Trainer Tuesday: Socialization & Household Fears

Every Tuesday we will be working with certified dog trainer Lisa from The Noble Hound, Dog Training and Obedience to answer your dog training questions. If you have a question about your pooch, whether it be leash manners, house training, getting along with other animals or anything in between, email us at info@dreamrescue.ca and we will pick a few questions each week to answer.

Maria McMurray asks, “Greetings Lisa, Have almost one year old Theo, pibble. He grew up with our two other ten yr old Lhasa Shitzu mixes. They’re ok together. Took Theo to training which did not focus on socializing (the idea was to focus on the trainer) and he did fine. We live out in the country so he doesn’t get to see many other dogs, except… Our neighbor has three schnauzers who immediately begin barking as soon as they come outside, or see us in our yard through their window. Neighbors actually say the dogs bark less since we moved in, I think it’s because the owners take them in more often since we moved in because they know they really do bark a lot. Regardless, the three barkers seem to get Theo quite worked up, sometimes even to the point of him attacking our other two dogs, then our three go back to normal. But…over time it appears that now Theo has come to dislike any other dog (other than ours). He used to be fine going for walks and coming across other dogs, very interested but not really aggressive. Now, since the barkers, he seems to want to attack any dog we pass by. We’re nervous about trying to socialize him because we don’t know how to start. We had taken him to play dates with other dogs prior to the barkers and things were very normal. But he seems to hit the “red zone” around others. Help!”

Hi Maria,

Unfortunately, obedience class doesn’t prepare dogs for all real life situations. Obedience class is wonderful for helping dogs gain some impulse control around other dogs, it can help with things like confidence and socialization to an extent and it can help the handler gain better control of their dog; however, it doesn’t always prevent things like aggression or reactivity on walks. For dogs, obedience class is more predictable than real life and therefore your dog will probably feel a bit more comfortable in a class, since it’s the same place each week with the same dogs over and over again. On walks, life gets a bit less predictable and you will probably encounter other dogs who might cause your dog to feel uncomfortable or defensive. As a defense mechanism your dog is going to demonstrate behaviours such as barking, pulling hard on leash, lunging and so on to make the threat (other dog) go away. It is important to understand that when your  dog barks, lunges or growls at other dogs, that  he is doing so to make the other dog go away. Barking, lunging, growling and even biting are all “distance increasing” signals that dogs send out to other dogs, animals and people when they need space. These are desperate attempts for the dog to control his or her environment – kind of like a last resort.

When dogs meet each other, they do so in a very ritualistic manner. They greet each other at very specific distances and angles and they do a whole lot of talking with their body language. Sometimes that body language is so subtle that we don’t even notice it. Anyways, the problem is when dogs are on leash, we tend to mess up their ritual. We tug on leashes, we get too close to other dogs, we approach other dogs the wrong way (sometimes even in a threatening manner), we walk right towards other dogs or people when our dogs are suggesting they’d rather go the other way. As a result, our dogs display aggressive or defensive behaviours in attempt to control the situation. Little do we know that our dogs were stressed far before the aggressive reaction – we just didn’t notice.   

So, to help with leash aggression or frustration, we want to allow our dogs to see other dogs on walks, but at a distance that doesn’t cause them stress. Watch your dog’s body language and keep an eye out for things like:  your dog getting stiff or still, excessive pulling, ears back or really forward, tail high or low, lip licking, yawning, avoidance (sniffing, turning away, head turn), raised fur and so on. These things indicate that your dog is stressed and will likely react if the threat doesn’t go away. You want to avoid allowing your dog to get to a stressful state by letting your dog see the other dog from a distance and then turning around and going the other way (you can even cross the street or move in another direction). You can also give your dog a piece of food as soon as they see the other dog (counter conditioning). Going the opposite way is actually a reward for your dog. He or she will feel great relief and won’t be so agitated over time when he sees another dog on a walk. You’re essentially setting him up with good experiences which in effect are teaching him that nothing bad happens when you see another dog on the street. You’re also teaching him to cut off his behaviour at curiosity, rather than aggression (lunging and barking). You might think “isn’t this just avoiding the problem” and that is a very good question. What you want to do is get closer and closer to dogs over time, but do so at a pace where your dog is comfortable. Only get closer to other dogs once your dog is showing progress. So, you’re not avoiding, you’re just teaching your dog to cope more effectively and you’re building your dog’s tolerance to other dogs.

