Do you have a stay at home dog?

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “a stay at home dog”? In most cases this means a dog that spends most of its time at home being alone because their owners are so busy that they’re not home most of the day. But in this blog I want to talk about a different kind of “stay at home dog”……..

There’s nothing better than walking down a trail on a beautiful sunny day and enjoying the sights and sounds of nature. It’s even better to do that with your canine companion. You both get to enjoy a warm day while benefiting from some exercise too! But what if you have a stay at home dog? More on what that means in a minute…

I use to take my Midnight (a female chihuahua/pomeranian mix) for walks in South Park and some other parks near me as well. (And the dog park too, but don’t even get me started on my issues with dog parks, that’s a whole other blog that I need to write!) The more I started to get into dog training I quickly realized that she wasn’t enjoying the experience at all. Early on while researching about dog body language I began to see Midnight exhibiting body language that reflected mild anxiety during our walks in the park. (See my body language blog http://wp.me/p5KUql-n ) Sure my dog loves to walk, we do it a lot around the streets where I live. But the completely new environment of an area that she wasn’t use to elicited some anxiety problems for her. It’s like all the stimuli from the environment was coming at her at once, a lot of it and on every sensory system of her body. Something called “flooding” in the dog training community.

Ask any dog trainer how they got into this business and many of them will tell you it started for them with a dog they had that had fear or aggression issues or some other type of behavioral problem. Midnight came to me with some fear issues. She was a few months old when I got her and later I could not isolate what the root causes of her behavioral issues were as I didn’t have any background info on her at all.

I wish I had back then the amount of knowledge on dog training that I have now (even though I know I still have a lot to learn!). It’s always most efficient to apply behavior modification the younger a dog is. However, if a dog has a genetic predisposition towards fear behaviors, an early traumatic experience or a poor socialization period, then it may be inefficient at any age. Doesn’t mean that you can’t make progress and it certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, because you certainly can. But the more conditioned a dog is at exhibiting a certain behavior, the more challenging it will be to modify it. And perhaps impossible if there’s any of the aforementioned conditions  (genetic, early trauma and lack of early socialization). As my Midnight quickly approaches her senior years, it really comes down to managing the situations rather than an extensive behavior mod program.

Not that I haven’t worked on a lot of her fear issues. She has come a long way and I’ve even managed to eliminate a few of her fears. (Hmmm, I ponder if any behavior can truly be eliminated? Perhaps very well suppressed may be more accurate instead?)

Of course if it’s a completely new type of stimulus that your introducing to your dog’s environment for the first time ever and you think that your dog may have issues with it, you can very slowly and gradually a little bit at a time introduce the new stimulus.

Let’s say for example you want to introduce your dog to a vacuum cleaner. Rather than just turning it on in front of them and saying “Here it is, get use to it!” instead, you might start off with the vacuum in the corner of the room (turned off). Eventually, you will put it in the middle of the room. And as long as your dog is not exhibiting any anxieties or fears from it, you can place a couple treats on it too. The next step would involve you moving the vacuum around (with it still turned off). And again, slowly go from a good distance to closer and closer to your dog. Anytime you introduce a new criteria, you need to reset the others. So when you turn the vacuum on in the next step, do so from a room that your dog isn’t in. Then you can bring the vacuum in the opposite side of the same room your dog is in and turn it on briefly and slowly decrease the space. Then when you goto adding movement with the vacuum turned on, you will start at a distance and then slowly close the gap. The amount of time the whole process takes depends on how your dog handles the new stimulus. If at anytime your dog becomes scared during the process you should take a break for the day and when you resume, go back to the point where your dog was ok and proceed much slower.

I always stress the importance of working on one sensory system at a time when introducing your dog to new potentially scary things.

