Tag Archives: dog

Protocols for living with fearful dogs, part 1

Living with a dog that is afraid, especially of people, is very hard.  It is very hard for the people, and of course, a living hell for the dog. While every case is unique, there are certain things people can do to make everyone’s life better.

I am working with a couple who have a dog that is quite uncertain of everyone with the exception of a few people who he has learned to trust.  These folks go through the same issues that most people with fearful dogs have to go through.  They report to me that they cannot have anyone come over for dinner, let alone out of town visitors.  When they walk the dog, their dog will lunge at a passerby regardless of if the person is ignoring the dog, or walking with another dog, etc.  If approached, this dog will lung towards the person.

Screen Shot 2017-11-17 at 9.57.52 PMMost dogs that are afraid of people are also more afraid when the space is reduced in size, such as the inside of homes. From their perspective, it is hard to get some much-needed distance from the person. Add to that the inherent unpredictability of people moving in the home; be it to get some water from the kitchen sink, move to the living room for an after-dinner chat or simply visiting the powder room. These are things that people do inside their home and things most visitors will do while at the home.  So, if the dog is very concerned about the presence of the person, now throw in a monkey wrench into the mix with the unpredictability of movements from a stranger and you have a recipe for disaster.

In addition, the duration of the visit, will most likely overwhelm the dog and now he is incapable of “keeping it together.”  This is what living with a fearful dog looks like a lot of the times.

My answer to the many scary situations like the one above is to teach both the dog and the family protocols that will give everyone predictability.  I cannot say enough how important predictability is for dogs that are afraid of strangers. My first goal then, is to have the dog relax – to let its guard down sort of speak, under very predictable circumstances. Yes, indeed, following up with the protocols as if someone’s life depended on them is at the crux of keeping everyone safe, and the possibility for the dog to be able to learn new alternatives to the fear induced behaviors.

Normally these new “alternative” and more socially acceptable behaviors are taught to the dog without the presence of scary individuals.  Yes, many times I too have to make sure the dog is comfortable with me, my voice and moving before I can teach the dog appropriate alternatives. As both parties become more confident with their new repertoire, it is time to bring it to the road.  Stay tuned as I dive into more specifics of protocols for fearful dogs next time.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Does your dog dig it?

I just came from visiting with a family whose dog decided to take a paw at landscaping design.

The dog was thrilled with the results; the owner not so much.

As I explained to them, unfortunately for us digging comes naturally to dogs. It is part of their ancient wiring that frankly as all natural behaviors, does poorly with our “requests” to stop digging and much better with management.

Most of us do not spend time with our dogs outdoors so that we are able to redirect when they get into mischief, from our perspective and engaging in natural habits from their perspective.

Teaching your dog where you want him to eliminate, areas to avoid such as flower beds and the like will go a long way before he decides what goes on in your piece of heaven.  How many of us take the time to inspect our fencing for possible sensible areas of escape, for example?

So, the expectation then is for our dog to understand exactly what he can and cannot do in the backyard.

There is also another aspect of how our dog’s brain is wired that does not help us much with this situation. Thus, we need to help our dog in order to help ourselves.

You see, dogs are not good generalizers.  Meaning that they do not understand that the rules that apply when you are present also apply when you are gone. When you are present with them in the backyard you are most likely re-directing your dog to “appropriate back yard etiquette.” If you are not, well please do not blame the dog when he begins to dig, makes holes at the fence line or chews your expensive pool furniture.

Ah!  Talking about pools.  Most dogs will NOT, I repeat, will not be able to jump out of your pool. Unless once again, you have taken the time to teach your dog how to use the steps to get out.  So please you need to treat the safety of your dog around the pool as you would with a small child.

Some of the strategies that I discussed with my clients are meant to give them some immediate relief.

First off, if your dog digs your flower beds begin with putting an actual barrier that is not offensive to you and effective in keeping your dog out.  Once that is in place, we need to find a way to satiated the dog’s instinct for digging.  So here is my solution for my client and for you.

Build your lovely dog a handsome digging area that he cannot resist.  You can go all fancy with having someone build your dog a sandbox or you can go low tech and buy a kiddy pool.  Either way, the idea is for the container to be large enough for your dog to get in.  Fill with enough sand that you can hide your dog’s daily chow (if it is dry kibble) so that he has to hunt for each morsel of food while exercising his given right of digging.  If you do not feed dry food to your dog (first off, congratulations are in order!)  you can hide tasty treats in there and even chew bones for your dog to go find.

For added benefit go outside and document your dog’s amazing capacity to find by sniffing, pawing and the like the last morsel of food. Make your own entertainment.  Do keep in mind that for this to work you must first remove the possibility of your dog digging where he began to dig- your flower beds.