If you get too close and your dog reacts, there isn’t a whole lot you can do. That’s kinda like pulling a guy back at a bar fight. It’s too late. Your best bet is prevention and not putting your dog in stressful situations that give them no choice but to react.

I suggest contacting a professional dog trainer who is force-free (positive reinforcement) who can help guide you a bit in this area. Reactivity usually gets worse over time and it’s best to deal with it properly and effectively. Forcing a nervous or anxious dog towards another dog, person or thing, using things like pinch collars, choke chains, punishment and so on will definitely create more of a mess, so I always recommend taking the more gentle route when training dogs, especially aggressive ones.   

Maria Vokey asks, “Hi Lisa…our GSD Britta is just over 1 yr and she is scared of almost everything…from ceiling fans, vacuums, papers blowing in the wind, plants that move and of many friends/family that come to our home. She will bark and run away from what is making her nervous. With people, she does slowly approach them but as soon as they make a move she is startled and she runs away or starts barking at them. We did socialize her when she was young…brought her to many places and people but maybe we did not do it enough? Just wondering what we can do to help her overcome these fears? Thank you!”

Hi Maria, Good question. This is a very common issues that I see in dogs. The worst thing you can do is force her towards the things she is scared of. She’s going to need some systematic desensitization and counterconditioning. Systematic desensitization is getting closer and closer to the scary things over time (but only when the dog is ready to get closer) and the counterconditioning is paring something good (like really stinky and yummy treats) with the item that is causing stress (the fan, vacuum, human, etc). Here are a few steps to help your dog out:

1. Be at a safe distance from the item (scary thing).This means your dog is relaxed and not stressed. Just imagine if you’re scared of spiders. You will be more scared if the spider is right in front of you and you’ll feel relief as more distance is placed between you and the spider. So, with your dog, start at that distance where she isn’t scared of the item and slowly get closer over time. This is where the counterconditioning comes in. In order for your dog to get closer to the item without a reaction, we will countercondition (see step 2).

2. Have your dog look at the item and then reward her for doing so! I highly recommend using the same treat just for training (something your dog doesn’t get at any other time and something that your dog ABSOLUTELY LOVES). We are now pairing something good (the food reward) with the bad (the item) at a safe distance. This is teaching the dog that the item isn’t so bad afterall!

3. Each day get a little closer to the item and repeat (get the dog to look at the item and reward your dog for being so brave).

The key is to reward with the food a second after your dog looks at the item and to use the same tasty food reward each time. This will slowly build a positive association between the food and the scary item. In fact, your dog will want to start seeing these dreaded items over time because they equal such wonderful treats!

I highly recommend booking a session with a force free trainer to practice these techniques. They can be tricky and it’s best to do it right and to have someone there to answer any questions that might arise!

Dream in the City: Asmara Polcyn, The Winnipeg Woof Pack

Asmara Polcyn of The Winnipeg Wolf Pack will be presenting at DREAM’s Manitoba Canine Expo on setting up your foster dog for success at adoption events. We all know how important the first impression can be; Asmara will demonstrate how you can help your foster dog shine.

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Asmara is a student at the Jean Donaldson Academy of Dog Trainers, traveling internationally to keep up with the latest in positive dog training and animal learning. Asmara also teaches a drop-in Dog Cognition class for all dogs at Ruffhouse Boarding Kennels. Her true joy: Dog Language!

Asmara owns four of her own dogs: Becca, Gallahan, Cody and Tia, and fosters occasionally for local rescues and shelters. Four years back, she dog sat a couple of Schutzhund trained dogs, and since then, positive dog training and dog language has been her passion.

Follow The Winnipeg Woof Pack on Facebook for regular positive dog training tips/videos and great dog-related news! Also check out Asmara’s YouTube Channel for great videos.

Visit DREAM in the City: Manitoba Canine Expo on Saturday, June 22nd from 11:00am to 4:00pm, located at Four Points Sheraton South (2935 Pembina Hwy), where Asmara will be among four keynote speakers! More information at www.dreamrescue.ca.

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Curb a Barking Habit

Do you dread people coming over and ringing your doorbell? Does your dog seem to bark uncontrollably? It takes a lot of patience and consistency, but stopping barking IS trainable!

Why do dogs bark?

Dogs don’t speak human; instead they bark as a means to communicate with us. Your dog might be barking for a variety of reasons: warning or alert, anxiety, excitement or play, attention-seeking or even boredom. Take the time to listen to how and when your dog barks to better understand why it’s barking.

