Archives for posts with tag: behavior

Why does your dog pull you all over the place but walk beautifully for your sitter? Why does he pee in one room of your house but not others? Why does she jump on you but not Aunt Sara? Why does she not take stuff off your counters until you are out of the kitchen?

Hard to trust a dog who’s so unreliable. Guess in response you’ll have to monitor/supervise/restrain/constrain/avoid and otherwise completely contort your life forever…. Ha! Kidding. By the end of this post you will know why s/he’s like that and how simple it is to change.

Selective memory? Stubborn? Or something else?

Longtime dog POGs and well as newbies are often flummoxed by this seemingly erratic behavior (oh for a dollar every time a client describes a dog’s “sudden,” “for no reason” action). They give voice to many possible explanations: this is just how dogs are; he’s very stubborn; she’s not very bright; I need to be more dominant, etc.

Thankfully, none of these is accurate in most cases. Here is your Keep It Simple, common-sense reason for unreliability:

Your dog doesn’t do X all the time because s/he doesn’t know s/he’s supposed to. Which means you haven’t finished teaching yet. Your lesson is not complete.

See, dogs have this interesting way of learning that is very specific, and it can often fool POGs into thinking their work is done. Then when their dogs suddenly don’t do that thing, POGs blurt out things like “What is wrong with you?” and “You know this. You’re just being stubborn!”

Take the standard method of teaching Sit: Person says Sit, slowly raises a treat up and over a dog’s head till the butt goes down, then says GOOD and gives him the treat.

Humans see this pattern of two connected dots: Sit-reward.

Dogs see THIS pattern of connected dots: Sunny-warm-family room-TV on-kids nearby-near my bone-Mom standing facing me-staring-wearing shorts-hair pulled back-smells like peanut butter-holding FOOD!-in right hand-hand turned up-I hear a bird-cat just walked in-Mom said SIT in slow, high voice-moving FOOD!-must follow-butt touches floor-I get FOOD! And PRAISE!

…I may have missed a few, but you get the idea. Where you see a simple exercise, your dog sees a string of things all linked together somehow that results in him getting a treat. The more observant the dog is, the more dots he connects. (For the geeks, in trainerspeak, this is called associative learning.)

Our teaching job then must continue past the establishment of the basic exercise we see and enter into our dogs’ world so we can help her identify which specific dots in the long string are actually the ones that produce the reward (in trainerspeak: shaping). If we don’t do that, we then are leaving the dog to think that possibly ALL those dots are somehow connected to the result. Which means they ALL need to be present for her to produce the behavior we want.

So the next time you work your Sit exercise, if even ONE of those dots is not present, your dog may not Sit. Or he may hesitate. Or he may jump at the treat. And you will snatch the treat away. Or say “No, SIT” in a lower, irritated voice. Or push his butt down to “help” him. Now, not only has at least one dot disappeared, all these new dots have appeared! Are they connected to getting the FOOD or not?

It’s pretty easy to see how quickly this could get confusing for both parties. The break in communication and understanding can completely undermine the teaching process to the point where POGs literally throw up their hands and declare their dogs stupid, unable to listen, incapable of learning. Meanwhile, the dogs keep waiting for a clear message that never comes, and may well end up deciding we are not worth listening to.

We don’t realize what has actually happened — that something changed, the dog noticed, and he now isn’t sure what to do.

Dogs are very detail-oriented (good survival skill!), so they tend to notice way more things than we do. If we are aware of this, the learning process smoothes out substantially. POGs realize they need to reconnect the dots repeatedly as they expand their exercises, say moving to a different room, or a noisier place, or weaning off treats. It’s helpful to remember the less dots you remove at once, the easier it is to reconnect. One dot at a time is best. You are telling your dog, “Yes, I know I changed something again, but this is still the way you get the good stuff!”

Trainers call this proofing, I guess to mean they are proving the dog really knows the exercise. Connecting the dots makes more sense to me.

Continue the teaching by backing up a bit

Think back to a time when you were taught a new task. Did you get confused if a new step is added? Did you struggle if the task was done under different conditions, say noisier or with interruptions? How do you adjust — go back to basics by rereading the directions, listening again to the instructor, watching the video? Take a deep breath to calm and focus yourself? Remove the new step, reestablish the basic task, then attempt the new step again?

Dogs need the same help. So, the next time you start practicing with your dog, if she hesitates, does something else, looks at you with that confused Scooby-Doo face, simply back up in your exercise. Go back to the step she can do with enthusiasm and confidence. Repeat a few times then try your next step again.

