Category Archives

Behavior or “What the heck?”

The Difficult Dog.

24_dog_zombie run awayYour dog lunges at passing dogs, snaps at approaching people, or growls when you least expect it. Maybe you think your dog is unpredictable – sometimes she’s okay with a person or another dog, sometimes she isn’t.

What you do know is that you don’t trust her to behave in a civilized manner, and want to do something about it. Can you? The answer is, maybe.

-Trish King, Director Behavior and Training, Marin Humane Society (http://www.positivelytrained.com/edu_resources/Difficult_Dog.pdf)

When your dog behaves in an unpredictable, difficult, or aggressive way it can make you feel as if you are being betrayed by your best friend. So, what do you do when your dog displays behaviors that make you uncomfortable at best, and scared of her at the worst?

First of all, don’t ignore it,  and don’t make excuses for it. You know your dog better than anyone else, so if something is off with your dog, get some help before the problem escalates to the point of being completely unmanageable, especially if your dog has a sudden onset of bad behavior for no apparent reason. A good place to start is with your veterinarian. For example, if your dog suddenly starts house soiling, have him checked for a urinary tract infection (UTI). Or, if your elderly dog starts pacing and knocking things over, especially when you are gone, don’t assume this dog has suddenly developed Separation Anxiety. It could be that your best buddy has developed vision or hearing problems or perhaps is showing signs of Canine Cognitive Disorder Syndrome (another symptom of which is house soiling). Detailed observations of his behavior will help your vet to diagnose the problem and get your pup the relief he needs. Moreover, the sooner you take care of a physical problem the less likely it will develop a lasting behavioral component as well.

(And, just for the record, UTIs can also cause problems with puppy house training. If your house training is not going well with a puppy, despite doing all the things your positive reinforcement trainer has suggested you do*, then have your puppy tested for a urinary tract infection (UTI) to rule out an organic cause to the problem.)

Another thing to consider when you have a sudden onset of cranky or aggressive behavior in your dog is whether or not your dog is in pain. My dog developed arthritis in his right elbow at the age of 2 and getting the pain under control helped to restore his happy nature. One thing I ask of owners whose dogs have behavior changes that seem to come on quickly or with our a clear reason, is to get the dog into the vet for a thorough physical exam to rule out any organic causes for the behavior changes (such as joint/spinal pain, allergies, ear infections, or other underlying causes of irritation, pain, or inflammation). You don’t want to jump into an extensive behavior modification program that can be time consuming, costly, and difficult to implement consistently by all members of the of the family, if it isn’t needed.

This puppy was quite fearful of new people and would stiffen and growl if you got too close.

This puppy was quite fearful of new people and would stiffen and growl if you got too close.

There are many reasons other than physical problems which can cause your dog to demonstrate aggressive behavior. A few things to consider are:

  • Fear: is the most common cause of aggression in dogs. Dogs that are cautious as puppies may learn that aggressive behavior is the best way to keep scary things at bay.
  • Trauma: “One of the more common causes of fear-based aggression is a traumatic episode in early life… The younger the dog is when the trauma occurs, the more lasting the imprint of the event. Often, the dog learns not to trust dogs, people… or even you, since you have been unable to keep her safe.” – Trish King
  • Frustration: Dogs who lunge, growl, bark, etc., at the end of the leash, at a fence, or on a tie out are frustrated and may be fearful as well. They have learned that aggressive displays will scare away that which frustrates them.

If you see signs of aggression developing, especially in a puppy, don’t wait it out hoping that he will grow out of it. (See my blog, This is not the dog I wanted… http://apositiveconnection.com/?p=1386). A common adage among trainers is, “Dogs grow into aggression, not out of it.” The longer you wait to address a problem, the more difficult it will be to resolve and your chances for success will diminish. Don’t hesitate to call me and together we can move towards a solution.

A wonderful training book for any dog, but especially helpful for the difficult dog.

