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Posts Tagged ‘aggressive dog

Dawn’s Top 5 Dog Friendly Places & Events (Greater Fort Lauderdale & Broward County)

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#5 Boater’s Park (accessible only by boat)
North side of the Dania Cutoff Canal, west of Anglers Ave. / Ravenswood Rd., Dania Beach, FL 33312
http://www.broward.org/Parks/BoatersPark/Pages/Default.aspx
ImageBoater’s Park is one of those totally underused gems in the park system that I hate to share with the public. The park can only be accessed by boat, which keeps it quiet and clean. With shelters, electrical outlets, clean restrooms, and grills, you and your dog friends can have a perfect day under the shade trees. The iguana population tends to congregate on the seawalls of Boater’s Park, so hang on tight to leashes of prey driven dogs.  Don’t have a boat?  Club Nautico is also dog friendly.  They rent boats.

#4 Markham Park
16001 W. State Rd. 84, Sunrise, FL 33326
http://www.broward.org/Parks/MarkhamPark/Pages/Default.aspx
markhamMarkham Park has a lovely 3.5 acre off leash dog park, “Barkham atMarkham” that is usually well maintained and landscaped. Remember that visitors of off leash dog parks assume a lot of risk. Use some common sense when deciding to bring your dog. Check the area from the parking lot for aggressive or confrontational dogs. Make sure everyone is supervising their dog(s). If you are comfortable with the dogs and owners, spend some time making new friends. Try to walk the pathways and don’t wait for an incident to occur. Get in and out of there in 20 – 30 minutes. The park also has a rarely used nature trail that is great for reactive dogs. I suggest limiting your visits here to cloudy days as there is ZERO shade in this part of the park. In addition to camping facilities and just a ton of open space, you can also desensitize your dog to gun fire noise here! There is a target range at the far end of the park, so don’t let the noise catch you or your dog off guard. The biggest drawback about this park is that it is located in the evil city of Sunrise. Sunrise carries some draconian ordinances on their books regarding pit bulls. Their ordinances require that pit bulls be muzzled and kept on a six foot leash.

#3 Pine Island Ridge Nature Center
3900 S.W. 100th Ave., Davie, FL 33328
http://www.broward.org/Parks/PineIslandRidge/Pages/Default.aspx
???????????I normally access this park from Tree Tops Park. This area is the highest natural elevation in Broward County and is surrounded by the Forest Ridge community. One of my favorite elements of this park is the abundance of trees and shade. If you are not an early bird, the ridge is a good choice is you want to beat the heat of the south Florida sun. Hang on tight to your dog’s leash; you may encounter Gopher Turtles or horses and riders on the equestrian trail. This is a beautiful place, but sometimes the noise from planes on final approach to Fort Lauderdale Airport can be annoying.

#2 SunTrust Sunday Jazz Brunch and Riverwalk Linear Park
20 N. New River Drive, Fort Lauderdale, FLangelina
First Sunday of the month, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
http://www.fortlauderdale.gov/events/jazzbrunch/jazzbrunch.htm
Riverwalk Park, Fort Lauderdale
Whether you are setting up a canopy and chairs (get there early), docking your boat (get there earlier), or just walking through, this event has it all. There are 4 stages, each featuring musical performers. There are food and drink vendors, although many people choose to bring their own picnic or grill. This dog friendly event has plenty of space and shady park areas if you need a quiet space too. The pathways near the stages often get crowded, so be careful. This is a great event to visit with your friends or to meet new dog and human friends. The linear park is a great place to walk your dog on any day of the month, and ends at Las Olas Boulevard where you can grab a bite to eat at a dog friendly outdoor café.

