Dog Behavior – Puppy Socialization and Habituation

<Updated on 29OCT17>

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

Green Acres Puppy Treasure Hunt List
Green Acres Puppy Treasure Hunt List

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.

 

 

Pets

Cats

  • Cat, one
  • Cat, more than one
  • Kitten, one
  • Kitten, more than one

Dogs

  • Dog, Black Dog
  • Dog, Hairless Dog
  • Dog, Large Dog,
  • Dog, Long -Haired Dog
  • Dog, Old Dog
  • Dog, Short-Haired Dog
  • Dog, Small Dog
  • Dog, Three-Legged Dog
  • Dog, White or Light colored Dog
  • Dog, with upright ears
  • Dog, with drop ears
  • Dog, Young Dog
  • Puppy
  • Two or More Dogs Playing (make sure you know the dogs)

Misc.

  • Birds
  • Small Furries (Rabbits, Gerbils, Hamsters, Guinea Pigs, etc.)

Livestock

  • Alpaca(s)
  • Cow(s)
  • Chicken(s)
  • Donkey(s)
  • Goat(s)
  • Geese
  • Horse(s)
  • Llama(s)
  • Pig(s)
  • Sheep
  • Turkey(s)

Wildlife

  • Chipmunk
  • Deer
  • Duck
  • Goose
  • Moose
  • Pigeon
  • Porcupine
  • Sasquatch
  • Seagull
  • Seal
  • Skunk
  • Squirrel
  • Woodchuck

Events (Make sure this is not overwhelming)

  • Gathering, Indoor, of 5 or More People
  • Gathering, Indoor, of 8 or More People
  • Gathering, Outdoor, of 5 or More People
  • Gathering, Outdoor, of 8 or More People
  • Party, Birthday or Other
  • Sporting Events, Adult
  • Sporting Events, Children

Hand Tools

  • Garden Rake
  • Hoe
  • Roof Rake
  • Shovel
  • Snow Shovel

Household Items

  • Broom
  • Cardboard Boxes
  • Chair, Recliner
  • Chair, Table
  • Coat Rack
  • High Chair
  • Ladder, Step
  • Ladder, Extendable
  • Lawn Furniture
  • Mirror
  • Mop
  • Sofa
  • Table, Kitchen or Dining Room
  • Trash Can, Indoor
  • Trash Can, Outdoor
  • Vacuum Cleaner

Locations

  • Beach, Where Dogs Are Allowed
  • Body of Water – Brook, Creek or Stream
  • Body of Water – Lake or Pond
  • Body of Water – Ocean
  • Bridge, You Can Walk On
  • Downtown, Small Town
  • Downtown, Urban Area
  • Hardware Store
  • Outdoor Restaurant, Where Dogs Are Allowed
  • Park, with People
  • Post Office
  • Rocky Terrain
  • Shopping Center Parking Lot, Large
  • Shopping Center Parking Lot, Small
  • Strip Mall Sidewalk
  • Vet’s Office (Happy Visit, as many as you can do) # _______
  • Walking/Hiking Trails
  • Water Fountain
  • Wooded Area

Miscellaneous

  • Automatic Door at Business
  • Automatic Garage Door
  • Bales of Hay or Straw
  • Doors in Sidewalk
  • Drains in Sidewalks
  • Laundry Blowing in the Wind
  • Manhole Covers
  • Stacked Bags Of Sod, Mulch, etc.
  • Trash Cans, Outdoors