If you still get hesitation/confusion, then you probably added/subtracted way too many dots at once without realizing it. Go back to the start and repeat the basic task just the way you first taught it. You may only need one or two repeats to reconnect the dots (watch for that little doggie light bulb to come on!). Once that happens, continue on to the next level.

If your dog got nervous/hyper because of the confusion, take an extra moment or two — slowly walk her off, take a few deep breaths, and quietly wait for her to relax a bit. Then go back to the basic task, etc. (If you can’t read your dog well enough to see all this, then it’s time to go back to basics for you — learn some more dog body language. A place to start: I’ve Never Had a Dog Like This! [https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07RJV89YR ] has a sidebar in it that points out some important stuff about body language that will help you assess quickly.)

Hope this post connected some dots for you!

When I ask clients what their goals are for their dogs, whether we are dealing with basics or behavior problems, they tell me they want a “good” dog — that is, well-socialized, well-behaved, well-trained. They describe dogs that won’t jump on people, walk nicely on leash, play nice with other dogs, can be taken anywhere, always listen and so on. You know, perfect. And impossible.

I contend what they really mean is they want a safe dog. One they trust. One they don’t have to watch all the time. Or constantly have to keep a leash on, put away or be ready to say No or Off to whenever X occurs.

A safe dog is a more realistic and attainable goal than perfect, and it is a more clearly defined goal than “good.” Here’s how I define it:

A safe dog is one that happily and predictably makes the proper choice most of the time without prompting.

The key pieces of that definition are:

Predictability. POGs need to know their dogs will almost always act properly in a given situation.

Most of the time. Dogs will make mistakes sometimes.

Choice. Dogs can learn to reliably make an appropriate choice in a given situation.

Prompts (“Commands”). Dogs can’t make proper choices if they are always waiting for you to tell them what to do. What happens if you forget to tell them, or you aren’t watching, or you’re not even there?

Happiness. A good attitude is everything. It’s the gas that powers the behavior car. When everything a dog learns is taught with delight and great results, she will be happy to use what she’s been taught. Even when a dog fails to make a proper choice, it’s usually a one-off oopsie with no long-term effects.

Doesn’t that sound like something every POG wants?

The path to safety

If we have agreed that a safe dog is the goal, we next have to figure out how to achieve it. So how does one create a safe dog?

As usual, the answer is simple but not easy. Because, loving POG, it involves YOU changing — your thinking, your attitude, your approach.

That means thinking teaching not correcting/punishing/disciplining.

That means realizing your dog does what he does because A) he thinks it will get him what he wants or B) he thinks it’s what you want or C) he has no idea what to do and is just flailing. In all three instances, the dog is working off no information or misinformation. The only way to fix that is or provide correct information.

That means it is up to us to consistently give our dogs the information necessary to make the desired choice (i.e. this is what to do, this is why you want to do it). And regardless of if you are working on a Sit, a jumping problem or reactivity (“aggression”), every molecule of information needs to be delivered without a hint of threat (i.e. no yelling, no grabbing, no smacking, no yanking, no time-outs in a crate, no frustration, no anger). Because critical to the success of this approach is making sure your dog trusts you 110%. In other words, if you want your dog to be predictable, you have to be predictable too. (One of my favorite sayings is ” ‘Sometimes’ doesn’t work in dog training.”)

But just as you are not perfect, dear POG, neither is your dog. And while we don’t require 100% on things like Sit, we do on things like attacking other dogs and jumping on 90-year-old Granny. For those types of things, we cannot allow our dogs to err. To get to and stay at 100% on those things, in addition to teaching, you must add in some management (aka safety nets). Some common safety nets: Not putting your dog in a situation you aren’t sure he can handle without testing his tolerance first. Or if you have put him in a situation and see him getting nervous, calmly calling him away or walking him away. Using management techniques like this, you prevent a mistake from happening and — bonus — your dog will love you for noticing and trust you all the more. Which could lead to less and less management as time goes on.

Kind, joyful teaching builds trust and more

This isn’t rocket science, folks. Let’s put this concept in human terms: If I ordered you to sit in a chair, and every time you tried to get up I shoved you back down and said “No, Sit,” eventually you would probably stay seated, even though you had no idea why you had to sit in that chair. I got what I wanted, but you got — what? Nothing good, that’s for sure. Anger, confusion, anxiety, resentment are just a few of the possible reactions.

However, if I waved $5 at you and told you it could be yours for sitting in that chair, your butt would be down before I finished the sentence, right? And you would sit as many times as I wanted for $5 a pop (well at least until your legs gave out). If you started to get up, and I said whoops and put the bill away, you would quickly sit back down hoping the bill would reappear, making the clear connection between the action taken and the rewards resulting. This time, we both got something we wanted, making it something we both enjoyed doing. A game where everyone wins.