A wonderful training book for any dog, but especially helpful for the difficult dog.

 

* See my blogs on house training: To pee or not to pee…inside: http://apositiveconnection.com/?p=2710, and Housetraining: how do I get Sparky to tell me he needs to go out? http://apositiveconnection.com/?p=1730

 

Behavior or "What the heck?" Blogs with book recommendations General Informational or Doggie Demographics

Ready, set, PLAY!!!!!

Dogs just wanna have fun!

Play is an integral part of most dogs’ mental health and physical well being. Play is generally high energy and knowing what to look for in appropriate play helps you prevent your dog’s enthusiasm from getting out of hand.

Dogs’ play styles vary across breed, temperament, size, and experience, but some general observations or rules about play can be used to 1) distinguish it from the prey sequence from which it is derived, and 2) keep your dog safe and in the happy zone.

Play? Play? Play?

The first thing I point out to clients is that play is large, loose, lateral, and sometimes loud. Dogs’ movements are exaggerated and loosey-goosey as they solicit a friend to play. This lets the potential playmate know this is going to be fun and don’t take this too seriously. When in prey mode, animals tend to have small tightly controlled movements because they don’t want to let the object of their desire know where they are or that they are approaching. In play, dogs bounce back and forth in play bows, or lateral leaps, and may bark, whine, or play growl. When stalking prey, predators are focused, forward moving and quiet. You cannot catch a silly wabbit if you announce your intentions.

This dog is relaxed and ready to go, look at his loose tail carriage and big play bow.

Play is also repetitive and self-regulating. When my dogs rev up in the back yard it generally starts with one of the retrievers giving a play bow. The other one stops, spays its front legs in an abbreviated play bow and off they zoom (with the Bernese Mt Dog in pursuit) around the shed, across the patio, around the holly bush through the day lilies and back again, and again, and again. (In fact, we specifically designed the backyard gardens with the dogs’ “flight paths” in mind. Though, apparently, this is not how most people landscape…). This repetitive pattern is a hallmark of play, whereas when pursuing dinner, you don’t generally get a second chance to capture the main entree, so most predators keep themselves tightly wound and let loose once in a quick burst of determination.

This dog is saying yes to the brown dog’s invitation to play.

If you watch dogs playing, you should notice that they will play, play, play, stop, re-group, repeat. Dogs don’t want to spillover into aggression any more than we want them too, so they will naturally self-regulate in order to keep arousal at a fun level. Puppies learn a lot about this from their litter mates, but sometimes we have to help them learn how to keep themselves from being obnoxious with other dogs or people. When I host play groups, especially puppy play groups, I will help dogs learn to regulate by breaking up play anywhere from every 30 seconds to every 5-10 minutes depending on the intensity of the play, how quickly the dogs escalate their arousal level, and how comfortable all the dogs in the play group seem to be. If your dog or puppy quickly escalates to biting your pants, hands, or shoes at an uncomfortable level, try stopping play the first time his teeth hit your skin or clothes. Have him sit, give him a treat and let him calm down for 15-60 seconds (until he is relaxed enough to stop biting), and resume play.

These dogs have taken a break from a game of tug.

Break play up as often as necessary to keep him below his biting threshold, and try re-directing his mouth from you to a toy. If you feel as if your puppy cannot play without drawing blood or it just isn’t fun, call a positive reinforcement trainer for some help. (The Association of Professional Dog Trainers has a trainer search page: https://apdt.com/trainer-search/ where you can search by zip code for a trainer close to you.)

The smaller dog is ready to go again, but I am not sure the grey dog agrees. I would distract the black dog until I was sure the other was ready to play again.