Lastly, make it a habit of spending time with your dog outside so that you can teach him what is acceptable and what is not.  If you spend time playing with your dog most likely your dog will begin to associate the place where the activity takes place with you as the place where fetch takes place and have less of an inclination for mischief and decoration.

Now, if you tell me that your dog is being destructive because it spends oodles amount of time outside because you are gone all day… well then you have bigger fish to fry.  We cannot truly and fairly expect our dogs to not behave for such long periods of time without us providing acceptable outlets.

Is it really “high prey” drive?

In the world of dog training, a dog that chases balls, bikes, cats, or a dog that tugs with power and determination a dog with a high-prey drive. Trainers even speak about their preference for having such a dog as a competitor in a myriad of sports or even just as their pet companion.

Now the interesting part is that the concept of high prey-drive aims to describe behaviors that are intrinsically different from one another. The term has become a catch-all description leaving us with de facto little information as to what the dog is actually doing.

When working with clients, I ask a bunch of preliminary questions to better help me understand what their dog is doing in certain circumstances as well as an overall description of what their dog has already learned.

For example: I want to know if the dog is comfortable in its crate. Does he plays with toys, and if so, what kind of toys and what kind of play? Say that we have a dog that “plays with balls” still this pronouncement is too general.  What exactly is the dog doing with the ball?  The reason behind my questioning is a regression of the topic here, but the search for specifics is not.

The scientific field of ethology and behavior have long ago moved away from using the concept of “drive” to describe what is actually taking place.

Back in the 1900’s it was believed that they were energizing internal sources that produced specific drives, which in turn, produced specific behaviors.  Other scientists considered the presence of drive exclusively when it involved food acquisition behaviors.

It was not until the 20th century that the use of the concept of drive was abandoned as research now showed that the body is not involved in producing internal energies that give way to specific behaviors as drive theory once claimed.  In addition, research showed that behaviors actually correspond to different internal systems such as the feeding system.  Moreover, behavior is a result of complex interplay of these many internal systems and not a result of a specific energy stored in the individual. The expression is also determined by external motivators – and not only internal processes.

So, where does all this leave us?  Recent studies have failed to find any co-relation between behaviors that traditionally have been thought to be related to prey drive.  This all points to the complexity surrounding the motivation behind behavior and how that in itself cannot be encapsulated in a vague concept as prey drive.

For clients desiring to change behaviors in their dogs, we are better served in looking elsewhere than attribute their presence to prey drive.  We must then observe what is taking place and under what conditions, so that we can decide on a better alternative (or alternatives) for behaviors that are deemed too dangerous to the dog or others, obnoxious etc. Importantly so, I would argue, is to also find alternatives that fulfill some, if not all, of the needs of the dog while engaging in these behaviors. This is the ideal scenario, of course, where we can substitute and teach new alternatives to an expression while the dog’s needs are also being met.

Dealing with our dog’s frustration

My dogs are inside their crates working a juicy bone as they always do when I have a client at my place.

I finish up and I come to let them out. After leashing Rio up, we go outside.  The dogs love going outside to find out who was here and whether they left any treats on the ground.

Deuce is ahead of us and Rio and I are struggling. Okay I am struggling with trying to keep her to walking, and not running with her cast on. She is pulling hard and I am asking her to chill.

I begin to ask her to sit and when she can control herself a bit we walk, and then she sits and we walk, and she sits and we walk.  This sort of works, and as a result of not really working all that well, Rio is getting very worked up. Okay, I think, time to return her back to her “outside” crate as I cannot risk her injuring herself over this.

I put her in the crate and I go inside. She is not happy about this and begins to bark in sort of a complaining mode. Gosh, lots of sympathy for this girl, she does not understand why her world has been turned upside down, and from her perspective definitively not for the better. My heart sinks.  Rio, I tell her across the window, this is just a bleep in your very long life, you will not remember this time later on, you will be running and having fun as we do… Rio is still barking.

I am tempted to go outside and ask her – okay tell her to be quiet, because I am kind of embarrassed that she is creating such a ruckus at 2pm.  But then I stop.  I ask myself, doesn’t she deserve to express her frustration?  It is so clear to me (and those who know me well) that I would be the one expressing my frustration regularly if I was in Rio’s shoes.

This dog has been such a trooper thru her recuperation. She follows directions closely; I can put her on a down stay and she will stay put until I come back into the room. I can ask her to walk slowly and measured by saying “easy” as we sort of trot down the stairs.  She eats all her meals with gusto and appreciates the attention we give her, and her ability to still get on the sofa with us while supervised.

Yes. I conclude, Rio has every freakin’ right to express her frustration. I let her bark for a about a minute or so as I am peeking thru the window.  Then I come out and I invite her to come in for a treat in her containment area. She follows me excited about the prospect of getting something special- something Deuce will not get because he is still outside exploring, this indeed makes whatever it is more special.

