have taken a training class when your dog was a puppy, you may not have kept up with teaching them as they grew. Test their mental strength by practicing new skills and learning agility.

graphic showing hand signals for training dogs

5. Practice skills

Test your dog’s memory and obedience by teaching them some basic skills. These can include sit, stay, shake and roll over. Skills are good for a dog of any age to practice. Use their favorite treat as an incentive. Be sure to only reward them if they are successful in completing the action.

If your canine has already mastered these basics, try some more advanced skills. Some advanced dog skills include:

  • Play dead
  • Crawl
  • Kiss
  • Hug
  • Spin
  • Sit pretty
  • Bow
  • Leash

Practicing these skills will create a deeper bond between you and your pup as well as lead to them being more obedient.

graphic showing an indoor agility course

6. Create an indoor agility course

If you are practicing agility with your dog, you can make an agility course with basic home furniture. Learning agility can help solve dog behavior problems, improve their off-leash reliability, build your bond and gain some skills you can show off.

Make a scorecard and see how your pup would fare in a real competition. To learn more about agility, check out the American Kennel Club scoring guide.

Homemade dog agility course

Create your own agility course at home to learn these skills.

  • Weave: Set up laundry baskets in a row. Have your dog practice weaving in and out of them.
  • Jump up: Have them jump up on a chair or your bed. Practice with different heights.
  • Jump through: Hold up a hula hoop and have them jump through.
  • Under: Practice going under a few chairs that are lined up in a row.
  • Crawl: Get a box and open the ends. Have your dog practice crawling through.
  • Over: Rest a pole or broom over two stools. Work on their ability to jump over the pole.

infographic of games for dogs

Additional classic games for dogs

These are the games that your dog knows and loves. When you’re at a loss for what to play, try one of these classic games for dogs.

7. Clean up

If you have toys scattered throughout your apartment, clean up is the game for you. A game of clean up will entertain your pup as well as get rid of some of the clutter in your home.

Have them pick up one of their toys and lead them to the toy bin. When their head is over the bin, instruct them to “drop it.” Praise them with words or treats. This process may take a little longer for them to understand so be patient as they are learning. In the end, you’ll be rewarded with a tidy space.

8. Fetch

Fetch is a classic for a reason. This game may seem repetitive to you, but to your dog, it’s endless entertainment. To play, throw a ball of some sort. Typically tennis balls work best because they fit in your dog’s mouth, can be thrown far distances and their color is easy to spot. Your dog will chase after it and return the ball, panting and ready for more.

Many play fetch with sticks they find in the backyard, but this can be dangerous. The stick can easily break down when chewed and the splinters can be harmful to your dog’s mouth or stomach. Be sure you are using soft, pet-safe toys when playing fetch.

photo showing dog with frisbee

9. Frisbee

Another crowd favorite is a frisbee. Frisbee is similar to fetch, but oftentimes your dog is content playing with it alone for hours. Since frisbees have rounded sides, they often roll away. This turns into a game of chase and then a wild battle until your pup comes out of it victorious.

There are two types of frisbees you can purchase. The classic plastic kind is durable, but be sure to keep an eye on how it’s holding up. Sharp teeth can cause the plastic to crack, making it dangerous for dogs to play with and humans to throw. Another option is to get a softer, cloth frisbee. These are good for dogs with more sensitive gums like puppies who are teething.

10. Water games

On a hot summer day, there’s nothing better than cooling off with some water games. Get sprinklers and attach them to the hose in your yard. Be sure you’re using a garden hose that is lead-free. If it’s been sitting out in the sun, run it for a little bit to clear out any bacteria that may have formed.

Set up the sprinkler in an area of your yard that needs some hydration. Turn it on and encourage your dog to jump over it with you. For more dynamic entertainment, get an oscillating sprinkler so your dog can chase it back and forth.

11. Soccer

A game for the whole family, soccer can be an excellent way to release some energy. Get a soccer ball and be sure it’s fully inflated. If a dog’s sharp teeth puncture it, your match will be over.

Familiarize your dog with the ball. Reward them with treats when they push it with their nose. Once they are comfortable with the new toy, try playing pass. Lightly kick the ball towards them and see if they can return it to you. Another option is to set up a goal (could be two sticks that serve as goal markers) and have your dog play defense.

photo showing tug of war

12. Tug of war

Your dog may naturally try to play tug of war with you with something you’re holding. To be sure they don’t destroy your couch pillow or shoelaces it’s important to give them an item they are allowed to play with. Create a tug of war toy with some natural cotton rope. Tie knots in the rope so your pet has something to grab onto.

Many pet parents are worried that this type of game will bring out aggression in their dog. To avoid this, be sure you are playing on your terms. Keep the toy stored out of reach and bring it out when you want to play. When playing, be sure that your dog never touches you. If they do, the game is temporarily over. This will teach them boundaries. In addition to learning these boundaries, they should know how to “drop it” when instructed to. If they haven’t learned this command, it’s a skill you should work on.

Spending quality time with your dog

Partaking in these games for dogs will create a stronger bond between you and your four-legged friend. Be sure to add these skills to your dog’s pet resume when moving to a new apartment.

Sources:

The Dos and Don’ts of Crate Training

Friday, March 6th, 2020
Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker       March 06, 2020
  • I’m an advocate of crate training dogs, because done right, your pet’s crate serves as a secure, happy, restful place she visits throughout the day
  • The obvious first step in successful crate training is finding the right type and size crate for your canine companion
  • Step two involves turning the new crate into your dog’s favorite place to hang out (other than with you, of course!)
  • Finally, there’s a right and a wrong way to introduce crating to your dog, and it’s important to know the difference
  • Most dogs who’ve had a bad past experience with being crated can be patiently and successfully “reprogrammed” to view their new doggy den in a positive way

If you’re a regular reader, you know I’m a big advocate of crate training. Whether your furry family member is a pup or a senior, providing her with her own cozy, private space has a number of benefits for both of you. For example, a crate can help not only with housetraining, but also car or plane travel, and overnight stays with friends, family, or at a pet-friendly hotel.

A health benefit of crate training is that dogs accustomed to spending time alone in their “bedrooms” are much less likely to develop separation anxiety or other phobias. Putting a puppy in her crate for a nap or some quiet time also helps her learn not to expect constant human attention, similar to the use of playpens for babies.

This strategy coupled with basic positive reinforcement obedience training will set the stage for a secure, balanced adult dog who is pleasant to be around, which is always the goal. To create crate-love in your dog, her space should be safe, comfortable, and relaxing, and she should associate it with only positive experiences.

How to Select the Right Crate

When you purchase a crate for your dog, the size is important. You want a space that’s not too big or too small. Your dog should be able to stand up, lie down, and turn around comfortably in it, but it shouldn’t be so large that he can easily use one end as his potty spot and the other end for sleeping and snacking. If you need to housetrain your dog, a crate large enough to have a bathroom at one end can actually slow down the process.

If you’re unsure what size crate to buy, talk to a shelter volunteer, your veterinarian or your breeder about what you want to accomplish so they can help you pick the right size. If you’re crate training a puppy, especially a giant breed, you’ll probably want a smaller crate initially and then a bigger one as he grows.

When you bring the new crate home, place it in an area where your family spends a lot of time — not in an isolated spot, or outdoors, or a high traffic location (which can be stressful), or where your dog will experience temperature extremes.

