Canine Behavior – What Should I Do When My Dog Growls?

A dog that growls is not a bad dog.

<This article was also published in the July 14, 2015 edition of The Maine Edge>

While a dog’s growl can be frightening and disheartening, it also serves the very useful purpose of alerting us or another being that the dog is feeling threatened, uncomfortable or angry. It is the dog’s way of saying “If something in this situation does not change, I may have no other choice except to bite.” Growling is a communication tool that is designed to increase the distance between the dog and that which the dog perceives as a threat.

Dog growling over a stick
Dog growling over a stick

While a growl is usually associated with “aggression”, it is important to understand that there are many causes of aggression. Pain or other medical issues can cause an aggressive response, as can fear. Fear arises for many reasons; a reminder of a previous negative experience, a perceived loss of a resource or space, expectations of punishment and associated pain, and maternal protective instincts can all cause a dog to react “aggressively”. Sexual competition, barrier frustration, low tolerance for frustration, differences in personalities between dogs, and genetics may also cause or contribute to aggressive behavior.

As a certified dog behavior consultant (CDBC) I deal with a greater number of aggressive dogs than the average person. I appreciate it when a client’s dog growls thus giving me a warning and an opportunity to change my behavior so I do not get bitten. For this reason, I advise all my clients and students that it is NEVER wise to punish a dog for growling; even saying “No” or looking at the dog crossly can constitute punishment. Dogs that are repeatedly punished for growling eventually may not give warning and immediately escalate to biting.  A dog that has learned not to growl due to punishment is far more dangerous than a dog that will give a warning growl before escalating to biting. These dogs will also be much more difficult to rehabilitate.

If your dog is in a situation where they growl; as calmly as possible step back and assess the circumstances surrounding the growling. If possible, ask whatever is causing your dog to remain still and to increase the distance away from your dog. Keeping safety foremost in your mind, and with as little fanfare and emotion as possible, call your dog back to you or if they are on leash get them to follow you as you back away from the situation to a place where they will feel safe and secure. Your dog will pick-up on your emotions and if they sense you are upset, angry or afraid your dog is likely to become more reactive. Do not keep your dog in a stressful situation and try to reassure them or yell at them for growling, neither is likely to be helpful. Once you have ensured the safety of all parties, you need to try to determine what caused your dog to feel threatened and defensive in the first place. To keep you and your dog safe, you should make sure that they are on a short leash, nothing longer than 6 feet, in any similar situations in the future.

If your dog is growling frequently, or growling is very out of character for your dog, you should schedule a veterinary exam to rule out any physical causes such as pain or illness. If the growling and aggression are not due to medical reasons it is time to seek a consultation with a credentialed and experienced dog behavior consultant to work with you in resolving your dog’s behavior. The sooner you seek guidance the better. Aggression rarely improves without intervention and the more times it occurs, the more likely it is to reoccur and the longer it will take to resolve.

It is important to understand that obedience training alone is extremely unlikely to resolve an aggression issue. Training certain behaviors like “Look” and “Leave It” may be useful in managing your dog when they are reactive, but will not change the way your dog is feeling. Aggression is an emotional response, sometimes due to a feeling of having no control over a situation. Sitting and staying for you on cue does not afford the dog a sense of control and may actually increase their fear and the accompanying response. Imagine how you would feel if you were afraid of bees and someone forced you to sit in a room full of bees until you “got over it.” I think you’d agree that would only make you more reactive and afraid.

In order to resolve aggression, we need to change the dog’s emotions. This is most commonly accomplished through a program of behavior modification and may include the use of medications prescribed by your veterinarian as well as complementary remedies, such as Bach Flower remedies, selected by a qualified practitioner. Aggression will seldom go away on its own and the longer you wait, the harder it is to resolve. Dogs grow into aggression, not out of it. If you are having concerns, the time to seek help is now.

Links

To find a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant – <click here>

To find a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner <click here>

 

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

PODCAST – Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate with special guest host Dr. Mark Hanks – part 1

11JUL15-Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate w-Mark Hanks-Part-1 400x400Dr. Mark Hanks from Kindred Spirits Veterinary Clinic has been a frequent guest on The Woof Meow Show, giving Kate and I several opportunities to “pick his brain” about a wide variety of topics. For quite some time he’s been asking to “host” the show and to turn the tables so to speak; interviewing Kate and I and asking us questions about animal behavior and training.

In the second of four shows in this series, Dr. Hanks interviews Don and Kate about their experiences as professional dog trainers. He asks Kate and Don about: how training has changed in the past 26 years since Mark began his practice, why training a dog is important, the importance of training for mental enrichment, how breed effects training and compatibility with a family, how human intervention has adversely effected health and behavior, researching dogs before one decides what dog and breed to get, making temperament a key decision when picking a dog, what we typically teach a client and their dog, Green Acres holistic approach to training (husbandry, nutrition, body language, ethology, and training), inadvertent reinforcement of undesirable behaviors, the continuing necessity to refute antiquated and inaccurate myths about canine behavior, the optimal age for starting training,  the structure of Green Acres training classes, Green Acres program to help parents find the best pet for them, how family lifestyles have changed and how that affects time for a dog, knowing when to wait before starting a group training class, and how they deal with special needs rescue dogs.

You can listen to this episode of The Woof Meow Show at: http://traffic.libsyn.com/woofmeowshow/WoofMeowShow-2015-07-11-Dog_Training_Questions_for_Don_and_Kate_w_guest_host_Dr_Mark_Hankspart-1.mp3

You can download this episode of The Woof Meow Show at the Apple iTunes store, or you can download it at: http://woofmeowshow.libsyn.com/webpage

You can listen others episodes in this series at the links below.

Pet Behavior Counseling and Don and Kate – 10JAN15 – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/01/10/podcast-pet-behavior-counseling-and-don-and-kate-with-special-guest-host-dr-mark-hanks/

Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate, part 2– 19JUL15 – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/07/19/podcast-dog-training-questions-for-don-and-kate-with-special-guest-host-dr-mark-hanks-part-2/

Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate, part 3– 26JUL15 – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/07/27/blog-post-27jul15-podcast-dog-training-questions-for-don-and-kate-with-special-guest-host-dr-mark-hanks-part-3/

For more information on the Woof Meow Show go to: www.woofmeowshow.com

 

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Dog Behavior – Puppy Socialization and Habituation

<Updated on 10APR16>

Actively and wisely socializing a puppy between 8 and 16 weeks of age is as critical to a puppy’s behavioral health as vaccinations are to their physical health. Click here to listen  to an eight minute podcast where Dr. David Cloutier and Don Hanson discuss this critical issue.

I cannot stress enough the importance of socialization at this juncture in your puppy’s life. Dogs have a critical socialization period, which typically occurs between 8 and 16 weeks of age, allowing room for some individual variability. It is during this time that they will be most open to new and different experiences. What they are not exposed to during this time frame, they will be more likely to fear later in life. This does not mean that just because they were exposed to something they will never fear it, but it certainly decreases the chances of this occurring.

Gus Getting His 1st Bath
Gus Getting His 1st Bath

A Puppy Headstart class alone is not adequate socialization for your puppy but is a great place to start. Having a credentialed instructor there to ensure sanitation and hygiene, to supervise puppy interactions and to answer student’s questions is invaluable.

All puppies need to be safely exposed to as many different places, people, environments and situations as possible without over stimulating them. This is even more critical for the puppy that is unsure of himself, shy or fearful. It is even more important if you hope to have your puppy work as a certified therapy dog or as any type of service/assistance dog.

Many puppy owners are concerned about bringing their puppy out into public, as they have not completed their vaccination series. Since socialization is so essential to the behavioral well being of a dog and since much of this period occurs before a puppy is fully vaccinated, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior recommends …it should be the standard of care for puppies to receive such socialization before they are fully vaccinated.”1

In a letter to the veterinary community at-large, Dr. R.K Anderson, a Diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine and a Diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists states; “Experience and epidemiologic data support the relative safety and lack of transmission of disease in these puppy socialization classes over the past 10 years in many parts of the United States. In fact; the risk of a dog dying because of infection with distemper or parvo disease is far less than the much higher risk of a dog dying (euthanasia) because of a behavior problem.”2

The 2015 AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines published by the American Animal Hospital Association states; “There is no medical reason to delay puppy and kitten classes or social exposure until the vaccination series is completed as long as exposure to sick animals is prohibited, basic hygiene is practiced, and diets are high quality. 24,25 The risks attendant with missing social exposure far exceed any disease risk.”