#1 Plantation Heritage Park
1100 S. Fig Tree Lane, Plantation, FL 33317
http://www.broward.org/Parks/PlantationHeritagePark/Pages/Default.aspx
ph maddieAside from the fact that this park is just minutes from my house and is the park where I teach group dog training classes, this park is my favorite. With a large fishpond and fruit trees, this county park has a neighborhood feel to it. There are people that walk and socialize their dogs at Plantation Heritage daily. For dog owners with reactive dogs, there is a nature trail that is rarely visited, and there are only a few blind corners on the walking paths. There are plenty of ducks and geese to entertain your dog (beware of the poop on the pathway). On Tuesday evenings, the park does a food truck event that is family and dog friendly. There are no off leash areas in this park, but it is a short car ride to Happy Tails Park. One drawback, a disc golf course was recently constructed at this park. If your dog is a Frisbee fan, this may pose a big challenge for you.

What are you waiting for?  Get out there with your dog!!

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What is that Rescue Group Telling You?

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Maddie

“She’s just a little shy.”
“This dog just needs some training.”
“Once he’s adopted he’ll be better.”
“These puppies are bonded and shouldn’t be separated.”

Rescue groups and shelters truly do amazing work to find loving homes for surrendered animals.  This article is not intended to bash or undermine their work in any way.  Most shelters and rescue groups do the best they can with the limited resources they have.  I appreciate their efforts!

If a rescue group, foster family, or shelter worker gives you advice about training or behavior, please consider the source.  Does this person have professional experience and training in behavior and dog training skills?  Just having been around alot of dogs and hearing alot of stories is not enough.  Some shelters like the Humane Society of Broward County have amazing behavior experts and trainers either on staff, working as volunteers, or working as contractors.  However, they may not be the ones working on the adoption room floor.

So what’s the harm with taking a little anecdotal advice from a well intentioned rescue worker?  Well if you are truly devoted to the animal, have LOTS of control over your environment, and have tons of resources (cash and time); there is not much risk of harm.  You are devoted and have the means and resources to make a great life for your dog.  You are my perfect client!

But when reality sets in… many adopters realize that they have lives that are not compatible with a special needs dog.  They have commitments and responsibilities and they are tired and have no time.  The really sad stories are the families with children that adopt dogs that are not a good fit.  Children do not fully understand consequences.  When your dog has a bite history, and your beautiful little girl goes for a big dog hug and gets bit on the face, that’s completely irresponsible parenting.  Children should not have access to dogs that bite unless strictly supervised, and using safety equipment when needed.

Last year, I received an email from a shelter that I support.  They wanted me to talk to a family that recently adopted 2 German Shepherd puppies… from the same litter. Click on this link to the article on why adopting more than 1 puppy from the same litter is a bad idea (unless you have super human powers).  Let me give you some insider info: I’m a dog trainer.  Training comes easy and complimentary (that’s free) to me.  I would never WILLINGLY AND OF SOUND MIND take on 2 pups at the same time.  It’s too much work.  Hey if its too much work for a dog trainer, ya think that may be a clue not to take this on?  So what was the problem with the adopters?  Well, on top of all the usual complaints about puppies, the family had a special needs child.  The shelter should have never allowed the family to take both puppies.  I’m not denying anyone the right to a dog because they have a child with special needs, but dogs have needs too.  If your dogs needs are not compatible with your family needs, you are asking for trouble.  Call me before you make a decision that you regret.  And by the way, those pups were real cute and controllable when they were adopted.  By the time they were surrendered, the pups were so big and uncontrollable, that I can’t imagine that they would be adoptable.  I have no information if they had a happy ending or if they were just another euthanasia statistic.

Sadly, this is just one story of the many stories I hear from clients that I work with, as well as potential clients that couldn’t commit the resources to manage the behavior.  Obedience training will help you communicate with your dog, but it won’t help your dog with intense fearful reactions to other dogs or people.  Fear, stress and anxiety related behaviors need to be managed with behavior modification.  Behavior modification is usually a tedious process and requires private lessons.