People

  • Man Carrying a Bag
  • Man Carrying a Briefcase
  • Man Carrying a Child
  • Man Carrying a Long Stick
  • Man Jogging
  • Man Over Six Feet Tall
  • Man Wearing a Baseball Hat
  • Man Wearing a Hoodie
  • Man Wearing Glasses
  • Man Wearing Sunglasses
  • Man with a Beard
  • Man with a Newspaper
  • Man with an Umbrella
  • Woman Carrying a Bag
  • Woman Carrying a Briefcase/Purse
  • Woman Carrying a Child
  • Woman Carrying a Long Stick
  • Woman Jogging
  • Woman Under Five Feet Tall
  • Woman Wearing a Hat
  • Woman Wearing a Hoodie
  • Woman Wearing a Skirt
  • Woman Wearing Glasses
  • Woman Wearing Sunglasses
  • Woman with a Newspaper
  • Woman with an Umbrella
  • Person Limping
  • Person Pushing Baby in a Stroller
  • Person Riding a Bike
  • Person Using a Cane
  • Person Using a Walker
  • Person Using a Wheelchair
  • Person Using Crutches
  • Person Wearing Heavy Winter Coat
  • Person Wearing a Military Uniform
  • Person Wearing a Police Uniform
  • Person Wearing a Postal Uniform
  • Person Wearing a UPS Uniform
  • Person Wearing a Winter Scarf Over Their Face
  • Person Wearing Winter Boots
  • Person with Baby in a Sling or Pack

Children

  • Boy Between 3-7
  • Boy Over Age 7+
  • Child Under Age 1
  • Child Between 2 – 3
  • Child Crawling
  • Child Crying or Yelling
  • Child Jumping Rope
  • Child Learning to Walk
  • Child on Rollerblades or Skateboard
  • Child Riding a Bike
  • Child Running
  • Children Playing
  • Girl Between 3-7
  • Girl Over Age 7+

Power Equipment

  • Chain Saw
  • Drill
  • Lawn Edger
  • Lawn Mower, Push
  • Lawn Mower, Ride On
  • Nail Gun
  • Power Washer
  • Saw
  • Snowblower
  • Weed Wacker

Recreational Equipment

  • ATV
  • Bicycle
  • Boat
  • Skis
  • Snowshoes
  • Snowmobile

Scents & Odors

  • After Shave/Cologne/Deodorant, various brands # ______
  • Cat Litter Box
  • Perfume, various brands # ______

Sounds and Noises

  • Alarm, Car
  • Alarm, Smoke
  • Car Horn
  • Chainsaw
  • Dishes Dropping
  • Gunshots
  • Nail Gun
  • People Screaming
  • Radio, Loud

Surfaces

  • Asphalt
  • Carpet
  • Cement
  • Ceramic Tile
  • Dirt Path
  • Grass
  • Gravel
  • Hardwood Floor
  • Metal Grate
  • Plastic Decking
  • Sand
  • Snow/Ice
  • Throw Rug
  • Vinyl Tile
  • Wood Decking

Vehicles

  • Ambulance
  • Backhoe
  • Bulldozer
  • Delivery Truck
  • Dump Truck
  • Farm Tractor
  • Fire Engine
  • Motorcycle
  • Police Car
  • Semi
  • Tow Truck
  • Trash Truck

 

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>

Recommended Resources

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

 

 

©2017, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Dog Behavior – Dominance: Reality or Myth

< Updated 5DEC18 >

< http://bit.ly/Dominance-RealityorMyth >

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 blog at http://bit.ly/GAKS-Pos-NoPain-NoForceNoFear.

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 Resources

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

Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Started Training Dogs – Gus, the Dominance Myth, An Alpha Roll, and a Damaged Relationshiphttp://bit.ly/Things-Gus-Dominance

Thank You, PPG, and Gus Too! – from the May 2017 issue of the Pet Professional Guild journal, BARKS from the Guildhttp://bit.ly/ThanksPPG-Gus

Dog Training – Reward Based Training versus Aversiveshttp://bit.ly/RewardVSAversive

Podcasts from The Woof Meow Show
( http://www.woofmeowshow.com )

The Dominance and Alpha Myth –  http://traffic.libsyn.com/woofmeowshow/WoofMeowShow-2010-03-21-The_Dominance_Myth.mp3

Prof. Chad Montrie and the documentary Tough Love: A Meditation on Dominance and Dogshttp://traffic.libsyn.com/woofmeowshow/WoofMeowShow-2013-01-26-Tough_Love_Chad_Montrie.mp3

 

Videos

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

Dogs, Cats and Scapegoats – The Mind of Cesar Millanhttps://vimeo.com/236013182

Dr. L. David Mech talks about the terms “alpha” and “beta” wolves and why they are no longer scientifically accuratehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNtFgdwTsbU

Position Statements

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior AVSAB Position Statement on the Use of Dominance Theory in Behavior Modification of Animalshttps://avsab.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Dominance_Position_Statement_download-10-3-14.pdf

Association of Professional Dog Trainers –  APDT Position Statement on Dominance and Dog Traininghttps://apdt.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/dominance-and-dog-training.pdf

Green Acres Kennel Shop Position Statement on Pet Friendly, Force-Free Pet Carehttp://bit.ly/GAKS_Pet-Friendly

Green Acres Kennel Shop Position on the Use of Dominance and Punishment for the Training and Behavior Modification of Dogshttp://bit.ly/GAKS-Pos-NoPain-NoForceNoFear

The Pet Professional Guild – Position Statement – Dominance Theory in Animal Training – https://www.petprofessionalguild.com/DominanceTheoryPositionStatement

 Scientific Articles

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 )

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://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0168159108003717  )

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.wolf.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/winter2008.pdf )

Overall, Dr. Karen, Dumbed down by dominance, Part 1, DVM News Magazine, March 2012, ( http://veterinarynews.dvm360.com/dumbed-down-dominance-part-1 )

Overall, Dr. Karen, Dumbed down by dominance, Part 2, DVM News Magazine, April 2012, ( http://veterinarynews.dvm360.com/dumbed-down-dominance-part-2-change-your-dominant-thinking )

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

Books

Dog Smart: Evidence-based Training with The Science Dog, Linda P. Case, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2018read a review at http://bit.ly/BkRvw-Case-DogSmart

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 (2ndedition), 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.

Originally published in Green Acres Kennel Shop Paw Prints, September 2002.
Updated July 2011
Updated March 2013
Updated June 2015
Updated August 2018

 

©13-Aug-18, 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?

< Updated 14JAN20 >

< A short link to this page – http://bit.ly/BarkingHelp >

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 understand and resolve issues with a dog whose barking is disruptive.

barking-person yelling-canstockphoto2214314

Barking is one of many forms of vocalization used by dogs to communicate with one another as well as with us and other living things. Some individual dogs and some breeds of dogs tend 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. A dog may bark 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 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 repeatedly bark 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 your driveway as they wait for the school bus. The dog barks and barks. “Intruder!!!” “Go away!!!” Shortly after that 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!

Moreover, if this happens 5 to 6 times a week, as it could be in the above example, your dogs barking becomes a learned behavior, and it becomes even stronger and more likely to occur again. Behavior that works is repeated. 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 back at them. If your dog does not stop barking and you yell louder, your dog gets more excited and thus barks more. This will rapidly become a vicious circle. Also, please understand that the phrase “No Bark” means nothing to your dog unless you have trained them to respond a cue and then rewarded them for their response.

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, [Emphasis added]

The US Food and Drug Administration has issued the following statement on the use of shock-collars for stopping barking: “A veterinary device which has been the subject of regulatory attention is a dog collar which is activated by barking resulting in an electric shock to the dog which supposedly trains him to stop barking. *CVM* believes the collars fall under the definition of a device since they are intended to affect barking, which is a natural dog function. Complaints received, which were later corroborated by our own testing, included severe burns in the collar area and possible personality adjustment injuries to the dogs. The shocking mechanism was found to be activated not only by barking but by vehicle horns, slamming doors or any other loud noise. *CVM* concurred in regulatory action against the device since it was deemed to be dangerous to the health of the animal. POLICY: Dog collars which are activated by the noise of barking to produce an electric shock are considered as hazardous to the health of the animal.” (USFDA-Inspections, Compliance, Enforcement, and Criminal Investigations-CPG Sec. 655.300 Barking Dog Collar, issued 10/1/80, revised 8/2/87) [Emphasis added]

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. Things you will need to record are: the date, the time barking starts, the time barking stops, a description of what the bark sounds like, where is your dog located, what the dog is doing (are they in motion?, what are they looking at?, what does their body language tell you?), and what do you believe has triggered the dogs barking. An entry might look like this:

4/6/15 – 6:55AM to 7:10AM, Woof, quiet, woof, then escalates to continuous barking, Rex is at the front window and the front door,  He is racing from the window to door barking, his body posture is forward and stiff, He started barking as soon as the postal carriers vehicle stopped by my mailbox.