After about 20 minutes of Rio settling back down, I put on her leash and we walk outside for the allowed time which is still very restricted.  She gets to sniff and look for treats closer to home.  I see her nose working overtime as she is completely absorbed trying to ascertain if she has met this dog before; if she has met my client.  Oh, would you want to know all that they can smell?  We sure know that dogs have exquisite sense of smell- especially if you are in the hound family as she partly is.

I regress. So back to dogs expressing frustration. One of the things to consider is if the dog is so frustrated that the dog is literally re-directing the frustration onto someone else, such as a person or another animal next to them. This of course is not want we want or should encourage.

Thus, paying attention to the behaviors that accompany the state of frustration is very important.  I would argue that frustration is closely related to overall arousal (an autonomic response of the nervous system) as such, when I am working with a dog that for whatever reason is expressing frustration I need to watch closely that the frustration is not preventing the dog from learning – our main objective.

The take-home message is that some frustration is totally acceptable and even expected when dogs are experiencing something that is frustrating to them:  access to another dog, a person, chase after a rabbit and the like.

Frustration is also part of learning something new, but again, if the dog is so frustrated when training then something has to change. Pronto!  Often I will give a dog an opportunity to collect itself by removing him from the training session as I assess how to best proceed.  This is important mostly when dealing with emotional issues including fear or anxiety. Knowing when too much frustration is detrimental to the well-being of the dog and the learning process requires experience and constant observation, but a great place to start is to observe what kind of behavior(s) is the dog engaged in when feeling the frustration.  This will provide a clear map as to how to proceed in most cases.

Deuce, Stop. Lie Down.

I am behind a closed door and I cannot attend to it at that moment. Deuce has followed me around and now he is lying on the other side of the door gently pawing it and barking.  I asked him to stop (the barking and pawing) and immediately after that I tell him what I want him to do instead.

The cosmos loves a void. And where there is a void something will come and fill it.  When it comes to our dogs we need to make sure that we decide what should take place in the void left by the behavior (s) we don’t want.  The dog is rushing at a visitor, who is at the door, then jumps effusively at your guest. Your face turns red in aggravation and even shame for your dog’s behavior.

So, what is it that we normally do instead of telling the dog what we would rather they do?  Most likely we yell in frustration NO!!!! STOP THAT…  confusion will reign.  Your dog completely at odds as to what is a better option.

If instead we get into the habit of

1. Deciding what we want our pup to do in those sorts of circumstances (So we can stop immediately what we don’t like.)

2. Replace with what we want.

This is called a re-direct.  Ideally our redirect also can serve as an antidote for the behavior we don’t want.

If I ask Deuce to lie down, I know from experience he will just relax and wait for me to get to the door to let him in or just walk away.  In other instances, we need to use what is called a DRI which stands for differential reinforcement of incompatible behavior.  In plain English, just reinforce for something else that will de facto prevent your dog in resuming in the unwanted behavior.

The typical example is asking a dog to sit instead of jumping on the guest. Or feeding the dog treats as the bell is being rung so that it cannot bark, since barking and eating treats are incompatible actions. The other fantastic bonus of using this sort of rational in training is that as whatever the environment reinforces (and yes, that includes us) will become the preferred behavior offered.

So why is it then that we insist in just stopping what we don’t like in a young child or in our pet instead of redirect for a successful outcome?  Our own behavior can be motivated by several factors.

Perhaps we are exasperated because the behavior that we don’t want happens over and over again and now we are not even thinking of re-directing. Ignorance of this important rule of learning or multitasking?  And so, the list goes on.

I would add where we put our attention, we put our energy. One strategy that works for me is to take something like a behavior re-direct and practice it until it becomes a natural response- even when busy, frustrated or just lack the time of focus to give my dogs clear instructions.

One thing though to keep in mind, that we can only re-direct the dog to do something that the dog has previously learned.  And do keep in mind that sometimes folks think that because the dog responded once or just a few times to our insisting verbal cue does not mean that the dog has actually learned what we mean.

A dog might have learned a sit (put butt on ground) AND a stay (remain in that position until released) however, the stay part has more to do with the dog being able to sustain the behavior for a particular length of time and this is something that requires a lot of practice.  It is hard for dogs to sustain duration without practicing.  Your dog is not willful or a jerk because he breaks the sit (or else) ahead of you, it just means that he is undertrained.

My suggestion to you then, is to make a list of behaviors that your dog can do instead of “x” behavior and that you begin to ask just after you said NO to your dog for that well learned one.  Be ready now, for your dog to respond in kind and for you to pay your pup, otherwise your dog will not begin to offer the behavior you want because it is not being reinforced.