Training your dog

Now that you understand why your dog is barking, you can work to control the behaviour. Here are some helpful tips to improve your dog’s barking habit:

  • Make sure your dog is regularly exercised – take it for walks, play together with toys or train it a new trick.

  • Do not give your dog attention (positive or negative) for their barking. Positive attention would be petting or comforting the dog; negative attention would be scolding the dog. Any form of attention encourages the behaviour.

  • Use the “be a tree” method to wait out your dog’s barking – turn your back and look away from the dog. When the dog stops barking, you can then calmly acknowledge it. If the dog starts to bark again, return to the tree position.

  • Use the redirect method to change your dog’s focus – call them away from the source of their barking and refocus their attention on something else, like a toy or a trick. When they stop barking be sure to give them lots of praise!

  • Practice makes perfect! Work on the tree and redirect methods with your dog on leash. Get a friend or family member to help with ringing the doorbell or any other actions that cause your dog to bark.

There’s a lot of information about curbing excessive barking online. For further information, consider speaking with a behaviouralist or attending an obedience class.

Preventing Dogs Bites

When a dog bites, there are two victims–the person bit and the dog. Dogs who bite may be taken away from their family or put down, even though it is rare that the bite was unprovoked. Any dog may bite for a number of reasons, and it is important to understand these reasons and see the signs in order to prevent injury.

Why do dogs bite?

Dogs don’t always like to share, so it is best not to approach them when they have a toy, food, bone, or something else they really enjoy. If you had a yummy snack and someone sn

atched it away you’d be pretty upset, wouldn’t you? Dogs don’t always know that it’s not OK to say, “No!” with a nip. Caretakers can teach dogs not to be aggressive when people take their belongings away, but if you don’t know the dog very well it is best to be cautious by asking permission to pet the dog, and waiting for him or her to approach you first.

Another reason for a dog to bite is because they are afraid. Not all dogs are comfortable with humans; we are much larger and can be threatening to them. Never approach a dog that you do not know without the owner’s permission. In fact, letting a dog decide when it’s ready to visit with you by allowing them to approach you is the best way to make friends! Do not put out your hand for it to sniff or just start petting it–wait until the animal shows interest in you. A dog may become afraid if it feels crowded or cornered, so stand back and allow them to come to you when they are comfortable. Here is a great example of the right (and wrong) ways to greet a dog.

aggressive dog

Sometimes, a strange large creature (you!) moving quickly may trigger a dog’s prey instinct and it could begin to chase. Instead of trying to get away from the animal just stop and stand still looking towards the dog but avoiding eye contact. It will probably quickly lose interest. If the dog does knock you over curl up in a ball and protect your face and ears while staying quiet and still.

Dogs with health concerns are more likely to bite than others. If a dog is sore and you touch that spot it is liable to snap in pain. Sudden aggression in a dog can be a sign that it has a health problem. Mothers can become very protective of their puppies, so make sure they have a safe place to be and be very careful when handling puppies in front of their mother. Never let children handle puppies around the mother dog!

How to prevent a dog bite

Dogs demonstrate signs before a bite that you should be aware of:

  1. Ears pinned back  and raised hair on their backs;
  2. “Frozen” stance or “whale eyes” (showing the whites of their eyes);
  3. Excessive yawning, licking of the lips and shaking to get rid of the stress.

If a dog is showing these signs, they are warning you to back off. If pushed further, they may resort to biting. Dogs will never bite without showing these signs first, but they can go from 1 to 10 in a matter of seconds, so it is important to be educated on what to look for and how to react. Here is a great depiction of these warning signs.

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It is important for people to raise their dogs in such a way as to reduce the chance of their family pet biting someone. Dogs should visit  with new animals and people frequently in different situations. They should also be taught basic commands and have a good, trusting relationship with their human family.

Older dogs who show aggression or other signs that they may bite someone do not need to be removed from the home and family. A dog trainer can help with behavioural issues in dogs. There are also many great online resources for people who can’t afford a trainer.

YellowRibbon_1If your dog is timid, anxious, unsure of other people/dogs, or if there’s any other reason a person or dog shouldn’t approach your dog (perhaps they’re in training or recovering from surgery), place something yellow on them. The Yellow Dog Project was created to help identify to the general public dogs who need space. This can prevent unwanted incidents from someone accidentally approaching your dog when they shouldn’t.

For more information on preventing dog bites, visit:

If you’re concerned about your dog’s behaviour, contact Lisa at The Noble Hound Dog Training & Obedience. Lisa is a certified dog trainer who offers both group obedience and private training classes.