Is your dog stressed?

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Your dog may not have a 9-to-5, relationship issues or financial worries, but stress in dogs is real, and can have real implications on your dog’s ability to behave appropriately.

4PawsUniversity has a handy visual guide to Stress Signs in Dogs, which can help you read your dog’s signals before a bark, growl or bite happens. Pay particular attention to the avoidance signs. These are warning signs that your dog is not enjoying the interaction! Think of avoidance as a stop sign. When you see it, stop what you are doing and change tactics, or remove your dog from the environment that’s creating the avoidance behavior. There are a number of reasons a dog could be avoiding a particular person, dog or other scenario, but in any case it is a signal that should not be ignored.

If your dog is continually stressed by specific events or situations, behavior modification can help your dog learn to cope with stressful events before a bite, bolt or other unwanted behavior occurs.

Help — my puppy is wild!

Silva playing with a carpetDo you have a furry wild child on your hands? Here are a few tips to help calm that puppy!

The Witching Hour: Generally speaking, puppies get especially wound near dusk, or between 6 and 8 p.m., depending on where you live. When possible, see to it that your puppy is exercised and pottied before this time, so he or she can rest in the crate with a Kong stuffed with dinner (a high-quality canned food or soaked kibble) and frozen.

Jumping Up: The general rule of thumb must be, “Jumping makes all attention and fun activity stop.” If you are sitting and your puppy jumps on you, stand up, folding your arms and turning your back. Once your puppy has all four paws on the floor, sit back down, wait a few seconds, then pet her if she is sitting, standing, or laying down nicely. This also applies for when you are on walks. If you are walking your pup and she begins to bite, paw and jump up, stop walking, cross your arms and turn away. As soon as she has stopped, start walking again. Remember to keep those walks short for easily tired puppy legs!

Jumping / Scratching / Biting While Playing: Leashes, tethered to a sturdy object, can be a lifesaver, especially for supervised child-puppy play. Playing with your pup when he is tethered has some special rules, however: NEVER tease or frighten a tethered puppy, and NEVER leave your tethered puppy unsupervised.

While playing with your tethered pup, interrupt play before he gets over-stimulated by practicing a sit cue followed by a treat when he sits. Use “Go play!” to resume play. If he starts jumping or biting at you or your child, stop the playtime by stepping out of his reach and waiting silently until he calms down (sits or keeps all four feet on the ground). Once he calms down, ask him for a sit, then say “Go play!” and resume playing.

Relaxing Time for Your Puppy (and You!): If your puppy does settle nicely in her crate, take advantage of this and give her some alone time to relax in her crate during the day. Allow her about 30 minutes once or twice a day to be alone in her crate with a frozen Kong while you are in the house (at least one of these times can be The Witching Hour — see above). This will not only give you a break, but teach your puppy to settle herself for short periods of time. It will also teach her that her crate is a relaxing, safe place she can go when she is overwhelmed, tired, or stressed out, and that you don’t only put her in the crate when she’s about to be left alone.

Practice these tips and you may have your little Tazmanian Devil settled in no time!

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How can I get my puppy to stop biting?

TeethIf you have a new puppy, your hands and arms are likely covered in bite and scratch marks, and at least a few of your favorite sweaters have holes designed by sharp puppy teeth.

What can you do to keep your little shark from mouthing and biting all day long?

Here are a couple of effective strategies to get you started:

Let ’em bite. “What? I thought this article was about getting my puppy to stop biting!” It is, but bear with me: Your 2- to 5-month-old puppy is at an optimum age to learn bite inhibition, an all-important process that starts when a puppy is still with his or her mother and littermates. Those sharp teeth that we find so painful — well, they annoy mom and the pup’s brothers and sisters, too! Mom and littermates teach the puppy not to bite so hard. As the pups grow into adults with teeth that could do real damage, they learn  to use their mouths gently to avoid life-threatening injuries to one another. Humans can use this learning process to our advantage.

To teach bite inhibition, start with a biting puppy on a leash and a soft toy. Allow the puppy to mouth and play with the toy while you pet her. Then, if her teeth scratch your skin or she grabs your clothing, simply stop playing, step on the leash and cross your arms. Say nothing. Wait five seconds before offering to play with your puppy again. If she intentionally bites you, or bites hard, say “Ouch!” in an offended tone and walk away (tethering your pup first if necessary so she doesn’t follow you and bite your pants). Return and attempt to play again in 10 seconds. This teaches your puppy that calm, gentle mouthing does not end play, but hard bites or bites to clothing does. Do not encourage young children to teach puppies bite inhibition; see time-outs, below.

