Is your dog stressed?

pug-981207_1280

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.

Is your dog ready for group classes?

jackson1

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.

Tip: What to look for in the parents of your puppy

French Bulldog mama and trio of pups 11 days oldCreative Commons Licensephoto credit: janiejonesmt

So you’re ready to get your next puppy, and have done your research in choosing a breeder. Or maybe you’re about to pluck a puppy from a [intlink id=”44″ type=”post”]shelter or rescue[/intlink] out of a litter that arrived with its mother. Of course you will want to know as much about your new puppy’s upbringing as possible, and when purchasing from a breeder, this includes meeting the sire and dam in person. As puppies aren’t ready to be placed into their new homes until eight weeks or so, that should leave you plenty of time to visit with the litter and parents, when possible.

Here’s what to watch for in the sire and dam of your new pup:

  • Are they friendly? By friendly, we don’t mean tail wagging and sniffing and jumping all over you. That’s arousal. We mean, is the dog eager to be held, petted by you or interested in playing a game with you after an initial greeting? Or does he or she wander off and ignore you? (Or worse, stay in a corner and bark?) A dog with little social reaction to humans often won’t tolerate handling. If the dog is interacting in a gentle, attentive way with the breeder or foster person but not you, that’s fine — so long as the dog isn’t actively avoiding you or displaying overt signs of aggression, such as barking or growling.
  • Do they live in the house? If either the sire or dam lives primarily outdoors, or in a kennel, beware. There’s usually a reason the breeder or foster parent doesn’t want the dog in the house — regardless of what he or she tells you.
  • Are they mature? An immature sire or dam (younger than 2 years) may have hidden health problems that haven’t yet surfaced. When buying from a breeder, be sure the stock has been health tested for diseases common to the breed, and that the breeder’s contract covers the pup for inherited diseases for a minimum of two years.
  • Do they appear to be in good health? Of course you will take your new puppy to the vet almost immediately after bringing him or her home, but picking a puppy whose sire or dam is ill or in poor condition means your pup’s immunity may also be compromised.
  • Do you like the parents? Listen to your gut — if something seems off about either parent, or you find yourself worrying about either parent’s behavior, look elsewhere. While training and environment certainly play a part, your puppy will inherit traits from both parents! Don’t feel pressured to take a puppy whose parents you wouldn’t take home.

Five reasons to avoid invisible fencing

Invisible fencing may seem like a good idea on the outset, but I believe the risks outweigh the benefits. Below are five reasons I think these fences aren’t the best option for containing your dog.

  1. You still have to train the dog. Many people assume an invisible or underground fence is “plug ‘n’ play” — that is, you simply install it, plop the collar on your dog, and let him play to his heart’s content. This is not the case (as the reputable underground fence dealers will tell you). The dog still must be trained to accept the fence’s boundaries. But the assumption that it is an “easy” way to contain a dog makes me question whether the potential owner is really willing to put effort into the dog’s care and training (i.e., regular walks, obedience), as well as make sacrifices (e.g., increased cost and imperfect landscaping) to accommodate the dog.
  2. Electric shock. As far as I know, all varieties of invisible fencing operate on the premise that the dog wears a collar which produces electric shock when the boundary line is approached. Some dogs are so determined to make it through the fence that the shock level must be turned up unusually high. I have seen instances in which a dog wearing a fence collar was inadvertently shocked by the owner’s television, computer or vacuum. (Think of how healthy this is for the poor dog’s mental state!) I have also heard horror stories and seen pictures of third-degree burns caused by fence collars that have malfunctioned. Beware of the underground fencing dealer who tells you this can’t/won’t happen — after all, he’s there to sell you something, not to look out for your dog’s well-being. That’s your job.
  3. Dogs can — and will — go through an invisible fence. And once they do, guess what? They won’t come back into the yard for fear of getting shocked; they aren’t stupid. They’re simply willing to take the shock the first time through to get whatever they’re after. And once they’re through, they’re free to chase other animals, get into fights, get hit by cars, be shot at, picked up by animal control, etc.
  4. Underground fencing does not keep anyone from entering your property. Therefore, children, cats, other dogs, wild animals and the like are free to come onto your property and tease or terrorize your dog. And dog thieves find underground fencing absolutely delightful — all they have to do is take the collar off the dog and go!
  5. This study linking use of or malfunctioning of underground fencing to serious biting incidents. Do we really need to make dog owners more subject to lawsuits and breed-specific legislation? Further reading: “Train With Your Brain” — Green Acres Kennel

Keep in mind this is my reasoning, and there are plenty of responsible trainers, rescuers and breeders who will place dogs in homes with invisible fencing. Also understand that a “real” fence can be a hallmark of lazy or irresponsible dog ownership and is certainly not a cure-all. But given the fact that regular exercise and training can eliminate the need for a fenced yard (a luxury) and given the variety of fencing options available, I’m inclined to discourage clients from using invisible fencing, for the reasons listed above.