When fear strikes, distract

It is unfortunately that the idea that we can reinforce fear in our pets is still so prevalent.  Frankly, nothing can be further from the truth. Think about this:  Fear is an emotion, involuntary for the subject feeling it, so how then can we make a dent on it by consoling our pet? This is an important message because many, many dogs can do with less distress and fear if we realize that we CAN influence how they perceive their environment with our behavior, and as such help them cope better. But that is way different than us reinforcing their fear.

If it was so easy to override or even eradicate fear just in how we interact with our dogs, the world would not be full of dogs that are fearful of people, other dogs and a myriad of situations. Fear is also adaptive; it is there to keep us out of harm’s way- in other words hardwired in us and every other living animal.

So, let’s look at some prevalent situation where the idea that we are reinforcing fear still abounds: We take our dog to the vet, the staff tells us that our dog does much better when we are not around. It is indeed less “fearful”.  What is this all about?  I can argue that it is so much easier for staff to do their job behind the scenes sort of speak, without the owner interfering and telling them how to do their job.  However, is there some truth to the fact that the dog appears less apprehensive when the owner is not around?

The research will surprise you!  I just learned in one of my continued education webinars, about research done in the context of pediatric clinics and how young children react to their parents cues in relation to the event. Some findings are similar in dogs.

This is what the study found:  When parents had an expression of concern this cued the child that something bad was going to happen to them.  If the parent consoled the child using phrases such as: “it’s okay,” “you will be fine” etc.  the child took a reason to be concerned or afraid as well.

In addition, it was not only what the parent might say to the child but the tone of voice used.  If the parent used a lower (opposite of high pitch, singsong) intonation, the child did not take this as a cue that something bad was eminent. Moreover, the children did much better when the parents gave the child instructions instead of consolation such as:  lower your arm, put your sleeve down etc.  Of course, if the poor overwhelmed parent (or clinician) looked concerned the child would be concerned too. So, it takes more than intonation, apparently.

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But get this: above all, children did much, much better in the concern realm (not in how much pain they felt) when they were being distracted!  Ah, bingo!  If the parent and the clinician were able to switch gears and instead of consoling the child they distracted the child, the child did not get tipped off to the concern the parent felt.

Does all this sound familiar with our dogs??? Well as a matter of fact, there is also research done in dogs that points to similar findings as in the pediatric clinic. Let me elaborate:  Even though we will NOT reinforce fear in our dogs when they are already feeling afraid, dogs, as any highly social animal do take cues from other social animals- in this case us, as to how we are experiencing the event. I would argue, but I can’t say that there is research to back my claim, that the more bonded the dog is to the person, the higher the level of influence one can have – for better or worse. It is quite likely that this is in effect what is going on at the vet’s clinic, when we are told that our dog does better without us.  We have a history with our dog that the vet staff does not have. Because of this, our behavior will influence our dog’s behavior greatly.  Of course, just as in the case with the clinician and the children, if the staff can also “act” matter of fact this will aid the dog in not taking in cues of danger from another social animal thus making it for an easier experience.

How does this work in the day to day life with our dogs?  I will give you an example:  Rio had to have a major operation yesterday – you will hear much more about it in future posts.  When we arrived at the clinic which she had visited twice before, she began to shake and was making attempts to exit via the front door.

Of course, I was crushed!  I began by giving her some simple directions such as, sit and down as I was filling in her paperwork.  Once I finished, we walked towards the sitting area. Here I gave her some pats and encourage her to look out the windows.  The area was empty, except for a man that was waiting for his own dog.  Rio jumped on the stoop and made her way all the way looking out the windows.  Perhaps she was looking for another escape route! (LOL).  I noticed that she was not shaking at this point but more than anything exploring and engaging with the outside surroundings.

If you have worked enough with your dog and he knows a couple of tricks- and a trick could be anything frankly, you can ask your dog to engage in the trick (s) when he is concerned.  Of course, it is mandatory that your dog really enjoys the trick and has been reinforced in the past for performing it.  The other advantages of doing something like this when concern strikes, is that your dog is being successful (and who does not want to be successful doing tricks right?) and when dogs are successful their confidence expands- nice!

Just like with the young kids (not sure the cut-out age of the children in the study) dogs as well as many other species such as horses and cats, respond differently to our tone of voice.  Dr. Patricia Mc Connell wrote her PhD thesis on this very same topic. Her research points out to the importance of tone and inflection in communicating (emotion) to our animals.

The take home message then, is to be really mindful of what you say to your dog- avoiding phrases that your dog already associates with “trouble” such as “you’ll be fine,” “it’s okay” and instead speak gibberish or engage in phrases that are positively meaningful for your pup such as:  Yes, soon we can go for a walk…   or “where is Deuce???”

Also, mind your intonation (skip the baby talk please!) and instead use a lower tone of voice versus a high-pitch, singsong intonation.

