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Why does my dog…? The age old question and before we start, know that this blog post is not about answering it. As a dog trainer I get asked this all the time, so I decided to flip it around and ask my friends on social media why they think their dogs do the things they do. Things like barking, digging, chasing cats, pulling on the leash and more. I got some great answers, some not so great answers and some hilarious answers. So first I would like to thank everyone that participated in my little experiment and please know that I am not going to embarrass any of you or call you out publicly.
I did this simply because it is a great question, maybe one of the most important. Why? Because it tells me you understand that there actually is a purpose in what they are doing. You see every behavior has a function. We may not understand what that is, but to your dog it may be very important. Many behaviors serve various functions, and finding out which one is key to understanding our dogs; and in some cases, helping them to find alternative ways to access those functions. Let’s take barking for instance. Is he barking because he wants you to play? Is he barking because he heard another dog and wants to join the conversation? Is there a burglar outside (paper sack blowing by), or maybe he’s been holding his knees together for the last hour and needs to go to the john.
If we don’t take the time and figure out what function the behavior serves, and instead try to suppress it through punishment, we end up with a dog that either shuts down and stops offering behaviors, (good behaviors included) or with a frustrated dog that eventually lashes out in a destructive or aggressive manner. You see, when we suppress behaviors instead of addressing them, the motivation is still there, and in fact can be made stronger. For instance if your dog lunges and barks at the mail man, and you punish him, his thought process is mailman appears, bad things happen to me, I hate the mail man.
Most dog owners have unrealistic expectations for their dogs. We expect them to understand everything we say although they don’t speak our language. We leave shoes, pillows and rugs (i.e. toys) out and then punish them when they destroy them. In short we are terrible communicators and yet we expect them to be great at it. Then there are those who don’t care what the function of the behavior is and only want obedience and compliance no matter what. To those I say fine, next time that paper bag tries to break in and steal your things, I hope your quiet dog watches the whole thing and laughs.
In conclusion, it is up to us to show them ways to achieve their goals in ways that are acceptable to us, and to stop setting them up for failure. This is done by paying attention to our dog, asking the right questions, building strong bonds, training and management.
1. Keep your dog indoors. Insulate her from the loud noises as much as possible by keeping her indoors, preferably in an interior room. The day after fourth of July is the busiest day of the year for dog shelters, because nervous dogs dig under or go over the fence trying to escape the loud noises.
2. Don’t take your dog to the fireworks display. It’s like someone forcing you into a room full of snakes if you were scared of them. This can cause all kinds of psychological damage to your dog.
3. Play music or keep the television on to help mask the sound.
4. Have one of the family stay home with them if possible, or you may return to a destroyed house.
5. If they are showing signs of stress, try wrapping them in a blanket or use a thunder shirt. If your dog has struggled in the past, you may want to try synthetic pheromones like Adaptil. Just be sure to administer it before the fireworks start. In extreme cases, medication may need to be prescribed by your Vet.
6. Comfort her. It is a myth that you can make a dog’s anxiety worse by comforting them. They need our reassurance. Just make sure they are asking for help. Don’t assume they want you to hold them. If they are pulling away, let them.
7. Give them extra tasty treats like chicken or hot dogs. Food releases pheromones that help the dog to feel good. Keep the treats hidden, and when the fireworks begin, feed her the treats. If there is a pause in the fireworks, put the food away. When the fireworks resume, so do the treats. Fireworks predict treats.
Now that warmer weather is upon us, many of us will be hitting the trails. If you’re planning on bringing your pups along, now is a good time to brush up on your leash skills.
None of us enjoy being dragged down the trail by our over-stimulated pooch.
Here are 7 tips to help your dog walk nicely:
1. Do focus exercises indoors. Before you take it outside, play games like, “look at me” and “leave it.” A couple of videos by the awesome trainer at Kikopup, that demonstrate how to do these two games can be viewed here and here.