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 ( www.greenacreskennel.com )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://bit.ly/BookRvw-Rugass-Barking

Reward Based Training versus Aversiveshttp://bit.ly/RewardVSAversive

How Can I Tell When My Dog Is Anxious or Fearful? – http://bit.ly/DogsSignsofFear

Help! My Dog is Aggressive, Reactive, Fearful, Anxious, etc. – What do I do? – WWM – APR2017 – http://bit.ly/HelpDogAggx

What Is A Pet Behavior Consultant? – http://bit.ly/WhatIsPetBhxConsulting

 ________________________________________________________________________
Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( greenacreskennel.com ) in Bangor, Maine where he has been helping people with their pets since 1995. 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). Don is a member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG) and is committed to PPG’s Guiding Principles and the Pain-Free, Force-Free, and Fear-Free training, management, and care of all pets. Don produces and co-hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on AM620 WZON and streamed at http://www.wzonam.com/ every Saturday at 9 AM. Podcasts of the show are available at http://woofmeowshow.libsyn.com/. Don also writes about pets at his blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com. The opinions in this post are those of Don Hanson.

©14JAN20, 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>

Complementary Medicine – Tikken – Vaccines, Aggression, OCD, & Homeopathy

< updated 22APR18 >

This article is part of a larger article, Trends in Training – The Evolution of a Pet Care Professional, which describes my development as a professional dog trainer and our involvement with holistic veterinary medicine. You can find the entire article at: http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2008/04/19/professional-development-trends-in-training-the-evolution-of-a-pet-care-professional/

Tikken for ad 242x300In April of 2000, our Golden retriever Tikken went to her veterinarian for her annual examination and received a two-year rabies booster. At the time, Maine law required a rabies vaccination every two years even though the vaccine was labeled as effective for three years.

It was in July of 2000, when my sweet, cuddly Golden Retriever suddenly, and without warning or provocation, transformed from Tikken to Cujo, just like Dr. Jekyll turned into Mr. Hyde. One moment all of our dogs were lying calmly on the floor as my wife Paula watched television. Suddenly Tikken just exploded and within seconds she had ravaged Crystal, our Pekinese, causing the loss of Crystal’s left eye.

While we had seen a few small signs of “irritability” in Tikken over the past couple of months, the apparently unprovoked nature of this attack, and its severity, led us straight to our veterinarian for a thorough check-up, including a complete thyroid panel and behavioral assessment. Her thyroid was abnormal, but not in a manner which suggested the need for medical treatment. However, based on the advice of the veterinarian, we started Tikken on a course of Clomipramine. We also began a strict management protocol with the dogs. Unless we were present Tikken was separated from all but one of our older dogs, Shed. Tikken and Shed had bonded closely when Tikken was a puppy, she was always very respectful of Shed, and they were similar in size.

We noticed increasingly anxious behaviors by Tikken. Now she became overly excited at mealtime, and became enraptured by any shadows or moving lights. These behaviors became so obsessive that I could not even distract her with fresh meat when she got caught up in a shadow or flickering light.

Seeing no improvement in Tikken’s behavior, our veterinarian recommended a consultation with Dr. Dodman at the behavioral clinic at Tufts University. They recommended we put Tikken on a higher dose of Clomipramine, establish and maintain a dominance hierarchy, manage her environment, and institute a Nothing In Life Is Free (NILIF) program. We were already managing and doing NILIF and I had concerns about the validity of the hierarchical approach, so we were really hoping for the Clomipramine to work. What we ended up with was a dog that was so doped up that she seldom moved. She still became excited at mealtime and got caught up with shadows and light. She just moved slower. To us she seemed to have lost her will to do anything but lie around.

We were very concerned about Tikken’s quality of life, and with no changes after

Tikken under the duvet
Tikken under the duvet

six months of the higher dose of Clomipramine, we contacted Dr. Patricia McConnell, a behaviorist we had previously worked with when we were in Wisconsin, for another opinion. After reviewing Tikken’s history, Trish advised us that she had not had much success with dogs exhibiting Tikken’s issues using behavior modification, drugs or a combination of both. She did however indicate she had heard of some successes when treating with homeopathy. We immediately made an appointment with our homeopathic veterinarian, Dr. Judy Herman at the Animal Wellness Center in Augusta.