The next time I saw you, you might slide onto the nearest chair before I pulled a bill out of my pocket, just in case the game is again afoot!

This is the beauty of kind, joyful teaching, and the main reason why it is the surest path to a safe dog. Virtually every exercise results in success for POG and dog, with few mistakes! Good feelings are attached to everything your dog does. No fear, anxiety or mistrust appears because it is not warranted.

That happy attitude brings confidence — Look at me, I know what to do here! Confidence promotes qualities in your dog like tolerance and forgiveness. And even if she isn’t sure what to do, she is more likely to make a choice on the good-attitude side (re-read the chair example) because that’s all she has in her behavior bag. Fear-based or defensive-based behaviors are much less likely to come from a happy, confident, trusting pooch.

Proper, reliable choices made happily. Now that is what I call a safe dog!

I love love love answering questions. It’s one of my favorite things to do. I’ve been to many events where I’ve put out a donations box with an “Ask the Trainer” sign and reveled in the challenge of coming up with a helpful answer to every question. 

When I am with a client or in a class/seminar, I will answer the same question over and over again without hesitation, knowing it can take many repetitions to get the message across and the answer to stick. 

The questions serve many purposes: They not only allow me to share the most up-to-date information available, but also they give me important insights into what comprises the POGs’ database of information, how motivated they are to work, what is lacking, what is causing the problem. 

Among these many questions are productive, insightful ones which make me glow with happiness. But there is one question that I am almost guaranteed to hear at the beginning of any POG contact; unfortunately, is also the one I have determined is the most destructive, the most counterproductive, and the biggest obstacle to fixing any problem I’ve been summoned to handle.

It is this: What do I do when Sparky does [bad thing]?

The “bad thing” can be anything from doesn’t come to pulls on walks to jumps to growls to bites. It really doesn’t matter what the Thing Dog Does You Don’t Want Dog to Do is. The problem is the question itself. The problem is that the POG is asking it at all.

Asking that question tells me that the POG is:

 – being reactive instead of proactive, meaning s/he is not preventing the “bad” behavior from happening so it can be forgotten and replaced.

 – allowing the “bad” behavior to continue, meaning the dog is practicing and reinforcing that behavior over and over.

 – focused on the wrong thing: correcting the “bad” behavior instead of creating the “good” behavior.

 – sees the unacceptable behavior as something “bad” that needs to be “corrected” instead of a habit that needs to be replaced. (Dogs don’t have a right/wrong value system, so it is an exercise in futility to try to teach them right from wrong.)

When I hear that question, I know that the technique and timing of the loving, caring POG’s actions are so far off that the result is the EXACT OPPOSITE of what s/he is trying to accomplish. To wit: The POG is making the situation worse instead of better. 

How can that be? Here’s a typical scenario:

The question: What should I do when Sparky jumps?

 – Usual scenario: Once dog has jumped, POG reacts in one of many ways — from saying No/Off/Down/Sit, pushing the dog down, holding the dog down or some less-kind ways I won’t go into here. The dog is talked to, touched, petted, etc. all of which are ways of reinforcing behavior. 

All these great things happen AFTER the jump has occurred. Dog is satisfied with the result of the jump and learns that every time he wants attention like that, a jump is exactly the way to get it. 

Meanwhile, POG thinks that the problem has been successfully handled because the jumping has stopped. 

The truth is the following pattern has been taught: Jump => Get Attention. POG has not corrected anything, the jumping will recur. POG reaction will get more intense, further reinforcing the behavior. 

Here’s another typical scenario:

The question: What should I do when Sparky pulls on the leash?

 – Usual scenario: Once dog is pulling, POG reacts in one many ways — from saying No, jerking the dog back, telling dog to sit, winding the leash up until the dog is beside POG in a tight-leash death grip, speeding up to let dog get some energy out/do her business/enjoy her walk and hoping for a slowdown later. The dog is talked to, touched, petted, treated, etc. and also gets to keep walking, all of which are ways of reinforcing behavior.

All these things happen AFTER the dog has pulled. Dog is satisfied with the results of pulling and learns that whenever he wants to get to something and/or get attention, all he has to do is pull.

Meanwhile, POG thinks s/he has successfully communicated with the dog because eventually, from tiredness, satiation or pure luck, the dog walks on a loose leash for awhile.

The truth is the following pattern has been taught: Pull => Get Where I Want to Go. POG has not corrected anything, the pulling will recur. POG reaction will get more intense, further reinforcing the behavior. 