2. Take the focus exercises outdoors. Have your dog on leash in the back yard and practice “look at me” and “leave it” as you walk. Start off walking backwards so that you’re facing the dog, then turn once she’s focused on you.
3. Don’t walk in a strait line. Keep the leash loose and walk in a random pattern. If you’re constantly changing direction, your dog will be more focused on you. A second before you change direction, give a cue. This can be anything like a kissy sound or patting your leg.
4. Tight leash means stop. If at any point your dog walks ahead, and the leash gets tight, STOP. Wait for your dog to back up or release the tension and then continue walking.
5. Take treats. If you reward your dog for being beside you, she will be much more likely to stay there. Make sure you deliver the treat right next to your leg every time until she understands that that’s the only place she gets paid when on a walk.
6. Go sniff. Dogs need to stiff. That’s how they learn about the environment. If they are not allowed to sniff, especially when in a new place, it can be very stressful for them. If they are nervous about their surroundings, they will be less likely to listen to you. So put sniffing on cue by saying “go sniff” as they approach something like a bush or tree. Give them time to take it all in. Then say “let’s go” and pat your leg, when they come to your side reward them, and continue walking.
7. Talk to your dog. If your dog has your attention it will be more likely that you will have hers.
8. If the environment is too stressful for your dog, leave. The point of taking your dog is to have fun. Don’t force her into situations she’s uncomfortable in, and walking will be much more pleasant for you and your dog.
[wpvideo MQl83Z03 ]
In this video I am demonstrating how to help your pup understand that taking something away that he is playing with is not so bad.
O’Malley absolutely loves his toys and gets very upset if you take them from him.
It’s really important that you go slow. The goal is to never have the dog react. In the beginning of this video I was pushing the dog much too hard. I knew I would probably be bitten but knew he had good bite inhibition and wanted to demonstrate his reaction in hopes that this video could possibly help others who are having the same issue.
If your dog is reactive and you are unsure of his ability to control his bite please do not try this exercise and consider hiring a professional dog trainer. Also I had previously worked with him on playing tug with a “leave it”/ “take it” cue. This was a process in of its self and was not demonstrated in this video.
I hope you enjoy and I apologize for the poor video quality.[wpvideo 4or7VTGi ]
We are excited to announce that our trainer Bryan Litchford has earned his professional dog trainer credentials through the CCPDT! We feel that it is important to be as educated about animal behavior and training as possible and we are committed to the latest science and research in animal learning. Thank you for putting your trust in us.
My Doxie is very reactive to doorbells so I have been teaching her how to go to her mat instead of running to the door and barking.
We’re not quite there yet but this little trick has helped. If you would like a bit more detailed description on how this works, or have other issues you need training help with, call us today to schedule a training consultation! Pricing and other info is on our services page.[wpvideo BgSA1J99 ]
As I was sitting here listening to the thunderstorm passing through, and trying to console my sweet, sensitive GSD, I got to thinking about an incident that occurred during a training session I had about a year ago.
I had been asked to provide basic obedience training for a beautiful 10-month-old great dane who was having issues with jumping up on guests, bothering the cat, and stealing things from the kitchen counter. In other words, the typical scenario that trainers get called for.
When I arrived I could see her waiting to greet me through the glass door. She was a big girl and was jumping and barking in anticipation of meeting a new friend. The owner, to his credit, had her on leash so that she was unable to jump on me when I came in, and I made sure to commend him for doing so.
After some time she settled down a bit, and I greeted her, gave her a few treats, and began consulting with the parents. They were excited to see me and began telling me story after story of her antics. After the standard questions, and some evaluation of the pup, we worked out a game plan for training.
She was very friendly and responded well to my interaction with her; however, I did notice a little nervousness if I approached her too hastily. I made note of this so that I would be cautious in our next session. When I left, I had a good feeling about how our first session went, and I was excited about returning. If I had only known what was to come.
WEEK 2: The following week I returned with a plan that was easy to follow and fun for the dog and pet parents, but the moment I walked through the door that all changed.