Case in point, I very recently fell back in love with playing music. I played the piano years ago but slowly lost interest. My new passion is playing the cello. I even started taking lessons! If I’m not playing with my dog then I’m playing with my cello. Because she has some noise phobias, I was worried I would have to begin a slow desensitization program with Midnight to get her use to seeing and hearing a cello. (Again, let’s consider all sensory systems, in this case I would also include tactile [touch] as you can certainly feel the vibrations from a cello, especially on the lowest C string). The sound vibrations travel down through the endpin and will be absorbed into the floor and depending on the layout of the room you may actually feel the music!

Fortunately, I found out very quickly that she showed no interest at all when I got out and played my cello. (Oh geez, he’s getting that thing out again!) In fact, she often just jumps up on my bed and falls asleep while I play! (Oh, come on Midnight am I really that bad!?)

It’s interesting when I think back to when I first got her and those first several years when I didn’t have a clue about anything in dog training. There are so many things that I would’ve changed. Who knows however if she would’ve even turned out different today? If it’s genetic, I possibly could’ve made a little more progress but maybe not.

So getting back to a “stay at home dog”. It means just that! My dog is much more content staying in her own yard playing a game of fetch with me rather than being taken to an alien environment and having her sensory system on overload. She does however loves car rides and we still take short trips pretty often. Sometimes just for a quick ride around the block!

The point I’d like to drive home here is to consider your dog’s needs before your own. YOU may like the idea of going for a walk in a park with your dog and in most cases your dog will too, but if you have a sensitive dog who is uncomfortable in new environments then your best bet is to do an activity together that you BOTH can enjoy and in a comfortable environment  (which for the sensitive dog is usually at home). Seek help from a professional dog trainer to work on alleviating your dog’s anxiety issues. Until your dog’s behavior has been modified, then just consider that you may have a stay at home dog.

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Lost in Translation

So the other day I was watching a funny classic on tv, National Lampoon’s European Vacation. There’s a scene where the Griswold’s were in Paris and ordering food from their waiter (at least trying to). So many words spoken were lost in the translation. This made me think of the communications between people and their dogs. And just like that scene from the movie, so many things get lost in the translation! Not so much from our dogs understanding us, but rather from people understanding their dog’s language.

Dogs are experts at reading human body language! The very moment we walk into a room a dog can tell right away based upon our facial expressions, body posture and even our breathing, what kind of “mood” we are in. That’s one of the reasons why I stress the importance of keeping training sessions with your dog very positive and as stress free as possible as this will set you both up for success!

The following list takes a look at some of a dog’s body parts and what to look for to better be able to predict what imminent behaviors a dog is most likely to exhibit. Keep in mind that these are genaric descriptions and there are many variations among the various breeds of dogs. For example, a lot of northern breeds such as Spitz type dogs will tend to have a higher tail set while sighthounds such as the Greyhound and the Whippet will have a low tail set. This is not an extensive list, but rather some of the basics to help make you better informed on your dog’s body language and what it all means.

Tail: Generally, the more higher the tail is, the more confident the dog is. A fearful or submissive dog will have their tail tucked under. A happy dog will wag its tail and the more excited, the faster it may wag. Caution however should be exercised because a wagging tail doesn’t necessarily mean a happy dog. A submissive or fearful dog may wag its tail in a tight and fast arc. An aggressive dog will often wag its tail rapidly. It’s possible that one of the reasons a dog wags its tail in the high position is to help disperse the rich amount of scents from the rear area, which will tell another dog a vast amount of information. Compare this to a submissive or fearful dog who would rather go unnoticed and its tail is tucked under to help prevent giving off any scents while also appearing small and preferring to go unnoticed. There is also some research that theorizes that you can actually tell the emotion of a dog from the direction it wags its tail. “Studies show that dogs wag their tails to the right when they are happy and to the left when they are frightened.” (“Why Do Dogs,” 2012).

Ears: A relaxed dog will have its ears in its natural position. An alert dog will have their ears directed to the area that they are focused on. An aggressive dog will do anything to make them appear as large as they can be and this includes having their ears  up and forward. A fearful or submissive dog will often have their ears flattened in an attempt to appear smaller and less of a threat.