See a pattern? Good! Want to create a different one that will actually address the problem behavior? 

The better question

There is a similar but much much better question to ask that puts POGs in proactive/teaching mode instead of reactive/corrective mode. 

It is: What’s the best way to deal with a dog that does X?

Now we’re talking! And here’s the simple answer: 

  1. Prevent the behavior you don’t like.
  2. Teach a new behavior you do like using fun and motivating rewards like food.
  3. Ask for and reward the new behavior in the situation the old behavior usually happens in.
  4. Repeat, repeat, repeat!!

And if the old behavior does happen (which it will because no one is perfect)? Then interrupt quietly (that means no talking), slowly, with as little energy as possible. Wait for a calm down/different choice from your dog. Pile on the rewards for that. Over time, your dog will make the practical choice to doing the new rewarding behavior instead of the old behavior that no longer delivers for him.

And you will never have to ask the Worst Question Ever again!

Need more? See my books Reverse Dog Training: A Fresh Perspective for Solving Common Problems and I’ve Never Had a Dog like This! How Modern Society Has Impacted Our Best Friend and What We Can Do About It. 

She’s in the trash. He’s jumping higher than your head. She snaps when you reach for the shoe she took. He pulls like a freight train on leash. She pees on your bed. He tears up your couch.

“No!” you thunder. “Bad dog!” To no effect. Doesn’t make a dent in the behavior.

“Good grief,” you wail, “Why is my dog so bad?”

Welp, if you are saying that, that’s where the problem lies. Not with your dog, but with your thinking that what s/he is doing is considered “bad behavior” BY HIM/HER.

Because here’s the thing: In the dog’s world, there is no bad behavior. There’s also no good behavior.

Whaaaa?

You may want to sit down.

Here is a science-based dog statement: Research indicates dogs don’t possess a good/bad value system. It is simply not the way they operate.

Let me repeat: Dogs DO NOT work using a good/bad value system.

The way they DO operate is through a results-based system: If what they do gets them something they want, they will do it again. Period. Full stop. No more complicated than that.

So for example, getting into trash nets yummy stuff. Jumping snags lots of attention (yelling etc. is attention just like saying GOOD DOG). Snapping when you reach for the shoe gets you to leave her alone with her treasure. Pulling on the leash gets him where he wants to go. Peeing on your bed mixes scents, and of course gives her relief. Tearing up a couch is fun! And also can relieve anxiety and boredom.

See? Every single one of those can be explained without the word “bad” if you use the dog lens to examine it.

But but the ‘guilty look’

Hold it, you say. Then what’s the guilty look about? Ah yes, most people assume that hang-dog expression dogs display when “caught” proves they feel “bad” about what they did.

You know what happens when you assume, right?

Dogs don’t do guilt (guilt comes from knowing the difference between good and bad; dogs don’t get “bad,” so they also don’t get guilt). The guilty look isn’t a guilty look. It’s a “I don’t want to fight with you” expression of appeasement. Your dog is showing anxiety/fear when you see that look.

Longer explanation from my book, Reverse Dog Training: A Fresh Perspective for Solving Common Problems:

Common belief: I can tell my dog knows what he’s doing is “wrong” because he looks “guilty,” even before I say or do anything.

Reverse reality: Since dogs have no sense of “right” or “wrong,” they certainly can’t experience guilt over doing something they shouldn’t. What your dog does “know” is he should repeat behaviors that work for him (e.g. tearing up pillows is fun and relieves stress!). He also knows you are mad when you come in with your mad face and talk in your mad voice (“What did you do?!”), so he offers appeasement gestures (the “guilty” look) to you in hopes you will calm down and stop being so threatening.

POGs will often assume they dog “knows” because he will often slink away the moment you come in, before you even discover the indiscretion. That “pre-reaction” does not come from realizing he’s committed a crime; rather, it comes from learning. Dogs know only the present, not the past or future, but they can learn. That process goes something like this: “Every time Mom comes home and there is a torn pillow on the floor, she is mad and bad things happen to me, so I better do my best to calm her down/get out of here till she calms down.”

Unfortunately, the dog cannot make the connection that if he hadn’t destroyed the pillow in the first place, the bad things wouldn’t happen.

Helpful side note: When your dog looks “guilty,” he could actually be scared. NEVER correct a dog when he is scared.

—————

Do you feel guilty now? Good.

That’s the first step toward changing your thinking so you can better understand and communicate with your dog. When you acknowledge your dog needs information she doesn’t have, and that you must provide in a way she can process and use it properly, you change from “owner/master” into thoughtful, supportive partner.