Make sure there’s nothing hanging inside the crate that could cause your dog harm, and especially while he’s still young and rambunctious, take his collar off before you put him in the crate so it can’t get hung up on anything. As necessary, disinfect the crate with either mild soap or vinegar and baking soda and rinse it thoroughly.

Transforming the Crate into a Delightful Doggy Den

Your canine companion will need something comfy to lie on in her crate, so bedding is a must. Depending on your dog (some destroy their beds, others don’t), you can choose a plush bed, a crate mat, or something in between. (If your dog is a persistent bed shredder, she probably needs more frequent or vigorous exercise and/or additional mental stimulation.)

You’ll also want to keep a fresh supply of clean filtered water in the crate. To keep the mess to a minimum, you can use a stainless-steel bowl that attaches to a side or the front of the crate. If you’ll be confining her to her crate for short periods, it’s a great idea to have food-stuffed or treat-release toys on hand to keep her occupied while she’s home alone.

Keeping the environment inside your dog’s crate comfortable is also very important. Depending on where you live, where in your home the crate is located, and your dog’s tendency to overheat, you might want to consider a crate fan (attached to the outside of the crate), or a small floor fan placed near the crate. The fan should provide good ventilation and keep your dog cool, without blowing directly on her — or she should be able to move away from it if she feels the need.

It’s also important not to place your dog’s crate in direct sunlight, too close to a heat source, or in a cold, drafty area of your home.

Something else you might want to try is covering the crate at night or to provide your dog with quiet time when she needs it. What I do with my dogs is drape a blanket over the back half of their crates to create a quiet, dark, den-like environment. My dogs use their crates as bedrooms — they go into them to sleep. If you decide to cover the entire crate, keep in mind it will cause the temperature inside to heat up, so you should make adjustments as necessary.

Getting Your Dog Used to His Crate

If you purchased a crate ahead of time and it’s there when your dog comes home, as long as he hasn’t had a bad experience with confinement in the past, it’s should be pretty easy to get him acclimated to his little den.

The first rule of crate training is to never, ever force your dog into or out of his crate, because you can end up with an unmanageable case of separation anxiety or a pathological aversion to enclosed or small spaces. The crate must represent a safe zone for your dog, so you never want to make his safe zone feel unsafe.

The second rule of crate training is what I call, “It’s all good,” which means everything about the crate is positive from your dog’s perspective. While you’re getting him used to his crate, everything he loves goes in there, and the door stays propped or tied open so he can freely investigate.

Put treats in and around the crate, along with treat release toys, chew toys, food puzzle toys — all his favorites. I also recommend feeding him in his crate with the door open. The goal is to have your dog voluntarily go into his crate because everything about it is positive and fun.

How to Handle a Case of Crate-Hate

If your dog is nervous or fearful due to a past bad crating experience, you’ll have to take things slower. A dog who has been crated as a form of punishment or locked in a crate for inappropriately long periods of time will need to be gently and patiently reintroduced to the crate.

Make sure to leave the door open (tie it open if necessary so there’s no chance it will close while he’s in there). Put food rewards around the outside of the crate and inside as well so he can get comfortable going in and out without worrying about being “trapped” inside.

Once you sense he’s comfortable inside the crate, feed him in there with the door open. Once he’s comfortably eating in the crate, close the door. Don’t go far and keep an eye on him. At some point he’ll realize the door is closed and he’s inside. Try to ignore any whimpering or barking. Once he’s calm, open the door and praise him.

When you start closing the crate door, leave it closed for very short periods of time (no more than a minute) so that he realizes he’s not “trapped” or being punished. In the meantime, continue tossing treats into the crate several times a day to reinforce the association between it and good things.

Once your dog begins associating good things with the crate and he’s feeling more comfortable in there, you can close the door for longer periods. Be sure to leave something fun inside such as a treat-release toy he can focus on. Don’t leave your house until your dog is completely comfortable in the closed crate while you’re at home. You can gradually extend the amount of time you leave him in the crate, providing he’s getting consistent, frequent trips outside to potty.

Once he’s comfortable being in a closed crate when you’re at home, you can begin taking short trips away from the house. If you need to leave your dog for longer than 4 hours, I recommend you use a dog sitter or a doggy daycare facility rather than crating him for long periods of time.

If you’re struggling with crate training, I recommend talking with positive dog trainer who can help you work through the problems you’re experiencing.

Please don’t rush up to pet my dog!

Monday, February 24th, 2020

Dear parents,

I realize my dog is super cute. I know it is fun to watch her playing fetch with me and it drew your child’s attention when I walked by with my pup.

I am guessing that your family probably doesn’t have a dog right how and it appears from all the fuss I’m overhearing that your kids really want one. I applaud your determination to not get a pet until you really have the time for one. It is a very responsible choice to wait.

But here’s the thing, just because I’m out and about with my dog, doesn’t mean she is public property to be approached or touched. She isn’t that used to kids and in fact, isn’t all that comfortable with strangers in general. I bring my dog out for walks and to the park so I can spend time with her and we can enjoy the fresh air together.

I honestly don’t want to appear rude or say anything harsh to your kids, but if they rush up to her or try to hug her, it will make her nervous and I’m not 100% certain how she might react. It’s my responsibility to keep her safe in the world so I’d appreciate if you would simply admire and keep your distance.

I’m sure you would feel the same if I was excited and came rushing up to hug your kid because he was wearing such a cute outfit. Actually, I wouldn’t blame you if you called the cops on me if I actually did that!

But you see what I mean? Personal space is a big deal for both humans and dogs. Let’s just be mutually respectful of one another and simply smile and nod as we keep walking and pass by. I promise that if I wanted you to come say hi, I would invite you and your kids to come pet her. If I felt like interacting, I’d make it obvious, but if I didn’t issue that invitation, please keep moving or just ADMIRE from a distance.

Thanks for understanding and for helping raise your kids to understand that dogs need to feel safe too.

Sincerely,

A responsible dog owner

The First Thing To Do After Getting A Dog from A Shelter – DECOMPRESSION

Tuesday, February 18th, 2020
From kdmatthews.com

The First Thing To Do When Getting A Dog From A Shelter – Learn What “Decompression” Is

It’s pretty damn awesome of you to look to the shelter to rescue a dog when searching for that new furry family member.I mean that.

Our nation’s shelter’s, pounds, and humane societies are overflowing with perfectly healthy and awesome dogs who desperately need good homes where they can live out their lives. The fact that you have decided to go there first is great.

But all that greatness will be meaningless if you do not do your homework first, and even more importantly, introduce them to their new home properly. We want it to truly be their fur-ever home right?

I’m not even talking about having the Barkbox subscription underway or spending 200$ on chew toys. There is something even more important that you must be aware of, be cognizant of, and be prepared to implement the moment you take that dog from the shelter.

SHELTERS ARE NOT FUN PLACES

If you have ever walked through the kennels of an animal shelter you surly can attest to the stress of the experience.  Perhaps you can remember the first time you entered one.  It might have been a memorable experience!

They are very very loud.

It is non stop barking, howling, whining, and yelping.  The sound can be deafening at times and if you are not used to it or it is your first time, it can cause a heavy dose of anxiety to rise up your bones and make you want to turn around and walk out.

It’s intense.

Now realize that you CAN turn around and walk out.  Those dogs can’t. They are there all day, all night, all week, all month.  It shouldn’t take too much contemplation to realize this isn’t the ideal setting for any dog. Some dogs can be there for months on end if it is a no-kill shelter.

