Category Archives: Q&A

My New Rescue Dog Does Not Let Friends In The Yard

Question

Our rescue dog is adapting very well to her new home, which has 2 other dogs. Formed a great bond with her human. She will not let some people in the house, others she welcomes….. one person she welcomed, interacted with and then when he went to his car and returned, she wouldn’t let him in the yard? Thanks.

Greetings,
Signe

Answer:

 Thank you for your question. I am glad to hear that your “new” dog is adapting nicely to her family.

As to your question above, my answer is that I have no idea why she “welcomed” and “interacted” with this “stranger” when he came into the home, but would not “let him in the yard.” Let me explain further:

Your question is very much in line with my latest post about not labeling dogs (which you are not) and to stick to observable concrete behaviors so that we can hopefully shed some light as to what the internal/emotional state of the dog might be as well as possible motivations behind the behavior (s). I am not sure what you mean that by “interacting.”

I am assuming she approached the person, but perhaps the man approached your dog. Did you notice her body language when the stranger came in and when they interacted? Was there any vocalization and if so what was it like?  Could you further describe it? What was the reaction of your two other dogs towards the “stranger”?

All these nuances matter greatly.

The same applies to “would not let him in the yard” I have no idea what your dog was doing so I have no way of understanding what her state of mind could have been. Was she charging at the gate? Growling? Staring hard? Blocking the gate with her body? Etc. Besides needing very accurate observations on the dog’s overall behavior there are other considerations here:

We need to take stock of the antecedents for a given behavior. You do mention that even though your dog is “adapting well and has bonded with you that she will not let some people in the house.” This to me is a very salient red flag!

Ask yourself (since I am not there to witness) is there anything in common between the people that she is not comfortable with (my label per lack of more information)?

Demographics such as the following are critical in trying to understand and modifying her future responses. Are the people that she is uncomfortable with male/female?, young/old?, loud/quiet?, tall/short?, etc.

You see triggers (anything that can elicit a response from a dog – in our case a cautious/fearful/ aggressive response from your dog to a set of individuals) are very specific to animals.

Our goal then would be to observe closely so that we can come up with a “pattern” of triggers that is eliciting the warning/ “aggressive” behavior.

Triggers are more than the kind of person, but anything – yes anything that your dog might be relating with as a threat.

Sometimes clients report to me that it is “all kinds of people” their dog might react to and you know what? That is sometimes factual. It means that the dog has learned to generalize an emotion (fear, anxiety, joy, etc.) with all people. Most likely it began with a particular demographics that the dog was not familiar with (under-socialized) or have had a negative experience with but now the behavior has generalized and the dog in case is reacting the same way to all people.

The other area to pay attention to is the context in which the behavior is taking place. From the perspective of your dog the living room or the inside of the home is not the same as the back yard.

Here are a few things to consider:

Is it possible that it was getting dark when the person came into the backyard or that the dog saw the person as a silhouette because of the direction of the light so your dog was not able to see “recognizable” features from the same person in the living room moments before?

Was the person now carrying a strange object that your dog was actually “reacting” to instead of than just reacting to the man?

Was she now alone in the backyard –your other more confident dogs inside when she had to met this person for the second time?

Does she “think” of the backyard as her “territory” because prior to you she lived outside so the idea of “inside” and “mine” has not clicked for her.

I am at a loss because I do not have any of the details surrounding the events. These are just examples of “environmental cues” (context) that are very relevant for dogs as they make sense of their world as safe or unsafe.

There is another important puzzle to this situation. Even though you report that she is adapting well and again I don’t know how long she has been in your household this dog is still “new” in this environment and to you. So changes are to be expected. Now, based on your description of her behavior “to some” strangers I can guarantee to you that you will see more displays of similar behaviors to the one she had to this one stranger. My recommendation to you is to not take this lightly.

Stranger aggression (again, a label) is very complex so get some professional help from a competent trainer that has experience working with behavior modification using positive reinforcement.