Next step: Realize that the best way to get a “good” dog is to 1) Prevent the “bad” so it isn’t practiced/reinforced; 2) Teach and reward heavily the “good” so dog wants to repeat it; 3) Repeat 1 & 2 over and over and over and over… until you suddenly realize your dog is doing the “good” without you telling her too; 4) Keep rewarding often so there is no backsliding by you or your dog!

Go guilt-free yourself (your dog is already there!) by taking the time to learn about rewards-based, kind teaching methods. Head to my Resources page [http://www.trainedwithkindness.com/cphipdogs/resources/ ] to find out how much is out there!

“My dog needs to learn how to behave.”

“My dog needs to learn some behaviors.”

On the surface, the previous two statements seem to be talking about the same thing. Both have a version of the word “behave” in them, so they must be closely related, right?

Actually, no. In fact, these two sentences are as far away from each other in meaning as Pluto is from Earth in light years. (Okay, maybe not quite that bad; I just wanted to say Pluto, ya know, the dog thing. Anyway, they are not closely related.)

This may seem a bit trainer-geeky, but it is soooo very important to understand the difference between behavior and Behavior (capitalization mine), whether you are teaching your dog to Sit or dealing with a problem.

Allow me to define both and explain the importance.

“behavior”

This is one of the newer ways of talking about what used to be called “commands” — Sit, Down, Come, No, Heel etc. — and also “tricks” like shake, roll over, etc. We think of “tricks” and “commands” as two different things, and we tend to teach them differently, but they are the same thing: single-event actions, generally taught with words. Say the word, the action is performed, and some type of reward is usually provided.

Anyone can teach behaviors, and any dog can learn them. I sometimes call them “circus tricks” because of the automatic/rote nature of them. To avoid confusion in this post, I will also refer to them that way here.

“Behavior”

Thisis what happens between the circus tricks, and it occupies the vast majority of your dog’s day! It is the stuff your dog does when you are not specifically telling her what to do; it’s what you are expecting or hoping she already “knows.” Though we differentiate between Good and Bad Behavior, your dog doesn’t — to her, Behavior is simply how she conducts herself in our world. Behavior is what happens after the walk but before dinner, while you are working on your computer or running the vacuum, when you are helping the kids with schoolwork, when you are fixing a snack and leaving it on the counter. While you are doing other things, your dog is Behaving.

Why it’s important to know the difference

When our dogs fail to do what we want them to do, we jump to unhelpful human conclusions. Many of us like to say our dogs are “stubborn” when they don’t perform the circus trick every time or Behave the way we’d like. Let me be clear: Dogs generally are not being “stubborn” when they don’t do what we want. There ARE reasons for their improper response — and they can be very different depending on whether it’s a behavior or Behavior.

Your dog may not perform a circus trick/behavior reliably because:

• there have not been enough repetitions,

• rewards haven’t been consistently provided,

• there is too much else going on around the dog (ie distractions),

• the teaching technique isn’t sound (eg punishing your dog for not Coming will make him less likely to Come).

In this instance, cleaning up and committing to your teaching procedure should get your dog performing reliably (80-90% for most things; dogs aren’t robots!).

Your dog may not Behave because:

• he’s scared,

• he’s overstimulated,

• he’s confused,

• he’s learned bad things happen to him under these circumstances,

• it’s a new place/person/thing,

• he’s being bullied by another dog,

• it’s night,

• it’s day,

• it’s noisy,

• he smells something funny,

• his brain is tired,

• he’s sick,

• something hurts,

• he doesn’t trust you,

• he doesn’t feel protected,

• he’s learned how to get what he wants without doing it,

• he sees no benefit to doing it,

• Behaving a different way benefits him more,

• he is expected to Behave though no one has taught him how to Behave.*

In this instance, as you can see, it’s a wee bit more complicated. Which is why it’s fascinating for me and other pros, but so frustrating for many POGs!

Behavior is internal. It comes from within, not without. It isn’t created with a word. Behavior is impacted by personality, life experience, environment, nutrition, breed(s), etc. etc. It is where DogJoy can happen, where the true connection/bond between human and dog is formed and where understanding, communication and mutual respect blossom.

To impact Behavior, you need to understand your dog on a deeper level. To create Good Behavior, you have to understand Dog Behavior in general, and your dog’s Behavior in particular. If you take the time to do that, both of you will be richly rewarded.

For some good places to start learning about dog Behavior, visit my Recommended Reading page.

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*For the record, despite thousands of years of domestication, dogs still have no clue how to operate in our world, and since they don’t have ESP or a chip in their heads that is preprogrammed before they arrive in your home, they need us to supply the missing information in a way they can understand and properly process.

