Monday, September 27, 2010

Default Behaviors

As a genetic predisposition, after thousands of years of domestication, dogs have a need to look to humans for guidance and companionship. When dogs were for the most part still working partners, behavior problems were few. As industrialization took over many of the dogs jobs and they became more companion then partner, behavior problems grew. In general, behavior problems are the result of a lack of guidance and direction, leadership if you will, in a world that is not what nature intended for a dog.
As you are walking along your dog spies a stranger in the distance and gives a quick glance up at you, before returning her gaze back to the stranger. Aroused by what could be a potential threat or playmate, your dog looks to you for guidance. Most people don't realize this and ignore the dog. So having received no information from you, your dog is left to make a choice as to how to respond. If your dog is at all anxious about people she might decide that barking is the appropriate response, or if happy to greet people she begins to work herself into a frenzy to 'say hello'. Your attempts to control her at this point are futile, she's too excited.
Be on the look out for these two behaviors:
Checking in. Watch your dog, notice how often she looks at you. This may be direct eye contact or a slight turn of the head and sometimes just a quick flick of the ears toward you. Pay attention when your dog stops moving and seems to wait for you to move before continuing on herself. Your dog is 'checking in' with you, essentially waiting for or looking for more information from you. Let your dog know that you are aware of this connection with praise, a treat, and a cue as to how to proceed (even if it's just "forward" or "walk"). Do this whenever you notice your dog checking in with you, but the key is for you to begin looking for these check-in behaviors and acknowledging them.

Default behaviors. Many dogs have learned that by performing a particular behavior, they get something they want. This 'default' behavior can be a sit, down, or check-in. Most often dogs learn to sit for dinner, treats or going out the door. Some dogs may need to be taught this behavior while others figure it out on their own. Before feeding your dog, tossing or tugging a toy, opening a door, or any of the other daily interactions you have with your dog which involves providing them with something they need or want, wait for your dog to offer the desired behavior, or ask for the behavior if they need help in understanding that 'sitting' makes things happen. This behavior will become one which will be easier for your dog to perform when they are aroused or distracted.

Next time your dog spies something of concern or interest she can be assured that you have a plan of action and all she needs to do is check-in to get that information from you. In Behavior Training, the dogs learn many things that could all be turned into default behaviors depending on the situation. Sit for food, treats, petting, greeting. Look at That for seeing something nearby that may be worrisome, Touch That for things that at first seem scary or dangerous, reorienting at thresholds, and Not Now for when you just want to keep moving.

Use these behaviors often, especially when you're dog does check in with you.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Greyhound Owners Survey

If you are a greyhound owner or foster, or have owned greyhounds in the past and know something about their behavior and personalities, I would be ever so grateful if you would answer my survey :)

Saturday Blog Hop

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Sacred Cows of Dog Training

The dog's intelligence, sociable nature and adaptability make him an excellent companion and also make it easy to train and educate him to ensure he fits comfortably into the human world. Today the dog is more companion then working partner and various theories have emerged to explain his behavior - and mis-behavior - and how to make that behavior more amenable to us as humans.

Since the advent of the Internet, the availability of information about everything you could possibly know about anything has grown exponentially.  Dog training is no different.  You can now find the "secrets" of the Hollywood dog trainers, dog trainers in general and the ways of canine whichness on National Geographic and Animal Planet.  Don't get me wrong, I've benefited tremendously from this availability of information despite decades of experience and college studying animal behavior, biology and genetics.

Before the information age, one had to either go to school and become a Veterinarian or an Animal Behaviorist.  There was no university education in becoming a dog trainer or even just a dog behaviorist.  You had to have the whole ball or nothing.  Or, you could apprentice under an existing trainer.  Canine behaviorists didn't actually exist before the last few years that didn't have one of the above two degrees.  Trainers however, learned about behavior as it applies to dogs, and learned how to train a dog. 

Before the 40's and the advent of learning theory and the Premack Principle, animal training was a hit or miss thing.  Different "schools" of training existed generally based on what breed group of dog you were training or what function you were training a dog for.  There were the herding dogs, guarding, hauling, hunting, pointing, retreiving and earth dogs. Each breed group had it's job and a basic set of guidelines for how to train a dog in it's group.  But each individual did things their own way for the most part, mostly after apprenticing under a family member or neighbor. 

