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!

Trainer Tuesday: Nipping Puppies, Barking, Jealousy, Separation Anxiety & Rough Play

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.

Arielle asks, “Our 7-8 month old rescue pup nips when playing and often plays to rough for other dogs… We’ve been doing the stop playing when he does nip and not letting him nibble on hands/feet/pillows and swapping them with toys, but is there anything else we could be doing?”

Hi Arielle,

Puppies have an unlimited supply of energy and very little impulse control, so when they play it’s often with lots of enthusiasm. You’re absolutely doing the right thing. When things get out of control, the play should end. Take lots of breaks when you guys are playing with the pup, but make sure to break before the pup gets out of control because once the pup is over the top it’s hard for him to come down. Let your pup play with well-mannered adult dogs who can teach your pup proper doggy etiquette. You can also throw in some basic obedience (sit, down and stay) to help the dog think and make choices while you’re having fun and playing. This will teach the dog to listen to you a little bit more. All play with no mental stimulation or boundaries can create bad habits in younger dogs.

As for the chewing and nipping, pups and younger dogs ABSOLUTELY need to chew and use their mouths. Pups and younger dogs use their mouths and teeth in play, during social interaction and to explore. We just need to teach our pups what they can and cannot chew. It’s very important to always have durable and safe dog toys available. We recommend having puppy toys in every room of the house. When your pup decides that he wants to nibble on your arm or foot, replace your body part with a fun toy! Teach your pup what items are for puppies and which items are not (like your body parts). If the pup isn’t taking the toys, you want to walk away from a pup that is playing too rough. As soon as the pup gets overly excited or nips you too hard, get up and walk away. If the pup follows you, go into another room and shut the door for 5 seconds. Come back out and let the pup settle a bit before you play again. Repeat if the pup nips to hard again. It’s normal to have to repeat a dozen or so times in a row!

I recommend getting your 7 month old dog into a basic obedience class. Structure, rules, obedience and learning all help a young dog to control those wild teenager impulses. It’s also a great way to bond with your dog and to teach him how to cope when he’s feeling overly excited or frustrated.

Britni asks, My 2 1/2 year old pomchi barks and whines at every person that walks by and when they have a dog she goes ballistic. Especially when she’s outside at the fence. ( the sidewalk is on the other side) when she’s inside she just whines and will get one of her toys and shake it like crazy. It’s like she uses the toy to let out the frustration. She’s not aggressive, if the dog or person came over she would lick them and want to play and she’d stop whining. Now that its nice out we live in a very active neighborhood so it’s constant. What’s the best way to help control her behavior to ppl walking by? Thanks!”

Hi Britni,

It sounds like your little dog doesn’t know how to cope with the excitement of being around or seeing other dogs and people. Dogs are social animals and tend to get excited when they see their own kind or other mammals. We have to teach them that they don’t have to go crazy every single time they see a dog or human. The first thing you want to teach your dog while on walks is to not get excited in the event that a dog or person comes into view. Right now, your dog sees another dog or person and probably gets excited way before you even notice and way before the other dog and person even gets close. Before your dog has a chance to get overly excited, cross the street or move in a different direction while also offering a food reward. This will teach your dog to “cut off” her level of excitement at an appropriate level. Over time, you will notice that your dog’s excitability level will lessen and you will actually be able to get closer and closer to humans and dogs on your walks without that immediate excited reaction that your dog is currently displaying.

It’s completely normal for a dog to bark when someone passes their property. You can use some basic obedience in this case. Call your dog away after a bark or two and reward them away from the window. If you can have a leash on your dog while practicing this, that is even better. This gives you a bit more control. Over time reduce the amount of food reward that they are getting (but only if the dog is showing progress). This will teach your dog that after a bark or two they come and find you for the reward.

Shanell asks, My 5 year old Shepherd cross named Sadie has some jealousy issues, especially with my father (who’s her favourite). When we pick up and pay attention to our cat she has to be there, sometimes barking, until we put the cat down. It’s even worse around other dogs. If I pay attention to another dog she always makes the effort to come between us and break it up, and when it’s my dad playing with the dog, she can start growling and we’ve even seen her get slightly aggressive. We’ve tried ignoring her completely, we’ve tried splitting the attention between both animals, but she always wants it to herself. Is there anyway to calm her down when we interact with other animals? Thank you!”