Knowing what sort of play your dog prefers as well as how quickly he revs up will also help to keep play fun and rewarding for your canine. My dog Bingley loved his morning tug sessions with Hudson and chasing Huddy around the shed, but in general prefers to play ball with me over playing with other dogs (Or any available human with an arm, for that matter. He swears all repairmen are hired specifically to throw balls for him). It’s really okay that some dogs are not as interested in playing with other dogs as they are with their people. Think if it as good information to have about your dog that helps you keep him from being overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of other dogs. For example, when you go to a dog park take a bunch of tennis

Wanna play ball?

balls and have your dog play ball with you while the other dogs romp and wrestle. (Extra tennis balls will help to keep all canine ball addicts happy, while allowing your dog to pursue his magic golden orb without interference).

I have a t-shirt that reads, “Life is short, play with your dog.” So bearing that in mind, find something you both enjoy and get large, loose, lateral, and a little bit loud.

Behavior or "What the heck?" Dog products, training aids, recipes, instructions, etc. General Informational or Doggie Demographics

Exuberant play or keeping you at bay?

IMG_0782Recently, I had a client email me this question:

How do I handle Ralphie “biting” our hands when we pet him? If I pull my hand away isn’t that what he wants? But if I keep petting him, then am I encouraging that behavior also?

In order to provide the best solution to this concern, I needed to gather some more information:

When you go to pet him, is he soliciting attention from you or are you approaching him? Does he back away, move his head away from your hand or otherwise try to avoid contact with you when you reach over to pet him? How he reacts to your approach and petting will determine what I suggest you do.

IMG_0653   Many puppies, for instance, become mouthy with their owners when playing and may bite as part of the IMG_0651play. These dogs are learning what is and is not appropriate use of their mouths with people when they get excited. In this case, since the dog is not trying to avoid the person’s touch, but is exuberantly playing. I recommend that as soon as the dog’s mouth makes contact with skin in what is considered to be inappropriate or excessive, then all attention to the dog stops. Stand up, turn your back on the dog and even exit the room for 5-10 seconds so that the dog learns that when he gets too rough, he loses his people. Adding a high-pitched yelp when the teeth hit the skin can tell the dog, “Ouch, dude! That hurt!” much like the puppy’s littermates would do if things got out of hand (Puppies will yelp and stop playing with the miscreant sibling, who generally will stop what he is doing and will come back to play more gently).
IMG_0844
     If, however, Ralphie is actively trying to avoid his person’s hand, and Mom keeps coming at him, he is likely feeling panicky and needs to clarify that he does not want to be petted. If she continues to pet Ralphie when he (at least in his view) has warned her how uncomfortable this is for him, then she might be encouraging him to escalate the biting so that it is abundantly clear that he does not want anyone to pet him. Instead of continuing her frontal approach, I recommend that she turn her profile towards Ralphie, move her hand down to her side, be quiet, and don’t look at him directly. When Ralphie feels less threatened, he may decide to approach her. If he does, she should allow him to make the first move to sniff her hand, and she should not move it up and over his head. This will likely scare him as dogs see a frontal approach as rude and/or threatening.
     I would also recommend counter conditioning to help Ralphie understand that his person’s approach and petting is a good, enjoyable thing to have happen. This entails pairing food with petting (and using something really wonderful, such as chicken) to help Ralphie change his emotional response from one of fear/dislike to anticipation and comfort. Because you do not want to overwhelm Ralphie in the process, counter-conditioning is best done with the help of an experienced trainer or behaviorist who can guide you successfully through the technique.
     Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that behavior is seldom simple and is always a combination of emotion, genetics, and learned responses. Therefore, the solution to any dog’s biting depends on the nature of the biting, why he is doing it, and is never made better by using force. Bullying causes fear in people, it does the same in dogs. Dominating, alpha rolling, or other forms of physical punishment will only serve to exacerbate the problem (See:  http://apositiveconnection.com/?p=2369 for more information on what happens with punishment based training methods). I recommend that if your dog has a mouthing issue, find yourself a positive reinforcement trainer with experience in counter-conditioning who can advise you on the best course of action.

71C_dog_park not vet-01

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

Updates and other things of utmost importance…

Bingley contemplates tick removal devices.

