How to keep your dog focused when there’s barking all around!

In our group classes, we have a rule that if another dog barks, your dog gets a treat. This has proved to be puzzling to our owners until they give it a try and see that it is a great way to get their dogs in the class to remain calm and focused on them.

Think of it from the dog’s point of view:

Sparky: “WOOF!” (Hey, guys! We’re in class, wanna play? Huh? Huh?)

Phaedo: (Thinking) Hey, that’s Sparky! Hmm, maybe I ought to tell him that if I had opposable thumbs and could unhook this leash, I would SO love to play… 

But before Phaedo can respond, his owner swoops in with a tasty treat.02_dog_will be cute

Phaedo: (Thinking): Whoa! Chicken just happened! Cool! Got more?

Xerxes: “WOOF!” (Yo, Sparky, I got your back, Jack!)

Phaedo’s owner swoops in again.

Phaedo: (Chewing and thinking): What just happened here? One of the bro’s barks and I get chicken…hmmm. Perhaps there’s a pattern developing here???

A group class can be very exciting (or stressful) for our dogs as there are plenty of new smells, people, and dogs in a new environment. Some dogs will respond to this heightened awareness by vocalizing, and that can encourage other dogs to vocalize as well. Therefore, we advise owners to short circuit this cycle. By interrupting Phaedo’s orientation to Sparky (and Xerxes) with a tasty treat, Phaedo learned that when another dog is a distraction it is worth his while to check in with his owner. Moreover, when a dog is focused on his owner, and not the world around him, the owner can ask him to do something such as sit, down, or meditate on world peace. We have also found that it tends to lessen Sparky’s barking as well, because no one is responding to his alert. This nifty technique can be used outside of class as well.

This week I had our Bernese Mt. Dog at MedVet and decided to do a bit of an experiment as the waiting room at MedVet isKitchen Buckley busy with a variety of dogs in variable states of arousal, anxiousness, and/or excitement. Whenever I go to the vet’s office, I take a bait bag full of treats, to help keep my dog focused and relaxed, but this time I tried tying treats to the behavior of dogs around us.

I started by finding a place where we could sit and I would see the approach of any dog before Buckley. He was a bit nervous about being there, and was drooling, panting, and watching every movement around him (Buckley, being a Mt Dog, drools and pants even when not aroused, but this was a bit more intense). I gave him a few treats to get his focus on me. Then, a dog walked by, I offered a treat, Buckley checked in, and relaxed a bit. I had him lie down facing me to help him relax. Two dogs out of his sight at the front desk, squabbled and he shot up into a sit, got lots of treats from me as long as the dogs debated, and he settled himself into a down. When a dog walked by us, Buckley got a treat. When one vocalized, 2-3 treats. A shepherd mix growled at him, and he got a fistful of treats as we moved to a new location.

This continued into the examination room. A couple of dogs were clearly upset in the hallway outside the room and in the room next to us. I fed Buckley as the kerfuffle continued and while he alerted to the noise, he did not start pacing or whining in response to their stress (something he tends to do when he is excited). By giving Buckley a reward for his calm response, and keeping him focused on me, he had a much easier vet visit and did his part in keeping the general peace.

So, next time you are out with your favorite canine, take some treats along and when you hear another dog bark, whine, growl, or otherwise vocalize, give your dog a treat and you too will find that the barking of another dog will soon become a cue to your dog to check in with you.

15_dog_please send treats

General Training or "Why, Why, WHY?"

Puppy Wiggle

Bingley as a puppy wiggles his way into a twister game.

Bingley as a puppy wiggles his way into a twister game.

Last December we hosted a “Client Appreciation Open House” and one of our owners arrived with Sparky, an adorable new puppy, who wiggled profusely and curled in on himself so much that he looked like a donut! Emma and I were enchanted and delighted by this squirming bundle and gushed that Sparky had the perfect “puppy wiggle.” The owner asked me what I meant by puppy wiggle and why do I want to see it in young dogs? Perhaps more than anything else, it is a squirmy looseness to a dog’s movements and a softness in its approach and interaction with people that shows me that this is a dog with a high (and appropriate) social drive to people. Dogs with straight spines, stiffness to their movements, or hard interactions with people cause me to pause as their body language is not saying, “Come thither,” but rather “Stay where you are and no one gets hurt.”

Cashewing Flatties greet Emma.