Then came BF Skinner and his students, the Brelands, with operant conditioning, classical conditioning (Pavlov), the Premack Principle and various other pieces of psycho babble - how dogs and other animals (including humans), supposedly learn.  At pretty much the same time, there were studies done on captive wolves and dominance theory emerged to explain lupine behavior and this was translated into canine behavior.  Everyone "knows" that dogs are descended from wolves.

During the 1900's many prominent trainers, and their methodologies, emerged in the field of dog training. These include Conrad Most, William Koehler, Winifred Strickland, C.W. Meisterfeld and Barbara Woodhouse. They developed their own particular style of training techniques, and made lasting contributions to the field of organized dog training.  

Then came Ian Dunbar and Karen Pryor who introduced positive reinforcement only training and pushed it into prominance in the 80's.  Karen Pryor and several others were trainers for Sea World and learned the techniques that the Breland's had perfected.  But the 80's also brought out the dominance theory and a battle began between proponents of the two methods.

Personally, my practice and theory is different then most of what you read, see on TV or hear from other trainers.  I think it is a mistake to think that because dogs are descended from an ancestor of wolves, they behave like wolves. If you actually watched wolves in the wild, they cooperate, not dominate.  Wolves understand who is good at what and test each other in play to find out where they fit in - not the pack as a whole - but in each activity that the pack is involved in. 

Training dogs is fun for me and for the dog, as it should be. It is through play behavior, and the social rules that all dogs and wolves learn as pups, that a "pack" or "family" of canines is ruled. Further, it is fun to play with our dogs even if none of us learn anything. It will certainly make more sense to the dog than to be jerked around on a leash or sent to the corner for a timeout.

I've found through the years that all that's really necessary is a knowledge of and continual use of communication signals to and from the dog, the willingness of the owner to change how they view their dog and how they interact with it, and a rehabilitation period for the dog to discard the behaviors that were driving everyone (including the dog) crazy.  Play is an important aspect of this process because it is how dogs learn to be dogs as puppies.  The rehabilitation process is basically just informing the dog, in a language and format that he understands (what momma did when he was a pup), what is acceptable, where the boundaries lie, and what the rules for future behavior are.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Pinky is a white pit bull mix about 85 lbs. She was a stray that wandered into T's life last year. For many months, Pinky and T's other dog did great together. Then T started working long hours and things deterioated. Here is what T has to say at the end of Behavior Training.

In a perfect world I would posses all the natural instincts and skills of Cesar Milan.  For those of you who don't know who he is, he is like the "Godfather of Dog training".  He can alter a dogs state of mind with just the touch of his fingers and resounding "Psst".  And dog and humans alike take notice.  Of course, I do not possess such powers, in fact, I am a dog whisperer in training and taking baby steps toward understanding and correcting my three dogs.

Especially, Pinky.  She is a miunderstood breed by natures.She is a pix-mix and everyone I know had deemed her a lost cause due to the aggression she was displaying on my border collie.  The fighting was very minimal at first but intensified within the last 6 months.  So my emotional level was a code red.  Nothing I did seem to stop the fighting and there was a lot of blood, all three of us got hurt.  Saddie, my border collie got the worst of it, and after several trips to the vet and my attempts in first aid, we put her back together.

I even got to the point where I was convinced that there was no solution for Pinky but putting her down. If nothing else, to stop her suffering.  But then I started to come to Seize the Leash and both Pinky and I have made tremendous progress.  I was finally able to focus on the real issues, that Pinky was afraid and acting out in an aggressive way.  Having that knowledge and understanding empowered me to become a better pack leader.  I make it a conscious effort to display confidence, remain calm even when it seems there is an attack, make quick and just corrections and keep it moving.  I no longer dwell on the situation that just happened, I collect myself and keep going.

My pack recently had a new addtion, a bouncing, jumping full of evergy 5 month old boxer-mix, and more often then not, I find myself cleaning up after her. She seems to have a particular liking to trees, potted plants and anything not made out of concrete, she'll find it and chew on it. Or in some cases, eat it.  Just like as I am writing this short essay, I discovered that Irre knocked the trash can down and helped herself to turkey bones.  My emotional level was frustration, but I remain assertive and send Pinky and Irre to the kennel.

When dealing with Saddie, who is always so nervous I have made a point to be as calm as I can around her to help her over this phase of her life.  Having learned not to coddle her when she is scared, not to encourage her hyperactivity and only give her attention when she calmed down has made a big difference.  There are still times, though, when she gets me to be frustrated because it takes her a while to get to her calm state.