Since your puppy will not be fully vaccinated when you start socializing them you do need to give some thought as to where you take them. A well-managed puppy kindergarten class or daycare, where they check vaccination records, supervise the puppies, choose appropriate playmates, and have established cleaning protocols represent safe choices. Places where the health status of animals is not regularly checked and large numbers of dogs congregate (i.e. dog parks) should be avoided.

You have a short period of time to socialize your puppy; between 8 and 16 weeks of age, but rushing and not planning this process can be counterproductive. We recommend that you don’t just depend on socialization happening but that you plan and setup specific socialization events. You need to make sure that each event will be a positive and rewarding experience for your puppy. For example, if you are introducing your puppy to children for the first time, start with older children and with just one at a time. Then proceed to two at a time, then younger children, etc. The key is to go slow because if you overwhelm the puppy with too many people or too many new things at once, you may create a fear.

The late Dr. Sophia Yin wanted to make sure that both dog people and non-dog people understand how to greet a dog and how not to greet a dog as well as to be able to recognize the signs of fear in a dog. These are things you need to understand before you start socializing your puppy. Dr. Yin developed two great handouts on this subject, which we provide in our classes or which you can download at the links below.

How to correctly greet a dog – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/04/04/canine-body-language-how-to-greet-a-dog-and-what-to-avoid-dr-sophia-yin/

The body language of fear in dogs – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/04/04/body-language-of-fear-in-dogs-dr-sophia-yin/

When introducing your puppy to new situations, allow him to investigate and observe at his own pace. It is imperative that you watch him and gauge how he is feeling. If your puppy shows fear, take a mental snapshot of the situation so that you can devise a plan and work on it. Do NOT force a fearful puppy to confront its fears, as this will just make a bad situation worse. Your best option in this situation is to attempt to make light of what is occurring by having a happy voice and trying to jolly your pup a bit. When your dog relaxes, give a treat and leave.

When you take your puppy on outings take treats along. Reward him for not

Tikken and Sophie Playing as Pups
Tikken and Sophie Playing as Pups

jumping and practice your sits. Make every place you go a positive experience and reward the puppy with a treat for each and every positive interaction. Places you can go: stores, sidewalks in front of shopping centers, parking lots, banks, post offices, the groomers and your veterinarian. While you will eventually want to expose your puppy to places like playgrounds and parades, you will need to do much work beforehand.

Expose your puppy to different types and sizes of vehicles. Make sure they become familiar with well-behaved children as well as the elderly. Exposure to other types of animals such as cats and birds is also beneficial. Walking up and down stairs and on different types of surfaces is also part of the socialization process.

Remember to address seasonal items. A puppy born in the summer will not normally be exposed to winter clothing, snow shovels, skis and other seasonal items during the critical socialization period. I know of a summer puppy that was terrified of people the first time he saw them all bundled up in winter coats. Likewise a puppy born in the winter may not have an opportunity to be exposed to swimming unless you devise a way to make that happen.

In addition to taking your puppy places, consider having a puppy party. Invite a group of friends over to meet and help train your puppy. What better way to work on NOT jumping and sitting to meet a stranger. Just make sure everyone knows the rules beforehand.

It is very useful to take your puppy to your veterinarian and groomer for some positive visits. Just stop in to say “hi” or to get weighed. Bring a treat along and have one or more of the staff treat your puppy. Next time they go to these places they will be happy to do so.

Happy Real Life Example:

Xena, a cocker spaniel puppy had her very first experience at the groomer’s when she was 9 weeks old. She had previously been to the facility two times to just meet the employees and to receive some tasty treats. At Xena’s first official grooming visit, she went in and stood on the grooming table, was combed a bit, had a bath and then she went home. One week later she returned and stood on the table again and had the clippers held up to her so that she could hear them “buzz”. After investigating the clippers they were placed on Xena’s back so that she could feel the vibration, and then she went home. The following week she returned once again and stood on the table and had her back and head clipped, as well as her feet trimmed, then she went home. The fourth week Xena was enthusiastic about coming into the groomer’s and was able to have her first complete grooming. By breaking up the process, this puppy never had the opportunity to become overwhelmed and frightened.

What did Xena learn?

  • That the groomer’s is not a scary place.
  • That her guardian always returns for her.
  • That being handled by a virtual stranger is an okay thing.
  • How to be groomed.

 

To this day, Xena is a model groomer, who willingly stands on the table and is easily handled. She does not become at all stressed out when she is dropped off, rather Xena loves to come and be doted on.

Not So Happy Real Life Example

Gina, a 12-week-old Australian Shepherd puppy, a bit on the shy and timid side, was badly frightened when an adult male she had never met jumped out from behind a door and startled her.

What did Gina learn?

  • That people, men in particular, are very scary.
  • To be wary of what may be lurking around doors.

Since that episode, Gina has never had an interaction with a new person in which she has not behaved in a fearfully aggressive manner. However, she is perfectly comfortable with all of the people that she met prior to event. Gina’s owner will no need to do some additional work so that Gina does not have a life time fear of new people.

Socialization Treasure Hunt

We provide students in our Puppy Headstart and Basic Manners classes with a Socialization Treasure Hunt Sheet. It lists several items that their puppy should experience before they are 16 weeks of age. The list is certainly not exhaustive but includes; several variations of adults , several variations of children, different types of events, different locations, animals of varying species and sizes, vehicles, common objects, and different surfaces. The list is certainly not exhaustive. As you encounter an item that is on your treasure hunt list, check it off.

Adults

  • Man Wearing Baseball Hat

    Green Acres Puppy Treasure Hunt List
    Green Acres Puppy Treasure Hunt List
  • Man With Glasses
  • Man With Beard
  • Man Carrying Child
  • Man Carrying Bags
  • Man Jogging
  • Man With A Newspaper
  • Man With An Umbrella
  • Man Over Six Feet Tall
  • Woman Under Five Feet Tall
  • Woman Wearing Skirt
  • Woman Wearing Hat & Sunglasses
  • Woman In Shorts
  • Woman that is Pregnant
  • Person Pushing Baby In A Stroller
  • Person With Baby In A Sling Or Pack
  • Person Wearing Heavy Winter Coat
  • Person Wearing Winter Boots
  • Person Biking
  • Person In A Wheelchair
  • Person On Crutches
  • Person Using A Walker
  • Person Using A Cane
  • Person Limping
  • Person In A Police Uniform
  • Person In A Mail Uniform
  • Person In A Military Uniform
  • Person In A UPS Uniform
  • Pizza Delivery Person

Children

  • Child Under Age 1
  • Child Between 2 – 3
  • Girl Between 3-7
  • Girl Over Age 7
  • Boy Between 3-7
  • Boy Over Age 7
  • Child Running
  • Child Riding A Bike
  • Child Crying Or Yelling
  • Child On Rollerblades Or Skateboard
  • Child Jumping Rope
  • Children Sledding
  • 2 Children Together

Events

  • Picnic
  • Adult Sporting Events
  • Child’s Sporting Event
  • Gathering Of 5 Or More People
  • Gathering Of 8 Or More People

Locations

  • Outdoor Restaurant
  • Shopping Plaza
  • Post Office
  • Hardware Store
  • Vet’s Office (Good Visit Only)
  • Water Fountain
  • Body Of Water (Ocean, Lake, Pond, Stream)
  • Wooded Area
  • Congested Area (Downtown Bangor,
  • Bar Harbor)
  • Beach
  • Walking Trails
  • Rocky Terrain
  • Park With People
  • Parking Lot With Many Cars
  • Bridges
  • Elevator
  • Office Cubicle
  • Fast Food/Bank Drive Thru
  • Boat

Animals

  • Cat
  • Large Dog
  • Small Dog
  • Black Dog
  • White Dog
  • Young Dog
  • Old Dog
  • Puppy
  • Long Haired Dog
  • Hairless Dog
  • Short Haired Dog
  • Two Or More Dogs Playing
  • Barking Dog On Tie Out
  • Barking Dog Behind Fence
  • Bouncy Dog On Lead
  • Three Legged Dog
  • Pet Birds
  • Pocket Pets (mice, hamsters, gerbils,)
  • Sheep Or Goats
  • Cattle
  • Horses
  • Chickens
  • Deer/Moose
  • Turkeys