The longer they are in there the worse the mental trauma can be.

While some dogs will completely shut down others seem to amp up developing numerous anxiety based behaviors that border on neurotic.  While the observable behaviors might be different, the source is the same, stress from being in there.

Recognizing that this type of experience can have an impact on a dog’s state of mind, it baffles me how people think that simply putting a leash on the dog and taking it home means everything is suddenly going to be O.K. As if anything is that simple!

So many of these dogs end up back at shelters for a wide variety of reasons, including aggression, because their well intentioned new family did not take the time to research the proper way to bring a dog from this type of environment home.  When the dog starts acting in inappropriate ways or even worse, becomes aggressive, everybody is quick to blame the dog’s “troubled past”.

It’s not the dog’s past, it is the dog’s present.

The first day in a new home is not the day to meet other family members, loud and energetic toddlers, other dogs, the cats, the super nosy neighbor who wants to give your new dog hugs and kisses….

NO……NOT AT ALL……

DECOMPRESSION

The name is indicative of the what it means in terms of what the dog has been through and what the dog needs. All the stress from the living conditions the dog is coming from needs to be addressed.  The dog has been under a lot of stress and pressure.

The dog needs to “decompress” and take some time getting back to a balanced state of mind.  This will not be achieved with going from one crazy high activity place to another. The dog should not be introduced to the couch for endless hours of belly rubs on day one because you feel bad the dog had a rough past.

That makes YOU feel good.

This isn’t about you and what you like, this is about what is best for the dog.  Remember?

For at LEAST 2-3 WEEKS, your new dog’s life should be incredibly simple and boring. Keep the affection to a bare minimum, keep talking and training to non- existent levels.

A nice calm and quiet beginning is essential

You want as much silence as possible.

Have a daily routine or schedule 100% planned out prior to the dog coming home. This should be the dog’s day mapped out.  From bathroom breaks, to crate time, to short walks in quiet boring places, the entire day should be on a schedule.

Dogs find exponentially more comfort in routine than they do belly rubs and cuddles.  For that reason, keep the affection to a bare minimum.  This is not the time to shower the dog with affection as all that will do is reinforce an unbalanced state of mind and confuse the dog as to YOUR role in their lives.

The premise behind decompression is allowing the dog to get back to a neutral and relaxed state of mind, opposite of what it just came from.

Your dog needs leadership and calm predictability.

These two things are crucial to the dog becoming appropriately integrated into your home.  Allowing the dog time to decompress without having to deal with a whole new set of intense stimuli will set you all up for a successful future.

WANT TO LEARN MORE?

My free E-Book is the instruction book that should have came with your dog.  It’s short and sweet and easy to get through.  Learn the very basics of owning a dog FIRST before worrying about the other stuff.  What color you paint your walls doesn’t matter if the foundation is wrong.  My intention was to sell it, then I realized it’s too important to allow even a penny to come between this book and somebody who needs it.  Click below and download your copy!

Click HERE!

While the book has a bunch of super important chunks of information you need, it’s still just a book.  If you really want to ensure that you are going to give your new furfamily member the best chances of success and happiness I have put together a crash course designed to give you EVERYTHING you you need to make your furkid’s new home it’s last!  One on one, you and I, online will cover all the essentials and I will explain to you how to implement the information into YOUR unique home environment.

Simply send me a message via my contact page for more information and we can get you and your home ready!  Even if you have already brought them home, we can make sure they are getting everything they need in a way that will help them be completely fulfilled and balanced.

5 Fun and Easy Brain Games for Dog

Friday, February 14th, 2020

Exercise your pup’s mind and increase your bond when you play these brain games for dogs.

John Woods  |  Apr 16th 2019 for Dogster.com

Want some easy ways to keep your dog entertained while increasing the bond you share with your loyal dog? Try these fun and easy brain games for dogs!

Why brain games for dogs?

Playing brain games for dogs can help to alleviate boredom and prevent destructive behaviors such as chewing or excessive barking. Brain games for dogs can also give your dog a sense of purpose and achievement and help to form an even closer bond between the two of you.

All of these games are easy to play and will keep your dog’s brain engaged and active. Have a go at playing these five brain games for dogs, and your four-legged friend will thank you!

1. Which Hand Game

This is one of the easiest brain games for dogs — you won’t even need to get up from the sofa.

Use your furry friend’s favorite toy, or a treat, and hide it in one of your hands. Have your dog sniff both your hands, and guess which hand the treat is hiding in. Whichever hand they place their nose on first is your dog’s guess.

If she gets it correct, turn over your hand and release the treat or toy. Your dog will soon be conditioned into playing this game easily.

2. Treasure Hunt

This is one of those brain games for dogs that you can play over as little or as large of an area as you like. For the first few times, try it just in one room. As your dog gets more adept at this hunting, you can span the whole house!

Hide a few treats around the room and watch as your dog has fun trying to sniff them out. If you don’t want to use treats, you can use anything that has a strong scent, for example a toy or some of your clothes.

As your dog finds each toy, label the behavior as “hunt.” Say “hunt” just as your dog finds each treat.

To increase the challenge, hide treats all around the house in separate rooms, once you’ve hidden the treats, ask your dog to hunt.

Tip: If you do this outside, you’ll have to set it up directly before playing the game or you’ll end up losing the treats to other animals!

3. Toy Tidy Up

We love when brain games for dogs help you out, too! To be able to play this game, your dog must know the name of her favorite toys and the “fetch” command.

If there is ever a point where there are a few different toys out around the room, try training her to fetch them. Underneath your hands, place a basket, as your dog fetches each item let it pass by your hands into a basket.

For example, ask her to pick the ball up and fetch it.

Once your dog has mastered this, you will be able to train her to bring certain items to you, such as your shoes, or her leash.

4. Hot or Cold

Hide a treat, or a ball, somewhere around the room. For the first attempt, you can put it somewhere in plain sight, until your dog understands the rules.

Each time your dog moves in the right direction, say hot and give her a small treat. If she’s not going in the right direction, say cold and don’t hand out a treat.

Your dog will soon start to associate the word hot with moving closer toward whatever you’ve hidden, and you’ll be able to choose harder hiding places, such as behind the curtain or even under a box. This command can also be used during the treasure hunt game.

5. The Shell Game (or the Cup Game)

This is one of the brain games for dogs that we’ve all heard of.

Get three identical cups from your kitchen, line them up in a row and hide a treat under one of them. Let your dog watch you put the treat underneath a cup so she can see there will be a reward to guessing correctly.

Then mix the cups up — the more challenging you want to make it, the more quickly you move the cups.

Let your dog select the right cup with her nose or paw and lift the cup up. If she is right, she wins the treat!

If she’s not right, mix the cups up and try again. To start with, place treats under all three cups before reducing this down to two and then one. For an extra challenge, don’t lift the cup up. Let your dog figure out how to knock it over to get the treat.

Thumbnail: Photography ©Purple Collar Pet Photography | Getty Images.

Need more ideas for fun with your dog? Check out some suggestions from Whole Dog Journal >>

About the author

John Woods has two degrees, is a graduate in Animal Behavior and Welfare is a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and is an accredited author by the Dog Writers Association of America. He is the senior editor of All Things Dogs.

use approval from John Woods given to the AHF in February, 2020 via email

Look for the Look Away

Tuesday, January 28th, 2020

Debunking the “Alpha Dog” Theory

Monday, January 13th, 2020

Exerting “dominance” over your dog is the wrong way to build a good relationship.