Dr. Herman diagnosed Tikken with rabies miasm. A miasm is when the body/mind/emotions of an individual manifest signs of the disease without actually having the disease. Tikken was given a homeopathic remedy at the conclusion of the consultation and within eight weeks she was weaned off Clomipramine entirely. We were soon seeing dramatic improvements in her symptoms. Tikken was treated two other times with the same homeopathic remedy over the next few months. We still managed the dogs closely, but Tikken eventually became reintegrated with the rest of the pets in the household. Homeopathy gave us our sweet, cuddly Golden back.

Working the Kong 400x671Since Dr. Herman felt that Tikken’s issues were the result of a reaction to her rabies vaccine we evaluated our vaccination protocols with all of the dogs. We have been doing titer tests in lieu of vaccinations since that time, with the exception of the rabies vaccine. Tikken did receive two subsequent rabies vaccines under the guidance of Dr. Herman, followed by treatment homeopathically. When she developed a second immune mediated disorder (pigmentary uveitis) in 2004, we decided to stop any further rabies vaccines, and she now has a medical exemption which still allows her to be licensed.

Paula and I both started to read more about vaccines and become further educated about alternatives. We made the decision to allow our clients to also do titer tests in lieu of vaccines, as long as the tests were done under the direction of a veterinarian.

Paula and I felt so strongly about the vaccine issue that in April of 2002 I wrote

Tikken and Batman at window
Tikken and Batman at window

Rethinking Annual Vaccinations for the Green Acres newsletter. In this article I disclosed that as early as 1992 veterinary textbooks were questioning annual vaccinations (Current Veterinary Therapy, volume XI, pp202-206: “A practice that was started many years ago and that lacks scientific validity or verification is annual revaccination. Almost without exception there is no immunological requirement for annual revaccination. Immunity to viruses persists for years in the life of the animal.”Dr. Ronald Schultz, Veterinary Immunologist. In this article, I suggested that minimally clients talk with their veterinarian and ask if titer tests were an option. Needless to say, several veterinarians in our service area were not too happy with me, but I still believe I did the right thing. I felt somewhat vindicated a year later when the American Animal Hospital Association published their new vaccination guidelines which started a move away from annual vaccination.

UPDATED – March 2013

We were very fortunate that Tikken overcame her rabies miasm and remained with us until she crossed the crossed the Rainbow Bridge on February 7th, 2013 at the age of 16 years and 27 days. It was several months after her treatment with homeopathy before we fully reintegrated Tikken with the rest of our pets; however, she lived the remainder of her life in complete harmony with them and even became buddies with Batman, a rescued cat that joined our family. Tikken did require ongoing treatment for her pigmentary uveitis and eventually also required treatment for hypothyroidism for the rest of her life. We are convinced that homeopathy, tittering instead of regular vaccination, and a raw diet contributed to Tikken’s long life.

Paula, Tikken, Don & Batman - 2012
Paula, Tikken, Don & Batman – 2012

Recommended Resources

Meet the dogs with OCD by Shayla Love – An article and podcast from June of 2017 discussing ongoing research of OCD. – https://mosaicscience.com/meet-dogs-OCD-canine-compulsive-disorder-people/

©2018, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Animal Welfare – Assessing Pets’ Welfare Using Brambell’s Five Freedoms

< Updated 3JAN18 >

(This article was first published in the Fall 2014 issue of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers Chronicle of the Dog  – [Click for a PDF of this article])

As trainers and behavior consultants, it is essential for us to consider whether or not a pet’s basic needs are being met if we are to offer our clients the best possible training and behavioral advice. This becomes even more important when facilitating the treatment of “problem behaviors,” as these often manifest when a pet’s welfare is compromised or when basic needs are not being met consistently. Brambell’s Five Freedoms are a very useful set of guidelines for assessing a pet’s welfare and developing a corresponding training, behavior modification, and management plan.