Vehicles

  • Ambulance
  • Fire Engine
  • Police Car
  • Push Lawn Mower
  • Ride On Lawn Mower
  • Farm Tractor
  • ATV
  • Motorcycle
  • Loud Motorcycle
  • Snowmobile
  • Backhoe
  • Bulldozer
  • Semi
  • Dump Truck
  • Delivery Truck
  • Tow Truck
  • Oil/Propane Truck
  • Garbage Truck

Miscellaneous

  • Lawn Furniture
  • Snow Shovel
  • Mirror
  • Coat Rack
  • Umbrella
  • Stack Of Cardboard Boxes (2.5 Feet
  • Or Higher)
  • Drains In Sidewalks
  • Covered Manholes
  • Laundry Blowing In The Wind
  • Trash Cans Outdoors
  • Rake
  • Stacked Bags Of Sod, Mulch, etc.
  • Foot Bridge
  • Bales Of Hay
  • Construction Equipment (Nail Gun,
  • Saw, Drill, Etc.)
  • Automatic Door
  • Automatic Garage Door
  • Snowblower
  • Dumpster
  • Traffic Cones

Surfaces

  • Cement
  • Asphalt
  • Grass
  • Gravel
  • Metal Grate
  • Carpet
  • Hardwood Floor
  • Ceramic Tile
  • Vinyl Tile
  • Snow/Ice
  • Plastic Decking
  • Stairs (wood, metal. concrete, stone)
  • Throw Rug
  • Train Tracks

SocializationOur friends at Mighty Dog Graphics recently published and shared a graphic which illustrates some of the many things you need to include in your puppy’s socialization plan. You can download it by clicking here.

 

 Questions?

If you have questions on puppy socialization and habituation we encourage you to enroll in a Puppy Headstart class at Green Acres Kennel Shop. You can learn more about that by “clicking here” or by calling us at 945-6841.

If you are not within our service area, you can find professional dog trainers offering classes at the links below. We recommend that you search for a trainer at The Pet Professional Guild (PPG) first, as all members of the PPG agree to abide by the PPG’s Pain-Free, Force-Free, Fear-Free philosophy as outlined in their Guiding Principles – http://www.petprofessionalguild.com/PPGs-Guiding-Principles

The Pet Professional Guild – <click here>

International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants – <click here>

Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers – <click here>

Association of Professional Dog Trainers – <click here>

 

Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog (http://www.words-woofs-meows.com)

 

 

©2016, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Dog Behavior – Dominance: Reality or Myth

Listen to a podcast on this topic that first aired on The Woof Meow Show on March 21st, 2010 by clicking here

It was in the September of 2002 that the first version of this article appeared in Paw Prints, the Green Acres Kennel Shop newsletter. I update the article on a regular basis because sadly there are still too many people, some of them animal professionals, and some who try to play the part on TV, promulgating the dominance myth. Unfortunately a popular reality TV show has captured people’s attention and is talking about dogs as pack animals and again perpetuating the idea of using “calm-assertive energy” (read: fear and intimidation) to resolve issues with problem dogs.  Like most “reality” TV shows there is very little that is real here. The methods and approach used on this show are contraindicated by science and behavioral experts and many consider them inhumane. Unfortunately, many viewers do not seem to understand that the show is edited but instead believe “miracles happen in 30 minutes.” Even though each show contains a disclaimer; “please do not attempt any of these techniques on your own, consult with a professional,” people do try these techniques at home and cause further harm to dogs that are already suffering. As result the two largest organizations of professionals that deal with animal behavior; the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) have issued official positions warning against the use of the dominance approach in training or dealing with behavioral issues with dogs. In 2010 Green Acres elected to do the same in an effort to educate dog lovers about our position on this topic. That position statement can be found on our web site at http://www.greenacreskennel.com/dog-behavior-and-training/position-on-the-use-of-dominance-and-punishment-for-the-training-and-behavior-modification-of-dogs OR http://bit.ly/g6Pqq5

If you attended a dog training class anytime  through the 1990’s, if you read any dog training books written during this period, or if you have had any behavioral issues with your dog, then you have most likely heard about dominance. You were probably told that in order to prevent your dog from becoming dominant that you had to do one or more of the following things:

  1. Always go through doorways first,
  2. Always eat before your dog,
  3. Never allow the dog on furniture where they might be elevated above you,
  4. Never allow the dog to sleep on your bed,
  5. Always punish your dog for stealing or chewing things that belong to you,
  6. Push your dog away when they jump up or paw at you, and
  7. Never let your dog pull on leash.

Essentially you were advised to be ever vigilant and to show your dog that you were the boss in order to prevent him from taking over your home and becoming disobedient and even possibly aggressive.

The Myth

The concept of the dominant dog was based on an experimental model of how wolves interact socially within a group. The wolves being studied were described as having a strict, force-based hierarchical structure where one male and one female were always the dominant ones, also known as the alpha pair. These dominant wolves had first access to the resources necessary for survival: food, water, and a mate, and fought to maintain these resources. The other wolves in the pack were constantly challenging the alphas so that they could take their positions and have first access to the resources. Someone then extrapolated that since wolves and dogs are biologically the same species, dogs must also be struggling for dominance amongst each other and with us.

This myth that dogs were striving to be the alphas over us led to the philosophy that we must always maintain dominance over our dogs and that the best way to do that is to use physical and mental intimidation, just like the captive wolves used with each other. This philosophy was pushed in a popular book of the 1970’s, How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend, by the Monks of New Skete. The Monks included detailed instructions for physically disciplining your dog. They recommended hitting your dog hard enough under the chin so that it hurts and shaking the dog by the scruff of their neck while yelling at them. The Monks described something they called the alpha wolf rollover as the ultimate punishment for the most severe disobedience. This involves grabbing the dog by the scruff of their neck, and firmly and rapidly rolling the dog on its back and pinning it while making eye contact and yelling at the dog. In their book the Monks asserted that these disciplinary techniques are what a mother wolf would use in the wild to discipline her pups.

The fact is the Monks had no idea what they were talking about, and some of them have since recanted this particular method of punishment, as the “alpha wolf rollover” does not happen with wolves. The Monks of New Skete were not alone in their flawed understanding of canine behavior. The concept of dominance and putting the dog in its place was, and in some cases still is, very pervasive in the field of dog training.

My first personal experience with the alpha wolf rollover occurred in 1991 at the very first dog training class that I attended. Based on the recommendation of our veterinarian, Paula and I were taking our 12 week old Cairn Terrier puppy, Gus, to an obedience class.  It was the first night of class and all of the puppies were expected to sit on command. When Gus would not sit, the instructor told me I had to show him who was boss and make him sit, and if he still wouldn’t do it, then I should alpha roll him. Well Gus wouldn’t sit (I know now he had no clue what I was even asking for) and so I was told to “alpha roll him!” I soon had a terrified (unknown to or disregarded by everyone) puppy, flat on his back, pinned to the floor, eyes rolling, body writhing, mouth growling and snapping at everything. The instructor was really adamant now: “We can’t have that! Grab his muzzle and clamp it shut!” My instincts said “Whoa! That’s not safe!” but these people were the “experts” so I grabbed Gus’ muzzle in my hand. Instantly, I felt his canines puncture my palm. As my blood started dripping on the floor, Gus broke free and moved as far away from me as he could. There is something to be said for listening to your gut instincts. Gus listened to his; I failed to listen to mine. Unbeknownst to me at the time, everything that I had read and been taught about the alpha wolf rollover was based upon flawed knowledge. My puppy was afraid for his life and it was my fault.

The “alpha wolf rollover” or other methods of physical punishment have no place in dog training. They are:

  • Dangerous and a great way to give your dog a good reason to bite you.
  •  Damaging to the relationship between pet parent and dog. It teaches them to mistrust you.
  •  A great way to make a good dog aggressive – aggression by the pet parent will result in escalated aggression by the dog.

Patricia McConnell, Ph.D. describes these methods in her book, The Other End of the Leash – Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs: “So much old-fashioned obedience training could be summarized as, Do it because I told you to and if you don’t, I’ll hurt you.”

As for Gus and me, I do not really remember much of what happened next other than being offered ice for my hand as Paula worked with Gus for the remainder of the class. In fact, Gus and I were rather wary of each other for quite some time and I let Paula take him to the rest of his classes for the next year. Over time and lots of games of tennis ball, Gus and I learned to trust one another again and started having fun. As I started to learn more about dogs I discovered that there were far better ways to train a dog than with fear and intimidation and trying to be dominant.