Eyes: A fearful dog will often have their eyes appear larger. Often the pupils will be dilated also. Fear is necessary for survival and by having enlarged eyes and dilated pupils the dog is better able to see more of its surrounding environment. When you see the whites of an eye (whale eye) in a fearful dog it’s because their head is slightly turned but their focus is maintained on the fearful stimulus so that it can be aware where that stimulus is at all times. (Have you ever been able to take your eyes off that spider in the corner?) Never stare at a fearful, aggressive or any dog that you’ve never met before. Staring in dog language is often interpreted as a direct challenge. That’s not to say that you can’t stare at your own companion dog. The bond between you two erases that possibility.

Mouth: A calm and relaxed dog will usually have an opened mouth with a gentle pant or their mouth may be closed while they breathe through their nose gently. Right before going into a “fight or flight” situation a dog will often freeze first. The freeze is the moment when they are deciding if they should fight or take flight and the freeze last only up to a few seconds. This is the brief time that a dog will assess its current situation. During the freeze the dog’s mouth will close, if it wasn’t already closed. A dog’s most dominant sensory system is its sense of smell. One possibility a dog will close its mouth during the freeze is to allow more breathed in air to be analyzed by that sensory system to better ascertain their surrounding environment. If they decide that fight or flight is not necessary and everything is ok, then they will go back to their previous mouth position. A fearful dog may bare its teeth when feeling threatened and the commissures will be pulled back to expose their molars while an aggressive dog will tend to have an agonistic pucker and only be exposing its front canines. The commissures on an aggressive dog are pushed forward and will be in a “C” shape. A stressed dog will often exhibit cut-off signals, which can include lip licking and shaking off.

Some other indications to look for in a fearful dog include: dandruffy skin, puffed flews (area above the lips), blowing or shedding fur, piloerection (raised fur), blinking, sweaty paw pads, yawning, excessive panting, drooling and trembling.

It’s important to remember that while examining the parts of a dog’s body language to ascertain what it may be feeling to not just focus on one body part, but instead to look at the dog’s body language as a whole.

References:

Why Do Dogs Wag Their Tails?. (2012, May 15th). Retrieved from http://www.animalplanet.com/pets/why-do-dogs-wag-their-tails/

Getting a new puppy? It’s important to understand about the sensitive periods in a developing dog…

The first sensitive period in the development of dogs is the prenatal period, which is the period prior to birth. The encompassing environment can have quite an impact on the way a dog will develop structurally. When a mother is emotional and reactive then there is a good chance that her offspring will be emotional and reactive as well. Likewise, stressed parents will often have stress-sensitive offspring. A stressed mother will cause her cortisol levels to rise exponentially which may be passed along to her developing offspring. “This message is thought to inform the puppies’ bodies about what to expect from life, and allows them to develop an appropriately tuned stress system and metabolism” (Hekman, 2014). While the environment probably has a lot to do with these emotional carryovers, another important factor that may impact the offspring’s temperament is genetics.

The second sensitive period with the development of dogs is the neonatal period, which begins at birth and lasts about two weeks. Frequent handling of the puppy allows them to develop better motor skills as well as expedite the maturation process and they can develop better problem-solving behaviors. Exposing the puppy to various stimuli may promote the puppy to exhibit more exploratory behavior. The puppy’s eyes and ears remain closed at this stage; however, stimuli that impinge upon tactile perception and possibly olfactory perception may be utilized. Basic conditioning may not be enduring at this stage.

The third stage during the sensitive period is called the transitional period and this period last approximately one week and takes place at about between two and three weeks. During the transitional period, both the puppy’s eyes and ear canals open. The puppy also begins to maintain its conditioning for the long-term. New behaviors are exhibited including crawling, standing and walking on their own. Social behaviors develop during this time as the puppy begins play-fighting with its littermates. This period helps to prepare the puppy for the upcoming socialization period.

