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: Stress from Moving

 

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.

Erin Dyck: Hi Lisa! We are moving soon, and so our house is in a bit of chaos (more so than usual). There are boxes everywhere, and the dogs obviously know something is up.

They are a bit touchy; the little guys are growling at everyone as they do when they feel stressed out, and Spencer, our only male, has started marking around the house (just little dribbles; he’s still using the great outdoors for “real” bathroom breaks).

What can I do to minimize the stress on them, other than sticking to their regular routine?

Hi Erin,

Congratulations on buying a new house! Moving can be an exciting adventure, but also very stressful for both humans and animals involved. You are absolutely right in keeping up with the dogs’ daily routine. Right now the moving boxes are stressing your dogs out, so switch their brains and make the boxes and chaos fun and beneficial to them! Boxes can be fun right?! Hide some treats and favorite toys among the moving boxes, making the boxes a bit more exciting and valuable for the dogs. Get the dogs to jump over and/or weave around the boxes and play games around the boxes and chaos, but make sure to reward your dogs with their favorite things (food, treats, toys, affection) for being so brave and happy. The key is to make the boxes fun and rewarding!

Another thing you can do is try to exercise the dogs a little extra. Poop them out so that they don’t have the extra energy to convert into anxiety. A tired dog is a dog that isn’t going to think too much!

As for your dog that is marking, try to re-direct just before you see that leg going up. Make sure he’s never around the moving items and boxes unsupervised. The more he gets to practice this behaviour unsupervised, the more he’s going to do it. You want to catch him before he pees and interrupt him before anything comes out. You can say something like “aaaak” to re-direct his silly ideas.

If your dogs need to go somewhere else (a familiar place like another family member’s home) while the move is taking place that is okay too. I suggest doing this on the actual moving day.

Also, if you have access to the new house already, I would take the dogs there to explore a few times before the final move. This will allow them to develop positive associations to the new house. Let them have fun at the new place – interact and play with the dogs, let them do things they love to do, give them some tasty bones or Kongs stuffed with cheese, meat or peanut butter. Make the new place a great place to be!

In general, it’s natural for your dogs to be a little upset about change. That is normal, but you can help them out by making the situation a bit more enjoyable and fun!

Trainer Tuesday: Fears, Recall, Pulling on the leash, Eating too quickly & Barking at neighbours

Clare Hourie Ive had my elkhound rescue dog for 7 months, they think he is about two years old. he won’t walk on any type of flooring..I place him directly on the floor and he extract his nails which makes the situation worse for him. Ive placed peices of carpet on the kitchen floor so he can make his way around..but taking him to the pet store or the vet or any friends house is a real issue.any helpful ideas??

Hi Clare,

This is actually a very common problem with dogs. I’m glad you asked! First off, you never want to coax or force a dog towards something that makes them uncomfortable. This can break trust between the human and dog and can actually reinforce and strengthen the fear. It’s kind of like throwing a bucket of spiders on someone who is terrified of them.

Here’s the plan: Walk your dog on leash towards the scary flooring, but at a distance that doesn’t cause him any stress (you might need to start from very far away). Before he becomes nervous, stop in your tracks and quickly give him a really high valued food reward (use cheese, hot dog, liver or anything that really gets your dog happy and excited). Then walk your dog away from the scary floor for some relief, wait about 20 seconds and repeat. Repeat this exercise a dozen times, twice a day and over time get closer and closer to the flooring. Once you’re able to walk your dog to the floor without a negative reaction, proceed with your dog actually stepping onto the floor one foot at a time (or even part of a foot). Repeat the exercise each day where the dog puts more and more paw onto the floor until he is putting two paws onto the floor and then actually taking steps and so on. The key is to work with him while he’s calm and not stressed. Before you know it, your boy won’t even think twice about walking across the floor! This kind of training is called Counter Conditioning. You’re conditioning an unwanted response (the dog becomes scared) to something (the floor) into a desired response (dog happily crosses floor), by the association of a good thing (food reward). You’re also desensitizing your dog to the scary floor with the gradual exposure.

Now, if your dog absolutely needs to cross any scary floor in the meantime, I would get a long carpet to help him out. This will help keep your dog’s stress level down and therefore make the training process a bit easier on both of you.

Good Luck!

Arielle Justine My dogs needs to work on recall. Taz is a bit better than Tug (who’s still a pup), but if either are really focused in on something it doesn’t matter how much I call, they don’t come back until they’re good and ready… Any training tips techniques?