Brambell’s Five Freedoms originated in the United Kingdom as a result of Parliament creating a committee to assess the welfare of livestock raised in factory farms. In December of 1965, the Report of the Technical Committee to Enquire into the Welfare of Animals Kept Under Intensive Livestock Husbandry Systems, the Brambell Report, December 1965 (HMSO London, ISBN 0 10 850286 4) was published. The report identified what are known as the five freedoms that a farm animal should have: “to stand up, lie down, turn around, and groom themselves and stretch their limbs.” The British government then established the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, which later became the Farm Animal Welfare Council, to further define these freedoms to what we know today as: Freedom from Hunger and Thirst, Freedom from Discomfort, Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease, Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour, and Freedom from Fear and Distress.1,2

While originally intended for farm animals, the freedoms can be applied to any animal that is kept by humans. During my training in the Bach Practitioner program in the U.K., we discussed how Brambell’s Five Freedoms applied to dogs, cats, cattle, horses, rabbits, hogs, ducks, and a variety of other species. It is imperative that we have adequate knowledge of a species’ husbandry requirements and natural behaviors in order to appropriately assess whether their freedoms are being restricted. Even when we do have adequate knowledge, we may find that the freedoms sometimes conflict with what are considered best practices. Likewise, they may be inconsistent with what may be necessary to protect a pet or others. Not everything is black and white, and considering the freedoms over the years has brought me many answers, but also many questions for which I have no definitive answer. I invite you to consider some of the questions that have occurred to me and contemplate how you would address them within Brambell’s Five Freedoms.

  1. Ensure the animal is free from hunger, thirst, and malnutrition.

This sounds relatively simple, right? Provide animals with food and water and the need is met, but…

  • Does the type of food matter? Cats are true carnivores and most dogs, if left to their own devices, would eat a diet with very few carbohydrates. However, the average dog and cat are fed a diet that is probably at a minimum composed of 40% carbohydrates. Both dogs and cats would usually be eating fresh food, yet most pet food is highly processed. Feeding a pet as naturally as possible is not inexpensive. Is it better to have one pet and to feed him really well, or is it better to have multiple pets for social interaction? What about pets on prescription diets? They may need it for disease purposes, but is it optimal nutrition? Which takes precedence?
  • Many pets in the U.S. are obese, clearly due to overfeeding, improper diet, and lack of exercise. How does an animal’s obesity affect its welfare?
  • Does the source of water matter? Cats often depend on getting the majority of their hydration from eating live prey, yet few cats have that opportunity in today’s world. Would they drink more and have fewer urinary issues if they had ready access to fresh meat and running water? If you don’t drink from your tap, should the animals?
  1. Ensure the animal is free from discomfort.

Originally this freedom focused on shelter, and seemed relatively straightforward: make sure animals always have adequate shelter from temperature and weather extremes. However, there is much more to comfort than hot versus cold and dry versus damp.

  • Animals need down time. Does the pet have a quiet, comfortable resting place where he can be undisturbed and where he will feel safe? Is the pet’s environment free from things that may cause harm and discomfort?
  • Many people have multiple pets. Does each pet have adequate space, or are there too many animals for the amount of space available? Do the pets get along and enjoy each other, or is there constant conflict? Are there sufficient resources for all of the animals?
  • Breed also affects what an animal needs to be comfortable. Pets with long coats often cannot groom themselves adequately, and their hair can become tangled and matted, causing them discomfort. This becomes an even bigger problem if the pet is obese and as he ages. Are your clients making sure that their pets are adequately and properly groomed?
  1. Ensure your pet is free from pain, injury, and disease.

Regular and as-needed veterinary care goes a long way toward meeting this freedom, but breeding also plays a huge role, as well as how we respond when a dog is injured or ill. Mental disease needs to be considered along with physical disease.