Cashewing Flatties greet Emma.

So, when meeting a new dog, or assessing him for social drive I will count the number of friendly interactions that I have with the dog in the first minute of meeting him. A friendly interaction is when the dog approaches and engages with me for 2 or more seconds, in a soft way such as sitting to be petted; leaning, wiggling or curling into me (looks like a cashew nut, curled in on himself); or if he jumps, it is with a soft look and he will stay there to lick or nuzzle me. If his tail is wagging it incorporates his entire being and may be rotating like a helicopter blade (which I love to see). This sort of gentle interaction shows me that he is truly friendly, not just aroused or excited.
This puppy was stiff, had hard eye contact, and no wiggle.

This puppy was stiff, had hard eye contact, and no wiggle.

On the contrary, a dog who is more interested in the environment (especially if the dog is in his home environment which is not new) than meeting people, who stands stiffly (may or may not have a wagging tail, but if wagging, the tail is not helicoptering), will not make eye contact or gives hard eye contact, and/or moves away from me, rather than into me, when I pet it, is not a dog with a high social drive to people. One thing that really makes me suspicious of a dog is when it does the “pounce off”. This is where an aroused dog  rushes up to you, jumps up, and uses its two front paws to literally bounce off of you. This interaction takes a second or less and is not friendly, but a sign of arousal (high energy for whatever reason). It reminds me of charging in basketball. I imaging the player who is bowled over by his opponent feels much the same way I do when a dog ricochets off me.

I find a common mistake is confusing excitement or arousal with friendliness. Think of it this way, if someone is loud, boisterous, looks all around the room but not at you even when talking to you, moves quickly to greet everyone, but never stays to talk with anyone, and seems more interested in the surroundings than the people, then you might be amazed at his energy, but you are not likely to think of him as a particularly friendly or engaged person. Dogs who pounce off, move away from petting, and puppies who do not wiggle at the sight of humans, are indicating to me me that they may be energetic, but they most likely do not have a high social drive to people.
The most important thing I look for in a puppy is his social drive to people as it is the single best indicator of the potential for a successful future with his new family. If you are meeting a puppy for the first time, either as a prospective adopter, or as a friend, pay close attention to this body language as it will let you know if he wants to meet you as much as you want to meet him.

Behavior or "What the heck?" General Informational or Doggie Demographics Your new dog or puppy

Is your dog a jumping maniac when it comes to meeting new people?

Having a dog whose enthusiasm for new people exceeds the bounds of normalcy is one of the most common complaints I get from people. How do you get your dog to not jump whenever he meets someone? Here are two easy steps you can take to help your dog stop being a kangaroo and start being a well-mannered member of society.

_CSG8991The first is a video from Ian Dunbar’s website, about teaching your dog to not jump when meeting strangers.  (For more info on Ian see my post: The basic thrust of the activity is to recruit 6 friends for a 20 minute training session for your dog. Find a block to circumnavigate and have your friends go clockwise around the block (spaced out single file about 25 yards apart), while you go counterclockwise with your favorite springbok. As you approach your friends, ask your dog to sit and give him a treat when he sits. Have your friends pet him and give him a treat as long as he is seated. As you proceed around the block several times your dog will catch on that sitting to meet someone is what brings a treat! Do this until Fido reliably sits for all 6 friends. Then treat them all to Whit’s!

Here is the video: (Please note that you will probably have to sign up to view this video. Have no fear! DogStarDaily does not send you emails, require a credit card, or anything of that nature. So go ahead and sign up, there is a lot of good info on this site!)_CSG5483

The second thing you can do comes from my mentor, Robin Bennett. She suggests putting your dog on a leash when people come to the door (once again you can stage this with 6 friends that you invite over for a Margarita party. Have them come to the door one at a time, 5-6 times each). Hold the handle of the leash at your waist and where the leash touches the floor is where you step on it with the ball of your foot. Your dog will be able to sit, lie down, or stand, but it is unlikely that it will be able to jump up. (If it can jump, then adjust where you put your foot so that he cannot jump up). Now, reward him for not jumping when people come through the door. You can also use this method when you are out walking with your dog and some one approaches to say hi and you don’t have time to say “Sit.” Or, it’s handy if you are talking to someone in a high traffic area. Step on the leash while you converse so that if someone approaches unbeknownst to you, your dog will not be able to vertically launch himself. You have prevented the jumping, and you can ask the dog to sit as soon as possible.