I will confess, that I too have adopted a dog with my heart and not my head.  Maddie’s rescue group certainly worked the emotional side of adoption (I was emotionally raw and broken hearted from the death of my beloved Liesel).  Fortunately, because I am a dog trainer, I had the resources to do the behavior modification (I didn’t charge myself).  My journey with Maddie is in its 7th year.  For some people, taking on a dog with special needs is truly wonderful.  For others, that may have taken dog behavior advice from a bad source, it could be a nightmare.

Building a Great Foundation with Basics

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Success!

So you got through housebreaking.  You managed to survive those painfully sharp evil little puppy teeth. You even followed the suggestion of your dog trainer and you have been taking your puppy on play dates and visits with friends to socialize him properly.  Whew.  Like many owners of adolescent or older pups, you’re probably exhausted and ready to try to get your life back.

It seems there is an endless “to do” list associated with puppy and dog ownership, but taking the time in the first year to get a good foundation, will pay off in amazing ways.  Meeting the developmental deadlines to housetrain and socialize your dog, as well as mouthing management, is crucial to your puppy’s success in the home.  The next important step is to learn the basics.  Getting all of this training in the first year can be the difference between a biter or a confident, happy dog; the difference between a runner or a dog that knows to check in with you, the difference between surrendering your dog or keeping him.

Learning the basics is not just for your dog.  The basics (at least in my programs) involve learning to communicate with your dog without using force or coercion.  It is as important for the human to learn communication skills as it is for the dog.  Basic obedience exercises teach your dog to deal with frustration and to look to humans for direction.   Building a foundation of communication that does not involve force or coercion will payoff in plenty of happy and peaceful days in the future.

Why Are Leash Manners So Rare?

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Leash Manners Take Practice

I spend alot of time in parks and I’ve noticed that it’s not only my new class participants that lack leash manners.  Let’s discuss some of the “whys” of pulling and “hows” of controlled leash walking.

* The puppy was not introduced to a leash early.  When puppies start out, they are clumsy, their vision is limited, and the owner is just the best thing in the world.  Then you wake up one day and your puppy is speeding through developmental stages and is acting like a 17 year old kid with the car keys.  Puppy’s eyes are wide open, he is confident (good for you) and the world is his!  Getting a puppy used to a leash and teaching him some impulse control EARLY will help tremendously later.

*Since the puppy did not get the impulse control and desensitized to the leash early, your awesome dog trainer suggested a humane “no-pull” head collar or body harness so your huge adolescent pup doesn’t pull you down.  You think, “WOW, this solves all of my problems!”. Well, not really.  No-pull devices are tools that are meant to be faded out, but many owners are happy to simply continue using the device for the dog’s life.  Here’s the part where I give a true confession…  Pictured above is Maddie, my dog, walking like a dream on a no-pull body harness.  Is that cheating?  Of course!  But it’s not cheating as much as using a head collar.  So, I am definitely trying to phase out the training device, but in teeny tiny steps.  There are situations where Maddie will walk nicely on a flat collar, but we need to generalize this to all situations.  If you want to do any higher level training with your dog or therapy work, no-pull devices are not allowed.  If your dog is pulling you on a training device, but doesn’t have the leverage to pull you down, you need to wait for a loose leash from your dog before you step forward.  It’s called “be a tree”.

*Unbeknownst to you, you trained your dog to pull on the leash.  Can you say retractable leash?  Scenario: dog pulls… owner releases lock and rewards the dog for pulling by giving more leash.  For those of you that are saying to yourselves that you lock the leash in one position and never move it, be honest.  As Dr. Phil says, “let’s get real”!  If you always had a retractable leash locked in one position, you would have traded it in for a regular leash long ago.  In order to fix this, you need to get a non-retractable leash and work on loose leash skills using the be a tree method.

*The dog has reactivity or aggression issues.  In my book, this does not fall under the “manners” category, but it is certainly a frustrating and sometimes frightening leash event for not only the owner but the dog too.  Leash issues in this category cannot be resolved with simple “training” because this behavior is caused by fear.  Work with a qualified dog trainer or dog behavior consultant to address the dog’s fear first.