Bingley contemplates tick removal devices.

I promised in my May 19th post Fleas, ticks, and pests, oh my!  that as soon as I had the opportunity to use my new flea removal instruments I would let you all know how they worked. Well yesterday I had the opportunity to remove a large tick from the base of Bingley’s tail using the Tick Lasso, and it worked just as promised! It was easy, painless for Bingley, quick, and removed the entire tick (head and all). I heartily recommend it! Since he only had one tick, I was not able to use the tick Key, but I will let you know how that goes when the time comes.

On other fronts, Reisner Veterinary Behavior and Consulting Services (if you haven’t “liked” them on Facebook, take a minute, click on the link above, and do so now!) posted this Tuesday’s Pearl:

Tuesday’s Pearl: Socialization is often pushed too hard onto worried dogs.

If you live with a worried dog, taking her to public places to ‘socialize’ her is not necessarily a positive experience – for either of you. This is most often a problem with newly adopted young adult dogs whose backgrounds are unknown, but applies to anxious puppies as well.

The post goes onto list several drawbacks to socializing timid dogs without giving due diligence to their special needs. Here is a summary of those drawbacks: (check out the complete post here)

Quiet dogs need time and space to get use to new things.

Quiet dogs need time and space to get use to new things.

1. Anytime the social or physical environment is unpredictable, you’re taking a risk that your dog will be startled or frightened…

2. As an extension of #1, it’s not possible to control what other people do in public spaces. Those unfamiliar people may come too close, too quickly or touch and interact with your dog inappropriately…

3. An anxious dog needs to move towards confidence at her own pace… (check out my blog about forced novelty: Beware of Cement Pigs)

4. A worried dog is always at risk of biting the person/animal who worries them – and those triggers of fear-related aggression can be very subtle. Don’t set your dog up for failure by forcing interactions…(check out my blog: Stand Back Earthing! for more suggestions on helping your shy dog).

In other words, don’t force your sensitive dog to be a social butterfly and put him into a situation that will overwhelm, rather than encourage him. Rather, accommodating your dog’s limits will do more to build his confidence, then will forcing an uncomfortable or scary (for him) encounter upon your dog.

One last thought: remember that all obedience training is about impulse control!  We are striving to help our puppies learn that calm, controlled behavior is the best choice they can make. So, if you want Sit! to be your dog’s go-to behavior when he doesn’t know what else to do,  practice it in a variety of places, times, situations, and with diverse distractions so that controlling his impulse to surge ahead or jump on guests is second nature.

 

SIt is good!

SIt is good!

Behavior or "What the heck?" Dog products, training aids, recipes, instructions, etc. General Informational or Doggie Demographics Your new dog or puppy

Beauty is only fur deep.

30_dog_heartsAstute reader Laura Sommers recently sent this link to me about an app that will search “for adoptable pets that look just like your old ones.” Petmatch, as the app is called, uses modern technology to help you create a search image of the perfect pet as well as locate one close to you. While in theory I have no problem with this (Who doesn’t want an adorable pet?), there are much more important factors to consider when adopting a dog.

http://www.psfk.com/2014/05/petmatch-adoptable-pets-resemble-old-ones.html?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_term=daily&utm_campaign=Daily%202014-05-23#!Sku2P

A few years back a client asked me to evaluate a litter of puppies as he was interested in adopting one for his children. My daughter Emma and I, always delighted to play with puppies, readily agreed, and off we went. There were 2 puppies available from the litter, a boy and a girl. The boy was adorable with lovely tawny-brown, soft, curly hair, and a sweet face. The girl was more of a dirty grey, her coat an interesting mix of curls and tuffs, and her face was a bit longer, not as uniform in color, and her ears were not as perky. She was cute, he was adorable. But, upon evaluation, Emma and I fell hard for the little girl because she had all the characteristics we look for in puppy, especially one destined for a household of children. She sought out the children, curled up in their laps and gently licked their hands. When presented with a stuffed toy, she ran over to one of the children to solicit a game of fetch and tug. When petted, she curled in for more, did not mind when I lifted her lips or hugged her. In fact, when I hugged her she quickly settled into being with me and when I set her down, she leaned into my legs.