Lastly, for anyone thinking of a getting a dog, think twice.  Training a dog(s), is a 24/7 job, you're always learning and it is a lot of work, but the reward comes when I can walk my three dogs without having them pull me down the street.  Even better is when I take them out on my tricycle, it is quite the show stopper, but it is also very rewarding when we are all in sync.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Saturday Blog Hop

Don't assume that the dog who appears to be the aggressor is actually the problem. Last night a play date errupted into a fight within the first 10 minutes of the date. An anxious dominant dog was brought to a play date and instantly decided he was going to take over the house and the yard. He challenged the dog tha...t lived there, tail upright and wagging stiffly, stance stiff and challenging, eyes hard and ears pricked far forward. The humans assumed the tail wag meant the dog was friendly and ignored the other signals. So when the dog who actually lived at the house finally escalated his own signals of "please stop" to a mock attack, he was punished and banned to the house.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Understanding Dogs

“Why does my dog dog that?” Because they can, because they are a dog, because they have been inadvertintly taught to do it, have not been trained to do something else instead…those are the answers, or at least some of them.

I tell people nearly every day that the problem is not the dog. What you see dogs doing are normal dog behaviors and for the dog they are not a problem. There are however dog and human communication issues, human to dog expectation issues and lack of teaching issues. Tthe majority of “dog behavior problems” are actually created by the humans in the dogs life. I do understand some dogs are born wrong or have physical issues, but they are the minority I can assure you.

Dogs do what works. Dogs do what gets them things and attention. Behavior that is reinforced has a higher likelihood of repeating. If you leave food on the counter and the dog is able to get it, he will. He has now been reinforced for counter surfing and will continue to surf the counters looking for more reinforcement again, and again and again.

Dogs do not waste much time or energy on any activity that does not allow them to win. Dogs are wonderful at conserving energy. You can avoid or minimize problem behavior by ensuring these behaviors lack reinforcement from humans. Dogs really like to do things that are rewarding and worthwhile (to them), so will expend far more energy to do it.

Dogs really are beautifully simple and do not wish to take over the world or dominate you. They do not dwell on the "wrongs" you may have done them or the toy you took away from them. When you aren't around, they are probably sleeping (provided you have thoroughly exercised them before you leave). If they are doing “naughty things” it is out of boredom. loneliness, a need to do something, hunger, or anxiety.

Dogs are social animals and as such need social contact with other beings. They follow you around room to room because they wish to remain with you, because you were gone all day, because you are their only social option or because they really like being with you. They get excited when you return, no matter how long your were gone, they jump up and perform other rituals they know. They aren't doing these greeting riturals to dominate you or take over, but rather to say “hi”, to smell all the great smells from the places you've been and the things you've encountered, and out of sheer joy to be reunited.

Dogs are not four-footed people in fur, they are a different species just trying to survive and function in a foreign world with beings that don’t understand their language, their exercise or social needs or their commitment to being there. They are wonderfully loyal and tolerant of things humans would never live with and do it with grace and style that cannot be matched. Spending time with your dog could be the highlight of your day if you learn to communicate and interpret correctly your dog's communication.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Ask The Trainer - Totally terrified in the car

Question:  I got a call from someone asking about their dog and his terror of riding in a car. They go on a weekly weekend trip and he can't enjoy the wide open spaces of the destination because of his terror.

Answer: Here is the program I gave her.
A) First step - day one

Put Jake on a leash and lead him into the car. Count to 5 and lead him out. Take him for a short walk around the yard and repeat. Repeat this until he is anticipating going in the car or he doesn't want to get out at the end of your count.

up the time in the car to 30 seconds. Do the short walk in between each going in and out of the car. Don't let him control things, you control everything. If he tries to get out, keep him in for a count of 5 and then lead him out. The walk is to calm him. So if he starts stressing, keep him walking until he calms down. Calm is normal rate of breathing, mouth open with tongue gently laying on the bottom front teeth or hanging out and down. Tail floating between hanging straight down and half way up. Eyes soft and liquid. Again, repeat this until he starts anticipating getting in or reluctant to get out.

Up the time to 1 minute

up the time to 5 minutes. This time get him to sit while he's in there if he's not already sitting.

up the time to 10 minutes with him laying down.
Do this until he's comfortable laying down and is reluctant to get up and get out of the car for 10 minutes.
B) Next step is the treats. Hide treats everywhere. If you trust him off leash, then take the leash off and let him find all the treats both in and out of the car. Note what parts of the car he refuses to go near even with a treat there. Do this for a good 1/2 hour or until he is willing to go near at least half the areas he was reluctant about when you started this step.
C) Day two - Repeat step A with the car running in the driveway.