I have read many articles about “lazy owners” and how they should require better leash manners of their dogs.  In cases where the dog is under control using a humane, no pull device, I disagree.  Normally it is a matter of priority rather than laziness.  For example, many of my clients have dogs that are aggressive to humans and other animals.  Clearly, heeling like a champ is not a priority.  The priority is to get the dog past the fear issues causing the aggression first.  It can be a long journey.  Tools like the freedom harness give owners real options for better control while they are on that journey. For those dog owners that are out and about with little or no control over their dogs, something bad is going to happen eventually.  There are humane, efficient, and effective ways to teach your dog some impulse control and leash manners.

Don’t Wait to Call Me!

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Maddie looks scary, but in this photo, she is just vocalizing. However, she does have a bite history and it was addressed immediately.

Dogs learn from every interaction they have with their environment, people, and other animals.  When a dog sticks her nose in the face of a cat, she may get a clawed swat on the nose.  The dog learns that it may be painful to stick her nose in the cat’s face and it may not be a good idea to repeat that behavior.  When an owner rewards a sit-stay by putting on a leash and releasing the dog so they can take a walk outside, the dog learns that sitting by the door is a great way to get the human to open the door and take him for a walk.  There are consequences both good and not so good associated with your dog’s behavior.

When your dog growls, snaps, and/or lunges at a human, it is usually fear based.  The dog is seeking space because a human is doing something to make the dog feel uncomfortable or stressed. The typical human response is to recoil and give the dog space so the human can keep his fingers, ankles, face, or whatever other part may be in danger.  What does the dog learn?  That growling, lunging and/or snapping is a good strategy to get people to give him the space he wants.  If that doesn’t get the human’s attention, the dog may move on to landing a bite.

When I talk to potential clients on the phone and at our first lesson, I get a details about the dog’s bite history.  I can’t tell you how many are on bite #3 or 4 when the owner finally seeks help.  My concern with waiting is that the dog has learned that the aggressive behavior works for him.  It’s easier to teach desirable behavior than un-teach (extinguish) undesirable behavior and then teaching a desirable behavior in its place.  Furthermore, I usually have to use more safety equipment like a muzzle to keep everyone safe.  This makes the process longer and the owner management even more complex.  I sometimes lose clients because they give up citing the behavior modification program is “too hard”, “too time consuming”, “too slow”, “too expensive”, and many other reasons.

The takeaway is, if you observe your dog exhibiting aggressive behavior toward a human or another dog, you should call a Certified Professional Dog Trainer immediately.  A skilled dog trainer can help you and your dog, without force or pain.  You want to change your dog’s emotional state when presented with humans.  Work with a qualified trainer to begin the process of trust.

Dog Bite Prevention

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All dogs with teeth can bite

I’m writing this blog a few days after Dog Bite Prevention Week.  I saw alot of great information on Facebook from my dog trainer friends, but it never seems to reach enough parents and children.  Bites still happen.  Last month, I went to a dog bite investigation seminar that was targeted for professionals in law enforcement and dog training.  To be honest, I am still shaken by some of the images I saw.

The statistics are staggering.  There are 5 million dog bites reported each year.  Based on my conversations with my clients, there are many bites that go unreported.  Some of my clients call me after several incidents and none were reported.  50% of children will be bit by a dog by the time they graduate high school.  Although fatal attacks are rare, kids are the primary victims.  76% of fatal attacks are on children 12 years old and under.

Why kids? Jim Crosby, the presenter of the dog bite investigation seminar, offered two reasons:
1) Adults, because of their size, are able to absorb a wound better than a small child.
2) Kids don’t read the warning signals from a dog as well as adults.

So how can we keep children and the rest of humanity safe from these adorable creatures that share our homes and lives?  Everyone can help whether you own a dog or not.  Please review the items below and share some of the attached resources with friends, family, teachers, and veterinarians.