Here is the link to Robin’s blog on this:

Remember that your dog does not think it is rude to jump up on people as this is standard canine operating procedure. Be consistent and patient with your congenial canine and he will soon learn that good manners mean good times!

pet me..iz sittn

pet me..iz sittn

General Training or "Why, Why, WHY?"

S’il vous plaît

The Boys 009Sit.

As I have hinted at in earlier posts (  sit is one small command, that provides giant relief for owners. Sit is especially important for big dogs to perfect as it can be very intimidating to meet a standing Sasquatch, much less a mobile giant! But, if the 120 pound furball is seated, he is far more approachable and much less threatening.

Sit is also a terrific way for your dog to learn to say, “Please.” By requiring Fido to sit for everything he wants in life (i.e.: dinner, go out the door, a treat, a ball, to jump on the couch, rent Benji from Netflix, etc.), he learns some self control and that good things happen when he puts his best paw forward. Most people would not win many Brownie points with the people they live with, if upon arriving in the kitchen each morning they pounded their fists on the counter, looked at the lady of the house and said, “Breakfast, Woman!” Why shouldn’t we expect our dogs to have some manners as well?

So I recommend letting “sit” be the canine equivalent of please. Sit is a very neutral position for most dogs. It does not put 62_dog_how dogs envision-31them into a vulnerable position (such as lying down can be), but nor are they in a ready-for-action position (such as standing). Instead, they are grounded, but not threatened or threatening. There are two ways I like to work on sit with my dogs.

The first is to wait for my dog to offer a sit and then reward him with a treat within 1/3 of a second of his bottom hitting the ground. It is important to reward the desired behavior as soon as possible after the dog has performed it so that you reinforce the behavior you want and not a subsequent one. I do not ask for a sit because I want my dog to be actively engaged in the process and to realize, “Hey! Go Figure! I put my bottom on the ground and Mom gave me a treat! Let’s see if I can make her do that again!” When the dog learns that his actions bring rewards, then that action is more likely to be repeated and he is more likely to be fully engaged in the learning process. He is also more likely to make this his default behavior for those times when he doesn’t know what to do.

33_dog_sittingAs much as I want my dog to default to a sit and learn that good manners bring good things, I also want him to know that when I ask him to do something, such as sit, I expect him to do it, and preferably quickly. I have found that the faster my dogs respond to a command, the more they stay engaged with me and look forward to what comes next. To create a snappy response from your dog, have your dog do 3-4 sits and count how long it takes for him to complete the behavior from the time you say “Sit.” The fastest of those 3-4 times is your new standard. (For example, if your dog’s fastest sit is 2 seconds, then the only sits that will now be rewarded with anything other than “Good dog!”, are those that take 2 seconds or less.) As your dog becomes faster at this, re-assess your time. 

When practicing either of these exercises at home, I use part of my dog’s daily food allowance for rewards. Take a 3 oz paper cup and fill it with a portion of your dog’s daily ration of food and use that for practicing your sits every day (It doesn’t matter if you stretch it over the whole day or for a few hours in the evening, just be sure to use every piece of food in the cup by the end of the day.) If you do this, then I guarantee that your dog will have the fasted sit of any dog on your block, and a whole new level of self control!_CSG5595

General Training or "Why, Why, WHY?"

Stand back Earthling!

Being forced to meet someone who scares or intimidates you is not fun, at all, ever.

For naturally extroverted people, this may be a rare occurrence, but ask any shy person (who you know well) what it feelsIMG_1275 like to routinely encounter someone who descends upon her with a boisterous voice, an overly eager handshake, and a million rapid-fire questions. Chances are this is her worst nightmare, and being told to “just get use to it” probably isn’t helpful, at all, ever.

The same is true for your shy, worried, or fearful dog. I once met a lovely woman with 2 small dogs, who were rather shy with strangers and not eager to meet me. So, I sat quietly at the kitchen table, ignoring them (waiting for them to make the first move to meet me), when all of a sudden the woman said, “This is Violet, she’s a bit shy but will be just fine.” Then, in one quick movement, she grabbed the little dog and plunked her in my lap. Violet and I were both caught off guard, and we both froze in place. After a moment, I gently petted her side and let Violet jump off my lap as soon as she could move again. Although I appreciated her attempt to help Violet get to know me, it didn’t help, and Violet never became comfortable with me, at all, 316073_288083711209743_119922748025841_1095669_199129324_never.