The Reality

The wolves being studied that resulted in the conception of the dominance construct were not a pack of wolves living in the wild but were in fact a mixed non-familial group of wolves living in a fenced enclosure, some as small as 5 acres, with far less resources than what would be available in the wild. This was not a normal family of wolves nor were these wolves in a typical environment. They were forced to live under extremely stressful and unnatural conditions. Is it any wonder they became aggressive?

We now know that true wolf packs, living in the wild, do NOT have a strict, force-based hierarchical structure. In Alpha Status, Dominance, and Division of Labor in Wolf Packs, biologist L. D. Mech notes “… in natural wolf packs, the alpha male or female are merely the breeding animals, the parents of the pack, and dominance contests with other wolves are rare, if they exist at all. During my 13 summers observing the Ellesmere Island pack, I saw none.” What Mech observed was a family of wolves: a breeding pair, pups and possibly some of last year’s pups. The breeding pair provides for and raises the young until such time that they move on to start their own pack and families. This is how a typical wolf pack in the wild interacts. In order to survive they must work together. If they were constantly fighting one another they would not live to reproduce.

Regarding the role of the alpha-wolf-roll-over, noted wolf ethologist Erich Klinghammer, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Purdue University and the founder of Wolf Park has this to say: “As for myself, the so-called alpha roll over practiced by some is nonsense. The context in which people do it with dogs does not coincide with the situation in which a wolf actively submits to a high ranking wolf.” “There is really a big difference between wolves and dogs. To simply extrapolate from wolves to dogs is at best problematical.” And renowned ethologist and canine behaviorist Patricia McConnell, Ph.D. in her book The Other End of the Leash says “Forcing dogs into ‘submission’ and screaming in their face is a great way to elicit defensive aggression.” “Within their social framework you are acting like a lunatic.”

Not only were we in error in our understanding of the structure of wolf pack, we also now have a significant amount of evidence that dogs and wolves are behaviorally very different. In his book Dogs, evolutionary biologist Dr. Raymond Coppinger states: “Dogs may well be closely related to wolves but that does not mean they behave like wolves. People are closely related to chimps but that doesn’t make us a subspecies of chimpanzees. Nor does it mean we behave like chimps.” Coppinger goes on to explain some of the differences between dogs and wolves:

  1. Dogs are not as quick at learning and have poor problem solving skills,
  2. Dogs have smaller brains,
  3. Dogs are easily tamed,
  4. Dogs are better scavengers, and
  5. Even when feral, dogs do not have a pack structure.

Based on his observations and study of dogs throughout the world, Dr. Coppinger states, “I don’t think a dog knows what people are talking about when they exhibit this “alpha wolf” behavior. Dogs do not understand such behaviors because the village dogs didn’t have a pack structure; they were semi solitary animals.” “In fact, contrary to popular belief, dogs around the world do not (or only rarely) exhibit ‘pack’ behavior.”

So, if my dog Is not dominant, why does he misbehave?

So, if wolves do not have a rigid force-based hierarchy and dogs are not really wolves and do not form a dominance hierarchy, why then do some dogs exhibit some of the obnoxious, undesirable behaviors which in the past have been attributed to dominance? I believe the following are some of the most common reasons we see undesirable behaviors in dogs:

Unrealistic expectations – Many people expect dogs to be furry little people with human values and morals. They do not like that dogs exhibit normal canine behaviors such as mounting, sniffing butts, and jumping up on people, just to name a few. Some of the behaviors we find undesirable are perfectly normal for dogs.  Not accepting these actions as being normal canine behaviors is simply unrealistic.  However, if we find something such as mounting undesirable, we can easily teach our dog “sit” or “leave it.” This gives the dog something else to do that is mutually exclusive to mounting. For some illogical reason people expect a dog to always comply with every command they give. How many people do you do know that always do everything they are told to do?

Failure to manage the dog and its environment – Dogs are scavengers and are always looking for food. If your dog steals a steak off the countertop it is not because they are trying to become dominant, it is because steaks taste great to them and we left the dog and the steak in a situation where this could happen. We need to take advantage of the fact that we are smarter than the dog and be responsible by managing the environment so that the dog cannot behave inappropriately. If a dog is successful in a behavior, it will be repeated, not because it is dominant but because it has learned the behavior is rewarding.

Failure to train the dog – Too few people take the time to successfully complete at least one training class with their dog, or follow through with an adequate level of training at home. These dogs are then presumed to “know better” when in reality they are being expected to do calculus when they have only been taught basic addition. Often these dogs are then labeled “dominant”. Every dog needs to be trained and needs to be trained for life. The best way to train any animal, dog or human, is by rewarding the dog for behaviors we like.

Fear of their guardian – Physical punishment and even lots of yelling are going to cause your dog to fear you. When a dog is afraid it will try to done of two things, run away or fight. Fighting often involves biting.

Unintentional training – Many people do not realize that they are rewarding the dog for the behaviors they do not like. Chasing the dog when he steals a sock rewards the dog for stealing, pushing him off when he jumps up rewards him for jumping, and letting him go forward with the leash tight is rewarding him for pulling on leash. We cannot blame the dog when we reward these undesirable behaviors.

Allowing the dog to train you – A lot of “dominance” issues involve dogs that have essentially become spoiled brats. Dogs do what works, and if they find they can stay on the couch by growling or get attention by pawing at you, then that is what they are going to do. These dogs are not dominant; they have quite simply done a very effective job of training you, instead of you training them.

Physical Punishment – Choosing to train with physical punishment is more likely to result in “dominant” like behaviors such as growling and snapping, because it puts the dog in a position of fearing for its safety. Tools such as shock collars and choke collars are designed to cause the dog fear and pain. When a dog is afraid or feels pain he will respond accordingly. Rather than rewarding desirable behaviors, punishment for undesirable behaviors creates a dog that is always on the defensive and afraid that making the wrong choice will cause pain.

Failure to meet the dog’s needs – While not really associated with dominance, a common reason for undesirable behaviors in dogs is our failure to meet our dogs’ needs for physical exercise and mental stimulation. Stealing a sock or underwear is a great way for the dog to get the attention he wants and needs. To a dog, it can be very rewarding to be chased and yelled at, especially if this is the only exercise or play their guardian provides.

Emotional issues – In my experience most aggressive behavior by dogs is not due to “dominance” but is due to an emotional reaction, fear and anger being the most typical. A dog that is afraid is a dog under stress and like a person under stress can react very irrationally, and if they feel threatened very forcefully. Sadly there are still trainers that tell people to punish their dogs for growling or advise them to force the dog into a sit-stay and allow people to pet it until the dog becomes comfortable. This would be akin to taking a person afraid of snakes and tying them in a chair and allowing snakes to crawl all over them. This approach is certainly not humane and is more likely to make the fear worse. Dogs with emotional issues can be helped, but a training class is usually not the answer. An individual behavior consultation would be our recommendation in this situation.

Undesirable behaviors in dogs that are attributed to “dominance” are not due to a pack driven instinct of the dog, but rather are due to our failure to take responsibility for the dog’s needs, and to properly, humanely train ourselves and our dog. If a dog is “dominant” it’s because we have trained them to be so.

Strive to be good guardians and provide your dogs with everything they need, including food, water, shelter, training, mental stimulation, physical exercise and common sense management. This way they will not learn the undesirable behaviors that in the past have been erroneously attributed to dominance.

For a more information on the dominance myth, we recommend the following books and articles:

Recommended Reading for Further Education

Books

Dogs: A New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior and Evolution, Raymond and Lorna Coppinger, University of Chicago Press, 2001.

Dominance: Fact or Fiction, Barry Eaton, 2002.

Dominance Theory and Dogs Version 1.0, James O’Heare, DogPsych Publishing, 2003.

Don’t Shoot the Dog – The New Art of Teaching and Training (2nd edition), Karen Pryor, Bantam Books, 1999.

On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals, Turid Rugaas, Dogwise Publishing, 2006.

Stress in Dogs, Martina Scholz and Clarissa von Reinhardt, Dogwise Publishing, 2007.

The Culture Clash, Jean Donaldson, James & Kenneth Publishers, 2005.

The Power of Positive Dog Training, Pat Miller, Howell Book House, 2001.