For dog owners:

  • Do not buy a puppy from retail puppy store, backyard breeder, or on the internet.  Puppy mills and backyard breeders do not do temperament testing on their breeding dogs (or testing for genetic disease for that matter) and the puppy mill environment is devoid of socialization with humans.
  • If you have a puppy, socialize him early and safely.  Unsocialized dogs are more likely to bite out of fear.
  • If you have a puppy, work with a dog training professional to teach the puppy what’s called “bite inhibition”.
  • Work with a professional dog trainer to learn exercises to prevent resource guarding. Dogs that guard food or other items can be dangerous, especially to children.
  • Work with a professional trainer to teach leave it and drop it.  Bites often occur when taking an item away from a dog.
  • Do not train your dog using aversive or punishment based methods.  Dogs trained with these methods are at risk to develop aggressive behaviors.
  • Properly confine dogs indoors, in fenced areas, or on six foot leash (no retractables).  One of the really shocking photos from the seminar involved four prey driven dogs in a rural area that chased, dragged, and killed a child.
  • Provide proper supervision of dogs in fenced in yards.  Fences can be compromised when owners are not supervising.
  • Never leave babies or small children alone with dogs.

For everyone:

  • Learn about dog body language and warning signs and share the information with others.
  • Learn how to properly greet a dog and share with this information others… especially kids.
  • Learn how to prevent or stop a dog attack and share this information with others.
  • Encourage your local government to adopt and enforce strict neglect and abuse laws including anti tethering laws.  Abused, neglected and tethered dogs are more likely to bite.

Resources:

AVMA Dog Bite Prevention
How to Greet a Dog Do’s & Don’ts
Body Language of Fear in Dogs
5 Tips on Surviving a Dog Attack

A Correction by Any Other Name is Painful

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Even scolding can be frightening to some dogs

Dog Training methods have evolved in the last 20 to 30 years.  Sadly, many dog trainers and dog owners have not.  I often find trainers that refer to themselves as “positive” or “reward based”, yet they still cling to punishment based techniques they call “corrections”.

Just because a trainer uses treats in their training methods, does not make them a positive reinforcement trainer.  Positive reinforcement trainers avoid using painful, aversive or coercive methods in their training programs.  If I rang your doorbell and gave you flowers when you greeted me, you would think it was a lovely random act of kindness (assuming you like flowers).  If you answered the door and I slapped you and then handed you the flowers, kindness would probably not come to mind.  Even if the slap only stung for a brief second.

Corrections come in the form of chokes, pinches, electric currents, kicks, scary noises, knees in the stomach and many other forms of abuse.  I’ve been told that these techniques “don’t hurt the dog”.  Sometimes that is actually true.  I’ve seen many dogs on prong collars happily sit there while their owners lightly tug the leash.  The dog will totally ignore all of the commands the owner is giving.. because it doesn’t hurt.  Most dogs become somewhat desensitized to low intensity aversives.  So, what that means is that to really be effective with “corrections”, they have to really hurt, scare or be very unpleasant to the dog.  I personally do not want my dog to associate anything unpleasant with training or with being with me.

For many dogs, “corrections” actually interfere with the dog’s ability to work it out.  In fact, dogs that have been trained using corrections are less likely to work to advanced behaviors because they have associated unpleasant experiences with offering behaviors.  For example, if a dog has been corrected from breaking a down stay, he is unlikely to offer that behavior when you arrive at the rally sign that reads Sit-Down-Sit-Stand.  Positive reinforcement training involves using tools like leashes and collars to prevent undesirable behaviors, not correcting them.  Instead of jerking a prong collar to punish a dog for jumping on a human, I prefer to use the leash to prevent the dog from jumping on the human using distance.  The human is not allowed to interact with the dog until he is calm or sitting.  The dog starts to work out the association that calm behavior or sitting, brings the human closer.

The most compelling reason for dropping corrections, is that it can make a dog very fearful and can actually cause aggressive behavior.  Trust is the most important part of your relationship with your dog.  Don’t let corrections jeopardize your dog’s ability to trust you, his owner.