Next is the socialization period, which starts at around two and a half to three weeks and last until about nine to thirteen weeks with a peak around six to eight weeks. A puppy will approach unfamiliar people somewhere between three and five weeks. Passive handling declines greatly after five weeks, but before that, the puppy tends to condone it. At around the eight to ten week mark, it is crucial to refrain from allowing any aversive stimulation to occur in the puppy’s environment as the effects can be quite detrimental and long enduring. During this “fear period”, a puppy is quite hypersensitive to any type of aversive stimulation, the effects of which can be quite difficult to desensitize. Because of this fear period, a dog should be placed in its new home around seven and a half weeks. A dog will form an attachment with its new guardians somewhere between six and eight weeks. They will also form location attachments during this sensitive period. Substandard performance in later training is likely if a dog is placed into its new home after around the fourteen week mark. Social relationships are formed with the puppy’s mother and littermates as well as other animals and humans. The puppy is sensitive to social conditioning during this time and thus it is important to introduce the puppy to various people and other animals as well.

The final of the sensitive periods is the juvenile period, which starts around twelve weeks and last until about six months. This includes a gradual continuation of development and peaks when sexual maturity is obtained. Along with an increase in conditioning capacity, multiple motor capacities appear during this period which includes raised-leg urination in males. The puppy will be less accepting of new, unfamiliar stimuli during this period. Becoming more consistent are social relationships with other dogs.

References:
Hekman, Jessica (2014). Stressed-Out even before birth? The Whole Dog Journal, 17(11), 14-15

An Essay on Canine Social Behavior….

Social Behavior is behavior, the consequences of which are mediated by another organism (“Glossary of Terms and Abbreviations in the Behaviorology,” 2015). So an organism maintains a certain behavior because of consequences originating from another organism. Social behavior is composed of two individual organisms interacting with each other and the behaviors of which operate within the principles of behavior. These behaviors are evoked by evocative stimuli and reinforcement perpetuates these behaviors.

A distance-decreasing behavior includes the absence of appeasement and aggressive behaviors and instead includes play behaviors or less aroused behaviors such as mutual grooming or preferred closeness. Various prompts may be exhibited by dogs to initiate play behaviors such as: play bows, sneezing, panting, eye flashing, lumbering gait and barking. Once play commences between the dogs, it often takes the form of mock combat and chase games and these prompted play behaviors continue to be exhibited by the dogs to continue the play. To temporary reduce the level of arousal during play, dogs will often exhibit “cutoff signals”, which reduces the level of stimuli encroaching upon them. With only a minimal level of arousal in this category of distance-decreasing behaviors a dog will be calm and relaxed. Normal tail carriage and ear positions (for that particular breed) will be exhibited possibly along with soft eyes and a gentle pant with a loose hanging tongue.

Concurrent contingencies can lead to ambivalent distance-decreasing/distance-increasing/appeasement behaviors. This category includes appeasement behaviors with the absence of aggressive behaviors. Distance-decreasing behaviors can be used in conjunction with appeasement behaviors or the dog may vacillate between the two as well as vacillate between appeasement and flight behaviors as well.

When a dog evades a social encounter it is called flight. Often the tail is tucked between the legs while the ears are held back while they crouch away.

A dog may exhibit distance-increasing ambivalent behaviors by being conflicted with both appeasement and aggressive behaviors and they may oscillate between the two, as well as oscillate between appeasement and flight behaviors. Whichever position they move closer to, the more undeviating those behaviors will be.

A dog with its body in a forward position with its tail raised high and waving along with piloerection, direct “hard” staring and also very stiff looking is exhibiting aggressive behaviors. The function of aggressive behaviors is to access stimuli or to avoid or escape it. Increased arousal may lead to biting which includes biting repeatedly or a bite and hold with possible shaking. Mounting behavior may be exhibited at the lower levels of arousal as well as putting their chin or paw on the other dogs neck or back. The dog may also stand over the other dog and attack if the other dog moves.

Another category is the ambivalent aggressive/distance-decreasing behaviors. A dog will be conflicted between distance-increasing and distance-decreasing behaviors. They are bordering on aggression and are often categorized as “bullies”. Playing without prompts and not switching roles in mock combat occur in this category.