Time out! If you’ve laid a foundation by teaching bite inhibition (see above), time-outs can be an effective tool for teaching the puppy not to put his mouth on people. Around age five months, as the puppy’s adult teeth settle in, we can start to request that our puppies not mouth us during play. Time-outs can also be effective for those wild-child times when your pup is super-stimulated and can’t calm himself down.

The timeout area can be his crate, exercise pen, a small puppy-proofed room with a door, his leash or other tether, or outdoors if you have a fenced yard. Give time-outs when your polite requests to stop biting (by stopping play) aren’t working.

To use time-outs effectively, pick a word or phrase to use every single time you put your puppy in time out. Popular picks include “Uh-oh,” Oh no!” or “Too bad.” Use this word or phrase only when you’re about to give a time out, not at any other time. This prevents the puppy from running away from you any other time you reach for him, and helps him understand why he is being separated from you.

The time-out should last no longer than a minute, unless he is barking to leave the crate (wait for a bit of silence before opening the door), you are finished playing with him or need to leave the house. In the latter cases, he can rest in his crate with a Kong or other toy.

What kind of treats should I bring to class?

Choosing which kind of and how many treats, or food rewards, to bring to a dog training class is one of the most important factors in your training success during class time. Choosing the right treat can mean the difference between a “Wow!” training session and one where you struggle to hold your dog’s attention the entire class.

Before choosing a food treat for your dog, consult your veterinarian about your dog’s diet and make sure there is no food your dog cannot have, for health reasons. Most dogs tolerate “people food” relatively well, especially considering they will only be getting this food during class and occasional training outings, rather than every meal.

Which treat is best? I often find a combination of foods is the most likely to hold a dog’s attention throughout an entire class, with other dogs, new sights and scents and people all competing for your dog’s attention. Experiment at home with several different food rewards, and keep a list of which treats your dog likes best. (I like to rank them 1 to 10, 1 being the lowest and 10 being the most amazing treat that your dog will do anything to get!)

For example, kibble or dry dog biscuits might be ranked a 1 or a 2, even if your dog loves to eat. These offerings are typically ignored during a class by all but the most indiscriminate of eaters. Uncooked hot dogs and store-bought treats usually come in at a 3 or 4. This may surprise you, as it does a number of people who bring these treats to class, only to find their dog snubs them. “But he loves these at home!” is a typically surprised reaction.  

Level 5 treats and above are usually required to compete with the dog movie theater that is a training class. This could include anything from cheese to Natural Balance or Red Barn food rolls to boiled chicken breast, roast beef or even cooked liver!

A few more tips for using treats in class:

Use small treats. If your dog finds the treat appetizing enough, she should be willing to work for small portions. Small dogs can have licks of canned food, baby food or peanut butter from a jar or spoon. Or, you can take a treat sized for a larger dog and cut it into smaller pieces. Medium-sized dogs can have treats the size of your fingernail. For a large dog, more than 70 lbs., aim for something similar to nickel-sized slices of hot dog. Some folks like to use a Lickety Stik, essentially bacon flavoring delivered one lick at a time.

Texture matters. Think about how you will be using the treats in class; if you need them to lure the dog into position, sometimes a soft treat, or food the dog can lick rather than eat piece-by-piece is best. If you are working on exercises that require you to dole out one piece of food at a time, soft but sturdy pieces are often best. Whatever you choose, make sure it is not crunchy; dogs often have a harder time swallowing crunchy pieces quickly, or are forced to chew them, which slows repetition of the behavior or delivery of the next treat.

You will use more treats during class than you think you will. Plan on bringing a full dinners’ worth of treats, plus half, to class. For example, if your dog normally eats one cup of food at his evening meal, bring one-and-a-half cups of treats. Better to have food left over than to run out before you and your dog have finished training!

Catch a tiger by the tail?

Having trouble trimming your dog’s nails? This video might provide some inspiration to help you work on your dog’s husbandry skills. Note the use of targeting:

Is your dog afraid of the clicker?

It’s not unusual for some dogs to have “clicker aversion,” especially with box clickers, as they make a loud, sharp sound. Start with the clicker behind your back, or in a pocket, to muffle the sound at first. If you’re trying to clicker train your dog and he or she seems to be worried about the sound, please stop using your clicker immediately. Some dogs show few signs of discomfort before suddenly running from the room when the clicker is presented; others look increasingly uneasy with every click. Better to stop sooner rather than later, as the problem is harder to fix if your dog has developed a phobia.

Next time you’re ready for a training session, start with your dog in a different location using different treats, no clicker in sight. Give a quick “smooch” sound with your lips instead of the clicker… if this worries your pup for some reason, just switch to the word “Yes” instead. If you’d like to go back to a mechanical clicker, try to find one that makes a softer sound, or even use the top of a click pen. Don’t attempt to reintroduce the clicker, however, until your dog has had a few weeks of non-clicking clicker training!