D) Day three - Repeat step B with the car running in the driveway.

E) Day four - Take Jake on a long walk, or otherwise get him really tired before you start today's process.

Put Jake on a lead and then put him in the car and take him around the block. Take him out and do the walk around the yard. Do this step until he lays down all by himself while you are driving.

Go around the block 5 times watching Jake. If he stands up, check his signals. Stop, no matter where around the block you are and let him out and walk him til he calms. Then get back to the house and walk him again. Repeat this until he either stays laying down the whole time or he is not exhibiting any calming or stress signals.

Go around 5 blocks once and repeat until he is willing to lay down for most of the trip

Go around 5 blocks 5 times and repeat until he is willing to lay down for most of the trip

Go for a 15 minute drive and repeat until he is willing to lay down for most of the trip

Go for a 30 minute drive and repeat until he is willing to lay down for most of the trip

Make sure on steps 3 through 6 that he stays calm the entire time. Stop immediately if he starts showing any stress and walk him until he is calm before getting back in the car. If he stresses on any step. Go back a step until he stays totally calm for that step.

He should be good to go at this point. Before you go on any trips from this point, get him really tired before putting him in the car. Start making it a habit to watch his stress level after this and stop the car and take him for a walk at the first sign of stress. By doing this you are letting him know that you are in control of the situation. A long time ago, when I was doing a lot of SCUBA diving and being on boats, I had someone tell me that motion anxiety happens because of the feeling of a lack of control. So now when I first get on a boat, I ask the skipper if I can drive for awhile. It always gets rid of the motion sickness. Obviously we can't do that with a dog. But dogs are happy if they know their human is in control and this is the way to show him that.

Calming herbs, aromas and nutritional supplements:

B Vitamins
Omega 3's
Bach Rescue Remedy

Things to remember with this process.

It's boring and repetitive and whereas we don't like boring repetitive tasks, dogs thrive on them. Ask any ball chasing dog why he keeps bringing back the ball just to chase it again :). So, if you can get the attitude that each time you do this that it's something you've never done before, it will help keep you from getting frustrated. Take breaks for yourself if you start feeling frustrated or bored with the process. Start watching Jake closer, look for every minor detail in his body language, see if you can spot the very first signs of stress. This keeps your mind busy.

In any process like this, whether it takes 4 days or 8 weeks of behavior class, there is always going to be set backs. We call them extinction bursts. Basically what happens is Jake will revert and it will be worse then ever - for a short while. If you stay calm when this happens, and it will happen approximately three times during the four days, he will get over this. After a year of freaking out in the car, it's become a habit he can't break. LIke an addict, on average a dog will say - but I've alway done it THAT way, I don't want to do it THIS way - three times before it completely extinguishes.

Don't talk to him during this whole thing except to say - in (get in the car), out (get out of the car), find it (find the treats), sit or lay down. Do not tell him "it's okay", "everything is fine" - all those things we tell humans when they get upset. No talking and no petting unless he's totally calm. Reinforce calmness - ignore stress. Especially don't say the words you've used with him in the past in trying to calm him.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Ask The Trainier: What should I do? Problem dog

Question: I have a Maltese mix and have had him since he was a very small puppy, he has always been socialized with other animals (dogs, cats, even horses) and people but it never really "took". He is never outright aggressive but he growls whenever the cat or puppy come into his space and otherwise ignores them. He also is very irritable when I am not around and will poo on the carpet even though he is potty trained(he's almost 4 btw). Lately he has also come to be very jealous of my boyfriend, who tries very hard to interact with him and play with him, and just today snapped at him for no reason when my boyfriend was reaching down to pet him. Also, if I am gone and it is just my boyfriend here he will cower whenever he is spoken to and pee on the carpet when my boyfriend tries to let all the dogs outside then won't come back inside when he is asked. I am very worried about how he will take to our new baby that is on the way but have no idea what to do. I don't want to get rid of him because he is so attached to me I don't know how he would do in another household and I know he would get put to sleep at the pound, but I'm also afraid he will bite the baby. He hates little things like puppies and kittens and hates things even more if they take my attention away from him but if he bites the baby I will have no choice but to give him up. What do I do in this situation?