As a norm, the behaviors that we want to see changed or improved – from our human perspective do not resolve on its own, but instead can escalate because it works for the dog. In other words, the dog is getting some reinforcement that sustains the behavior (this is why behavior remains in place or increases- it is reinforced in some way) and in addition without the benefit of sound behavior modification the dog has not learned new and appropriate tools to deal with a situation that she finds threatening.
Best of luck!

How Many Dogs Friends are Needed to Keep a Dog Social?

Question:

My 3-year-old 65 lb. female dog Wanda feels uncomfortable meeting new dogs while on walks due to her excitement of seeing another dog mixed with the frustration of being unable to appropriately interact because of the restraining leash. So at all costs I avoid having her meet new dogs when we’re out on walks.

She does go to a dog run, but I will only bring her in with a few dogs at any given time, as she can be dog selective. She does have two close friends who she occasionally meets for some playtime, which she enjoys. My questions are 1.) How many dog friends does a dog need to keep social, and 2.) What are my best options in having her meet new friendly dogs to play and interact with? 

Thank you,

Peggy

 

Answer:

Greetings Peggy!

Great question and yes, I get how your situation appears to be a conundrum. It is not always easy to properly socialize our dogs. I think what you are doing with Wanda is appropriate based on your description of her behaviors when off leash.

As a norm female dogs will lose interest (to all interest) in playing with other dogs when they become adults. They might still enjoy the company of other dogs, but play is short-lived and not so looked-after reaching maturity.

All dogs as they become adults, but especially female dogs, can also become more “choosy” of who their “friends” are and thus more scrappy or less tolerant of interactions with “non-friends”. In addition, when there are fights between dogs, two females tend to be more injurious… don’t’ ask me why… but maybe there is some similarities to human relations? LOL.

It is then possible that since Wanda is already mature this is in part what you are seeing and experiencing with her.

In an ideal world our dogs meet on a regular basis many (10?, 20?, more?) friendly dogs that they can hang out with.

However, the reality is that people underestimate their dog’s interest in playing with dogs in general or playing with a particular dog. Dogs, just like us, choose their “friends”. To put it differently: you and your best friend both have “social” dogs and you would think it will be natural and practical to have your dogs turn into BFF. However, your dog or your friend’s dog might have other ideas as to whom they want to hang out with. So there goes that opportunity.

Now back to Wanda… I suggest you continue doing what you are doing of going to the park when there are only a few dogs. By doing this you are giving Wanda a fair chance of interacting with dogs as well as keeping potential fights at bay.

While you are at the park observer her closely and constantly – this we should all do!

Pay close attention to what she is doing. Is she really playing with the other dogs? If so, with whom? Female/male? Small/large? What breed? All this is crucial information to develop a “profile” of the dogs she enjoys interacting with.

Or is Wanda just sniffing and more interested say in playing ball with you even when at the dog park? Perhaps she does all the above. Gathering observable data will give you some information as to what she finds reinforcing in the dog/dog subject. Of course, this could vary from day to day, but there are some correlation.

In addition to this, if you find a good match for her, arrange with the owner to do one-on-one regular play groups at that location or another location. This is my favorite way of socializing my own dogs. Every dog you add to the mix comes with not only more management, but also a greater potential for scraps.

Going for leash walks with a pal also is a nice way to have our dogs hang with others without the pressure of having to fully interact in play. However, I do not recommend (or at least I will follow a particular protocol) introducing a new “possible friend” to a dog on leash. On leash meet & greet are for the most part problematic ways to introduce most dogs. Besides, most dogs do not respond well to close proximity of other dogs while being kept confined in any way – the leash being one of them.

Be as active as possible in recruiting new playmates (using Craig’s list or a similar bulletin board in your area) might provide good leads for a “good” playmate for Wanda.

Consider leash walks with friends that she already has- not a new dog that she does not know well.