Videos

Tough Love: A Meditation on Dominance and Dogs, Anchorhold Films, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIjMBfhyNDE

Extended interview with Adam Miklosi, Ph.D. on the dominance myth. http://video.pbs.org/video/1488005229

Articles

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior 2009. AVSAB Position Statement on the Use of Dominance Theory in Behavior Modification of animals. (http://avsabonline.org/uploads/position_statements/dominance_statement.pdf)

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior 2007. AVSAB Position Statement – Punishment Guidelines: The use of punishment for dealing with animal behavior problems. (http://avsabonline.org/uploads/position_statements/Combined_Punishment_Statements1-25-13.pdf )

Association of Professional Dog Trainers 2009. APDT Position Statement on Dominance and Dog Training (http://www.apdt.com/petowners/choose/dominance.aspx)

Association of Professional Dog Trainers 2009. Dominance Myths and Dog Training Realities (http://www.apdt.com/petowners/choose/dominancemyths.aspx )

Blackwell, Emily J., Twells, Caroline Anne, Seawright, Rachel A. Casey. 2008. The relationship between training methods and the occurrence of behavior problems, as reported by owners, in a population of domestic dogs. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, September/October 2008, pp 207-217. (http://www.journalvetbehavior.com/article/S1558-7878%2807%2900276-6/abstract )

Bradshaw J.W.S., Blackwell E.J., Casey R.A. 2009. Dominance in domestic dogs – useful construct or bad habit? Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, May/June 2009, pp 135-144. (http://www.journalvetbehavior.com/article/S1558-7878%2808%2900115-9/abstract )

Hanson, Don, 2010, Brambell’s Five Freedoms, Green Acres Kennel Shop web site, (http://www.greenacreskennel.com/dog-behavior-and-training/brambells-five-freedoms )

Herron M.E., Shofer F.S., Reisner I.R. 2009. Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors. Applied Animal Behavior Science, 117, pp. 47-54. (https://vet.osu.edu/assets/pdf/hospital/behavior/trainingArticle.pdf )

Hiby, E.F., Rooney, N.J., Bradshaw, J.W.S., 2004. Dog training methods—their use, effectiveness and interaction with behaviour and welfare. Anim. Welfare 13, 63–69. (http://img2.timg.co.il/forums/1_149537364.pdf )

Mech L.D. 1999. Alpha Status, Dominance, and Division of Labor in Wolf Packs. Canadian Journal of Zoology. (http://www.wolf.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/267alphastatus_english.pdf )

Mech L.D. 2008. Whatever happened to the term alpha wolf? International Wolf. (http://www.4pawsu.com/alphawolf.pdf )

Overall, Dr. Karen, Dumbed down by dominance, Part 1, DVM News Magazine, March 2012, (http://veterinarynews.dvm360.com/dvm/article/articleDetail.jsp?id=762103&pageID=1&sk=&date=)

Overall, Dr. Karen, Dumbed down by dominance, Part 2, DVM News Magazine,  April 2012, (http://veterinarynews.dvm360.com/dvm/Medical+news/Dumbed-down-by-dominance-Part-2-Change-your-domina/ArticleStandard/Article/detail/767068)

Ryan, David. 2010. Why Won’t “Dominance” Die? Association of Pet Behaviour Counselors website, (http://www.apbc.org.uk/articles/why-wont-dominance-die ),

Originally published in Green Acres Kennel Shop Paw Prints, September 2002.
Updated July 2011
Updated March 2013
Update June 2015

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Canine Behavior – Dogs, Summer and Behavioral Issues

<A version of this article was published in the June 2015 issue of the Down East Dog News>

I know, I promised this column would continue my series on pet-friendly pet care, focusing on fear-free visits to the veterinarian. I’m still researching that topic so instead I’ve decided to talk about dogs, summer and behavioral issues that often crop up this time of year.

Getting A New Puppy

Tikken on Don's Lap
Tikken on Don’s Lap

Summer is often a great time to add a puppy to the family. I know I find dealing with housetraining and those frequent trips outside much more enjoyable in the summer than the dead of winter. Additionally, due to vacation time and little or no school activities, a family often has more time to socialize, train and play with a new puppy in the summer.

Socializing and habituating your puppy to many different people and different types of people, different places and things is extremely important if you want a well-adjusted adult dog. This is often easier to accomplish in the summer due to better weather, increased free time and the fact that more people are out and about. A puppy’s critical socialization period goes from 8 weeks to 16 weeks of age. If you choose to get a puppy in the summer you want to make sure you will be at home and available to actively socialize your pup during this period. In other words, it would be a bad time to take a vacation.

Socialization is not difficult but should be actively planned so that you are making sure it is a positive experience for your puppy. For example, exposure to lots of new people in a controlled setting is good; taking your puppy to a parade, street festival, or large family gathering would likely be overwhelming and would not be a good idea. For more information on socialization, checkout the article entitled Socialization & Habituation at our website (greenacreskennel.com) in the articles section under the category dog behavior and training.

Another important lesson for a puppy to learn any time of the year is how to be alone. Dogs are social animals and most enjoy regular, predictable social contact. If that social contact is not available it can result in separation anxiety. This is often more likely to be a problem for puppies that join families during the summer as family members are home during more hours during the summer months than they may be at other times of the year. From day one you need to be leaving your puppy alone for some period of time every day. For tips on that, check out my article titled Alone Training at our website (greenacreskennel.com) in the articles section under the category dog behavior and training.

A puppy headstart class is one of the most important training classes for any new dog, no matter how many dogs you have had in the past. Summer time is a great time to enroll your puppy in their first class.  The best time to start is when your puppy is 8 to 10 weeks of age.

Getting A New Dog

Summer can also be a good time to get a new adult dog simply because you will

Muppy's First Day with Us
Muppy’s First Day with Us

have more time to help your new family member to settle in to your home and your family’s routine. Just like with a puppy, you may need to do some preliminary housetraining and you will also want to make sure you teach this new dog how to be alone as well; especially if your family routine will change at the end of the summer.

All dogs benefit from training classes, even older dogs. Often dogs end up at a shelter or rescue because they have had little or no training. If you get a dog during the summer, try to schedule your vacation around their training classes so you don’t miss classes because you will be away.

Training classes are often outdoors in the summer, weather permitting, which gets you an opportunity to work more on outside types of behaviors like walking nicely on leash and coming when called.

Not all rescue dogs will be ready for a training class when you first bring them home. If you have a dog that is rather unsettled or anxious around people and/or other dogs, a group training class could be counter-productive. Two years ago when we adopted Muppy, in May, my wife and I elected to not start here in a group class until fall, after she become more acclimated to the busy hub-bub of our lives. However, if you defer starting a class until fall I would not wait until then to talk to a professional trainer to get some tips on helping your dog settle in.

Family Gatherings

Family and Dog at Beachcanstockphoto5015887Summer is a time for friends and family get-togethers, whether it is for holidays like the Fourth of July, events like family reunions or weddings or just because. Depending on your pet’s temperament, these can range from good times to scary events. These simple rules will help you keep your pet safe during the festivities.

  • Put your dog in his crate with a bone or favorite chew toy, at least during the most hectic times – when guests are arriving and leaving as well as when meals are being prepared and served. Make sure your guests know that they are to leave your pet alone in this situation.
  • Assign one adult to be in charge of each of the dogs, to watch for signs of stress and to protect the dog from unwanted attention from children. At the same time, assign one adult to supervise each baby or toddler, with no other tasks assigned to them. Make sure that ALL interactions between pets and children are supervised by an adult.
  • Not every dog likes every person – ALWAYS let your dog decide if they want to meet someone new.
  • If you are quite certain your pet will not enjoy the increased activity due to the event, or if you will be more relaxed knowing your pet is in a safe, pleasant environment, consider boarding your pet the day and night of the event.

Fireworks and the Fourth of July

Fireworks, with their loud booms and bright flashes of light can be very frightening to pets. If they’re right in your backyard or your neighbor’s backyard they can be not only be frightening but can pose a danger to our pets. Keep your pets inside during any personal firework activity. If you go someplace to see the fireworks I would advise you to leave your pet at home in a safe quiet location. They’ll be glad you did.

Last year I received more phone calls and emails from people concerned about their pet’s reaction to fireworks than ever before. I suspect most would prefer the legislature repeal the law that made the sale of fireworks legal or that municipalities would take a more vigorous approach to enacting ordinances regulating their use and then aggressively enforcing those laws. If the use of fireworks is irritating you and your pets call your selectmen and complain – even if it’s midnight or 1AM.

 

Next month I’ll wrap up this series with a discussion of what veterinary clinics are doing to make your pet’s visit to the vet fear-free.

______________________________________________________________________________
Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at http://www.wzonradio.com/ every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at www.woofmeowshow.com. Don also writes about pets at his blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com.