Your agility dog: Building focus and drive (Part One)

HMKC Spring 2007 Agility TrialIn agility or other dog sports, we often hear about a dog’s drive. Maybe someone has said your dog has a lot of drive, or could use more drive.

What is “drive”?

Sometimes you’ll hear people talk about different types of drive in dogs, such as fight drive, play drive or prey drive. For our purposes, we’ll lump these together under the description, “the dog’s desire to perform certain behavior.”

Drive is important because it’s what makes the dog go! We can channel a dog’s drive to play with a toy into prerequisites for playing with that toy, such as a sit or down. Dogs who perform with speed and enthusiasm on the agility course are often said to have a lot of drive.

Drive versus arousal

We handlers and trainers love drive, especially in a working dog. However, there is a difference between drive and arousal.

Arousal in dogs means “an excited mental state.” Arousal, while useful in many situations in which dogs are asked to perform, also can be dangerous. Dog bites take place when a dog is aroused. Besides sometimes leading to aggressive behavior towards humans, arousal can also lead to fights between dogs. Leashed dogs that bark at other dogs during walks are often demonstrating arousal as a result of frustration.

Watch the two videos below to see the difference between drive and arousal.

So, if drive requires the dog to be aroused, how do we ensure what we have is drive, and not simply arousal? Answer: We want controllable, focused arousal.

Controllable, focused arousal = drive

By “focused,” we mean “attentive to the handler.” After all, dogs can focus on many things — cats, birds, other dogs — without ever acknowledging the handler’s existence!

How to get drive

Let’s get started on few exercises to enhance your dog’s focus and drive.

First, we’ll teach our dogs to focus on us, even when something they want is at stake, using the Doggie Zen exercise. This exercise teaches our dogs to perform a required behavior (in this case, paying attention to us), before receiving a treat or other reward.

Second, we’ll show our dogs the benefits of allowing us to control their drive with the “Go Wild and Freeze” game. To play the game, grab some treats and a clicker and get your dog a bit riled — nothing crazy, your typical excited praise should be enough. Then, once the dog is excited, suddenly stop moving, avert your eyes and give your “quit” command (“That’s enough,” “Settle,” or “Take a break”). Click and treat as soon as your dog shows signs of settling. (If the treats rile your dog again, use lower-value rewards or replace them with soft praise and petting.) Then repeat, seeing how quickly you can get your dog riled and how fast he or she will respond to your “stop” request.

Third, we’ll add the “1-2-3 Game” to help lower-drive dogs get excited, and higher-drive dogs to contain themselves! Hold a treat just out of your dog’s reach and count slowly to three. If your dog attempts to jump or grab for the treat, remove your hand, then put it a little farther from his or her nose and start counting again from one. If your dog remains in place and doesn’t try to grab the treat, encourage him to “come get it” using “Go!” or another release cue after counting to three. “One… Two… Three… Go!” Some dogs will need the treat to be quite far from their noses at first.

In Part 2 next week, we’ll look at ways to increase your dog’s focus, as well as how to build your dog’s drive, and make your dog’s drive even more controllable.

Debunking dog myths

You think you know your dog? See if your dog has been subject to any of these popular canine myths.

Talk to anyone from your next-door neighbor to your cousin who shows dogs, and you’ll hear a variety of interpretations on dogs and dog behavior. Some of the most common myths I hear regarding our canine friends are debunked below.

Myth: Dogs are essentially wolves.

Some dogs may have wolf-like characteristics, but rest assured they are 100 percent domesticated dog.

Because science tells us dogs are direct descendants of wolves, animal behaviorists and dog trainers assumed for a long time that dog and wolf behavior are interchangeable. We now know this is not the case. Biologists now hypothesize dogs are not pack animals, but semi-solitary scavengers, and do not form social hierarchies the same way wolves do.

Using “alpha rolls” or other forceful techniques in an attempt to thwart perceived “dominant” behavior is unecessary, and is often seen by dogs as an act of aggression.

The Monks of New Skete, who popularized the wolf-to-dog culture trend in their book, “How to Be A Dog’s Best Friend,” have since omitted such training suggestions in the book’s revised edition.

Top animal behaviorists, including Ian Dunbar, Jean Donaldson, Patricia McConnell and Karen Pryor, agree solid leadership is best achieved by controlling the dog’s access to resources without resorting to the use of force.

Myth: Dogs want to please.

This is not entirely untrue. Dogs DO want to please – themselves. Dogs are exceedingly selfish. They do what they do because making us happy means they get more of what they want – attention, food and freedom.
Our mistaken belief in dog altruism is why we are so perplexed when the dog uses a behavior we DON’T like — such as jumping up, barking or digging — to get what it wants.