What I have personally found works best is to act (yep, and you will have to fake it till you make it) really matter of fact – as if you are clueless to the events unfolding, coupled with taking deep breaths, walking with a loose body yet confident body language while you engage your pup in some fun activity or just plain distractions. If your dog is really afraid you might not be able to distract her from what she is already feeling, however I urge you to give her some support by engaging with her in the most neutral & matter of fact performance you can muster. Dogs do take cues from us ALL THE TIME. So being mindful in how we are responding in stressful situation for our dogs will influence how they perceive the situation.

Teaching your dog to walk on a loose leash using this simple technique

**NOTE: 1 SPOT LEFT** I don’t know about you, but I really do not like to walk dogs that pull on leash.  I find that when this happens the walk just lost its relaxing quality. Perhaps other people do not feel the same about their dogs walking on a loose leash. Dogs pulling on a leash is so ubiquitous that I joke with myself that I will pay every person that I see walking with a dog on a loose leash.  “I can do this,” I tell myself, because I will not be making a big investment…

So why exactly do dogs pull on leash?

There are several factors that contribute to this behavior.  I am listing them here and not necessarily in order of importance.

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1. Not pulling on leash is not part of dog’s natural (read genetic) make-up.  There is no reason in their natural state not to pull, because they are no leashes stopping them

2. Restrain of any kind is aversive for animals in most circumstances. This goes back to having an opportunity to flee should they feel threatened.

3. Their center of gravity is just behind their front legs – so they are kind of already propelled forward.

4. Naturally they think that running or walking fast will get them where they want to go – who can blame them, right? See all the points above!

5. Okay, here is where you come in: NOBODY has taught them that walking on a loose leash pays big time, pulling stops the fun and it will take longer to get “there”.  Another reason on the same vein as not being taught what to do is that someone (perhaps even one person) allows them to pull some of the time when on leash.  Yep, even one person allowing some pulling will do the trick to teach your pup that pulling is a-okay.  (sigh!)

Are you panicking already?  Now, the truth is that while it is actually LOTS of work in the form of consistency and many, many repetitions of the dog walking without pulling, you can teach dogs not to pull.

If you are ready to take the plunge because you are motivated, tired of being jerked around, recovering from a dislocated shoulder, courtesy of your exuberant pup’s pulling habits I must congratulate you.  Follow the training plan (I even made a video – link bellow, for you to watch the steps) below for this very easy technique to teach Fido to walk politely. If you really practice with consistency AND you make sure no one else is allowing him to pull, you will reach success.


When NOT working on the technique below you should walk your dog (clip the leash) to a FRONT clip harness. There are quite a few brands out there.  The thing about a harness like this is that while it does not teach your dog not to pull, it will give you some relief by its mere design – which kind of turns the dog around when they pull.

The second reason I want you to have this tool, is because realistically speaking people do not take their precious pulling pup for a walk and are willing to work on anti-pulling exercises for the length of the walk.  Of course, this is what professional trainers like myself do and why you must pay us the big bucks. LOL… Now back to the training plan:

The way you will use the collar and the front clip harness is as follows:

You will clip your dog’s leash to the FRONT clip harness when walking him.  You will ONLY clip the leash to your dog’s flat collar – not a prong collar or a choke chain, when and only when you will be working on the training plan below. So yes, there will be some back and forth changing the leash so make sure you hold to your dog tight when unclipping.

If you are consistent in working with your dog on every walk even for a few minutes, eventually you will be able to spend more time training during the walks because you are being successful.  Slowly you will see your dog is getting better and now the whole walk can be done on a loose leash.

Your choice at this point as to how you will walk your dog- on a harness or the flat collar.  I repeat: no choke-chain collars or prong.  Your dog deserves be-tt-errr.

Follow the steps below:

With a hungry pup and a flat collar…

Begin your training ideally in a non-distracting environment. Yes, this could be your living room, backyard etc.  If beginning here, you can skip the harness for now since you will be working for short periods on this.  Once you go outside for the real walk put on the front-clip harness and follow the directions above for when to clip to the harness and when to clip to the collar.

Your dog will do what he has done for a while now, reach the end of the leash making it taut.

As he does:


2. Either call your dog to you by name, a fun sound or patting your leg

3. When your dog is moving towards you, begin taking a few steps backwards.  Three is enough.

4. Once your dog has cought up with you, he is now next to you or at least the leash is not taut anymore

5. WAIT for at least 3 seconds (count in our head: Mississippi ONE…)  since we want to avoid having your dog taking turns by pulling and not pulling, instead we just want him NOT pull. Or better said: to walk on a loose leash at all times…

6. Give your dog a treat

7. Continue moving forward.

8. Rinse and repeat for the length of time you will be training your pup to walk politely on a loose leash.

I cannot stress enough the benefit of practicing in a non-distracting environment so that you get the sequence correct and the mechanics.  If you choose to take it on the road, do the training almost at the end of the walk instead of the beginning when your pup would have had the opportunity of some sniffing and reliving itself.  As you both improve, you can begin to train earlier on your walk.  Distractions are part of life and what makes the walk interesting for your dog, but they are what makes training much harder to implement. So, do not be too anxious in reaching your goals around distractions.