Answer: He sounds like a very frightened dog who has learned that being confrontational chases the scary things away. The biting, the growling, the hiding in corners, peeing and pooping on the floor and the jealousy are all signs of fear, anxiety, uncertainty and a lack of consistency. He can't predict what is going to happen in his world and so lashes out at everything.

Socialization is great in most cases, but if you have a dog that is frightened and try to "socialize" him, all you are really doing is adding to his fear. Growling at the cat or puppy is the Maltese telling them that they are invading what he considers his space, as is the growling at and nipping at your boyfriend.

You say he hates anything that takes your attention away from him. This tells me that he thinks he owns you. You are the only thing in his world that doesn't scare him and he isn't going to let anything change that.

Changing this Maltese will require a lot of desensitization (not socialization since he has no clue how to be sociable at this point), but he can be gently and with regard to his fear threshold, desensitized enough that he can then start being curious about things. At that point he can be taught how to be sociable and what doggie manners are.

You are going to have to let go of him to a large degree or he is never going to learn how to live in a human world. You are his crutch, so you'll need to back off. Your boyfriend will need to start being the center of his universe for awhile which means feeding him, even hand feeding if necessary, taking him for walks and doing gentle massage and TTouch with him when he's ready for it.

He needs to be crate trained so that he has a safe spot to relax in and not feel threatened. You don't have to close the door to the crate, but he needs a den that is all his. Somewhere he can retreat to when the world is just too much to handle.

He needs more exercise and mental stimulation to build his confidence. He needs to be gently taught that he can control things other then you. Play 101 things to do with a box and other confidence building games.

And most importantly, he needs some rules, boundaries and limitations in his world. He needs to be told what he can and can't do, where he can and can't go, how much barking he can do (3 barks is my limit), when and where he eats (no free feeding), his toys need to be rotated so that he understands that they don't actually belong to him. He needs consistent leadership and parenting.

Saturday Blog Hop

Friday, September 3, 2010

Dogs & Cats

Question: I have full grown cats and what can I do to keep Pinto from chasing the cats? He only does it at certain times. Can you give me any suggestions?

Answer: When small animals move fast, a dog is going to chase it. It's a fact of life. You can eventually get the cats use to being chased, but you're never going to totally cure the dog of chasing something that is moving. Eventually, both the cats and the dog will understand that this can be a fun game. One of my daughter's dogs when she was growing up, use to race along the the length of our house while the cats raced along any high surface they could find. I caught them at this game one day when I decided to go in the backdoor instead of the front door. I saw Sammy the dog, "chasing" the cats through the living room window.

Having said that, here is how you can keep the chasing to a minimum.

Behaviors to teach the dog: Teach the dog "leave it" with the ultimate response to you saying "leave it" meaning "walk away". Teach him to "wait" (hold on just a sec and then we'll do it) and to "stay" (don't move until I say "OK").

Control the Environment
You have an opportunity with a new dog to convince him that you are the ultimate authority on everything - including cats. You do this by controlling the dog's environment from the moment you bring him home. First, set up a tie-down - attach a short, unbreakable leash to an immovable object. A wall is best, but an extremely heavy piece of furniture is okay.

Acclimate the dog to this area. Give him treats, bones or chewies there, and make a nice safe spot for him. Once he's happy with his tie-down, bring the cat in when the dog is NOT there (his scent will be). Let the cat explore and examine the area where the dog has been. Provide a perch, out of the dog's reach, where the cat can comfortably watch the dog's area. Give him some treats, catnip or other toy in that area. You may even want to feed him there for a period of days or weeks. It's best if you can acclimate both animals separately for at least a couple of days.

When both cat and dog appear to be comfortable with their spots, tie the dog down, and give her something delicious to chew on. Then, bring the cat in and place him on his perch. It's not usually wise to hold him because he may feel trapped and try to escape, injuring himself and you and exciting the dog in the process. Leave the door open this first time, so the cat can leave if he wishes to. (He probably will.)

An important component of Counter Conditioning is making the association of something pleasant with something unpleasant. Thus, you might withhold attention from both parties until they're in the same room with each other, then give both of them lots of attention. Or, feed them when they can see each other, making sure the cat is very safe and the dog.

When not doing this exercise, keep Pinto on a leash attached to your belt (or get a hands free leash). Say "leave it" whenever Pinto sees one of the cats and then walk away from the cat.