The male was was a nice little dog, but lacked the social drive that I like to see from a family dog. He was far more interested in the environment (though this was his house and not a new environment), did not stick around to be petted, was not interested in engaging with the people (i.e.: he did not seek out attention from anyone in the room, but did not object if someone petted him), he resisted being hugged and immediately walked away from me when I set him down. When offered a toy, he ran into another room and was not interested in playing with me or the kids.

The female was everything we would have wanted for this family and we were sorely tempted to bring her home ourselves! The client, however, loved the look of the male, and as much as we tried to encourage him to take the female, he decided to pass on both dogs. He understood that the male was not temperamentally suitable for his family, but could not get pass the scruffy look of the female. (Nota bena: He did take to heart what we told him to look for in a dog and ended up getting a very nice little dog a few weeks later.)

Petmatch and the story of my client illustrate a very common scenario:  people choose their pets based on looks, not temperament. 24_dog_zombie run awayAnd that’s fine, until the “most adorable” bichon/lab/jack russell/poodle/collie/cocker/newfoundland shows unsociable behavior such as growling, barking, or snapping at children, other dogs, or grandma. I am fully aware that many cute dogs are temperamentally fine, but many wonderful “ugly” dogs get passed over because they aren’t the right color, or their nose is too long, or “I wanted perky ears.” When looking for a dog, I ask clients to bear in mind that even the ugliest dog will become beautiful in your eyes when you see how gently it interacts with your children, licks away their tears, and sighs contently at their feet. My mantra: Temperament trumps looks every time. Every, single, time.

The article on Petmatch ends with, “there’s more to the relationship between humans and pets than appearance; maybe the next step is an app that intuitively pairs us based on personality and habits.” I couldn’t agree more. So, when you go looking for your next best friend, remember that beauty is only fur deep. And hopefully, you will find the perfect companion, even if he is a bit scruffy around the edges.

62_dog_how dogs envision-31

Behavior or "What the heck?" General Philosophy of training or "Why be positive?"

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

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

Beware of the slipper! (or, how to successfully meet and greet a dog…)

According to Janis Bradley, author of Dogs Bite, But Balloons and Slippers are More Dangerous*,IMG_1610

Your chances of being killed by a dog or dogs are roughly one in 18 million. That means you are twice as likely to win a super lotto jackpot on a single ticket than to be killed by a dog. That means you are five times as likely to be killed by a bolt of lightening-not just struck by one, mind you – killed.

She further notes that “dog bite fatalities fall far behind other very rare causes of death in children, including five-gallon buckets, party balloons and swings.” Children are much more likely to be killed by a family member or caregiver than a dog. In fact, the average number of deaths per year caused by family and friends: 826, caused by dogs: 10. If you include the entire population, death by choking is 5555/year, bicycles: 774, falls: 14,440, dogs: 16.

But what about incidents with dogs that don’t result in death, but require medical treatment? Interestingly, Ms. Bradley notes:

In the United Kingdom, where injuries are broken down by very specific causes, bedroom slippers and sneakers each cause significantly more medically treated injuries than dogs. This is also true for “other” shoes, which do not include slippers, sneakers, sandals, high heels, platforms, clogs, or boots. And you can’t avoid the danger by going barefoot, which is almost twice as dangerous as any kind of footwear.”