Hi Arielle:

Very good question! Below you will find some tips on training recall. The one thing you will want to do is train them separately before you try them together. Get a good foundation before you put them in a situation where you know they won’t come back.

Start Easy: This is critical when teaching a dog anything new. You need to practice teaching your dog to come when there are no distractions and when there is a high probability that your dog will come to you. A good place to start training recall is in your home, where there are few or no distractions. Later on, you will work on adding distractions to your training, but for now, start easy. One of the biggest training mistakes that dog owners make is calling the dog when the dog is clearly absorbed in something else, whether it’s playing at the park or tracking a really good scent in your backyard. Give your dog a chance and make training fun and easy for him.

It’s important to note that when you’re not training, avoid calling your dog and using the verbal command come. If you need your dog to come inside or come to you at the park, you need to go and get him yourself. You don’t want be making progress during training and then at other times give your dog the opportunity not to come when called. This will hinder any progress that you’ve made and it will also confuse your dog. So, until your dog is a master at recall, don’t ask him to come to you.

Use the Leash: This is another essential component of recall training. If your dog is off leash and you call him and he doesn’t come, what can you do? Every single time you practice recall with your dog, you need to do so on leash. That way, if your dog is suddenly distracted you can very gently gain your dog’s attention by moving away from the distraction and trying again. Over time, once your dog is showing great progress you can use a longer leash (15 to 20 feet) and practice recall with some distance.

Reward BIG TIME: We tend to be a little less exciting than a squirrel up in a tree or the other dogs at the park, so we really need to work on making ourselves more exciting for our dogs. That’s where tasty food rewards come in. When training recall, use food rewards that your dog absolutely can’t deny. Some great reward ideas include: liver, chicken, Roll Over, peanut butter, fish, or anything that gets your dog drooling. Also, don’t be cheap on the amount of reward given. Make your dog feel like he’s won the jackpot! Don’t worry about your dog gaining weight. You can cut down on your dog’s dinner portions when training or up your dog’s daily exercise. If your dog isn’t food motivated, you can use a favorite toy or ball. No matter what the reward of choice is, make it a good one and add tons of praise and encouragement.

Say the command ONCE: One common mistake that owners make when training their dog is that they repeat the command until the dog finally obeys. By doing this, the dog is simply learning that he doesn’t have to follow a command immediately. He can choose to obey when he wants. The other problem with repeating any command is that the dog might just think that repetition is part of the command. If you reward a dog for sitting after saying “sit, sit, sit”, you’re reinforcing that sitting after 3 commands is a good thing. Later on, we will discuss what to do if your dog doesn’t come to you after you ask him once.

Adding Distance: Once you’ve been practicing recall for about a week inside the house on a 6 foot leash, you can slowly add and increase distance to your training. Many pet stores sell 15 to 20 foot leashes that are perfect for this type of training. Add a foot every few days, but only increase if your dog is showing progress.

Adding Distractions: Since real life is full of distractions, you need to slowly add distractions to your training. Start practicing when the house is a bit busier and then take your training outside. Start in your yard where your dog is somewhat comfortable and then start venturing out into the real world. Once again, start easy. Try on quiet streets and work your way up to more exciting spots such as parks, popular streets and so on. Remember, you’re still practicing on leash!

Calling your Dog Off Leash: Now after all of that hard work on leash, you’re going to need to start back at square one if you want to test your dog off leash. Your best bet is to start in a very small room (like the bathroom) where your dog simply can’t run away. Over time, begin to increase your distance and add distraction when your dog is ready. When training off leash in your yard or if you take your dog to the off leash park make sure to load your pockets with food rewards. When you see that your dog is looking at you or focused on you, call him over with enthusiasm and reward him plentifully. Try calling your dog every minute or so and keep rewarding. After doing this for a bit, your dog is going to automatically start looking at you and checking in. Remember to set your dog up for success. Don’t start practicing recall off leash while your dog is busy playing with other dogs. Wait until he is finished and then call him over.

After you feel confident about your dog’s recall, you can slowly cut back on food rewards. The key is to keep rewarding intermittently, so that you’re still reinforcing recall, but not so much. As a dog trainer, I still carry food in my pockets when I walk my two dogs off leash and I call them a few times throughout each walk, just to reinforce their recall.

So, what does Recall Training look like anyway?

Step 1: Leash up your dog. Six foot leashes are great to start with.

Step 2: Load your pockets (or training pouch) with some extra tasty food rewards.