Forcing your shy dog to participate in the big, wide world, without the necessary support, can make her fears and anxieties worse. Reisner Veterinary Behavior and Consulting Services posted this on their Face Book page in January 2013 and I think it is a good reminder of what nervous dogs face and what our good intentions may actually mean to them:

If your dog is worried or nervous, especially if she is an adult, taking her to public places to ‘socialize’ her is not necessarily a positive thing to do for a few reasons: (1) it is not possible to control what other people do; (2) unfamiliar people may come too close, too quickly or touch and interact with your dog inappropriately; (3) it may be scary for her to be given treats by strangers; (4) it will not give your dog an opportunity to gain confidence at her own pace. This is a kind of ‘flooding’, which is not recommended for anxious dogs (at all, ever…). Instead, keep your dog at a safe (for her) distance*, using food (from you, not from strangers), voice and movement to counter-condition her anxiety. (Italics mine)

If you have a dog that is anxious and uncomfortable, call me, 740-587-0429. While I cannot promise that your dog will be nominated for “Socialite of the Year”, I do know that together we can help your dog become more comfortable with her world now and, perhaps, for ever.Apology card image hi res*A good rule of thumb for measuring a comfortable distance for your dog is the closest distance that a stranger can get and your dog will continue to take treats. For example, if your dog stops taking treats when a person gets within 6-7 feet, then a comfortable distance for strangers, for your dog, is 8-10 feet.


Behavior or "What the heck?" Shy dogs

Dogs are dogs, part 2.

Dog or wolf?

Dog or wolf?

Last week I looked at some of the evidence about canine origins. A comment from last week suggested that the current evidence from gene sequencing seems to strongly support the archeological, not the mitochondrial evidence.  In a study* that was released early this year, a team of scientists sequenced the genes from three gray wolves representing three regions where domestication may have occurred, a Basenji and a Dingo (breeds isolated from modern wolves) and a golden jackal. These genomes were compared to the sequenced genome of a Boxer.

Based on their analysis, the team concluded that dogs and wolves parted evolutionary paths sometime between 9,000 and 34,000 years ago. That predates our development of agriculture, supporting the idea that dogs accompanied our hunter-gatherer forebears and only later adapted to an agricultural lifestyle. Of more interest, though, is the fact that the three dog genomes formed a sister group to the wolves, rather than clustering under one of them.**

Therefore, we can safely conclude that dogs have been around for several thousand years, and that dogs (not wolves or hybrid wolves) were the first domesticated animal. Moreover, to consider them and their social structure to be wolf lite ignores the uniqueness of dogs, not to mention it sets them up to be misunderstood and mistreated by people in the pursuit of establishing “dominance” over the dogs in their household/pack.

So, how did we get to this idea that we can use wolf pack behavior to better control our domesticated buddies? In the 1940’s a series of studies were conducted on

captive wolves gathered from various places that, when forced to live together, naturally competed for status. Acclaimed animal behaviorist Rudolph Schenkel dubbed the male and female who won out the alpha pair. As it turns out, this research was based on a faulty premise: wolves in the wild, says L. David Mech, founder of the Minnesota-based International Wolf Center, actually live in nuclear families, not randomly assembled units, in which the mother and father are the pack leaders and their offspring’s status is based on birth order. (Dog Training and the Myth of Alpha-Male Dominance, Time Magazine, July 30, 2010)

The behaviors that were observed in these short term studies were not representative of long term interactions of a stable SAM_0286wolf population. Moreover, what the researchers observed were “what are now known to be ritualistic displays and [they] misinterpreted them. Unfortunately, this is where the bulk of the “dominance model” comes from, and though the information has been soundly disproved, it still thrives in the dog training mythos.” (History and Misconceptions of the Dominance Theory, by Melissa Alexander, 2001) A prime example of this is the alpha roll. This gesture of submission comes from a lower ranking member of the pack who is appeasing a higher ranking member. It is all voluntary and is not forced by the higher ranking member. “A wolf would flip another wolf against his will ONLY if he were planning to kill it. Can you imagine what a forced alpha roll does to the psyche of our dogs?”  (Melissa Alexander)