Here are the numbers to support this statement: (Average number of injuries per year): Bare feet: 423,825; Sneakers: 214,646; Shoes: 198,670, Slippers: 64,974; Dogs: 62,743 (note that it doesn’t stipulate if this is dog bites, or just injuries involving a dog, such as tripping over one and spraining an ankle). With these sorts of statistics you’d think there would be a push for breed specific slipper bans…

Moreover, if you look at the raw numbers of dogs, estimated to be 60-64 million in this country (one for every 4-5 people) and figure that they come into contact with several people every day, that results in tens of billions of hours of dog-human contact every year. Realistically, anything with that level of exposure is going to have some risks or hazards attached. Comparatively, Ms Bradley states that,

roughly 180 million people of all ages in the US participate in some kind of sport or physical activity at least occasionally. The actual exposure time is probably much lower than that with dogs, but at least it’s a large scale one. So about double the number of people who live with dogs participate in sports. Yet emergency departments treat over 13 times as many sports-related injuries as dog bites. (emphasis mine.)

Still, dog bites do happen and children (especially those between the ages of 5 -9) are more likely than adults to be bitten, and boys are more likely to be bitten than girls. Children are also more likely to be bitten by a resident or family dog than a stranger dog. So what are parents to do to reduce the risk of a dog bite to one of their children? If I could give only two pieces of advice to anyone wishing to avoid being bitten here they are, in order of importance:

#1: Do not approach or pet a dog with a closed mouth.

I would give this guy some space and time to decide if he wants to meet me.

I would give this guy some space and time to decide if he wants to meet me.

#2: Wait and let the dog approach you.

 

Hudson, our highly social golden is not interested in visiting right now.

Hudson, our highly social golden is not interested in visiting right now.

A happy dog ready to say hi!

A happy dog ready to say hi!

I choose these two rules because they are easy to understand and remember for people of all ages, especially rule number one. So, what is the big deal about a closed mouth? First of all, this is something that is quick and easy to note about any dog and it is a bright line that children readily understand. Secondly, while this isn’t the only way a dog communicates its feelings about a situation, a closed mouth can serve as a good general indicator of a dog’s approachability. Dogs, like humans, often carry tension in their mouths. And, like people, when stressed or uncertain, dogs may keep their mouths closed. Just as people who smile are more approachable, dogs with open mouths tend to be more relaxed as well. Think of it this way: if he isn’t smiling at you, he probably doesn’t want to meet you.

Buckley meets a new friend.

Buckley meets a new friend.

As for rule number 2, if a dog wants to meet you, he will come up to you. Be patient and allow a dog to make the decision that you are irresistible! Sometimes dogs have bad days. Perhaps their hips hurt, or they are tired from running, or they are sleepy, or they have already met enough people that day and do not wish to meet any more. If you allow the dog to make the decision about who he meets, you are much more likely to have a good encounter. Think of it like this: how many new people do you want to meet who charge into your personal space and thunk you on the head, even when you feel great? Now imagine you are hot, tired, sore, or uncertain about how that stranger smells or looks. How tolerant would you be to his intrusive  behavior?

Dogs are remarkably tolerant and gracious about the rudeness displayed to them by humans, increase your chances for a great interaction by giving the dog a choice.

Marley ran up to say hi!

Marley ran up to say hi!

* Find Dogs Bite, But Balloons and Slippers are More Dangerous at : http://www.amazon.com/Dogs-Bite-Balloons-Slippers-Dangerous/dp/1888047186/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1393907976&sr=8-1&keywords=dogs+bite+but+balloons+and+slippers

Behavior or "What the heck?" Blogs with book recommendations Informational or Doggie Demographics Stress: signals, management, & warning signs

Spontaneous Recovery, or “What the heck? I thought we were over this!”