This comes a little too late for me to call this a Christmas Wish, so instead I am labeling it a New Year’s Wish.

What is this Wish? Those of you who know me well may guess it’s that everyone finally stops blaming all dog problems on dominance issues (good guess — that one is always at or near the top).

However, I’m on a different soapbox at the moment, and this Wish comes courtesy of an ad in the coupon section of my local paper.

It features an adorable little girl facing a big fluffy dog, noses nearly touching. The girl’s hands are on the dog’s throat, her eyes are closed, and she looks like she is about to kiss him. The ad suggests this is a good way to celebrate the holidays with this member of the family.

So my Wish is this: I hope to never see another ad, photo or video like this.

I am not going to get into whether or not this dog is safe or comfortable in this particular photo (he doesn’t look happy, but not knowing what was going on when it was taken, I won’t comment further).

What I must get into is that this type of photo shows exactly what a child should NEVER EVER EVER do to a dog. This company is clearly ignorant of the potential disaster of the act itself and the irresponsibility of encouraging such behavior. I am going to contact them privately.

But I’ve also got to address this publicly and strongly so it reaches as many people as possible. This is an unsafe situation. Children should NEVER have their face that close to a dog’s. I don’t care if they’ve known the dog for 2 seconds or for all their lives. I don’t care if the dog is as sweet as honey and wouldn’t hurt a fly. NEVER. EVER. DO. THIS.

Here’s why:

1. Dogs are not robots, and any dog can have a bad day.

2. If kids are allowed to do that to their own dogs, they might think it’s okay to do it to all dogs. They will never learn the proper way to approach a dog.

The usual scenario

I’ve trained hundreds of dogs since 2004, and I have been in my share of homes where a dog has clocked a kid in the face, resulting in a bruise, scrape, tear or bite. The parents were shocked — shocked! — that their Sparky would do such a thing. And saddened to think they now may need to re-home Sparky (though who they think would take Sparky after he has bitten a kid in the face is beyond me).

The story I usually end up with involves one or more of these facts: the dog was “okay/fine” with baby until baby started crawling/walking; the dog has rarely/never been around a baby/toddler; the dog is “good” with older kids and/or adults so they assumed he’d be fine with baby/toddler; the baby/toddler was allowed to do anything to the dog; the baby/toddler was at times unsupervised with the dog; the dog is nervous/hyper; the dog was chewing his bone/sleeping/cornered when it happened; the baby/toddler stepped/fell on him; etc.

So in essence, the causes of the incident the adults never saw coming were 1) POGs never taught manners to their child or raised the tolerance level of their dog and 2) Dog took it as long as he could, waiting for help, then finally took care of it himself, in his own way.

If you ever have taken a basics group class from me, you would have attended one entire lesson devoted to this topic: how to prevent handling problems, and why the human-dog greeting sequence is inappropriate at just about every level from the dog’s perspective. In this lesson, you would have learned exactly how to approach these situations so you minimize your chances of having something bad happen.

If you had told me you were expecting or had a new baby, I would have sent you my Baby/Toddler Prep Sheet so you could put things in place immediately to avoid/fix problems like this.

Start creating a safe environment TODAY

You can and should make changes NOW to start reducing the chances of injury. The last thing anyone should do is allow/encourage kids to hug, kiss, stare at or otherwise bother a dog around the head. I don’t care how cute it looks. It’s not worth the risk! Stitches, skin grafts, blood, bruises and scars are not cute.

Also important is that the adults get better at reading dog body language so you know when there could be trouble brewing. (Hint: If the dog looks uncomfortable, s/he probably is uncomfortable.) If you see uncomfortable or hear a growl, immediately direct your dog away with a bright Come, Leave it, Move, etc. DO NOT use a sharp tone, punish or correct your dog — this is not the time to fix it (if you do, you will make the problem worse!!). This is the time for safety, so if the dog doesn’t respond, calmly walk toward him/her and gently shoo him/her away. Then call in a kind trainer/Dog Life Skills Instructor to help you fix it.

For a proper way for toddlers to interact with dogs, and also how to prepare your dog if you have a baby on the way or in your arms, download my Baby Prep Sheet.

For more information on how to read dog body language, get my ebooklet Read Body Language!

Have a safe day!
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“If our goal is a happier, more peaceful world in the future, only education will bring change.” — The Dalai Lama

Ah, spring! 

As  the weather warms, and the spring flowers bloom, another less heralded spring event begins: the rush of panicked calls and emails I receive from dog POGs wondering what is up with their pooches.