The alpha myth is everywhere. Google “alpha dog” on the Internet and you get more than 85 million hits. Really. While not all the sites are about dominating your dog, there are literally millions of resources out there – websites, books, blogs, television shows, veterinarians, trainers and behavior professionals – instructing you to use force and intimidation to overpower your dog into submission. They say that you, the human, must be the alpha. They’re all wrong. Every single one of them.

The erroneous approach to canine social behavior known as dominance theory (two million-plus Google hits) is based on a study of captive zoo wolves conducted in the 1930s and 1940s by Swiss animal behaviorist Rudolph Schenkel, in which the scientist concluded that wolves in a pack fight to gain dominance, and the winner is the alpha wolf.

The Origin’s of the “Alpha” Dog Theory

Schenkel’s observations of captive wolf behavior were erroneously extrapolated to wild wolf behavior, and then to domestic dogs. It was postulated that wolves were in constant competition for higher rank in the hierarchy, and only the aggressive actions of the alpha male and female held the contenders in check. Other behaviorists following Schenkel’s lead also studied captive wolves and confirmed his findings: groups of unrelated wolves brought together in artificial captive environments do, indeed, engage in often-violent and bloody social struggles.

The problem is, that’s not normal wolf behavior. As David Mech stated in the introduction to his study of wild wolves (Mech, 2000), “Attempting to apply information about the behavior of assemblages of unrelated captive wolves to the familial structure of natural packs has resulted in considerable confusion. Such an approach is analogous to trying to draw inferences about human family dynamics by studying humans in refugee camps. The concept of the alpha wolf as a ‘top dog’ ruling a group of similar-aged compatriots (Schenkel 1947; Rabb et al. 1967; Fox 1971a; Zimen 1975, 1982; Lockwood 1979; van Hooff et al. 1987) is particularly misleading.”

What we know now, thanks to Mech and others, is that in the wild, a wolf pack is a family, consisting of a mated pair and their offspring of the past one to three years. Occasionally two or three families may group together. As the offspring mature they disperse from the pack; the only long-term members of the group are the breeding pair. By contrast, in captivity unrelated wolves are forced to live together for many years, creating tension between mature adults that doesn’t happen in a natural, wild pack.

Dominance-Based Training is Disrespectful to Your Dog

But that’s all about wolves anyway, not dogs. How did it happen that dog owners and trainers started thinking all that information (and misinformation) about wolf behavior had anything to do with dogs and dog behavior? The logic went something like, “Dogs are descended from wolves. Wolves live in hierarchical packs in which the aggressive alpha male rules over everyone else. Therefore, humans need to dominate their pet dogs to get them to behave.”

Perhaps the most popular advocate of this inaccurate concept, Cesar Millan, is only the latest in a long line of dominance-based trainers who advocate forceful techniques such as the alpha roll. Much of this style of training has roots in the military – which explains the emphasis on punishment.

As far back as 1906, Colonel Konrad Most was using heavy-handed techniques to train dogs in the German army, then police and service dogs. He was joined by William Koehler after the end of World War II.

Koehler also initially trained dogs for the military prior to his civilian dog-training career, and his writings advocated techniques that included hanging and helicoptering a dog into submission (into unconsciousness, if necessary). For example, to stop a dog from digging, Koehler suggested filling the hole with water and submerging the dog’s head in the water-filed hole until he was nearly drowned.

Fast-forward several years to 1978 and the emergence of the Monks of New Skete as the new model for dog training, asserting a philosophy that “understanding is the key to communication, compassion, and communion” with your dog. Sounds great, yes? The Monks were considered cutting edge at the time – but contrary to their benevolent image, they were in fact responsible for the widespread popularization of the “Alpha-Wolf Roll-Over” (now shortened to the alpha roll). Reviewing the early observations of captive wolves, the Monks concluded that the alpha roll is a useful tool for demonstrating one’s authority over a dog. Unfortunately, this is  a complete and utter misinterpretation of the submissive roll-over that is voluntarily offered by less assertive dogs, not forcibly commanded by stronger ones.

The Monks also advocated the frequent use of other physical punishments such as the scruff shake (grab both sides of the dog’s face and shake, lifting the dog off the ground) and cuffing under the dog’s chin with an open hand several times, hard enough to cause the dog to yelp.

While professing that “training dogs is about building a relationship that is based on respect and love and understanding,” even their most recent book, Divine Canine: The Monks’ Way to a Happy, Obedient Dog (2007), is still heavy on outdated, erroneous dominance theory. Immediately following their suggestion that “a kindly, gentle look tells the dog she is loved and accepted,” they say “But it is just as vital to communicate a stern reaction to bad behavior. A piercing, sustained stare into a dog’s eyes tells her who’s in charge; it establishes the proper hierarchy of dominance between person and pet.” (It’s also a great way to unwittingly elicit a strong aggressive response if you choose the wrong dog as the subject for your piercing, sustained stare.)

Despite the strong emergence of positive reinforcement-based training in the last 20 years, the Monks don’t seem to have grasped that the “respect” part needs to go both ways for a truly compassionate communion with your dog. Perhaps one of these days . . .

The Birth of Positive-Reinforcement Training

Just when it seemed that dog training had completely stagnated in turn-of-the-century military-style dominance-theory training, marine mammal trainer Karen Pryor wrote her seminal book, Don’t Shoot the Dog. Published in 1985, this small, unassuming volume was intended as a self-help book for human behavior. The author never dreamed that her modest book, paired with a small plastic box that made a clicking sound, would launch a massive paradigm shift in the world of dog training and behavior. But it did.

police dog training

Forward progress was slow until 1993, when veterinary behaviorist Dr. Ian Dunbar founded the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. Dunbar’s vision of a forum for trainer education and networking has developed into an organization that now boasts nearly 6,000 members worldwide. While membership in the APDT is not restricted to positive reinforcement-based trainers, included in its guiding principles is this statement:

“We promote the use of reward-based training methods, thereby minimizing the use of aversive techniques.”

The establishment of this forum facilitated the rapid spread of information in the dog training world, enhanced by the creation of an online discussion list where members could compare notes and offer support for a scientific and dog-friendly approach to training.

Things were starting to look quite rosy for our dogs. The positive market literally mushroomed with books and videos from dozens of quality training and behavior professionals, including Jean Donaldson, Dr. Patricia McConnell, Dr. Karen Overall, Suzanne Hetts, and others. With advances in positive training and an increasingly educated dog training profession embracing the science of behavior and learning and passing good information on to their clients, pain-causing, abusive methods such as the alpha roll, scruff shake, hanging, drowning, and cuffing appeared to be headed the way of the passenger pigeon.

A Step-Backward for Positive-Reinforcement Training Techniques

Then, in the fall of 2004, the National Geographic Channel launched its soon-to-be wildly popular show, The Dog Whisperer. Dominance theory was back in vogue, with a vengeance. Today, everything from housetraining mistakes to jumping up to counter surfing to all forms of aggression is likely to be attributed to “dominance” by followers of the alpha-resurgence.

“But,” some will argue, “look at all the dogs who have been successfully trained throughout the past century using the dominance model. Those trainers can’t be all wrong.”

In fact, harsh force-based methods (in technical parlance, “positive punishment”) are a piece of operant conditioning, and as the decades have proven, those methods can work. They are especially good at shutting down behaviors – convincing a dog that it’s not safe to do anything unless instructed to do something. And yes, that works with some dogs. With others, not so much.