Now, more specific to your question as to “how many dogs friends a dog needs to continue to be social” The answer is two-fold: The more friendly interactions a dog (notice the importance of friendly here) has the higher the chances the dog will have in navigating the doggy-social world.

Consider this too: If a dog has LOTS of POSITIVE experiences with all sorts of dogs, if and when they get into a scrap the emotional toll will be less of an issue because it is measured against many more positive interactions.

Now, the second aspect of my answer to your question, how many canine friends a dog needs will also depend on the particular needs and prior-socialization history of the dog in question.

This leads us to another important point. Can under-socialized improve so that they can enjoy more social friendly interactions? This is one where “it depends” fits to a “T”. Yes, theoretically speaking there are lots of ways we can help our less-polite dogs to become more polite canine citizens, but for the most part the process is a lengthy one filled with too many nuances for the “average” pet parent to handle on his or her own.

I hope my answer sheds some light onto your situation.

Do stay tuned for near future entries on dog parks and doggie daycare as viable options to socialize our dogs.

Best of luck with Wanda!

Help with Dog eating other dog’s “poop”

Question:

My question is regarding Tibault’s nasty habit of eating other dog’s poops, which makes me have to be hyper-vigilant on our walks.

Anything I can do to train him not to eat poop?

Answer:

Hi Gita,

Sure, a nasty habit indeed but depending on whom you ask! Right?

Dogs can eat their own excrement or that of other dogs for a variety of reasons. The “truth” is that we really don’t know why they do this. Perhaps the dog did not have enough access to food at some point in his life – literally there was some nutritional deficiency so the dog resorted to getting some “nutrition” by eating what was available to him. Now the dog has enough tasty food available, but his consuming of excrement has become a habit. And you know the thing about habits… they are hard to break.

A second possible reason why Tibault is eating dog poop is that he simply likes it. Period. Remember dogs are scavengers. This is hard-wired. An animal that is a scavenger will take any opportunity to eat what they find – sometimes better for them and sometimes not.

There might be other possible reasons, of course, behind his consuming habit.

You are correct that being hyper-vigilant to prevent him from eating other dog’s poop is definitively a choice. In addition, I’ll say that I would not only stop him (I am not sure how you deal with the stopping him from eating the poop while on walks) but also ask him to do something else instead of bee-lining to a poop pile. In other words, you substitute the behavior that he finds reinforcing (something he wants) for something else he would also want as strongly.

One very easy way of doing this while on walks is to always walk him when hungry. Carry with you some really tasty treats that you will offer him when you see him just starting to get interest in the poop.

You must continue to be vigilant of course – no talking on the cell phone or walking with your latte. Timing is everything here. If you time it correctly – that is before he is engaging with eating the poop you call him to you for the treat, it is very likely that after a few trials you can in fact use the sight of the poop as a visual cue for his reinforcer: the tasty treats. Here is where you bring the hamburger meat, salmon skin, etc. you get the idea. Do not be stingy on delivering reinforcer for leaving the “nasties” behind. And in the event that you are wondering if you will always have to walk with tasty treats and a hungry dog I will say this: The answer is…. Yes! However, in time you should be able to redirect him more readily and just slip him a treat once in a while not as you had to do at the beginning of the training supplying him one reinforcement per behavior.

The reality is this: If reinforcing of (ANY) behavior ends (this goes for any species BTW) the behavior will also subside or completely stop. In other words: Reinforce for what you want to see more of … Tibault moving away from poop and coming over to you for a better meal choice so that you have some sort of guarantee that his eating of poop will subside or perhaps even stop because it is not getting reinforced.

You did not say if he is eating his own poop at home/yard. Here management (management – poop gets picked up very regularly,) is also a good option but in a pinch you can practice as above.

Help with Crossing a Bridge

One of my clients submitted this question about her dog Juby. I suggested to her that we meet for a training session and that we video it too so that I could show others how to go about a similar situation.