For those of you living in Santa Fe, NM area, you are in luck!  I am teaching a 1 hr. hands on workshop on Saturday July 29th 8am-9am on loose leash where we will practice the technique show in this video: https://youtu.be/FazJbAq2wyE   in addition to some other fun games to teach proper manners.

You can find the details/sign up for this workshop here: http://www.chacodognewsevents.com/calendar/   You might have to scroll down the calendar to find it.

Happy Training!

Behavior modification for “real” life”

I am busy Wednesday morning trying to get Deuce ready to go sheepherding.  I know that if I do not leave in a few minutes I will be late.  I have Deuce on a leash as we step outside the front door.  He puts on the breaks. Darn!  The car issue is becoming worse.

For some reason Deuce has developed a really bad association with getting in the car.  When he was a young puppy he struggled with getting dizzy while riding in the car, so now I don’t know if his aversion to riding in the car has been conditioned by that past experience. Or it might be something completely different.  Perhaps once he tried to jump in and he missed injuring himself.  Now, the car or jumping in the car spells trouble for him.

By looking at him I realize that he is really stressed and really not interested in going for a ride. Try to convince him that we are going sheepherding!  I try to do so by showing him his orange vest which he wears so that he can be seen by the occasional car as he gathers the sheep.

Clearly, he has not made the association that the only time he gets to wear his fluorescent vest is when he goes sheepherding as he decided not to budge from where he was standing.

It gets complicated when a dog for whatever reason does not want to get in the car  because sometimes we must take them places.  In the case of Deuce we must get past this hurdle because once he is in the car he is comfortable and besides, he enjoys going places and getting in the car is of course needed in order for him to enjoy walks in town, sheepherding, etc.

So how is one to proceed when we must take the dog in the car yet, we do not wish to force the dog in any way? This is kind of tricky but it does not have to be if we think this thru.

The fact that dogs are such avid discriminators is an asset for training in “real” life.  The goal here is to make it very clear to the dog that sometimes he has a choice as to if he wants to get in the car and sometimes he does not.  As I have stated many times before: Dogs thrive when they have a choice or choices.  And that is for me one of the biggest pillars on how I want to interact and teach dogs. However, no one has 100% choice in life.

This is then how I am “clarifying” to Deuce when he has a choice coming for the ride and when he does not. I use a leash and lots of verbal coaxing that I use while sheepherding to have him move by his own volition towards the car when he must come.  When he is not wearing a leash it means that he has a choice to jump in the car or stay behind. This set-up is a clear contingency for Deuce.

Now, this past week things got complicated.  Deuce needed to come for a ride as he was assisting me with a client’s dog.  A case of this pup having to earn his keep … LOL. While on the leash, he put on the breaks as he refused to get in the car.  The clock is ticking and I need to go. I had no choice but to carry Deuce in order to “protect” my contingency above and to get going.  As I later explained to John:  Carrying the dog in the car is truly not an option since he does not want to be lifted i.e: the choice has been totally removed for the dog. Because of this, there is a great possibility that he might growl or escalate his communication of: “I don’t want to do this” the next time John or I attempt carry him …  a slippery slope from then on.  Instead, it is best to teach him that getting in the car is fun! Nothing to be concerned about.

Another training set-up:

The next day, the whole family is going to visit some friends. Now, with more time on my hands I put the leash on Deuce and began coaxing him to get in. Keeping the experience light in tone. With more time in my hands, I can give him as much time as he needs in order for him to jump in on his own.  Bravo!  He jumps in and off we go.

There is always the possibility that we want our dog to do something that they cannot do. So, one has to proceed with caution, observation and fairness. In order to rule out any physical impediment as indeed, dogs can get sore backs and necks, pinched nerves, etc., I made sure that Deuce was physically capable of jumping in.

Here is my “test”:  I stacked up some large pillows a few inches high- almost the height of the back of my car.  In a different setting, one that Deuce has trained in and really enjoys. We begin the training session as we always do and I direct Deuce to jump on the pillows… he is able to jump back and forth without any hesitation or trouble.  Clearly, his hesitation is rooted somewhere else and not in a physical inability to do so.