My own personal, unscientific theory is that dog personalities lie on a continuum from very soft to very tough. Harsh, old-fashioned dominance-theory methods can effectively suppress behaviors without obvious fallout (although there is always behavioral fallout) with dogs nearest the center of the personality continuum – those who are resilient enough to withstand the punishment, but not so tough and assertive that they fight back. Under dominance theory, when a dog fights back, you must fight back harder until he submits, in order to assert yourself as the pack leader, or alpha.

Problem is, sometimes they don’t submit, and the level of violence escalates. Or they submit for the moment, but may erupt aggressively again the next time a human does something violent and inappropriate to them. Under dominance-theory training, those dogs are often deemed incorrigible, not suitable for the work they’re being trained for nor safe as a family companion, and sentenced to death. Had they never been treated inappropriately, many might have been perfectly fine.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, a very “soft” dog can be easily psychologically damaged by one enthusiastic inappropriate assertion of rank by a heavy-handed dominance trainer. This dog quickly shuts down – fearful and mistrusting of the humans in his world who are unpredictably and unfairly violent.

Most crossover trainers (those who used to train with old-fashioned methods and now are proud to promote positive reinforcement-based training) will tell you they successfully trained lots of dogs the old way. They loved their dogs and their dogs loved them.

I’m a crossover trainer and I know that’s true. I also would dearly love to be able to go back and redo all of that training, to be able to have an even better relationship with those dogs, to give them a less stressful life – one filled with even more joy than the one we shared together.

We Aren’t Dogs, and Our Dogs Know It

Finally, the very presumption that our dogs would even consider we humans to be members of their canine pack is simply ludicrous. They know how impossibly inept we are, for the most part, at reading and understanding the subtleties of canine body language. We are equally inept, if not even more so, at trying to mimic those subtleties. Any attempts on our part to somehow insert ourselves into their social structure and communicate meaningfully with them in this manner are simply doomed to failure. It’s about time we gave up trying to be dogs in a dog pack and accepted that we are humans co-existing with another species – and that we’re most successful doing so when we co-exist peacefully.

The fact is, successful social groups work because of voluntary deference, not because of aggressively enforced dominance. The whole point of social body language rituals is to avoid conflict and confrontation, not to cause it. Watch any group of dogs interacting. Time and time again you’ll see dogs deferring to each other. It’s not even always the same dog deferring:

Dog B: Hey, I’d really like to go first. Dog A: “By all means, be my guest.” Dog B passes down the narrow hallway.

Dog A: “I’d really like to have that bone.” Dog B: “Oh sure – I didn’t feel like chewing right now anyway.” Dog A gets the bone.

Social hierarchies do exist in groups of domesticated dogs and in many other species, including humans, and hierarchy can be fluid. As described above, one dog may be more assertive in one encounter, and more deferent in the next, depending on what’s at stake, and how strongly each dog feels about the outcome. There are a myriad of subtleties about how those hierarchies work, and how the members of a social group communicate – in any species.

Today, educated trainers are aware that canine-human interactions are not driven by social rank, but rather by reinforcement. Behaviors that are reinforced repeat and strengthen. If your dog repeats an inappropriate behavior such as counter surfing or getting on the sofa, it’s not because he’s trying to take over the world; it’s just because he’s been reinforced by finding food on the counter, or by being comfortable on the sofa. He’s a scavenger and an opportunist, and the goods are there for the taking. Figure out how to prevent him from being reinforced for the behaviors you don’t want, and reinforce him liberally for the ones you do, and you’re well on your way to having the relationship of mutual love, respect, communication, and communion that we all want to have with our dogs.

Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, is WDJ’s Training Editor. Author of numerous books on positive dog training, she lives in Fairplay, Maryland, site of her Peaceable Paws training center, where she offers dog training classes and courses for trainers.

You Can Speak Dog Too. Here’s How

Tuesday, January 7th, 2020

Whole Dog Journal – Tip – January 7, 2020

Communicating with your dog is a two-way street. While you’re teaching her to understand and accept primate language, you can also learn and use canine body language. This will greatly enhance your relationship and your training program, since your dog can respond very quickly when she realizes you are speaking Dog. It’s also a useful skill to have when you’re meeting or interacting with a strange dog.

The following tips on human’s body language are applicable when interacting with any dog, but are especially important when dealing with a fearful dog, or any dog who appears worried or unsure about an interaction. Adopt mannerisms and teach others who interact with your dog to do so as well.

1. Let the dog come to you. If a dog is frightened, she must be allowed to decide whether or not to approach. It’s never a good idea to restrain a dog and force her to accept contact from others. Remember the “fight or flight” response; if the opportunity for flight is taken away, a dog’s choices are limited.

2. Turn to the Side. Facing a dog directly is more confrontational than keeping your body turned partially or completely to the side; even turning your head to the side will make a frightened or worried dog feel less anxious.

3. No staring, please! A direct stare is a threat in the animal kingdom. It is perfectly fine to look at a dog; just soften your expression and don’t hard stare directly into her eyes. Do not allow children to put their faces near your dog’s face or to stare into her eyes. Adults who insist on direct eye contact with strange dogs also tend to get bitten.

4. Don’t hover. Leaning over a dog can cause the dog to become afraid and possibly defensive. When we bend over dogs to pet them or to cuddle them, we are unwittingly offering a posture of threat and intimidation.

5. Pet appropriately. Approaching dogs by patting them on the head is ill-advised. Envision the interaction from the dog’s point of view; a palm approaching from above can be alarming. It’s not that dogs should never be petted on top of the head, but that head-patting (or petting over the dog’s shoulders, back, or rump) should not be used as an initial approach. It is wiser to make a fist, hold it under the dog’s nose is to allow her to sniff, then pet the dog on the chest, moving gradually to the sides of the face and other body parts, assuming the dog is comfortable. Likewise, a hand moving in quickly to grab for a dog’s collar is more potentially fear-inducing than a hand moving slowly to a dog’s chest, scratching it, then moving up to take hold of the collar.

6. Stoop, don’t swoop. Small dogs in particular are often swooped down upon when people want to pick them up. Fast, direct, overhead movements are much more frightening than slow, indirect ones. To lift a small dog, crouch down, pet the dog for a moment, then gently slip your hands under her belly and chest, and lift.

7. Watch your smile. While humans interpret a smile as friendly, a dog might not be as fond of seeing your pearly whites. A show of teeth is, after all, a threat in the animal kingdom. Smile at dogs with a closed mouth.

To learn more about reading and listening to your dog’s body language, purchase Whole Dog Journal’s Dog to English Dictionary.

Reforming a Reactionary Dog

Monday, January 6th, 2020

from The Whole Dog Journal

Resources and training tactics for reforming a reactive dog.

We’ve all seen them – those nightmare dogs who lunge, leap, growl, snarl, snap, bark, threaten, bare their teeth, act like bullies, and charge at other dogs. They ruin visits to dog parks and even walks around the block. They’re out of control. They shouldn’t be allowed! 

It’s only natural to feel angry or annoyed when you encounter a problem dog. That’s scary enough – but it’s worse when the out-of-control dog is yours. 

Years ago, almost no one used “reactive” to describe these difficult dogs. They were called “aggressive,” and most trainers applied physical corrections. Today “reactive” describes several related problem behaviors, and the emphasis has shifted from physical punishment to positive-reinforcement training. 