Our session lasted 40 minutes from beginning to end. Most of it is caught on video, of course, with editing done. Here is Lindsey’s question, my answer and video below.

Hope you find it useful.

Question:

Hi Almudena,

I have been taking 13 month old dog Juby to downtown Santa Fe the last two weekends for walks, mainly to get her more used to being around other leashed dogs, people, and the sounds of traffic, etc.

On both occasions I have noticed she is terrified of crossing bridges in which she can see over the edge to the ground. She literally freezes then frantically backs away in great fear. This past Sunday a stranger had to help me get her back to the sidewalk as she dragged me back into traffic!

So, my question is, how can I get my dog comfortable with crossing bridges?

Thank you!

 

Answer:

Hi again Lindsey! Juby’s fear is not that uncommon among dogs. In general dogs will fear or at least be concerned about novel things. This could be a new experience or interacting with a new object. Also, in the case of the bridge in particular and from Juby’s perspective, I am assuming that she find it is very unsettling to “step into a void”.

Per your description and the video, Juby looks several times to the wash below the bridge and perhaps does not “understand” that the bridge would provide her with enough support for her to walk safely across it.

Of course, that is just my observation; I don’t know for sure what she is thinking or feeling.

The way I like to handle any type of situations where the dog is afraid is basically the same. Or at least, I follow certain principles:

  • Never force the dog or expect she “just gets over it”. This will surely backfire and frankly it is not fair to the dog. Empathy goes a long way here.

In order to teach her to feel comfortable with crossing the bridge and to boost her confidence, we must:

  • Plan our training sessions so that we progress forward only when the dog is comfortable. The best way to do this is to continuously assess her emotional state for any signs of distress, fear or anxiety and back off when any of these are present. If an animal is in distress it won’t learn. They have bigger fish to fry – safety being their first concern.
  • Also, knowing what steps of behaviors we will be reinforcing will help us in looking for them and reinforcing in a timely manner. This, of course, requires some experience but it is most certainly something interested folks can learn.

If you are not keen in reading dog body language learn about it otherwise you will not know what to look for.

  • Continue to observe her closely because behavior is more like a movie than a snapshot- always in flux and ongoing.
Next, I strongly suggest:
  •  Don’t Lure to Get Behavior:

A lure in this example is anything that entices the dog to move forward (or towards) what scares them such as placing food ahead of the dog, having someone verbally encouraging the dog ahead, etc. The problem with luring in these types of scenarios is that we can put the dog in conflict. I.e.: “I am terrified of crossing, BUT I want to follow my mom, or eat that treat that is a few feet in front of me”.

Conflict in this kind of situation produces you guess it… distress!

That is why by the way, at the beginning of our session (seen in the video) I asked you to stand next to Juby, instead of ahead of her.

Click here to watch the video.

Instead what I like to do is…

  • Click & Reward for very tiny behaviors in the direction that I want to progress. In our example with Juby, it was having her walks towards or step – by choice – unto the bridge and be comfortable with that. With our end goal of having Juby voluntarily cross the bridge all the way & eventually, not fear crossing any bridge.
  • Always Give the Dog a Choice!
As you can also see on the video Juby is always given a choice to move forward and to get off the bridge the minute she feels afraid. You do this every single time! Building her trust in you and in her abilities is really important.
  • Give them a Sense of Control
The best way I can describe the above is to put the dog in the “driver’s seat”. Follow their lead. Yes, you will have to be patient but the outcome is well worth the work.
One of the most important things we can do for our dogs (any animal really including homo-sapiens) is to give them a sense of control.

For Juby the sense of control came from her knowing, after a couple of trials, that if she wanted to get off the bridge she could and that I would not try to “convince” her even worse, force her to stick around for longer.

She also had a choice (or control) as to when she engaged in the “scary” behavior of walking on the bridge. When she did, she got a click and a reinforcer.