Step 3: Make sure your dog is focusing on you and is not distracted by the environment.

Step 4: In a happy encouraging voice say, “Fido, come!” and reward immediately with food and praise.

Make sure to repeat this exercise approximately 10 times in a row and always end on a positive note. Try to practice a few times a day (10 times each session) and only increase criteria such as distance and distraction when your dog is showing progress.

What if your dog doesn’t come? If your dog doesn’t come to you after a few seconds, your food reward might not be enticing enough. You might also want to double check that your dog isn’t distracted by something like the family cat. If your dog still isn’t getting it, try calling him when he’s much closer to you. It’s important to follow the steps listed above and remember to be patient. It’s also important to note that, after one unsuccessful “come”, don’t keep saying “come, come, come”. After one “come”, simply turn around for 10 seconds and try again.

One last point I should make is you don’t necessarily have to just use the word “come” when training. Try using your dog’s name and follow the same rules. It doesn’t hurt to have a few words in your recall vocabulary!

 

Gillian Fern-Loeppky How do I get Dakota to stop pulling when he is in his harness?

We often unintentionally teach our dogs that a tight leash is okay by allowing them to move forward when that leash is tight. Dogs love to move forward. They want to explore, smell everything possible and meet other dogs and people. Forward movement is beneficial to any mammal. If you want to get somewhere, you usually move forward to get there. If you’re excited about where you’re heading, you move faster! When we allow our dogs to move forward on a tight leash, they have no reason to believe that a tight leash is a bad thing. We need to change this and teach them the opposite. We want to teach our dogs that a loose leash equals forward movement.

So now what?

*You want to start in the house before you take this training outside. Sometimes when I’m training a dog to walk on a loose leash, it can take days before we even leave the driveway! Be patient and don’t worry about the distance you’re gaining on your walks and instead worry more so about the quality of the walks. This new kind of training will drain your dog’s energy because mental stimulation is exhausting!

When your dog’s leash gets tight on walks, plant your feet and don’t move. DON’T YANK ON THE DOGS LEASH for any reason. (Your dog can be out in front of you. Don’t worry about heeling at this point.)

Wait until the dog turns around and say “YES” and reward.

This teaches the dog that when they hit the end of the leash, they go nowhere and that when they pay attention to their handler good things happen (Food and praise).

Over time the time it takes for the dog to look back at you will lessen. It will become habit to turn around and look at you when the dog hits the end of the leash, instead of hitting the end of the leash and either doing nothing or getting overly excited.

Over time you can fade the food out and reward your dog with some forward movement. You will find that both you and your dog will start to enjoy walks much more without all of that tension!

Beth Godin I have a 4.5 month old foster pup, and he eats each meal like he will not get another one. I scatter his food on the ground (have started doing it outside) and putting his food in the kong. It has slowed him down a bit, but he still inhales it as fast as possible. What are some other things to try? I also have a 3 yr old black lab who eats really quickly.

Hi Beth,

This is common in homes with multiple dogs. Try allowing the dogs to eat in separate rooms where they are comfortable and where no other dogs can hover or even watch. Make sure to feed when the dogs are not overly aroused or excited. The pressure of having another dog around might be forcing your dogs to eat fast. This is actually a form of resource guarding (“I’m gonna eat super fast, so you can’t get my food”). You can also purchase dog bowls that are made to slow a dog’s eating. You can also try putting a big ball in the bowl so that the dog has to eat around the ball and actually think while eating. Ask for a few calm behaviours before you place the bowl down (Sit/Stay or eye contact). Your best bet is to keep the dogs calm and create calm, peaceful environments where they don’t have to rush to eat their meals.

Ainsley McSorley Lisa, luce barks non-stop at our neighbors and being gardening season they are out a lot, i feel terrible (esp as one woman is scared of dogs), any ideas on how to get him to stop?

Hi Ainsley,

Nice to hear from you! There is a wonderful trainer on Youtube that demonstrates how to teach your dog not to bark. She uses a form of training called clicker training. You don’t necessarily need to clicker train, but instead just mark the behaviour with the verbal marker “Yes” (you can email me if that doesn’t make sense). Anyways, check out this video and try it out. Start out with nobody outside and then work your way up when people pass by. Start far away from the fence or window and slowly work your way closer over time and only when Luce shows progress. Also, I recommend training Luce at first when the other dogs are put away, just to reduce the distraction.  Here’s the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jp_l9C1yT1g