Melissa Alexander also discusses a study done by Dr. Frank Beach on dog packs which lasted over 30 years. He came to some interesting _DSC0006-2conclusions and insights about dogs including what being alpha means. It does not mean that a dog is physically dominant over another dog, but is in control of resources that he values. An alpha dog may allow another dog to have a bone or a bed, but it is because he doesn’t care about that resource. In addition, Alpha dogs “rule benevolently” and do not resort to squabbling to keep their place. Medium ranked dogs are the ones who quibble in an attempt to raise their rank. The lowest ranking dogs also do not fight, but accept their lot in life with equanimity. So, if you man-handle your dog, force it to the ground, and growl at it, how do you think this affects your status with your dog?

If you want to be the alpha dog, then control the resources. Your dog wants out? Make him sit first. Have him sit before you serve dinner, let him on the couch, give him a bone, or go for a walk. Consistent training with clear rules and positive reinforcement will build a relationship with your dog based on cooperation and trust and establish you as his benevolent leader, not his brutal dictator.

_CSG8991-2 sm

*For a good summary of the study go here: Dogs are not Domesticated Wolves

**To read the original study go here: Genome Sequencing

Toy Box or stuff that doesn't fit neatly elsewhere

On The Origin of Dog…

33_dog_sittingDogs are dogs. While there is virtually no doubt that dogs originated from wolves, they are not wolves, and according to some scientific evidence may have ceased to be wolves as long ago as 100,000+ years. Although that is a short blip geologically, it is, nonetheless, a pretty long time to not be something.

Various studies in the last 20 years have looked at the origins of dogs via their mitochondrial DNA. The results of these studies have raised some interesting theories on the origin of this species. While DNA that determines eye color, curly hair, and earlobe shape, comes half from mom and half from dad, mitochondrial DNA, on the other hand,

comes entirely from the mitochondrial DNA of the mother. In normal sexual reproduction genetic change from one generation to the next is very rapid, as the parental genes are mixed and remixed in new combinations. Mitochondrial DNA, in contrast, can change only by mutation, which takes place quite slowly — at a rate of around one or two percent every 100,000 years. (The Truth About Dogs, Part Two, by Stephen Budiansky, The Atlantic Online, July 1999).

Because it changes so very slowly, it can be used to gauge when dogs and wolves first separated, and the results seem to conclude that it happened about 135,000 years ago! There are indications that dogs split from various wolf populations around the world and that there was some interbreeding between wolves and dogs. But, the split did not occur very often, nor was there a lot of interbreeding. Dogs, it seems, left their wild brethren behind and integrated pretty quickly into human society. It also appears that humans and dogs may have conjoined before humans were fully human.

Archeological evidence tells a different, but not necessarily incompatible story. The earliest canine fossil records seem to 81_dog_dreams of bones-01IMG_1304Russian plain about 15-17,000 years ago (though others state that it is southern China, which is also the only fossil record that indicates dogs were used as a food source). Recent studies (2011) by paleontologists in the Czech Republic found dogs from the paleolithic period, one of which was buried with a large bone in its mouth that was “clearly placed in the dog’s mouth after death indicat[ing] that a human being was involved in the burial, as no other known animal would be capable of doing such a thing.” ( According to Wikipedia, there was a dog found buried with a human in Israel which dates from 12,000 years ago, and a burial site in Germany called Bonn-Oberkassel with joint human and dog interments dating to 14,000 years ago.

Interestingly, there is no western European cave art depicting dogs, perhaps suggesting, that before 16,000 BC dogs were unknown 12_dog_run horusin western Europe. However, not all animals known to early hominids were depicted in cave art, nor do we know the reason cave art was created. So, does the lack of canine portraiture indicate that dogs were unknown to early man, or just not depicted in art for some reason? Dogs did however, make the art scene in Ancient Egypt, appearing on the walls of burial sites dating back to at least 3500 BC.

I have barely scratched the surface of the current debate about the time and place that dogs became dogs and commenced on this journey with their human companions. I think, however, the important thing to remember is that whether you look at DNA or at the fossil record, dogs and man were clearly besties by 10-15,000 years ago, making them the first domesticated animal, and truly deserving of the title: Man’s Best Friend.

Next Week: Why it matters that dogs are not wolves.

Toy Box or stuff that doesn't fit neatly elsewhere