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Dog Training – How Do I Get My Dog to Stop Barking? Barking

Barking

<Updated 3SEP16>

Barking is the way dogs express an emotion of some kind. In order to be able to reduce it, we need to know why the dog is barking. – Turid Rugaas, Barking: The Sound of A Language, Dogwise Publishing, 2008

OBJECTIVE: To resolve issues with a dog whose barking is disruptive.

barking-person yelling-canstockphoto2214314Barking is one of many forms of communication for dogs. Some breeds of dogs have a tendency to bark more frequently than others. Barking is a complex behavior, meaning there are several reasons that your dog may bark. He may be barking to alert you that something or someone is approaching. He also may bark in order to obtain something such as a treat or attention. He may bark to tell you that he needs to go outside to go to the bathroom. Many dogs bark simply because they have been left alone and are frustrated, bored or anxious.

Like any behavior, a dog barks because they find the result of their barking to be rewarding. For example, your dog may bark repeatedly if they get anxious or upset when strangers enter their territory; like the postal carrier delivering the daily mail or children gathering at the end of the drive as they wait for the school bus. The dog barks and barks. “Intruder!!!” “Go away!!” Shortly thereafter the postal carrier and children leave, not because of your dogs barking, but that’s not how your dog sees it. From the dogs perspective he has just driven away the invaders in his territory. That is a huge reward!  And if it is repeated 5 to 6 times a week, as it would be in the above example, it becomes even stronger every time it occurs. Lastly, some dogs can also bark for the pure joy of it. In this case, the behavior is self-reinforcing and can be even more difficult to control.

NOTE: Do NOT get into a barking contest with your dog. All too often we inadvertently contribute to our dogs barking by yelling (barking) back at them. If your dog does not stop barking and you yell louder, your dog gets more excited and thus barks more. It will rapidly become a vicious circle.

Punishing your dog for barking; yelling at them, throwing something at them, using a shake can or an anti-barking collar, or anything else that the dog may perceive as aversive, typically will not resolve the barking and will often make it worse. Aversives cause fear and anxiety, which are a common cause of excessive barking in dogs. Green Acres Kennel Shop as well as the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and the Pet Professional Guild (PPG) all strongly recommend against the use of aversives for training or behavior modification.

This Task Force opposes training methods that use aversive techniques. Aversive training has been associated with detrimental effects on the human–animal bond, problem solving ability, and the physical and behavioral health of the patient. It causes problem behaviors in normal animals and hastens progression of behavioral disorders in distressed animals. Aversive techniques are especially injurious to fearful and aggressive patients and often suppress signals of impending aggression, rendering any aggressive dog more dangerous. Aversive techniques include prong (pinch) or choke collars, cattle prods, alpha rolls, dominance downs, electronic shock collars, lunge whips, starving or withholding food, entrapment, and beating. None of those tools and methods should be used to either teach or alter behavior. Non aversive techniques rely on the identification and reward of desirable behaviors and on the appropriate use of head collars, harnesses, toys, remote treat devices, wraps, and other force-free methods of restraint. This Task Force strongly endorses techniques that focus on rewarding correct behaviors and removing rewards for unwanted behaviors.” – from the AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines, published August 2015

As behaviorist Turid Rugaas so aptly noted in the quote at the beginning of this article, before we can deal with a dogs barking we first need to understand why they are barking. In her book Barking: The Sound of A Language, she recommends that the first step in getting your dogs barking under control is to keep a chart of your dogs barking so that you can better determine the cause. Such a chart might look like this:

Barking Log
Many people find it helpful to work with a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC) in developing a behavior modification plan to reduce excessive barking. Barking is the result of an emotional response so training the dog a new behavior will seldom be sufficient to resolve the barking unless we also help the dog to have a positive emotional response. Barking is complex and having a thorough understanding of normal and abnormal canine behaviors is often necessary to determine why the barking is reinforcing to the dog. You can learn more about Green Acres Behavior Consulting services at our website <click here> or by calling us at 207-945-6841.

Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog (http://www.words-woofs-meows.com)

Book Review: Barking: The Sound of a Language by Turid Rugaashttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/01/29/book-review-barking-the-sound-of-a-language-by-turid-rugaas/

©2016, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Dog Training – Introduction to Canine Communication

This material is from Best Friends for Life by Don Hanson>

Even though dogs do not ‘talk’ in the same way that we do, they do manage to communicate with other dogs’ quite well. Dogs use some forms of vocal communication (whine, bark, growl, howl, etc.) as well as a variety of body postures and movements to indicate their messages. Puppies learn these communication skills while with their litter and mother. Puppies separated from their litter before eight weeks of age run the risk of not having enough exposure to this process and may exhibit behavioral problems.

If you spend some time learning canine as a second language, you will be rewarded with a much better understanding of your pet and his behavior. With study and practice, you can learn to understand what your dog is trying to communicate.

Vocal Communication

Barking, whining and growling are all means of vocal communication. Whining is an indication of stress or anxiety. A dog may whine when he is doing something that he dislikes or that frightens him. Punishing a dog for whining will only make the problem worse. You need to determine the cause of the stress and find a way to remove it.

Growling can take two different forms. A ‘play’ growl can be heard when dogs are engaged in roughhousing or mock fighting. It is usually low and rumbly, but soft. A warning growl is different. This dog means business. A warning growl usually increases in volume as it continues and is accompanied by a menacing body posture (this will be discussed further below).

Never punish your dog for growling. A growl is a very useful warning signal. A dog that is punished for growling will stop the growling but it will not remove the reason for the growl. A dog that no longer growls, no longer gives a warning before taking more drastic action. As a trainer who sometimes deals with aggressive dogs, I much prefer a dog that gives me a warning.

Certain breeds of dogs are more prone to barking than are others. A bark can convey many different kinds of information. If you listen closely, you can probably tell an “I’m bored” bark from a “somebody is at the door!” bark. Some dogs are recreational barkers and just love to hear the sound of their own voices. They bark and bark and bark. Since this behavior is self-reinforcing, it can be difficult to deal with.

People have gone to extremes to remedy a barking problem, everything from electronic shock collars to having the dog’s vocal cords cut. However, even these extreme methods do not stop many dogs and do not change the dogs emotional state which is often one of anxiety and fear. While a shock collar or removal of the dogs vocal cords may make us feel better, it usually makes the dog feel worse.

Barking is a very complex behavior. If you have a barking problem, I suggest you work with a qualified trainer or behaviorist.

Body Language

While dogs do vocalize, most of their communication with one another, and even us, is done through their body language. Canine body language is very subtle, yet also very sophisticated. Research by Dr. Patricia McConnell has indicated that “Important signals may last only a tenth of a second and be no bigger than a quarter of an inch.” For Example: Leaning forward ½ an inch can stop a dog from coming while leaning back ½ an inch encourages the dog to come.

Dogs manage to convey an enormous amount of information by small changes in posture and demeanor. For example, many people believe that a wagging tail signals a happy dog. If the tail is low and relaxed, this is probably true. However, if the tail is held high and is quickly switching back and forth, the dog is signaling agitation or the possible intention to attack. In addition to the tail, there are other cues such as whether or not the hackles (hair along the back of the neck) are raised. This little trick actually serves to make the dog look bigger and more frightening, and usually occurs when the dog feels threatened. However, the hackles may simply be up because the dog is in a high state of arousal or excitement. We often see this when dogs are simply playing.

Other signs of aggression can include a dog that takes a stance with most of its weight over its front legs, almost leaning forward on its toes. Ears may be back or up, depending upon the breed. Along with a low growl, the dog may snarl and show teeth. A dog that intends to attack will probably stare hard at its victim.

A submissive dog, displays a whole different set of postures. The submissive dog will keep its head down, and may lower itself to the ground. A really submissive dog may go ‘belly up’ or urinate when approached. These are indications that the dog is trying to avoid conflict and does not want to fight. The submissive dog will not usually look directly into your eyes. A dog that has panicked and is very frightened may stare at you.

Aside from tail wagging, a happy dog usually displays other signs. Some even go beyond tail wagging to whole body wagging! A happy dog’s mouth is usually slightly open and relaxed. They often look as though they are laughing. The entire body seems at ease when the dog is happy.

When two dogs are together, people often have a hard time telling whether the dogs intend to play or fight. One sure sign of intention to play is a play bow. In a play bow, the dog rests its front legs and chest on the ground and leaves its hindquarters in the air. This is accompanied by frenzied tail wagging and jumping from side to side. A play bow is an invitation to romp. Try getting a play bow from your dog by getting down on the floor and doing one first.

Dogs who intend to fight have a much stiffer body posture and their movements are sharper and more deliberate.