Surprisingly, dogs who are bothered by the sound of the clicker at home seem to cope perfectly well in a class or an environment where the other dogs are getting clicked.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Anton Novoselov

How a shelter dog is made

Ian Dunbar talks about how dogs become shelter dogs.

The message in this short video is vital for anyone who is getting or has a puppy, works with shelter or rescue dogs, or anyone considering adopting a shelter or rescue dog.

Creative Commons License (Photo credit: bk2000)

Best Pets Guide to Crate Training Your Dog

Guess what? Dogs have to be taught to like their crates! Here are a few ways we get new dogs settled into their crate homes:

  • Feed all of your dog’s meals and special treats in the crate. This includes stuffed Kongs, bully sticks, bones and chews, as well as any “just because” treats or table scraps. (If your dog is refusing to enter the crate, don’t force her in or close her in while she eats — just put the food in the back of the crate for a week or two, then gradually start closing the door while she eats.)
  • For the first 2-3 weeks after getting a new dog or puppy, expect lots of whining and crying while she’s in the crate. Do NOT open the crate door if the dog is barking, whining or pawing at the crate door. Wait for even one second of silence. If your hand is on the crate door and the dog puts her paws on it or begins barking, withdraw your hand and wait for one second of silence/paws off before attempting to open the door again.
  • Always leave your dog or puppy with as many stuffed chew toys (Kongs full of kibble and canned food, sterilized bones with peanut butter, etc.) as possible when you put him in the crate. Save an extra-special treat or Kong to deliver right as you’re walking out the door, so he associates you leaving with wonderful things.
  • Unless you have a puppy with poor bladder control or an adult dog who eats blankets and stuffing (which could create a medical emergency), provide a soft bed or blanket in the crate. Test an older dog or puppy by leaving a blanket in the crate while you’re home to monitor them; if they chew or destroy it, go without. Very young puppies can have a towel the first few days as they settle in — but be aware most WILL use the towel as a “diaper” for accidents and you will need to remove it eventually to achieve housetraining.
  • Pick up whatever toys/treats/food your dog hasn’t finished when you arrive home, and quietly put one in the back of the crate later in the day for your dog to find.
  • Use the crate. Keep crate time short and pleasant (lots of GOOD food and treats) at first. Many people give up after a week of listening to their dog whine and bark, declaring, “The dog doesn’t like the crate.” This creates a dog who not only won’t stay in a crate, but has a difficult time being boarded, and who is less welcome on your travels. We have to teach the dog that being in the crate is a good thing.
  • New dogs and puppies should stay in the crate at least one hour per day while you are home. Otherwise, the puppy or dog learns that you only put him in the crate when you leave — not a good thing! This also teaches your new dog or puppy that he doesn’t have to be in the crate when you’re there — not good if you ever need to crate your dog because of visitors or for a medical reason.
  • If your dog is uncomfortable in his crate, but you must leave him there while you’re gone, have someone come every 3-4 hours to let the dog out to relieve itself, and provide re-fills of the tasty treats in the crate. Never leave a puppy under 14 weeks in a crate longer than 1-2 hours, and no longer than 3-4 hours until six months. From there, you can gradually increase crate alone time to 8 hours, if need be.
  • RED FLAGS: If your dog is barking in the crate for a solid two hours or longer (use an audio or video recorder to verify if you’re out of earshot), drooling excessively or damaging the crate or herself (bloody nose or paws), STOP using the crate and contact both your veterinarian and a qualified dog behavior professional. Continuing to crate a dog who is severely anxious can result in both physical and psychological harm to the dog!

Is your dog ready for group classes?

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Dogs must be safe and feel safe around people and other dogs before they are ready to learn obedience and basic manners.

Review the categories below to see which best describes your dog:

READY – Is safe with all people and dogs.

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT – Is safe with all people, but requires caution around other dogs (snarling, snapping, growling or lunging at other dogs).

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT – Snarling, snapping, growling or lunging at people or other dogs.

If your dog falls into the “needs improvement” category, he or she would benefit from [intlink id=”4″ type=”page”]in-home training[/intlink] before enrolling in group classes. Only dogs in the “ready” category may enroll in Agility, Basic Manners or Puppy Kindergarten class.

Should you comfort a scared dog?

DSC_8997There’s a terrific discussion about thunderstorm phobia, body language and the issue of whether fear can be reinforced over on Patricia McConnell’s excellent blog.

The oft-given advice to ignore a dog who’s feeling fearful may not be correct. But, like most emotions, fear and its resulting behavior can be complex to address from a behavioral standpoint.

Read for yourself and see what you think — Dr. McConnell promises to write more on the topic, and several folks are offering good advice for thunderstorm phobia in the meantime.
Creative Commons License photo credit: broxtronix