Understanding these behavior categories is useful to us for several reasons. We are better able to predict near-future behavior of dogs. It also tells us when we should look for antecedent stimuli that evoke a behavior in question. It also alerts us as to when we should look for consequences that may maintain a certain behavior. Finally, it allows us to make a distinction of whether training stimulation applied is reinforcing or punishing to a behavior.

Glossary of Terms and Abbreviations in the Behaviorology. (2015). In Encyclopedic Glossary of Terms Retrieved from http://www.associationofanimalbehaviorprofessionals.com/glossary.html

Lightning, Thunder and Wind, Oh My!

Do you have a dog that doesn’t especially care for thunderstorms? Here are some products and tips that may help to calm them down and relax them.

Let’s start with some products that may be beneficial:

ThunderShirt: This is a garment that creates equal gentle pressure around your dog’s body. This pressure impinges on the nervous system to produce a calming effect. This calming effect may help to relieve anxiety. They come in various sizes and are available on Amazon as well as local pet stores. In addition to helping calm your dog down during storms, it may also help with other anxieties that your dog may suffer from including: separation anxiety, isolation distress and nervousness around other dogs.

D.A.P.: Short for Dog Appeasing Pheromone (Manufactured by Adaptil as well as Comfort Zone), this comes as a spray, diffuser and as a collar. It mimics a scent that is given off by a bitch that reassures and calms her offspring during possible stressful situations and environments. The best thing is that this not only calms puppies, but it works on dogs of all ages too.

Bach Rescue Remedy: A few drops of these flower essences in your dog’s water or even rubbed onto his belly may help to promote relaxation.

Badger Sleep Balm: This balm contains lavender and bergamot among other oils. When my dog is nice and relaxed I sometimes rub this on my fingers and then allow her to sniff. After several occasions of doing this, whenever she is experiencing any mild anxiety, a few sniffs of this will calm her down. Apply a little to the collar too. Please note however that many essential oils are not a good mix with cats.

Another thing you can try is to play some classical music in the background. I have seen this to even calm down the entire kennel at the shelter. You don’t have to blast it either, play it at a soft comforting level.

It is VERY IMPORTANT to note that you should use these products at random times too, not just during storms or anxiety episodes. Dogs can make quick associations between two stimuli (my dog associated the sound of rain with the sound of thunder and for a while became frightful when it rained, even when there was no thunder at all). If you only put on a ThunderShirt when a storm comes, or only spray D.A.P. during a storm for example, then your dog may quickly make an association between those products and thunderstorms/anxieties and will get scared the moment you bring those items out. On a nice sunny day when your dog is not experiencing any anxieties, put his ThunderShirt on for 15 minutes and then take it off. Give him a few treats while he wears it too so that he can quickly make a positive association with it. Plug in or spray some D.A.P. at random times too. Put in a classical cd too, it may even help to relax you!

Some dogs, especially long coated breeds, may feel the static electricity before and during a storm. Perhaps this is why they seek shelter in a bathtub or behind the toilet (as the porcelain blocks the electricity). Rub a dryer sheet on your dog to help alleviate some of the static. Preferably with an unscented sheet as your dog may be sensitive to the fragrances in the scented sheets. Again, if you’re going to try this, remember to do this at random times once in a while and not only on stormy days.

I never realized how much debate there is in the training community regarding whether or not it is okay to “coddle” your dog when they are experiencing a fearful situation. Some argue that you are reinforcing the fear while others say it’s comforting to the dog and while not changing your dog’s mind about the scary thing, it isn’t gonna make it worse either. I have no idea what to tell you here except that I welcome your feedback if you have any comments regarding this. I can tell you however that with my storm phobic dog, the first thing she does is goes to her “safe spot” which is under the bed and I will let her be. She emerges whenever she feels it is safe to do so. And speaking of safe spots, make sure your dog has access to theirs at all times.