Verbal versus Visual Communication

When you bring your pet to us for boarding or grooming, you let us know your pet’s needs and requirements by talking to us. As humans, our primary method of communicating with one another is the spoken word. More simply, we make noises that other humans are able to understand. People are so accustomed to communicating with our own species by talking, that we presume it is the most efficient method of communicating with other species such as our dogs. That is not the case.

While our dogs offer many vocalizations (barking, whining, howling, etc.) their primary method of communicating with one another and with us is visual. They observe body language. When with one another they look at how they stand, what they do with their tails, ears, eyes, and lips. This is why most dogs will learn a hand signal easier and quicker than they learn a verbal cue for a behavior.

To demonstrate this, Dr. Patricia McConnell, a canine behaviorist at the University of Wisconsin, conducted a simple experiment. She selected 24 puppies, six and a half weeks old, four each from litters of Australian Shepherds, Beagles, Border Collies, Dalmatians, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and Miniature Schnauzers. She and her graduate students then spent four days training the puppies to “sit” upon presentation of both an audible and a visual signal. The trainer presented a sound at the same time they scooped their hand up over the puppy’s head. On the fifth day the trainers presented the puppies with one signal at a time so they could determine whether the audible or visual signal resulted in more correct responses. Twenty-three of the 24 puppies responded better to the visual signal than the sound. One of the puppies responded equally well to both. Eight of the puppies did not respond to the audible signal at all. The following table indicates correct responses to audible and visual signals by breed.

BREED VISUAL AUDIBLE
Australian Shepherd 92.5% 15%
Beagle 80% 0%
Border Collie 92.5% 15%
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel 90% 50%
Dalmatian 80% 20%
Min. Schnauzer 80% 0%

 

This simple study suggests that when training our dogs we can make it easier for them and ourselves by teaching a visual cue first.

We also need to be aware of everything we are doing with our bodies when training our dogs. Just because we think the visual cue for sit is scooping our hands, does NOT mean that is what the dog is really cueing on. For example, one year one of our students commented his dog was inconsistently responding to a visual cue for sit. After watching them for a few exercises I quickly determined the problem. While the student usually scooped his hand for a sit, occasionally he would scoop his hand and then rest his hand on his stomach. The dog sat every time the student scooped and then rested his hand on his stomach. The dog had a visual cue for SIT; it just was not the cue the student intended.

Spend some time watching your dog interact with you and other living things. The better you learn their language, the happier you both can be.

 

Calming Signals

When dogs interact with one another and with us, they often use body language to cutoff perceived aggression or other threats. Turid Rugaas, a canine behaviorist from Norway, calls this type of body language “Calming Signals.” These signals are used to prevent aggression, and for calming down nervousness in others. Dogs use these signals to communicate with one another, us, and even other species of animals. They are a dog’s primary method of resolving a potential conflict.

By learning, understanding and using these calming signals, you can communicate better with your dog. I have outlined some of these calming signals below. If you would like to learn more about them, I suggest you read Ms. Rugaas’ book, On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals and watch her video, Calming Signals: What Your Dog Tells You.

Averting the Eyes

Averting Eyes
Averting Eyes

Breaking eye contact, by averting the eyes is often the first sign of stress observed in a dog.

 

 

 

 

 

Turning of the Head

Turning of the head.
Turning of the head.

If your dog becomes nervous about the approach of another dog or person, he may turn his head from side-to-side, or may just turn away. This signals the other dog that they are approaching too quickly or too directly.

 

 

 

Turning Away

Turning away.
Turning away.

This is an extension of turning your head. If a group of dogs are playing and some of them get too rough, other dogs may turn their side or back to them in order to get the dogs settled down. We often saw this behavior with our dogs when playing. If our Border collieX Shed felt play was “getting too wild,” she would turn away from the other dogs. If your dog is jumping or whining at you, turning away from them may help calm them.

Nose Licking

Nose lick
Nose lick

Rapid flicking of the tongue over the nose is also a common calming signal.  It is often seen with dogs at the veterinarians or when the dog is at the groomers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sniffing

Sniffing
Sniffing

Sniffing as a calming signal must be reviewed within the context in which it appears. Obviously, dogs sniff for other reasons than to just indicate stress.

 

 

 

Yawning

Yawning
Yawning

Dogs may yawn when in stressful situations such as at the vet’s office or during a quarrel among its family. If your dog is feeling stressed, standing still and yawning may help them relax. They need to see you yawn though, so even though it is impolite, you do not want to cover your mouth if this is to work.

 

 

Play Position

Play bow
Play bow

Dogs will use a “play bow” (front legs and chest on the ground with hind quarters in the air) to initiate play or to calm another animal down that they are unsure about. You can do a play bow to initiate play or to help relax a dog.

You can learn much about your dog by just sitting back and watching them interact with you, other family members, other dogs and other animals. If you spend the time to do this, it will greatly increase your ability to communicate with your dog

 

Distance Increasing Signals

These signals are meant to increase the distance between two individuals. They are a way of saying “you are invading my comfort zone” and by paying attention to them, one is often able to avoid being bitten. These signals are:

Tooth Displays

Whale Eye

“Hard Eyes”

Body weight forward

Ears forward

Tense body/face

Head/Neck is lowered

Increase in Height

Intense Barking

Tail up high, “flagging”

Freezing in Place

Hackles Up (Piloerection)

Mouth Closed

Urine marking

 

How We Communicate With Our Dogs – Dog Handling Skills

Just as you can learn a great deal from your dog’s body language, your dog reads a lot about you from your body language. Some body language you can use to your advantage is:

Do not bend over your dog. Squat next to them or stand straight. When you bend over the dog, you are putting them in a defensive position.

When training the recall, stand straight or squat with your arms outstretched. Stooping over the dog will cause him to avoid you.

Smile. Your face says a great deal about your attitude.

When petting a dog for the first time, touch them on the sides of their body and on their chest. Never pat them on the top of the head.

Avoid hugging your dog. No matter how much pleasure you get from hugs, your dog does not enjoy it.

 

Recommended Resources

Books

On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals, Turid Rugaas, Dogwise Publishing, 2006

Calming Signals: What Your Dog Tells You – DVD – Turid Rugaas,

The Other End of the Leash – Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs, Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D, Ballantine Books, 2002

Stress in Dogs, Martina Scholz and Clarissa von Reinhardt, Dogwise Publishing, 2007

The Language of Dogs – Understanding Canine Body Language and Other Signals- DVD’s – Sarah Kalnajs, Blue Dog Training and Behavior, 2006

OFF-LEASH Dog Play, Robin Bennett, CPDT and Susan Briggs, CKO, C&R Publishing, 2008

 

YouTube

Turid Rugaas Calming Signals DVD – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lj7BWxC6iVs

 

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Canine Behavior – Help! My Puppy’s A Land Shark!

<A version of this article appeared in the March 2015 issue of Down East Dog News?>

A common call we receive goes like this: “We have a new puppy. She’s 11weeks old and has a lot of energy and is biting a lot as well as nipping at our ankles when we walk.  We have tried spanking her butt, tapping her nose, and holding her on her back while holding her mouth shut.  We continue to say “no biting”, but it doesn’t seem to help. She actually seems to be getting worse with my spouse and children and if anything it is causing her to be more aggressive.”

Don’t feel bad; you are not alone and I promise you, your puppy is not really a land shark in disguise.

Puppy Biting Finger
Puppy Biting Finger

Having a puppy biting and nipping at your heels can certainly be a very frustrating and painful experience and often takes some of the joy out of having a puppy in the first place; let’s face it, being bitten by those sharp little teeth hurts! That being said, the behavior, from the puppy’s perspective is a very normal one and right on target with their developmental period.  Responding to this behavior by way of physical force was frequently recommended by dog trainers in the past, and unfortunately is too often still recommended by some trainers that have not kept up with the advances in the field of canine behavior.

Since typically, a puppy’s nipping behavior is repeated on a regular basis, they must find that behavior to be a rewarding one on some level.  In an effort to eliminate the “problem biting,” people often inadvertently reward the behavior.  In addition to the unintentional rewarding by humans, puppy biting is often a behavior that can be self-reinforcing.

Unfortunately, since we cannot ask the puppy why it finds the behavior rewarding, there is no way of having 100% certainty what the payoff is for each particular dog. However, if we look at typical canine instinctual behaviors we can make an educated guess. Dogs, as predators, are attracted by movement and are hard-wired to pursue things that are moving away from them. A swaying pants leg, robe, or dress can appear to be a very stimulating toy, tauntingly inviting any puppy to “latch on.” Some breeds, such as the herding breeds, often have more of a genetic predisposition towards the biting of feet and ankles.