Like many who have reactive dogs, I was not prepared. My first two Labradors, Samantha and Chloe, were calm, friendly, relaxed, and easy going. Neither ever chased a deer or a car. From time to time I heard about the rehabilitation of problem dogs but didn’t pay much attention. 

Now I’m making up for lost time. My crash course in reactive dog training began two years ago, when my Labrador Blue Sapphire was six months old. Blue would love to race after not only tennis balls but animals, skateboards, kids on bikes, motorcycles, joggers, and anything that moves. For months she erupted with ferocious barking as soon as she saw motion – a hiker, dog, deer, or bike – 50 or 100 yards away. No one meeting us would assume that this growling, barking, lunging terror was otherwise intelligent, affectionate, and a joy to live with. 

Since then, in addition to working with talented local trainers, I’ve been studying books, DVDs, articles, and online classes devoted to reactive dogs. Blue is mastering impulse control and I’m learning a lot about training. Perhaps some of what has helped us will help you as well.

FIND SOME BOOKS…AND MAYBE A VIDEO

You don’t have to purchase the library’s worth of books I’ve invested in, but multiple descriptions can help you understand and implement effective training programs. Trainers presenting the same basic information do so with different examples and approaches, at least one of which may be a perfect fit for you, your dog, and your schedule. If you prefer video demonstrations, try some DVDs, webinars, or online classes. 

It would be wonderful if these resources came with magic wands that transformed our dogs overnight, but alas, they don’t. They offer tools that we have to master and practice in order to help our dogs develop patience, confidence, and good manners.

Some of you may be most interested in how and why dogs become reactive and what their body language means; you may find technical descriptions and the language of behavior modification fascinating. Others may be impatient to skip the technicalities and start training, or want to focus on the emotional and energetic bonds connecting dogs and humans. No matter what your approach, you will find resources that will help advance your understanding and ability to deal with your reactive dog. 

For a topic that barely existed two decades ago, reactivity has spawned a training industry. So far I’ve studied 40 books and more than a dozen DVDs from force-free trainers, some of whom live with reactive dogs and all of whom have helped inexperienced handlers change their reactive dogs’ behavior. 

DEFINING REACTIVITY

What exactly is a reactive dog? Reactivity describes a dog’s over-the-top or excessive response to specific situations, such as seeing a person, animal, other dog, or unexpected object. Dogs are called leash-reactive when the frustration caused by a restrictive leash overwhelms them (see Feisty Fido by Patricia McConnell). Blue is a good example, for once she’s off-leash on a trail or in a dog park, she plays well with other dogs.

In the training book The Midnight Dog Walkers, Annie Phenix says, “A reactive dog responds to normal events in his environment with a higher-than-normal level of intensity. Some of those overreactions include barking, whining, lunging, hypervigilance, panting, pacing, restlessness, and difficulty responding to his owner, even for well-known cues such as ‘sit.’”

The training and rehabilitation of reactive dogs has generated dozens of books, DVDs, and other resources that help “over-the-top” dogs and their owners relax, stay calm, and enjoy life together using effective strategies, detailed instructions, and positive, force-free training methods.

Aggression is usually defined as threats to harm an individual, whether human or animal, with attacks, attempted attacks, or threats of attack. Underlying causes of aggression include guarding or protecting territory or family members, guarding resources, prey drive, physical pain, and frustration. According to Pamela Dennison in How to Right a Dog Gone Wrong, aggression is a normal canine behavior, so it’s important to channel a dog’s natural aggressive instinct into socially acceptable activities. This can be done by identifying the dog’s unique issues and redirecting her actions. 

The first time Blue leaped in the air, snarled, and lunged at another dog, I was too startled to think straight. When she did it again, I was upset and confused. To me – and I’m sure to the people who saw her in action – she looked aggressive and dangerous. In and out of the house she began reacting in the same noisy, alarming way toward anything unexpected. 

We did well in the American Kennel Club’s STAR puppy class, but when we took the Canine Good Citizen test, the neutral dog did us in. Here was a new dog! And a new person! It was all too much!

In addition to the training classes we took with Adele Delp at Canine Fitness (caninefit.com) here in Helena, Montana, I hired Jeff Lepley (happytrailsdogservices.com), who had recently completed Jean Donaldson’s Academy for Dog Trainers certification. 

It was Jeff who helped me understand that when Blue barked at distractions, she was frightened. At first I found that hard to believe because she looked so fierce, but the logic made sense. Yikes, there’s a strange person/thing/animal/whatever! I’ll scare it away! See? It worked! 

THRESHOLDS AND TRIGGERS

Thresholds are borders at the edge of a dog’s peaceful, comfortable state – the place or time when some stimulus causes the dog to experience stress, anxiety, or fear. A trigger is any stressor that occurs within the dog’s threshold, resulting in reactive behavior.

When a dog is “over threshold,” as Sunny Weber explains in Beyond Flight or Fight, “it means that the animal has lost control of logic and his brain is engulfed with stress hormones, making reasoned thought or learning impossible.”

What is your dog’s threshold? Blue’s extended as far as she could see in any direction, but once a scary visitor was inside the house, she relaxed. For some dogs it’s all about proximity – the closer the threat, the more intense the reaction. For others it’s the unexpected. Inanimate objects like parked cars and plastic bags startled Blue if they appeared where she wasn’t used to seeing them. Studying your dog’s threshold is important because with every repetition, a dog’s reactive behavior becomes stronger and more established. 

Canine body language offers plenty of clues if we train ourselves to notice them. Handlers whose attention wanders won’t observe changes in posture, ear or tail positions, hackles, eyes, or facial expressions, all of which give important signals. When Blue was leaping in the air and barking her head off, subtle cues had already come and gone, but with practice I learned to recognize them and redirect her before she progressed into full reactive mode. One simple test is whether she’ll take a treat. If not, I know we’re already over threshold. If she takes it in a distracted way, I know we’re close. Either response gives me options like changing direction, moving to a new location, getting her attention back, and practicing familiar commands.

Knowing how to interrupt a reactive response is worthwhile, but avoiding it is even better. As Sue Brown explains in Juvenile Delinquent Dogs, “The first step to changing your dog’s behavior is to prevent it from happening in the first place…. Preventing a behavior is called ‘management’ and it is done by managing your dog’s environment. You will save a lot of frustration, stress, anger, and energy if you focus on managing your dog’s environment rather than reacting to your dog’s unwanted behaviors.”

Annie Phenix agrees. “If I could enforce a signed pledge that owners won’t expose their dogs to the outside while they’re enrolled in the Growly Dog class, I would surely do it,” she says. “I ask for no walks during this time because it is critical to keep the dog under threshold (don’t put him in a position where he barks, lunges, growls, etc.) while we are reframing what an oncoming dog or person means to your dog. We are rebuilding trust and communication between owner and dog as well. It’s like a bank account built of trust. We spend four weeks building up that all-important account, and one scary incident can wipe out your savings, particularly in these beginning stages.”

Pat Miller, whose training articles are familiar to WDJ readers, says in her book Beware of the Dog, “If something you’re doing is triggering your dog’s aggression, stop doing it. If something or someone else is triggering the aggression, prevent your dog’s access to that person or thing, and prevent that person or thing from having access to your dog.” 

To this end, Miller and other trainers recommend blocking a reactive dog’s access to windows, fences, and similar triggers. When left unsupervised, Blue monitored upstairs windows, watching open fields and hiking trails. If something moved, she’d go ballistic. 