  • Reinforce for Behavior You Want to See More of:

Remember, the sciences of learning & animal behavior tell us that: The behavior (s) that is reinforced will increase. So it was crucial for me to reinforce for her walking on the bridge or initially standing next to the bridge, etc.

 

  • Keep it Light & Fun:
Whenever possible, I like to train with games. By this I mean, that I keep a cheery disposition, add lots of fun anticipation for the dog once they are able to be more comfortable with the experience.

 

  • Be Empathetic:
We all need empathy and understanding when we are struggling and dogs are no different! I encourage you to think of these opportunities as great ways to not only boost her self-confidence but to teach Juby that you have her back (which you do) 🙂 and that she can trust you.

Great question Lindsey, thank you!

My Dog Lunges To Meet Other Dogs and Human Friends

Question:

Hi Almudena, To get to her destination quicker, my dog Jessie pulls, lunges and wants to run towards a dog and/or person she knows while on leash. What can I do in order to help her meet her friends in a calmer manner?

Thank you,
Diane

Jess

Answer:

Hi Diane,

Thank you for your inquiry. Ah, don’t you love having a dog that is eager to meet people and dogs? That is the upside of your situation. Unfortunately, not all dogs feel comfortable or even desire to interact with people or dogs which makes their lives less enjoyable and limited to in worst case scenarios a living hell.

Now, more specific to your question. First off we need to do a little detective work and see if we can ascertain Jessie’s motivation. It appears by your writing that because she already knows these people and /or the dogs that her motivation is indeed to go say “hi” in a rush. In other words, social interaction is her motivation.

Dogs, just like us, need to practice impulse control. The more they practice in the specific context and the more successful they will be when we need them to do so.

Here are my recommendations:
Whenever you come across a person or a dog that Jessie is eager to meet, you can… use a non-reward marker (NRM) in other words a “you blew it” verbal cue such as: ahh, too bad, Bummer- or any other short phrase or word that will roll easy out of your mouth. Initially Jessie has no idea what this means but it will only take a few trials of using the NRM paired with the consequence of not meeting the person or dog for her to put it all together.

Once you have given her the NRM, you will turn around and walk with her (you might have to coax her in a happy tone to move her along without having to drag her) in the opposite direction of the people/dog she wants to interact with.

After a few seconds of facing or walking on the opposite direction try again to move towards them.

If you try say twice or three times and she is not able to stop the lunging or pulling walk away for good from the interaction.

If possible, you want to let people know what you are trying to do with Jessie. If this is not possible I suggest you focus on the work with Jessie and not worry about what people might think. You can always explain later when you are not trying to work with her – this is a recipe for failure.

Last, once Jessie is able to contain herself even for a bit, say she stops pulling for three steps and is able to focus on you, rush to the person or dog as a reinforcer for polite manners.

As she learns what she needs to do in order to earn her reinforcer: social interaction, you can begin to expect more self-control until she learn that the only way she will get to say hi to her pals is by calmly walking, or at least no lunging or pulling towards them.

Do keep in mind that you must remain cheerful and not use a harsh voice or leash “corrections” when you are moving her away from the subject. If you don’t most likely you will create tons of frustration in Jessie with the possibility of a negative association with people in general, dogs in general or the specific subject she wants to meet.

In order for this to “work” you must practice this every single time she lunges or pulls to greet – consistency is key here. Depending on other factors such as how long Jessie has been engaging in the pulling and lunging behaviors, how long it will be before you see a positive change in her.

In addition to the above recommendation, walking her hungry with VERY high value treats will give you a leg up at least initially when you must move her away without dragging her.

Last, I am not sure what kind of “equipment” you are using on Jessie when you are walking her.
My recommendation is to desensitize her to a head-halter which will allow her to influence the
direction of where you want to go with much more easy than a front clip harness or any type
of collar.

Note to submit you behavior or specific situation question about your dog to me, please do so here:  http://www.chacodognewsevents.com/2014/10/20/submit-your-behavior-or-specific-situation-questions-about-your-dog-to-me/