This instinctually triggered nipping behavior often starts as a form of play and quickly escalates. A puppy may learn that when they grab our ankle they can get us to yelp, just like a squeaky toy, which they find extremely fun. No matter what the initial cause of the behavior, paying attention to the puppy in any manner (looking, touching or speaking to them) may be construed as a reward and at least from their perspective, participating in the play.

Your puppy’s increased aggression when you physically reprimand the biting may also be perceived as “rough play” and tacit approval from you to magnify the response. If the puppy feels threatened an escalation in aggression may be motivated by fear or anger and frustration. Attempts at correcting a puppy that is causing it to respond in fear or anger may result in a dog with serious behavioral and fear issues in the future.

Remember the old adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  Examine the circumstances and the environment in which the nipping behavior occurs. Consider time of day, what you are doing, what the puppy is doing immediately before the behavior, the puppy’s activity level (tired, over-tired, hyper), and what else is occurring in the environment. Many puppies will “act up” when they are bored and not getting enough exercise or conversely, they are over-stimulated and not getting enough sleep.  Look for triggers associated with the behavior so that they can be prevented in the future by managing the puppy and its environment. For example, if your puppy starts nipping when you want to end a play session, look at alternative ways to end play. A quick trip outside to “do its business,” followed by some down time in a crate would be one way that you could manage this behavior.

While prevention is one tool, we also need to ensure that the undesirable behavior is not being rewarded; this is often the most difficult part because it is our natural instinct to react and reaction (looking at, talking to, or touching the puppy) is usually rewarding. Put on some old worn out jeans and setup a situation where your puppy is likely to become a “land shark.” Make sure you have some tasty treats in your pockets to reward the behavior you like. When the puppy grabs at your pants leg, pretend you are a tree and stop. Do not look at, talk to, or touch your puppy. The very second the puppy lets go of your pants legs, quietly say “yes” to mark the behavior, and as long as your puppy is not biting, reach down and give it a treat.

If your puppy is one that likes to chase and nip at you from behind, perform the above exercise on leash, with the leash tethered to something secure, like a large piece of furniture.  When you step out of range, your puppy will probably start barking in an attempt to gain attention. Continue to be a tree, ignoring the puppy until it stops barking and lunging on the leash. Quietly reach down and give the puppy a treat; alternatively you can play with the pup for a bit. If you choose to play be ready to completely ignore your puppy again when the play escalates to the point where it is too rough.

If your puppy has an extremely reliable sit behavior, “extremely reliable” meaning that you can say “sit” it once and only once and the dog will immediately respond on the first cue, then you could ask for a sit as a means of refocusing the dog. In this case by asking for a sit, you are using what is called a mutually exclusive behavior; a puppy cannot be sitting and “acting out” at the same time. This scenario illustrates how training for extremely reliable behaviors can be very useful.

Play biting and nipping is normal canine behavior for a puppy. It’s best to start working on this right at 8 weeks of age. If your puppy is 13 weeks of age or older and play biting is still a problem, contact a reward-based, force-free trainer for assistance.

______________________________________________________________________________
Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at http://www.wzonradio.com/ every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at www.woofmeowshow.com. Don also writes about pets at his blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com.

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Canine – Behavior – Is it OK if our dog sleeps in our bed?

<A version of this article was published in The Maine Edge on 25FEB15>

Tikken under the duvet
Tikken under the duvet

I do not know how many times a year we are asked “is it okay if our dog sleeps in our bed?” or someone with a very apologetic look on their face states, “I know I’m not supposed to, but I let the dog sleep in my bed.” The reality is there is nothing inherently wrong with your dog sleeping in your bed and contrary to popular belief, sleeping in your bed does not make a dog dominant (see Dog Behavior – Dominance: Reality or Myth). If you do allow your dog to sleep in your bed, you’re in the majority. In an informal survey I conducted via FaceBook, 75 respondents (77.32%) indicated that their dog is allowed to sleep in bed with them, whereas only 22 respondents (22.68%) indicated that their dog was not allowed to sleep with them.

However, sharing a bed with a dog is not for everyone and not all dogs are fans of sharing sleeping space either. Therefore, before inviting Sparky into bed, please ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is your partner comfortable with your dog sharing the bed? If not or if you are unsure, a discussion with your partner is in order.
  • Is your dog housetrained? Until a dog is has gone at least 6 weeks without an accident inside, I wouldn’t think of allowing the dog to sleep anywhere other than a crate.
  • Is the dog going to enjoy sleeping in bed with you or are they perhaps happier sleeping in their own crate or bed? Sleep habits vary widely between people and pets. If anyone of you is a restless sleeper, the others may be miserable. Many dogs are just as content to sleep beside your bed in their own bed or crate.
  • Is your pet going to be safe? A small dog could easily get hurt if someone accidently rolls over on them and they may even bite in that situation.
  • Is there room enough for everyone? A six month old Golden Retriever puppy is still growing for another 7 to 8 months. As space shrinks, allowing the dog in bed may no longer be as popular.
  • How will you feel about sharing the bed if you, your partner or the dog are sick? Some people desire closeness when ill while others cannot stand being touched.
  • Do you have other pets and how many in bed is too many? Always keep in mind that the bed may become a valued space that one dog may choose to resource guard.

My wife and I have had ten dogs in our life together and only two have had bed privileges. Gus, our Cairn Terrier, had privileges for a short time, but lost them because he would grumble every time we moved. He was simply of the temperament that he did not want to be disturbed when he was sleeping (I am sure we all know people like that). Gus really was more comfortable and well rested when he slept in his kennel in our bedroom rather than on the bed. Tikken, our Golden, was allowed in our bed once she was completely housetrained. During the winter months a better foot warmer could not be found however, in the heat of the summer, she would often choose to sleep on the floor. If one of us was restless, she would simply hop off and sleep elsewhere.  While there were times when I described Tikken as the “great immovable object” because she would not move when I tried to stretch out, allowing her to share our bed worked well for all of us.

So ultimately, the decision is up to you. There is simply no right or wrong answer about whether or not you choose to allow your dog to sleep in your bed. If it works for you, never apologize for letting your dog in your bed. If you would rather not share your sleeping space, that is okay too. Just remember, once you start letting your dog sleep with you, they will expect it. If you change the rules months or years down the road because you now have a child, a new partner, or some other life change, it will take time and work to help your dog adjust to new sleeping arrangements.

______________________________________________________________________________
Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at http://www.wzonradio.com/ every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at www.woofmeowshow.com. Don also writes about pets at his blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com.

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

PODCAST – Pet Behavior Counseling and Don and Kate – with special guest host Dr. Mark Hanks

10JAN15-Dog Behavior, Don and Kate w-guest host Dr Mark Hanks 400x400Dr. Mark Hanks from Kindred Spirits Veterinary Clinic has been a frequent guest on The Woof Meow Show, giving Kate and I several opportunities to “pick his brain” about a wide variety of topics. For quite some time he’s been asking to “host” the show and to turn the tables so to speak; interviewing Kate and I and asking us questions about animal behavior and training.  In the first of four shows in this series, Dr. Hanks interviews Don and Kate about their experiences as professional animal behavior counselors and dog trainers. Some of the questions Mark asks are: 1) How did you get into helping people with animal behavior problems? and 2) What does the current science say about dominance and alpha dogs?

You can listen to this episode of The Woof Meow Show at: http://traffic.libsyn.com/woofmeowshow/WoofMeowShow-2015-10-01-2015_Dog_Bhx_Don_Kate_w-guest_host_Mark_Hanks.mp3

You can download this episode of The Woof Meow Show at the Apple iTunes store, or you can download it at: http://woofmeowshow.libsyn.com/webpage

You can listen others episodes in this series at the links below.

Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate, part 1– 12JUL15 – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/07/12/podcast-dog-training-questions-for-don-and-kate-with-special-guest-host-dr-mark-hanks-part-1/

Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate, part 2– 19JUL15 – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/07/19/podcast-dog-training-questions-for-don-and-kate-with-special-guest-host-dr-mark-hanks-part-2/

Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate, part 3– 26JUL15 – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/07/27/blog-post-27jul15-podcast-dog-training-questions-for-don-and-kate-with-special-guest-host-dr-mark-hanks-part-3/

For more information on the Woof Meow Show go to: www.woofmeowshow.com

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>