Moving forward:

This morning, I took him out for a mini-session armed with super good stuff.  We stood next to the car and he got paid for that.  Then I open the back of the car, and he got paid for that.  We continue then to walk towards the car while he relaxed a bit more as I paid him again for him not balking, but moving forward. We ended the session without him having to do more than just hang out around the car as I opened and closed the hatch back followed by a few steps in the direction of the car. I ended the session with a happy and relaxed dog!

My ultimate goal is to counter condition Deuce to all aspect of getting in the car so that the process is not ridden with anxiety for him. More to come…

With the speed of lightning

I am stretching on my yoga mat, and when I do, I really have to work hard at not interacting with my dogs.

Perhaps it’s that they can access me in a different manner as I am now more at their eye level or it might be that I am doing downward dog and they feel a sense of affinity (LOL). Either way, I have tried to signal to them that when I am stretching, I will not be tossing balls or playing tug.

This evening I broke my rule. Deuce is lying in front of me with one of his favorite balls in between his front legs. Call it a moment of weakness or off the charts motherly love- one that makes us believe that our “kid” is the most gorgeous and smart and lovely and… in the whole world.

Either way, I grab his ball and I toss it to him so that he can catch it in his mouth to the sound of me saying “touch down”.  This in a nutshell is the whole game. Throw ball as I say “touch-down” and Deuce catching the ball in his mouth.  There are times that the ball remains in his mouth motionless and sometimes he repositions the ball in his mouth by gently moving his head this way and that way making sure that it sits in just the right place inside his mouth.

We do a few of these successful throws and catches of the ball. On my next throw for some reason we both want the ball kind of at the same time.  The ball had landed not into his mouth but close to him and to his side.

The ball is still mid-air when I decide that I need to grab it to throw it more precisely for him, and at the same time, Deuce throws himself towards the ball with the speed of light and he catches it. “Wow”!  I think to myself, “he is so freakin’ fast!”

That is right!  Dogs are so very fast and have really excellent control of their jaws. It amuses me and concerns me in equal measure when people tell me that the dog “almost bit” them BUT they were faster in removing their hand or else and the dog did not bite them.  Well you see, fat chance of this being the reason as to why the person did not get bitten this time.  It had nothing to do with the person’s reaction time being faster than the dogs- not even with young puppies!

Why is this distinction important? you may ask.  The thing is this:  In my professional opinion and that of others in the field, a “missed” bite is a warning from the dog instead of someone being faster than the dog and thus the reason for the dog not making any contact.  Think about it:  When it is in your DNA to kill and feed yourself with your mouth you better have a very precise and speedy use of your weapon of choice.  There is, of course, more to killing prey than biting, but it is biting (the dissection of the prey) that delivers the final blow and that permits the animal to feed itself.  Wolves – not dogs, are amongst the most successful predators in the world!  And even with the ability of killing prey “diluted” in our dogs – as they truly do not hunt for a living but are scavengers and opportunistic feeders, they still remain predators and they will use their “equipment” as such.

Based on this information, we can then interpret the interaction prior to the dog “air snapping”- as it is referred to in the field, as a warning, as a response of feeling threatened in some way, versus the dexterity of the person resulting in a “missed” bite.


Now, to clarify, I do not think that Deuce was warning me when he went after the ball with tremendous speed and accuracy.  First, he went after the ball, never my hand. So, I am assuming and I think correctly that what Deuce wanted was the ball – a coveted resource.

However, in the situation when a dog is feeling threatened he has several options to diffuse the situation and even to remain safe- without having to go full-force with biting.  The dog will use whichever options worked in the past.  A warning such as a miss-bite or a sneer, growl etc. might suffice in getting the message across and thus the interaction stops.  No one got bitten which it is always a good thing.

When dogs learn that biting “works” unfortunately biting goes up.  The person gets hurt and the dog either loses its home or its life. My invitation is then to take “missed” bites or air-snaps as serious warning from a dog and as such, to do whatever we can to diffuse the situation so that the dog learns that there is no need to escalate. An air snap is all that is needed- not a real bite!

Rethinking the use of crates

People choose to put their dogs in crates for a myriad of reasons. First there is the thinking that dogs “like dens” and as such they must like crates. Second, people crate their dogs as a lifestyle instead of managing their dog and teaching the dog how to “behave” in their home. Others have chosen to crate their dog when she or he has become destructive as a result of a thunder-phobia or separation distress.

Trainers can also be part of the problem when we advocate for crate training as a way to house train without really explaining that the dog must first learn to feel comfortable in the crate.

In other words, no dog should be forced into the crate. Period! Just imagine if you were forced to go into a tiny room with no windows. With little room to move and worse you have no idea when you will be let out.

You are inside this tiny room without any control as to when you would be able to eliminate should you need to or just to stretch your limbs.

This is what we do to dogs. Unfortunately, the underline mentality of “teaching the dog whose boss” coupled with wanting dogs to “behave” at all times are some of the underlying reasons why folks crate their dogs without first teaching them to feel safe and comfortable in them.