The good news: You can use this ubiquitous doggie trait to your advantage by controlling the dog’s environment and the consequences of its behavior. For example, if the dog is getting in the trash, you can confine the dog or confine the trash. Or if you’d like the dog not tear the door off its hinges as it goes out, you can request a sit from the dog before opening the door.

Myth: Dog training takes lots of time.

Teaching your dog new tricks takes lots of consistency, and a little time. Breaking bad habits takes more consistency, and a little more time. Every interaction you have with your dog is a training situation. When the dog paws at your leg and you absentmindedly reach down to pet it, you are training. When the dog lies quietly at your feet while you watch TV and you absentmindedly reach down to pet it, you are training.

The key to teaching good habits and breaking bad ones is to not be absentminded around your dog! Be consistent and be aware, and the training will take less time than you think. To borrow from top K-9 trainer Steve White: Remember that training is taking place until either you or the dog achieves room temperature.

Myth: An aggressive dog is a protective dog.

Aggressive dogs, simply put, won’t tell friend from foe. Dogs, in most cases, are much less adept at reading human intentions than we’d like to believe. My dogs bark wildly every time I return home, despite repeated admonishments of, “It’s STILL me!”

An aggressive dog is much more likely to threaten or injure you, your family, neighbors or friends than it is to ward off intruders. If you want a dog for protection, go out and get the biggest, happiest dog you can find, then train it exceedingly well in obedience. Would-be bad guys won’t want to find out what else the dog knows, and you won’t have to worry about the dog misfiring on you, your family, friends and other animals.

Myth: Dogs don’t have feelings.

Well, anyone who’s ever looked into those adorable, deep brown eyes knows this isn’t true. But science is finally catching up to the fact that dogs and other animals, while not expressing the emotional range we recognize in humans, are sentient creatures. The Economist in February reported that new scientific research is beginning to shake tradition to allow for the recognition and documentation of animal emotions. Personality aspects distinctive to dogs were labeled “sociability,” “affection,” “emotional stability” and “competence,” in studies by Samuel Gosling at the University of Texas in Austin.

Dr. Gosling’s conclusions will allow behaviorists to better understand individual animals’ personality differences, while giving dog owners one more reason to refer to their pets as members of the family.

When to seek help with your dog

Most folks either know of or used to have a dog that was absolutely perfect — never made a mess in the house, didn’t shed, never jumped up, never barked inappropriately, never lunged at people or other dogs, never chewed the furniture, always laid quietly in another room during dinner, always paid its taxes on time, never forgot to bring home the milk, et cetera.

Not all of us are as blessed. Sometimes, a dog comes into our lives who has perfected a different art: making our existence miserable!

Dogs are typically biddable (making them easy to train) and quick to learn. However, this doesn’t mean your dog fits the mold, or even if she does, that you’ll always have a smooth relationship.

Here are a few signs to indicate that your dog’s behavior may require professional intervention:

Your dog is actively threatening to harm or has harmed a person.
As much as dogs will be dogs, this is the land of people — and sometimes litigious ones. Besides not wanting anyone to be hurt, it’s important to get a handle on your dog’s aggressive behavior, because sometimes an aggressive display (barking, lunging, jumping at a person’s face, etc.) can be misinterpreted. In fact, any “biting incident” involving a dog, even a dog with no prior history of aggression, and even if the bite did not break the skin can be grounds for euthanasia in this country, as the case of Rolo demonstrates.

Your dog has threatened or harmed livestock, cats or other dogs. Again, besides the potential for euthanasia (or worse, if a neighbor or livestock owner has vengeance in mind), these kinds of dog problems aren’t simple to fix. Unless there’s a sibling rivalry issue between two dogs, this type of behavior is likely rooted in predation. Lots of well-meaning folks follow the advice of friends, “trainers,” or relatives, and punish the dog in an attempt to “correct” predatory actions. But predatory behavior is unlikely to be wholly suppressed with positive punishment, no matter how creative. And painful and/or threatening treatment (including yelling and leash-popping) of a dog who dislikes other dogs can exponentially worsen the problem.

You’re feeling helpless about, hopeless about or afraid of your dog’s behavior.
If you’re dog is soiling his crate every day, or tearing up the house, or refusing to budge from the couch or bed when asked, ask yourself whether it might be time to call for professional help. Although animal behavior consultation can be expensive, it is a far smaller price to pay than chancing the dog’s life — which is likely to be the outcome when you decide not only can you not handle the behavior, but life would be easier without the dog. A well-known fact is that dogs are relinquished to shelters for behavior problems more than any other reason. Don’t let your dog be one of them.

If you would like help and live within driving distance of Athens, Ohio, contact us and we’ll be happy to assist you. If you’re out of the region, for help finding a professional dog trainer or animal behavior consultant near you, visit the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants at www.iaabc.org, or the Association of Pet Dog Trainers at www.apdt.com.