In Help for Your Fearful Dog, Nicole Wilde warns readers to keep reactive dogs away from “lookout posts.” Because the barking that results is self-rewarding, she writes, it is likely to continue. “The problem is that with each incident, adrenaline and other stress hormones are flooding your dog’s system so that her anxiety level spikes. The cumulative effect can be a dog who is perpetually stressed and on guard.”

Through her favorite window lookout post, Blue spots a jogger and immediately whines, growls, barks, and leaps in the air. Blocking her access to lookout windows prevents her from practicing this unwanted behavior

I’m embarrassed that it took me so long to appreciate the damage caused by Blue’s lookout posts, but setting ground rules and maintaining them made an immediate difference. As Wilde recommends, I closed doors leading to upstairs windows and interrupted barking by calling her to me, praising her for coming, asking for different basic behaviors (sit, down, touch my hand, watch me, let’s go), and rewarding her with favorite toys or treats. Whenever I leave the house without her, Blue stays in her crate or in a quiet room with closed curtains. Without the constant reinforcement of outdoor distractions, the indoors stays peaceful. 

ACT LIKE A TRAINER

In 1993, Jean Donaldson videotaped dog trainers and dog owners to see what they did differently. As one would expect, all of the dogs performed better with professional trainers, but there was an even more important difference that Donaldson didn’t notice until she rewound and fast-forwarded the tape while collecting data. In Train Your Dog Like a Pro she writes, “I was amazed to find that I could identify whether the person on the screen was a trainer or not with just a one-second sample or even a freeze-frame, based strictly on whether the person was attempting to train the dog at all.”

Donaldson calls this difference “the perseverance gap.” Typically, non-trainers tried something a few times, such as getting the dog to lie down, and then, whether successful or not, they stopped training and waited for the next activity. Once again they tried two or three repetitions and then quit. In between, they chatted with anyone nearby, checked their watches (today they would check their cell phones), or petted their dogs. Most of their training time consisted of this “between-training” dead air. 

In contrast, the trainers constantly watched their dogs while doing one repetition after another. Donaldson says this pattern was evident whether the dogs caught on quickly, were difficult to train, were already highly trained, or were unruly novices. “The trainers trained like bats out of hell,” she says, “and the non-trainers were mostly on break time.”

Count that as a breakthrough realization. No one had videotaped Blue and me in our classes, but if they did, we’d see a lot of between-training dead air. Following the advice to “fake it till you make it,” I imagined Jean Donaldson observing us as we walked up and down stairs, practiced heeling in the living room, went outside, paused at gates, came inside, paused at doors, went to the dog park, practiced retrieves, practiced recalls, practiced basic obedience, and practiced tricks while Blue received undivided attention, rapid rewards, and enthusiastic praise. 

My second turning-point trainer was the late Sophia Yin, DVM, whose DVD exercises revealed just how slow my timing was, how my posture was incorrect (bending over the dog, not standing straight), and how my reward delivery was vague and inconsistent. Practicing along with her workshop participants made my movements faster, more direct, more decisive, and easier for Blue to understand.

In her video workshops and in How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves, Dr. Yin focused on “sit” as an automatic behavior equivalent to “please,” because insisting that a dog “sit for everything” helps one become a clearly communicating leader while changing the dog’s perspective. 

In addition, Dr. Yin recommended tethering, attaching dog to handler with a hands-free leash, and wearing a bait pouch containing not just a fraction of the dog’s daily food allowance but all of it. In other words, during the early phases of training, all of every meal arrives one piece at a time from the handler in response to correct behaviors.

Because Blue’s raw diet doesn’t work well in a bait pouch, I loaded up on hand-feedable treats that could replace parts of her dinner. Tethering and keeping the bait pouch full improved my observation skills, helped me notice and reward every behavior I wanted to encourage, kept Blue motivated, kept her away from threshold-threatening windows, and reminded me to act like a trainer. 

A third breakthrough author, Amy Sutherland, helped me appreciate force-free training from a completely different perspective. While writing a book on modern training methods, Sutherland spent a year with the Exotic Animal Training and Management program at Moorpark College in California. Her follow-up book, What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage, focuses not on killer whales and other creatures but on humans struggling to master training fundamentals. 

By applying modern training methods to every aspect of her own life, Sutherland changed herself, her husband, and all of her relationships. Several of the books listed here discuss challenges like unsympathetic observers, anger, and vocal criticism faced by those with reactive dogs, but Sutherland demonstrates how the versatile laws of behavioral training can transform handlers as much as the animals we work with.

FOUNDATION AND DEFAULT BEHAVIORS

Foundation behaviors are responses so thoroughly practiced and automatic (think muscle memory) that the dog does them without thinking. These are often basic obedience commands, and they provide alternatives to whatever a dog is doing (or about to do) that is other than what you want. Most of the resources listed describe how to teach, practice, and improve foundation behaviors.

In When Pigs Fly: Training Success with Impossible Dogs, Jane Killion calls automatic attention the mother of all behaviors and one of the first things we should teach our dogs. “There is no point in teaching your dog how to do things if he is going to ignore you when you ask him to do them,” she says. “Attention is the foundation for any training program.”

As Patricia McConnell explains in Feisty Fido and her DVD “Treating Dog-Dog Reactivity,” the attention or “watch” cue has many advantages. “Teaching an incompatible behavior is a time-honored and elegant solution to a lot of behavior problems,” she says, “and it works wonderfully with fidos who are a bit too feisty on leash walks. Additionally, by teaching your dog to look at your face when she sees another dog, you’re teaching her what you want her to do, rather than hoping she’ll figure it out for herself.”

In addition to making eye contact, Pamela Dennison’s essential behaviors include name recognition, heeling on a loose leash, accepting touching, accepting secondary reinforcers (rewards other than food), staying in place, coming when called, doorway control (when going in or out of cars or buildings), and remaining relaxed around objects, people, or places instead of guarding them. 

In Control Unleashed, Leslie McDevitt adds the whiplash turn, which is a fast turn of the head away from something and toward the handler. “If the dog isn’t looking at me,” says McDevitt, “the first thing he needs to do is disengage from what he is looking at and orient toward me instead.”

Her instructions include mat training, which involves independently going to a mat, lying down or sitting on the mat automatically, and staying on the mat without fidgeting until released. Blue responded right away to mats, which can be anything from a square of plywood on the ground to a towel, area rug, or bathmat on the floor. That’s where she stays while meals are prepared and consumed, plus whenever the doorbell rings. Outdoors she runs to her plywood mat when we practice retrieves.

Emma Parsons’ foundation behaviors in Click to Calm include watch (make eye contact), sit, down, heel on a loose leash, target (touch an object such as a hand or target stick on cue), stay, come when called, four-on-the-floor (no jumping allowed), kennel up (go into your crate), leave it, and hold an object. 

In Out and About with Your Dog, Sue Sternberg recommends three essential skills for moving past dogs and other distractions: watch the handler’s face without interruption, heel on the left side, and heel on the right. “The more treats you use and the more frequently you give them during the initial foundation training, the stronger your dog’s behavior will be in the end,” she says. “Don’t skimp. Have many tiny treats ready in one hand and shovel them into your dog, one at a time, until he is looking at you and there is a constant stream of treats going into his mouth.” Before you run out of treats, put the food away, walk away from your dog, and ignore him for a few minutes. “Leave him wanting more,” she says, “while there’s still more to be had.”