Puppy in crateCrates can be wonderful resources for people and dogs alike but only when they are used humanely. A crate should never be a lifestyle choice but a tool initially to help teach a dog to not eliminate inside.

Notice that the containment element does not teach the dog not to eliminate inside, it just prevents the dog or puppy to wonder off and sneak a pee etc. because he has no access to the outside or he has still not been taught where he needs to go – outside.

The same goes for destructive behaviors. Your dog must be taught what is appropriate to chew on and what is off limits. Also, many dogs are destructive in the home because they are basically creating their own fun. Who can blame them.  Similar I would say to prisoners writing on their cells as a form of killing the boredom and perhaps even anxiety of depression embedded within their situation.

Solutions for typical dog “problems” or more accurately said: problems people have with their dogs must always take both parties well-being into consideration.

When it comes to a dog truly being anxious or fearful in the home, forcing the dog to remain in the crate will only make the problem worse.  Besides how cruel is this? Dogs who are forced to stay in crates when they have not been taught to feel safe and comfortable in them will hurt themselves in efforts to gain their freedom back.

Of course, some dogs really take to their crates and choose to spend time in them because they were taught to do so.  Because their crate is seen by them as a place where they can chill and take refuge when they need some downtime etc.  Take the case of Deuce, my border collie.  He adores spending time in his crate. At night, he has the choice as to where to sleep and he gravitates from his crate to Rio’s crate (almost identical) and his bed in our bedroom.  Now, when there is a storm and we are not around, he will run to his crate in search of some comfort as he is afraid of thunder.

The process of teaching dogs to love their crates can be an easy matter-of-fact event or an arduous one depending on how it is done and the dog’s previous experience or association with the crate.

One last thing:  Crates should be ample enough for the dog to be able to STAND up, lie down and turn around so that they truly have freedom of movement.

Below are some tips in helping your pup enjoy his crate.

WARNING: If you suspect your dog suffers from separation distress (separation anxiety) please do not crate your dog.  Most dogs with this type of emotional  profile become even more anxious in their crates.  The protocol for helping dogs that suffer from anxiety or noise phobia is a different one that may or may not include the use of the crate.

Your goal is to create only positive associations with the crate and your dog.

Begin by placing the crate in a high-traffic area so that your dog feels comfortable investigating it.

Feed your dog either next to the crate or just inside the crate- if he has not had a previous bad association with the crate.  Make sure the door is left open and your dog can go in and out.

Place some high value treats inside the crate and the door open for your dog to find them.  Do this several times for a few days.  Continue to feed the meal next to the crate or inside by moving the food bowl a little more towards the back of the crate.  Take it slow!  If you rush your dog might regress.

Once your dog is eating happily inside the crate with the food bowl all the way inside and the door open.

Begin to do the same but once your dog is eating close the door and remain nearby.

After he has finished his meal let him out without too much fanfare. Repeat.

Slowly you will add time to your dog remaining inside the crate with the door closed and you nearby.

Begin to present a really coveted bone or chewy inside the crate.

Ask your dog to go in and give the bone and close the crate. Stick around. You can praise your dog if you think this will help him relax.

If your dog is not excited about this prospect it means that either: You went to fast on the previous steps- so you need to go back to easy steps until your pup is successful or your pup is not interested in what you are presenting him at that time.  Try this and present him with something different and see how that goes.

Slowly you will have your dog stay inside the crate with a safe chewy- something you have seen him work on without eating at once or small pieces coming apart.  The best choice is a stuffed Kong.  If your dog has yet not learned how to extract food from a Kong you will have to teach him this first.  Remember, that when we skip steps or we push too hard the dog regresses.

If your pup is now happily and relaxed (most likely lying down) and enjoying the Kong, begin to exit the room or the home for a few minutes. Make sure to come back before your dog is done with his project.

Slowly continue to add 1 minute at a time (I know it sounds daunting but the minutes will add fast and your dog will be properly and humanely crated trained).

Continue to offer your dog a favorite safe chewy or a Kong before you exit the front door for a short amount of time.

As your dog continues to enjoy being in the crate because only good stuff happens for him while in the crate you can begin to leave him in there AFTER having him exercised, ready to take a snooze and with an empty bladder etc.

Humane Crate Times After Crate Training:

8-10 week old puppies: 1 hour

11-12 week old puppies: 2 hours

13-16 weeks old puppies: 3 hours

17-20+ weeks old puppies: 4 hours

Adults: 4-5 hours

This is especially important if your dog spends the night in the crate. Please remember that the use of crate is a tool and not a lifestyle for your dog.

I get a lot of pleasure of seeing both my dogs gravitate towards their crates, and you should too.