Thunderstorm CD’s: There are many CD’s and downloadable mp3’s that are recordings of thunderstorms. The idea here is to use systematic desensitization and counter conditioning to promote relaxation in the presence of thunder for your dog. This can be accomplished by playing the cd at the lowest possible level while promoting relaxation at the same time. Relaxation can include a massage or belly rub, anything that your dog finds relaxing. You very gradually will increase the volume on the cd and continue to promote relaxation. Bear in mind that this is a very slow process and should not be rushed. This will likely require many sessions multiple times a day and for days, if not weeks. You also need to monitor very closely any signs of stress in your dog from the recording. If your dog does become distressed then you have progressed too quickly and need to go back several levels and start again from there. The goal is to eventually get the volume up to the actual thunder level while at the same time creating a positive association with that sound. If your dog likes to play tug, play tug while the sound is playing, then stop at the same time the sound stops, or feed high value treats while the sound is going, then stop when the sound stops and resume when the sound resumes. When done efficiently this counter conditioning process will turn your dog’s negative association with the thunder into a positive one. Just remember that when the real deal happens, continue to maintain a positive association with the thunder by continuing with games of tug or treats.

Of course, it’s not always just the thunder that the dog may fear. I always consider all the sensory systems in a dog when addressing fears and anxieties. For sight, this involves the lightning. A strobe light, placed outside the window, can be used to mimic the lightning. Fans can be used to simulate the wind. Could you ever smell a storm coming? It’s true, especially for people with sensitive noses. There actually is scientific research that proves some people can sense certain molecules associated with storms. So imagine how it smells for a dog’s most dominant sense.

Melatonin: Giving this natural hormone an hour or two before a storm hits can help your dog to feel more calm and relaxed. Avoid the time-released versions of this pill. Average dosage is 1mg for dogs up to 10lbs. 1.5mg up to 30lbs and 3mg for dogs over 30lbs. Before starting the Melatonin supplement with your dog, check with your vet for best recommended dosage as well as asking about if your dog can take it while on other medications.

If your dog is extremely fearful of storms then it may be helpful to talk to your veterinarian about pharmacological interventions. I personally would never give my dog acepromazine as it shuts the physical body down but the mind is very much awake. Imagine being frightened from something that you wanted to run away from but your body was paralyzed and you couldn’t move at all. Sensitivity to noise is also heightened with this drug. Instead, ask your vet about benzodiazepines, which are short-term use drugs and include alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium). If you do decide to go with pharmacological interventions, you should do so in conjunction with behavior modification and not just medicine alone.

Of course summertime also means fireworks for a lot of us and a lot of these products and tips can be applied to dogs that are afraid of fireworks. Mostly it’s the sound that triggers panic in the dog, but also take into consideration the smell of the burnt sulfur. Taking a cooled off used firework and allowing the smell to mix with the dogs blanket (by enclosing the two in a bag for a short time– without the dog of course!). You can feed treats while your dog is on the blanket, then take the blanket away and stop the treats. Alternate back and forth between doing this. This may or may not help as I believe that in a majority of the cases it’s the sound alone. I even have to mute my television during all of the commercials around the 4th of July because so many commercials have firework sounds!

Chances are that at least a couple of these ideas here will help to alleviate stress in your thunderstorm phobic dog. Using punitive techniques on your dog will not only not solve anything but it will destroy the bond between the two of you. Don’t ignore your dog’s stressful behaviors either. Just like with people, a dog that is constantly stressed can be quite detrimental to their health. When a dog becomes stressed, adrenaline and cortisol levels spike. Increased cortisol levels essentially shut down your dog’s immune system. It can take up to a few days for the levels to return to normal so a dog that is constantly stressed will continue to have elevated cortisol levels and thus put your dog’s immune system on hold which can lead to many health problems down the road.

What can go wrong with punishing a dog for incorrect or unwanted behaviors?