Sometimes when owners decide to fix bad behaviors, the behaviors seems to take a while to disappear, or the bad behaviors still keep cropping up. In fact, sometimes owners get frustrated because at first the behavior may even get worse. – Dr. Sophia Yin, How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves

43_dog_it was an alienWhen a bad behavior gets worse rather than better while an owner is trying to correct it, the owner may feel that positive reinforcement training is not working, and it’s now time to “get serious” about training. But, generally, I have found that what is really needed is a better understanding of behavior. We all try harder to get what we want when what use to work isn’t working any more. For example, when you put your $2.00 into a pop machine and press the button for the cold drink of your choice, you expect the machine to burp and grind and shove an overpriced sugary drink at you within seconds of inhaling your hard earned cash. If, after pushing the button, the machine does not perform correctly, you do not shrug your shoulders and say “Oh well, I didn’t need it anyway,” and walk away. No, if you are like 100% of the population, you will push the button again. When that doesn’t work, you push it again, harder, and maybe call the machine names it doesn’t understand. You might even hit the button, shove the machine, stick your hand up it’s throat, etc.* In other words, you try the same behavior repeatedly, or more intensely, because in the past it has worked and it ought to work this time!

Similarly, if you are trying to correct a bad behavior in your dog, such as barking at you at 4:49 am because it just might be breakfast time, you need to understand that when you ignore this behavior in your dog, he will try harder (ie: bark more or louder) to get what he wants because the behavior worked in the past. “How hard he tries depends on how much he’s had to bark to get his way in the past.” (Dr. Yin). Understandably, many people give into the dog at the peak of his bad behavior, just to get him to stop. Unfortunately, having rewarded the bad behavior at its worst, they have now succeeded  in making the behavior stronger and more obnoxious. What is actually needed here is to stay the course. Do not reward him for the undesired behavior by reacting to it. Instead, wait for the desired behavior and reward Kitchen Buckleythat. Thus, in the case of the early rising Bernese Mountain Dog, what I did was ignore his huffing and puffing until he was quiet for about 10 seconds, then I invited him onto the bed. He snuggled in and slept until I got up at 6:00.

Another misunderstanding that owners sometimes have is the idea that when a dog learns an incompatible behavior (such as sitting to be petted rather than jumping on guests) the bad behavior (jumping) is somehow eradicated from memory. The reality is: behaviors are not un-learned. Moreover, given a strong enough motivation, or if the new behavior is not reinforced adequately, the undesired behavior will rear its ugly head. As Dr. Yin puts it,

information is never erased from an animal’s brain. Instead it lurks there, and when inexperienced trainers least expect it, the behavior bursts out…If the desirable behaviors are reinforced frequently in a short period of time and the undesirable behaviors are not reinforced at all, then the new behavior may become a habit. But if training is inconsistent and the dog’s motivation for the undesirable behavior is extremely high, then the training may need to be lifelong. (emphasis mine)

So, what’s an owner to do? First of all, remember that most of Fifi’s bad habits are annoyances, not truly dangerous or destructive behaviors, so keeping  your sense of humor and perspective will aid you in staying the course and getting through the extinction burst and the spontaneous recovery of a bad behavior. (Nota bena: If your dog’s behaviors are dangerous or destructive, talk to a positive reinforcement trainer for help on how to handle these problems. To find a trainer in your area, go to http://apdt.com/petowners/ts/)

2) Work to consistently prevent reinforcement of the undesired behavior in order to extinguish it, and

3) Reward the desired behavior in a way that is meaningful to your dog. For example, our early rising Berner is motivated by snuggling with us and by food. So, when he barks to get up on the bed, I do not let him on the bed, but when he is quiet, then he is invited. Thus, the next time he wants up at 4:49, I expect the huffing and puffing to be shorter in duration, and the quiet to come sooner and longer. Now, he will have to be quiet for 15 seconds before being allowed on the bed. My goal is to get his signal down to one little “woof”. With that he can join us. Mr. Bingley my flat-coated retriever, on the other hand, is motivated by balls and I have used this motivation to successfully get him to sit, stay, lie down, or sit at side, instead of jumping or barking to get me to play with him. When he is very excited however, he may resort to jumping or barking. Nothing fun happens when he does that. Instead, I wait until he offers me a behavior such as sit. Then, when he does what Mom wants, he gets what he wants: to chase his beloved tennis ball.