They are terrible walkers; jumping all over everyone; charging fences; going after people, kids, dogs; destroying the back yard; barking nonstop; not listening; not coming. I could go on for days, but you get the idea.

They weren’t doing this before, you cry. Why is this happening? 
Ah, spring. Or rather: Uh…spring. 
I live in Northern Ohio. We have winter here, and this year like many other places, we had a fairly nasty one. So we tended to stay in, hibernating, seeing and doing less, hunkering down, waiting for…spring!! Then we burst from our house-caves, raced to the garden centers, parks, ball fields and all that other outdoor stuff we haven’t been able to get to for months. And many of us took our dogs with us. More fun with a dog along, right?
Maybe. See, we happily adjust to the new circumstances, but many dogs don’t. If your dog is new to you, or a puppy, she may have never seen all these places, activities, people before. And she doesn’t know what to make of it. And you did not tell her what it is and what to do with it because you didn’t realize she doesn’t get it. It’s outside! She’s been outside! It’s all great, isn’t it??
I walk my dog Tawny every day, 365, unless it is life-threatening to one of us or she doesn’t want to go. In the winter, I see absolutely no one else. Fine with me. Not in a mood to be neighborly in 10 degrees and a wind-whipped snow storm. Come spring, the fair-weather walkers come out, and Tawny and I have to review our exercises for how to act around other dogs (she is scared of them and gets defensive), while working to avoid as many bad walkers as possible (defined as person casually holding leash loop, usually on phone, and dog yee-hawing all over the place. Danger, Will Robinson!).
In plain terms, most people stop socializing their dogs during the winter (and other times too) and think the dog will be just fine when they pick it up again months later. But think of it this way, if your dog is less than a year old, most of his life has been spent isolated in a house. How would he know what to do in a park, in a crowd of people, around other dogs, around screaming kids, around a ball game, when squirrels and birds are racing around? Same thing for an older dog who has been with you for less than a year. 
They don’t know!! And we, instead of realizing and helping, freak out. Many thankfully call a DogLife Skills Instructor/trainer for help, but many more try to deal with it, mishandle it and make it worse. Suddenly, they have That Dog. They are mystified as to how it happened.
That’s how, people! The solution is proper exposure. The well-socialized dog is the one that has experienced the environment, understands it’s not a threat, and knows how to act when she’s in it. Happy news: It’s never too late, so get going! You want to be outside anyway, right? Fix the problem, and you will enjoy it much more.
Want to know more about dealing with bad reactions? Visit my store http://cp-hipdogs.com/train/shop/ and look for the DogLife Skills Guide “Fear and Overreaction!”

When you are in this business for awhile, you see a fair number of dogs cross over the Rainbow Bridge. This is a tribute to two extraordinary dogs with whom I have had the privilege to work. Both have recently passed. I want to share a little of their second-chapter lives with you, and to celebrate them and the humans who never gave up on them.

SNICK

SchnickReitzloff

Snick was an old boy when he came to me. His parent/owner/guardian (POG) Barb had taken him in after her mother died and was struggling to make him into a safe dog. He had bitten her and others, snapped at people who reached to pet him, bark-lunged at other dogs and was pretty much a doggie train wreck. When I suggested trying him in my group class, Barb was unsure, concerned they would be thrown out because of his appalling behavior and non-stop barking. I assured her that wouldn’t happen. I had a nice, big room in the Cleveland APL building that would allow me to separate him from the class while I assessed him.

Snick came rampaging into his first group lesson, in full-throttle defense mode, pulling poor Barb, who had an apologetic smilie frozen in place. We went to work immediately, and, by the end of the hour, Snick was on his back with Barb rubbing his belly. We had cracked the shell and found the real Snick, a funny, silly boy just dying to trust someone. That’s the boy you see in this picture.

I saw Snick on and off over the next few years, as Barb continued to work with him. What a great time he had with her in his second chapter. Yes, there were bumps in the road, but because Barb was determined to do right by this dog her mother adored, she kept going.

I loved Snick. He was the one and only dog I allowed to jump on me. Every time he saw me, he immediately rushed over, put his paws on my leg and licked my fingers till I petted him. I asked Barb to never correct him for that. Because he had been so distrustful of humans, I wanted him to feel completely secure around someone. So I made sure he never attached a negative to me. Interestingly, that allowed me to trust him completely.  Snick had a profound impact on the way I looked at other “doggie train wrecks” that have rumbled my way since we met.

—————

PRETTY GIRL

Pretty Girl and Me

Pretty Girl was actually gorgeous–a striking black/white, 90-pound pit who was taken in by Mary even though she had bitten. She had also passed two separate temperament evaluations. Mary, a huge animal lover, felt PG had been wronged. Instead of allowing her to be put down, Mary took her home to add to her furry family. She called me in for help in making sure Pretty reached her full potential.