Set up a group of 10 dog trainers in a room and ask them ‘What’s the best method to train a dog?’ Chances are you’ll hear about 11 or 12 different answers….at least. Over the last several decades there has been a shift from a lot of trainers using aversive techniques to train dogs to now using more reward-based methods. There is today however still some trainers who swear by using aversive techniques and also trainers who take a “balanced” approach towards dog training (using around an equal amount of both aversive and reward-based techniques).

And you may be surprised to hear me say that aversive training methods do work on dogs. But they actually do! Slap a shock collar on a dog who won’t stop barking and most likely, they will shut up. There’s no question about it, using aversives for problem behaviors will appear to fix a problem….. but looks can be deceiving.

The problem with aversives is that often you are only suppressing a behavior. Often when problem behaviors are suppressed, those behaviors still need an outlet. It’s like trying to patch up a leaking hole in the wall only to see another hole appear and take its place.

There are many secondary problematic effects that are created by using aversive training techniques. The biggest one I can think of is that the dog-owner bond will be ruined, maybe even permanently.

I’m seeing a lot of habits from dog owners who mean well, but unknowingly do a lot of things that weaken their bond with their dogs. I can write an entire blog on what I believe these things to be (and I probably will). But when a trainer or especially an owner uses aversive techniques when working with their dogs, it can be quite detrimental to further destroying that bond.

I remember an episode in the very beginning when I first got interested in studying dog behavior. I was in a grocery store parking lot about ready to leave. I saw an older gentleman walking his Siberian Husky at the edge of the lot. The man was consistently jerking the leash giving his dog “corrections” FOR NO APPARENT REASON! This dog wasn’t even pulling on the leash! I could see no reason why he felt the need to give these leash corrections, the dog was doing nothing wrong but yet all I could see were so many fear and submissive signals being exhibited from this dog’s body language. There clearly was no bond whatsoever between them. I was so tempted to get out of my vehicle and say something to this guy. But I had no idea how to start that conversation back then, so I bit my tongue and drove off. I would probably approach that same situation differently if I were to see that today. But who knows if any information I could relay to this guy (in a very kindly manner of course!) would even change this guy’s behavior! I know, I know, it’s none of my business to interfere and tell a person how to behave with their dog. I just can’t help myself when I see a dog suffering that bad!

Ok, back on track…

Some other secondary problematic effects from using aversive training techniques can include health problems (from the dog being stressed constantly). A dog may exhibit something called countercontrol, which are behaviors that are utilized to oppose the aversive training techniques, often mistaken as “dominance”. Aggression can often result when using aversives. Dogs can even become depressed believe it or not and at the far end of that a dog can exhibit a phenomenon called learned helplessness, which is when a dog completely shuts down.

Rather than trying to suppress a problem behavior we should instead try to eliminate an unwanted problem behavior. Our focus should start by looking at what the root cause of a problem behavior is and to then address the issue from there. Don’t think “My dog needs to stop that!”…how about instead think “What would I rather have my dog do in place of that bad behavior.”

There are many approaches to take when eliminating a problem behavior. Some of which include: counterconditioning, desensitization and differential reinforcement. I’m trying not to get too technical for the non-trainers reading this, but my point is that there are approaches to eliminating problem behaviors which can be achieved using reward-based techniques. Not only are these techniques scientifically proven to work, but they also enhance the bond between owner and dog.

For example: In one study, dogs were measured for stress behaviors when training using positive reinforcement vs. using negative reinforcement.* This was a simple command of “sit”. Mouth licking, lowered body posture and yawning are just some of the many signs exhibited by dogs that are stressed. The study found:

Mouth licking: 38% (-R) vs. 8% (+R)

Lowered body posture: 46% (-R) vs. 8% (+R)

Yawning: 12% (-R) vs. 0% (+R)

(-R)= negative reinforcement (+R)= positive reinforcement

Also, more dogs in the positive reinforcement group exhibited a spontaneous gaze at their owners during this procedure compared to the negative reinforcement group, 88% ~ 33% respectively. This gaze is a behavior interpreted as an invitation to interact and a positive relationship.