This time I caught the owner by surprise. He was not prepared with the dog on leash and opened the door. When the dog jumped up on me, he panicked and grabbed an air horn that was sitting near by and blew it toward the dog. In an instant, the dog bolted into the next room and hid under an end table.
For the next hour I could do nothing. She associated the sound that had scared her so badly with me, and from that point on she was scared to death of me. Occasionally she would come out, but if I made any attempt at interacting with her, she would go right back under the table.
So for the rest of the session we talked about fear and how debilitating it can be to a dog. I gave them some tips on things they should do to help her. Number one on the list was to throw that air horn away! I tried to explain to them how fear can generalize to all aspects of life and how cautious they should be moving forward to not add to her fear.
WEEK 3: I decided to bring my wife with me on the next session. I had hoped that she might be able to work with the dog, since she would have nothing to with me. But when we arrived, she began barking and ran into another room. I stayed back and had my wife approach her.
At first she was extremely nervous, but would very timidly take treats from her hand. Unfortunately that didn’t last long. Eventually she wouldn’t have anything to do with her either. I then asked the man of the house to work with the dog, and they informed me that she would no longer listen to him.
So after some investigation, I found out that he had tried the air horn on her a couple more times when she was chasing the cat. At first he was excited, because it worked. She no longer chased the cat, but in the process he had also taught the dog that he was unsafe, the cat was unsafe, going outside was unsafe, and it just spiraled down from there. He soon realized what a serious mistake he had made.
I was dumbfounded. I really thought I had made it clear, and that they understood and agreed with me, that they shouldn’t use the air horn. This poor pup who just a couple of weeks before was so excited to see me was cowering in a corner, and there was nothing I could do. The owners were devastated.
I desperately wanted to help her but was at a loss. I had worked with fearful dogs before, but at that point it would require a lot of counter-conditioning and desensitization which would require lots of time that the family was not willing to put in. Plus they lived about an hour away from me. Unfortunately I had to walk away. I gave them advise on technics they could try, a list of books to read and videos to watch, but I can only hope that they followed through.
I like to think that most people have come to realize that positive, force-free training technics are best and that using aversive methods in some instances are just simply abuse. However, I think many pet parents, like the man in this story, don’t consider that what is tolerable to one dog may be highly aversive to another.
There are the obvious things like hitting, kicking, and choking your dog, but to some dogs, yelling or other loud noises (air horns included) can traumatize them and can be just as abusive as a beating. Dogs that are scared of storms, loud motorcycles, vacuum cleaners, and other loud noises, struggle to live in this noisy world, and in many cases that struggle can lead to aggression. We should be doing all we can to help them live happy, healthy lives, not adding to that fear by making them fear us.
In conclusion, this blog was not about calling out an abusive dog owner. It’s more about pointing out that we are not always aware of what our dogs are dealing with, or understand how they feel about the things we throw at them. We spend a lot of time telling our dogs what we want them to do and how to act, expecting them to understand us, never considering how it effects them emotionally.
How would you feel if you approached someone to shake their hand and in that instant your partner blew an airhorn in your face. What was communicated in that moment? Maybe that something bad was about to happen, maybe nothing. I’ll leave that for you to decide, but consider this: if you as a big-brained human are not sure, a small-brained dog just might be struggling even more.
This big guy is Clifford. He’s only 10 months old and weighs in at a whopping 130lbs. With patients and clear communication it is possible to walk a big dog without being dragged even with a cat taunting him. [wpvideo l18epGLc ]No choke, prong or shock collar needed. Just positive reinforcement.
Loki is all about play, and when it rains he can get a little stir crazy. Playing scent games, learning new tricks and practicing old ones in new ways helps keep boredom at bay. In this video Loki is practicing backing up. The table is there to help him learn to back up strait. He loves playing this game. To him it’s just another form of fetch.[wpvideo IZGVoHxG ]