That was nearly six years ago. I had been working steadily with them ever since.

When I first met her, Pretty was a tornado encased in dog skin, possibly the most hyper, overstimulated dog I had ever seen. I could see every bone in her body; she seemed to be vibrating away every calorie she took in! Mary and I stood outside her kennel, waiting for her to calm down a bit so I could reward a better behavior. That was a loooong wait. After 15-20 minutes of bouncing on her hind legs and barking, I was finally getting what felt like nanoseconds to stuff treats through the fence.

She had come a tremendously long way since then. The super-hyper girl had calmed a lot and gotten more focused. She still struggled sometimes with self-control (for example, she would sit but tap-dance with her front feet, waiting to be released), but she always worked very hard to do what we wanted. She built a strong bond with a small group of trusted humans who helped her understand and cope better with our world. She became good friends with Mary’s cat Smokey, who liked to follow her around the house and roll on his back in front of her, batting at Pretty’s nose. She was smart, sensitive, goofy, fun. She improved to the point where I felt comfortable bringing my frail 84-year-old mother to meet her. The only challenge we had that day was Pretty showing how eager she was to meet Mom by plowing her head into her chair…and moving Mom and chair a good foot before we restored order. Mom petted her the whole time; she thought that it was all pretty funny.

That was Pretty Girl — she put her whole heart into everything she did. That heart gave out way too soon. There was so much unexplored potential in her. I still can’t believe she’s gone.

——-

I make no secret of the fact that I feel the dogs I work with are part mine. If that’s unprofessional, so be it. This is the only way I can work. I half-jokingly say these are my dogs too.  I’ve been honored with the trust of both human and dog, which has allowed me to do my job to the best of my ability, and to keep improving through all I’ve learned from these marvelous creatures. And occasionally to connect with extra-special dogs like Snick and Pretty Girl.

Rest easy, pups. You’ve earned it.

———

Some people talk to animals. Not many listen, though. That’s the problem. 

– A. A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

At a client’s house recently, working with her adorable nine-month-old, 95-pound puppy.

She mentioned that, after early success following my instructions, her dog was once again bothering/chasing their cat. “What’s going on?” she asked with exasperation.

Diagnosing time! Here’s roughly how it went (my questions, her answers):

Happening in specific places/situations? No, random.
Cat starting any of it? Possibly, somewhat.
Pup runs up and what happens? Bugs, starts pawing, cat doesn’t leave but starts hissing.
What do you do? Yell and charge over there.
Is that effective? No.
How much are you telling pup she’s wonderful when she exists peacefully with/doesn’t bother the cat? Not at all. I thought that was fixed.

Ah. There it is.

I titled my book Reverse Dog Training for a very good reason: because I believe most people, when faced with a behavior problem, don’t just do the wrong thing, they do the exact opposite of what they should to solve the problem.

This client is further proof of my point. The kickers here are:

– She had already been given the right thing to do, had used it, and it had worked beautifully. The cat was left completely alone.
– After a brief period of success, she stopped using the mark/reward system completely. Dog was “fixed” in her view. (Wished she had told me this!)
– The dog, no longer getting the attention reward she was getting used to for ignoring the cat, slides back into the old habit of going after the cat, which she knows will get the desired results (yelling is attention).
– Everyone is back doing the same thing, and getting the same bad result. And she is wondering what went wrong?

Good/bad of marking
What is wonderful about a mark/reward system is it can work really fast. This can also be a bad thing if you don’t realize that to keep it working, you have to keep doing it (albeit slowly scale back on how often, aka progressing) and permanently change YOUR habits.

When something works immediately, it is thrilling to the owner/POG and makes us trainers/DLSIs look like geniuses. But we — or at least I — always caution that the problem is not gone. We have started the process of eliminating it. It is “fixed for now.”

How to ‘fix forever’
To get “fixed forever,” you have to continue to follow the instructions you were given, slowly varying the exercises and making your dog aware that s/he should do this same thing no matter the circumstances (“proofing” and “generalizing” are the words trainers use).

Put simply, a new habit usually will not erase and replace an old habit in a matter of days or even weeks. And I would contend the longer the old habit (problem behavior) has been in place, the longer it will take to get a reliable new-habit response.

Instant success may be fun — heck, it IS fun! — but long-term success is sooooo satisfying. Well worth the extra work.

If you need help expanding your exercises to get your dog “forever fixed,” see my e-booklet Next Steps! How to Progress Beyond Treats.

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