All that being said, I do use mild aversives sometimes. If I see my dog about to get into something that is a no-no, I might say “ehh ehh!” or maybe have a more stern voice and say “Midn-iiiiight….” Those are technically aversives, but using these mild aversives certainly isn’t detrimental to a relationship with your dog. If anything, they are more of a simple distraction.

But aren’t there times when using strong aversives necessary?… I think so.

I know of one trainer who utilized a shock collar to control a Siberian Husky that had a long history of attacking small animals and in a couple cases even killed a couple cats. It was a shock collar or that the dog would’ve had to been put down. And in that case I would support that decision. This was an older dog which also was a breed that has a genetic predisposition of having a high prey drive. That is definitely a dog that would not benefit from any behavior modification so a management solution with a shock collar as a back-up was the best option. Again, it was either that or the dog would’ve been put to sleep.

In dire situations like that utilizing aversives may be a last necessary resort. But most dog owners aren’t in that kind of situation. So why risk having all of the previously mentioned side effects from using aversives when we can instead use reward-based training techniques which will strengthen the bond of our relationship with our companion dogs. If aversives are going to be used then a strict adherence to the LIEBI (Least Intrusive Effective Behavior Intervention) Model should be used as a guideline. You can find a link for this algorithm and levels of intrusiveness table (Created by James O’Heare) by visiting http://www.associationofanimalbehaviorprofessionals.com/guidelines.html

*Deldalle S. Gaunet F. Effects of two training methods on stress-related behaviors of the dog (Canis familiaris) and on the dog-owner relationship. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research 2014; 9:58-65.

Introduction

It’s Blog!, It’s Blog!, everybody wants a Blog! It’s better than bad, it’s good!

Welcome to my blog: bark 4 joy!

Before I start posting a bunch of blogs, I wanted to start off with an introduction blog. This series of blogs will focus on my passion in life, which are dogs. Particularly, these blogs will be about all things dog related, including but not limited to: dog training, behavior modification, diets, learning theory, my experiences with dogs and so much more! Bear in mind that all of my following blogs will merely be my own opinions. Please feel free to share your agreeing or disagreeing opinions with me. I welcome them! I know sometimes I can get things wrong, I’m only human! And I’m sure I’ll read an old blog of mine long after I will have written it and totally change my own opinion on it! To paraphrase British dog trainer John Rogerson, “When you start off as a dog trainer, you start off with two buckets. And one is a bucket that’s full, and it’s called a bucket of luck and the other is a bucket that’s empty, and that’s called the bucket of experience. The hopeful way is when you start up is to fill your bucket with experience before your bucket of luck runs out!”

A little about me… Working dead end jobs forever, I decided one day that I need to do something different, something I can enjoy. So I thought, what’s my passion in life? Well, that was an easy question. I love dogs! So I began to explore different careers working with dogs and narrowed it down to: dog training, vet tech or veterinary assistant. I decided on dog training. So I began by volunteering with the Western Pa Humane Society as a dog walker and continue to do so. I’ve been a dog walker since early 2012. The staff and other volunteers are the best group of people I have ever met in my life, I truly am blessed for working along side them. I also started buying LOTS of books, attending many seminars, buying lots of seminars on DVD, experimenting with my own dogs (“oh, why me!” they said!).

Then I took a HUGE leap in July of 2014 by going back to school. I am currently a student at the Companion Animal Sciences Institute working towards my diploma of Professional Dog Training Science and Technology. It’s a lot of hard work, but what an amazing experience it has been so far!

But by far!, my most valuable experience I am gaining right now is by apprenticing with two amazing trainers from the Humane Society, Maribeth and Heather! I cannot express in words what an honor and privilege it has been in working along side these two. Their knowledge and expertise in dog training is top notch and I am really enjoying my time working with them and I learn something new each day that I work with them.

I’m not sure what route I will be taking after school, but I got a few ideas. For now I’m just continuing to have fun!

I hope you enjoy reading my blogs as much as I enjoy writing them.

Cheers,
Joe