Hi Shanell,

It sounds like Sadie is a little bit of a resource guarder. I recommend taking an obedience class with Sadie to teach her some impulse control and manners. Basic obedience will help give her a confidence boost since she’s obviously not confident when your attention is elsewhere. The obedience will also give you better control of Sadie when she’s being pushy. You never want to allow Sadie to get in between you and the cat or other dog. Use your body to block her and then reward her with a food item once she backs off. You can also use some obedience to teach her to wait until it’s her turn for affection. If you can put her in a sit/stay while you or your dad is tending to the other animal, she will start to automatically wait her turn. Start with a very short sit/stay (literally seconds) and then release her to come to you. Over time increase the duration of her sit/stay so that she learns to wait for her turn.

Kristin asks, “Our new rescue dog, Willow, seems to have extreme separation anxiety. We kennel her when we leave the house, and it does not matter if we are gone 10 minutes or 2 hours, she pees in her kennel. We have tried feeding her in her kennel, pretending to leave and coming back quickly to show her we will always come home, giving her chew toys, but so far nothing has worked. We are constantly running our washing machine to clean the towels and blankets we put down for her. Any suggestions on how we can help her understand that we will always come back to her?”

Hi Kristin,

The good news is that doesn’t sound like extreme separation anxiety. When a dog has separation anxiety they usually end up hurting themselves trying to get out of the kennel. They will break teeth and nails trying to get out of the kennel, slip through tiny openings that they are able to make in the kennel, and it’s common for separation anxiety dogs to go through windows and even walls to get out of the house. You’ll notice areas around exists (doors and windows) will be scratched and chewed up. The dog will also be covered in saliva, will often pee and poop and will be hysterical when you finally arrive home.

Try not putting anything in the kennel when you do leave. It sounds like she doesn’t like being in the kennel and that the peeing is just becoming habit. Freeze a Kong full of peanut butter when you leave the house so that she has something tasty to chew on for a half hour or so. All of that hard work in order to get the peanut butter out might tire her out a bit. Also, make sure to wash the kennel really well with a pet cleaner (enzyme cleaner). Dogs can smell things that we can’t even imagine, so make sure you’re using a pet enzyme cleaner to wash out the kennel.

Since your dog isn’t a fan of her kennel, your job it to teach her that the kennel is a really fun place to be! When you’re home, play lots of games around the kennel with the door open. First start off playing around the kennel and each day get closer and closer to the kennel until the dog is finally playing inside the kennel. You can throw toys and extra tasty treats around the kennel and then inside the kennel so that she starts to associate the kennel as good thing! Keep the door open at all times when she enters the kennel during these games, but over time you can shut the kennel door bit by bit and make her wait for a second or two until she comes back out. Also, when you come home make sure to be calm (don’t give her toys) and be nonchalant about your arrival. I highly recommend the DVD Crate Games by Susan Garrett. This DVD has many great ways to teach a dog to enjoy his crate.

Lisa asks, “I always wonder when dogs are playing, how can you tell when it’s going too far (of course, no one is bleeding), but sometimes my pug will chase my shepherd making really snarly noises…”

Hi Lisa,

Great question! When dogs play, you want to watch for body language that suggests happiness! Things like playbows (bum up in the air), wiggly bodies, open mouths, relaxed faces are all good signs. Watch for lots of lateral play (meaning the dogs are running side by side or body checking each other); this is a good thing. Dogs love to play with their paws (like they’re boxing) and they love climbing all over each other. Stiffness, either really low or high tails, tight mouths and things like charging and chasing when one dog is clearly trying to hide or get away are not good signs. Lots of breaks are important during dog play as well. My two dogs will play for 30 seconds and then take a 10 second break and then they will start up again with some wrestling and chasing. Dogs take these mini breaks to avoid situations that would otherwise get too out of control. As for vocalization, if the dogs seem to be happy, their bodies are loose and wiggly and nobody is trying to hide or get away then growling and snarly noises are just part of the play. Some dogs are just more vocal during play than others and that’s okay!

Stay tuned every Tuesday where we will be answering more of your training questions!