3ballsbingley.jpg.w300h225

*Interestingly, vending machines kill about 2-3 people per year. According to the website, freakonomics.com, “how do people die from a vending machine? Vending machines are not known carcinogens. I imagine that the machine takes someone’s money and malfunctions. The customer then shakes it to free the snack, whereupon the machine tips over and crushes the hot-tempered purchaser.” (emphasis mine)

Behavior or "What the heck?" Blogs with book recommendations General Informational or Doggie Demographics

Santa Paws is coming to town!

76C_dog_cat_xmas-01Earlier this year (Sept. 23rd to be precise: http://apositiveconnection.com/?p=1756) I published “Fido’s Guide to a Stress-free Holiday, early edition!” hoping to motivate people to start preparing sooner rather than later for the Holiday season. Now I have no way of knowing if anyone, or everyone took this advice, but I have to assume that some took it, and some did not. So, I decided that perhaps reiterating some of the advice (and adding in some new items, yay!) might be handy for those of you who perhaps had good intentions, but somewhat less than perfect execution.

1) When it is dinner time for people, prevent canine catastrophes at the table by feeding your dogs stuffed Kongs. Kongs come in a variety of sizes and are readily available at most pet stores. Recipes for stuffing a Kong can be found at: http://www.kongcompany.com/recipes/. And, be sure to check out my September 2nd blog, “Whoever said breakfast had to come in a bowl?” (http://apositiveconnection.com/?p=1687) for more recommendations on intelligence toys you can use instead of Kongs.

MerryXmasFireplace_ACD_Page_12) Give Fido a happy place. I insist that each of my dogs have a place in the house that is his “Do Not Disturb” zone. Give your buddy a comfy place to curl up, a special treat to chew on, and perhaps some lavender oil on its blanket, in a quiet place in the house. If you need Fido to leave Nirvana, call him to you, and offer a tasty treat for his co-operation. Don’t drag Fido out of his comfort zone as it might lose its specialness and he will no longer have that safe place to re-group. If Fido seems too excited or restless during the festivities, consider giving him that tasty Kong in his special spot or crate as a way to decompress and get himself re-oriented and ready to join the fun.

3) Careful of small toys! Your dog may decide that the replica of the Starship Enterprise, or Diagon Alley in Legos are chew toys. If your dog does swallow plastic do not immediately induce vomiting as sharp edges on chewed plastic can cause serious problems on the way back up. They can also cause gastrointestinal blockages, which can become quite serious quite quickly. (We lost a beloved dog to a blockage due to eating chicken bones he heisted from the trash. In 24 hours he was gone.) Please call the Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435, and be prepared for an emergency vet visit.

4) Rich foods can cause tummy problems! I have posted a lot about toxic materials during the holidays (See Sept 23 http://apositiveconnection.com/?p=1756 and Dec. 75C_dog_thanksgiving-01http://apositiveconnection.com/?p=2079), but many things that aren’t toxic, should be monitored so Fido does not get an upset tummy or diarrhea. Christmas Cookies, eggnog, candy canes, holiday breads, candy, turkey skins, or anything that he does not normally eat and is high in fat and/or calories can cause tummy upsets. I had a Shih Tzu once who LOVED chocolate. My sister-in-law failed to tell me one of the presents she sent was a two pound bag of M&M’s. Bilbo found it under the tree, ate the entire thing, and promptly threw up all of it on my white rug on Christmas Eve. Luckily he did not poison himself, and my neighbor loaned me her steam-vac, so it all ended well enough, but I certainly don’t wish that on any of you!

What I do wish is that you and your pets have a wonderful, safe Christmas and a very Happy New Year. I also hope that you all know how very grateful we at A Positive Connection for all of you and your delightful dogs. We look forward to serving you in 2014.Happy Hollydogs for website

Behavior or "What the heck?" Care and management or living together in harmony Stress: signals, management, & warning signs