Default behaviors are whatever responses come easily to the dog and which are stabilizing, relaxing, and comfortable. Leslie McDevitt defines a default behavior as one the dog commits to and maintains for the duration of a specific context. “The context is the cue to begin the behavior,” she says, “and the behavior will continue until the context changes or you give your release cue.” The default behavior is automatic and it gives the dog something to do (lie down and chill out, for example) when she isn’t receiving instructions. McDevitt recommends letting the dog choose her defaults. Whatever the dog offers, such as a sit, down, or anything else, can be encouraged, strengthened, and lengthened with attention and rewards.

Studying your dog’s inclinations can help you discover a canine sport for which he has a special aptitude or interest, such as dock diving, hunting/retrieving, scent tracking, herding, agility, rally obedience, nosework, flyball, disc sports, parkour, or trick training. As your dog becomes more confident and responsive to your management skills, any of these might become a perfect match. For inspiration, see Hyper Dog 101 by Kim Mayes; Play Your Way to Good Manners by Kate Naito and Sarah Westcott; and Dog Parkour by Anna Louise Kjaer. 

REWARD THE BEST, IGNORE THE REST

Behavioral trainers reward what they want to see more of. This simple strategy is the key to modern training, and it’s based on research. In You Can Train Your Dog, Pamela Dennison describes three basic laws of learning:

  • Rewarded behavior is repeated.
  • Ignored (unrewarded) behavior stops.
  • Once a behavior is in place, random (variable) rewards will strengthen it.

What do we mean by “ignoring” unwanted behavior? When a dog jumps on people, his rewards may include attention, physical contact, shouts of alarm, or an opportunity to run and chase, so the recommended response is to stand still, turn your back, look away, and ignore the dog’s jumping. When jumping isn’t fun any more, the dog will look for something else to do, and when sitting politely earns rewards and treats, that new behavior replaces jumping.

But what about self-reinforcing activities like barking, running fence lines, chasing bikes, or lunging at people and other dogs? Ignoring these behaviors won’t extinguish them, and as long as they’re rewarding to the dog, they will grow stronger. This is why it’s important for handlers to manage their dogs’ environment, plan ahead, avoid triggers, notice changes in posture, and become skilled at evasive maneuvers. Inattentive handlers and reactive dogs are a dangerous combination. 

To the basic laws of learning, we can add three suggestions for motivating your dog from Jane Killion:

  • Identify the things that your dog loves.
  • Gain control of them.
  • Exchange them on a regular basis for behaviors that you want.

And as Sue Brown adds, when training doesn’t change your dog’s behavior, one of three things is probably happening:

  • There isn’t enough consistency.
  • You have not given it enough time.
  • What you are doing is not effective and needs to be changed.

The most widely used reward is food, but whatever your dog finds valuable or fulfilling can work. Some dogs live for tennis balls, tug toys, an opportunity to run hard, or play dates with special friends. Verbal praise and physical petting may be appreciated, but they are seldom as rewarding as food, toys, or the chance to do something exciting. 

The least rewarding food treat is your dog’s regular kibble. Try filling your bait pouch with a variety of meats, cheeses, crunchy biscuits broken into small pieces, and other tasty handouts.

If your dog enjoys them, interactive puzzles can be amazing motivators. Whenever Blue (a puzzle addict) is almost but not quite reliable with something she is learning, I show her a Nina Ottosson puzzle and she suddenly seems to remember and understand exactly what I want from her and she does it with great enthusiasm.

Many trainers recommend documenting results on a printed form or in a training notebook because keeping an objective record of your dog’s progress will help you move forward without the frustration and disappointment of setbacks.

“We want an ever-increasing level of difficulty without losing the dog by having him quit because it’s too hard,” says Donaldson. She recommends measuring the success of every step in a training session and not moving on until the dog successfully completes the behavior for five repetitions in a row. 

When completing a practice set, be sure that all of the repetitions are identical. Don’t change your location, position, the direction you’re facing, your body language, voice, or other signals until you’re ready for the next installment. Paying close attention to what you are doing helps prevent the accidental reinforcing of behaviors you would rather extinguish. 

 When the dog performs each action successfully five times in a row, she is ready to move on to the next, more complicated, assignment. If she can’t complete more than one or two repetitions, make it easier by dropping back to a previous, simpler behavior. If she completes three or four repetitions, stay where you are and try another set of five repetitions.

Blue works to find and eat the treats hidden in a food puzzle. She loves this activity, so the opportunity to play with one motivates her to pay close attention and respond quickly in a training session.

The advantage to training in sets is that they clearly show your progress. Endlessly repeating a behavior that your dog already knows is inefficient and boring, and jumping ahead too quickly is inefficient and stressful. 

Organizing training sessions helps us be “splitters” instead of “lumpers.” In The Toolbox for Building a Great Family Dog, Terry Ryan explains that two of her mentors, the positive training pioneers Marian Breland-Baily and Bob Bailey, taught her these terms. Splitters break tasks into small, easy pieces, increasing the chances for success. Lumpers grow impatient, assume that the dog can move ahead faster, and focus on the desired end result while skipping in-between steps. 

As Laura VanArendonk Baugh writes in Fired Up, Frantic, and Freaked Out, “If we lump behaviors – ‘my dog has learned to sit in an empty room, so now I’ll ask him to sit while the doorbell rings and guests walk in’ – we’re going to experience failure and frustration. Splitting can feel ‘slow’ to those not used to it, because it’s many small steps instead of a few large ones, but in the long run training actually moves much faster!”

In support of good training, your definition of “jackpot” may need updating. I used to think that a jackpot, which is a special reward for something done well, would be an unusually yummy treat, like maybe a chunk of raw steak. But that’s only part of it. A really rewarding jackpot isn’t a single treat that’s quickly swallowed, it goes on for  as much as 20 seconds or more. That’s a long time! 

The other day as Blue and I walked to my car from the dog park, a commotion erupted on the sidewalk ahead. When I said, “Come front!” Blue spun around, sat with her back to the action, and ignored a leaping, snarling, on-leash German Shepherd exchanging words with a leaping, snarling, on-leash Lab. Blue’s jackpot consisted of 30 small pieces of hot dog, cheese, freeze-dried liver, almonds, bacon, turkey jerky, peanut butter treats, and dehydrated bison tripe, delivered one at a time with decisive arm movements while I stood straight and praised her for being so awesome. The distracting dogs went their separate ways and Blue ignored them as we resumed our walk. 

LIFELONG MANAGEMENT OF REACTIVE DOGS

If there’s one thing the experts agree on, it’s the importance of ongoing practice. For best results, reactive dog training never stops. Well-managed reactive dogs are often the best-behaved dogs in classes, competitions, at home, and in the great outdoors because their handlers’ management skills are so polished and automatic. 

In Better Together: The Collected Wisdom of Modern Dog Trainers, Ken Ramirez observes, “The most impressive changes have occurred with dogs that have had a lengthy break from exposure to triggers combined with lots of fun and advanced training as part of a stable program.” When advanced training is not part of the equation, he says, most of the dogs he has worked with continue to have challenges.

Living well with reactive dogs requires commitment, patience, and a willingness to try new methods. It’s an ambitious investment of time and effort. It’s also one that, as I’m learning with Blue and the resources listed here, can pay a lifetime of dividends. 

Avoid Leash-on-Leash Meetings

Monday, January 6th, 2020