Oh Behave™ Dog Training Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘dog aggression

What is dog socialization?

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Socializing Sammy

Dog trainers like me forget that we sometimes speak our own language.  Yesterday, after I kept repeating that her puppy needed socialization urgently, my client asked what that meant.  My bad.  Not everyone knows.  When I searched my usual resources to find a succinct definition, it wasn’t easy to find.  Everyone expects you to already know.  So, thanks for the great question.

Dr. Ian Dunbar, the founder of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers defines it as, “Socialization is the process of becoming familiar with all kinds of animals, people, places, and things; as well as learning how to behave in society.”

People want their dogs to feel safe and comfortable in all of the situations that they encounter in the future.  Dogs should be happy to explore new places, meet new people, and meet new dog friends.  There should be no fear associated with these encounters.

Socialization is one of the most urgent priorities of puppy owners because their is a window of time where puppies are most accepting of this process.  I have written a few articles on socialization, and I can see the need to do more.  Basically we expose puppies to new people, places, and things at an intensity where the pup is comfortable.  We also pair the experience with delightful things like toys, play, and food.  Dr. Dunbar and another one of my heroes, Dr. Sophia Yin have written many books and articles on the subject.  Stay tuned for more blogs about socialization from Oh Behave too.

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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.

How To Handle a Bad Day

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2013 Walk for the Animals

Another Walk for the Animals has come and gone.  It’s a great feeling to have the support of friends and family, generously donating to a cause that I love.  The weather couldn’t have been better; nice and cold so we didn’t have to worry about heat stroke.  How could anything about this day be bad?  Well my walk partner Maddie had more than the usual number of reactive outbursts which was frustrating and disappointing.

The day was not a total write off.  We were able to sit for our pack photo without incident.  I had a few conversations with friends accompanied by their dogs without any reaction.  While I lamented over several reactions with small dogs and dogs running in the FunZone, we recovered with a nice walk along the river just the two of us.  When we were done, we said our goodbyes to our friends without incident and called it a day rather than pushing our luck.

Ironically, when I came home, I read a Facebook post from a fellow dog trainer proclaiming she was “guilty of bad dog training”.  I actually laughed out loud because I know she is an outstanding dog trainer.  The reason I’m sharing my setbacks with everyone is because we all have room for improvement (even dog trainers).  We all can do things better.  We all have good days and bad days.  The good thing about positive reinforcement training is that although your cues, markers, timing, rewards, etc. may be way off, you are not going to do anything to ruin, traumatize, or hurt your dog.  My fellow dog training friend is going back to foundation work for her sport with her dog, and I will go back to some threshold work with Maddie.

People often ask me how Maddie could have possibly earned a Canine Good Citizen Award with her reactivity issues.  I always smile and tell them that it only represented a thin slice of time and everything just happened to fall into place that day.  So if you encounter a bad day when things fall apart, remember that it only represents a thin slice of time in your dog’s life.   There will be better days.  On this day, with the help of my friends and family, we raised over $1,500 for the Humane Society of Broward County.  That’s a victory by any standards!