  • Working dogs and dogs who compete in dog sports can experience injuries that cause pain. Is just using painkillers enough, or do we need to consider removing the dog from the activity causing the pain? Physical therapy for pets is still a relatively new treatment modality. Should it be a routine part of care for a working or competitive dog?
  • Breeding has resulted in some pets who essentially have physical impairments that can affect their ability to breathe, to move, and even to give birth naturally. How much should these animals be put through in an effort to correct their conditions? How do we help our clients separate their emotions from those of their pet? How do we handle it when it is one of our own pets?
  • Many purebred pets are susceptible to one or more genetic disorders, as well as physical conformations that often cause impairments. Are breeders doing everything that should be done to eliminate these disorders and create healthier pets? When clients are considering what type of pet to get, should we steer them away from certain breeds that have physical impairments or are prone to genetic disorders? How do we educate without being judgmental?
  • Animals can experience mental disease and disorders (anxieties, phobias, dementia, etc.) just like humans. How do we reconcile that the treatments of these disorders are often not considered as important as physical disorders? Is it appropriate to breed a dog for behavioral traits that might be an asset for a dog who works or competes, but might negatively affect that dog’s ability to thrive as a companion dog? How do we best counsel clients who wish to keep their dog involved in activities that have great potential to exacerbate behavioral issues?
  1. Ensure your pet is free to express normal behaviors.

The ability to express normal behaviors is often problematic, because many normal behaviors are the behaviors that people dislike the most (e.g., cats hunting and killing birds and dogs sniffing people’s crotches, to name two).

  • Do your clients’ pets have an adequate and safe space in which to run and express normal behaviors, both indoors and outdoors? Are they provided with an opportunity to do so on a regular basis? Cats are all too often neglected here. Are they getting ample chase games?
  • Is the environment in which the animals live suitably enriched so that it stimulates their minds? Do they search for their food or is it just dropped in a bowl?
  • Do the pets have sufficient interaction with family members to establish a bond and to provide emotional enrichment?
  • Are there opportunities to interact with suitable members of their own species, if they choose to do so, in a manner that is rewarding for all parties?
  • Humans use dogs for a variety of jobs. Is it ethical to put dogs in working situations where they are not allowed to express many normal behaviors for most of their lives?
  • There are a number of breeds that humans choose to physically alter by docking their tails or cropping their ears. Tails and ears are both tools that dogs use to communicate with one another. Do physical alterations impair a dog’s ability to express normal behaviors and to communicate?
  1. Ensure your pet is free from fear and distress.

I truly believe that no psychologically healthy human would ever intentionally cause their pet fear or distress. However, a lack of knowledge — or incorrect knowledge — about animal behavior often is a cause of fear and distress in our canine and feline companions.

  • Early socialization and habituation is key to freedom from fear and distress, as is ongoing socialization and enrichment throughout a dog’s life. What can we do to make clients, breeders, shelters, rescues, and veterinarians realize the importance of socialization and habituation? What can we do to help our clients to be successful in socializing their puppies gracefully and gradually without overwhelming them?
  • Cats have an even earlier socialization period than a dog (two to five weeks). How do we make sure that breeders and shelters are aware of this and taking steps to accomplish this? Should we be discouraging clients from adopting kittens that have not been properly socialized at this age? What about the feral population? Is it just kinder to leave them be?
  • Additionally, many animals have a more fearful baseline, either due to genetics, prior history, or a combination of both, and with the best of intentions, well-meaning pet owners throw the animals into situations that involve flooding to re-socialize them. How do we decide when enough is enough? At what point does management become preferable to continued trials of desensitization and counter-conditioning?
  • Dog bites, especially of children, are a significant problem, and are often caused by a dog who is afraid or is otherwise under stress. In some cases the child is the direct cause of that fear. How do we convince the dog-owning public and the non-dog-owning public of the importance of learning basic canine body language so that many of these bites can be prevented?
  • A lack of adequate physical and mental stimulation can cause a pet to be distressed. How do we help clients understand and find the time to ensure that their pets get appropriate amounts of stimulation and exercise?
  • On the flip side, too much stimulation and exercise can also be detrimental, causing a state of chronic stress. Many dogs will not do well in a daycare setting, playing all day or going for a five-mile run every morning. How do we educate our clients and others in the industry that too much activity can be as detrimental as not enough activity? How do we help clients to find the balance for their pet between too much and not enough?
  • While both the domestic dog and domestic cat are considered to be social animals, some are more social than others. Feral dogs and cats choose which bonds to form; in most households, humans choose which pets live together. How do we get clients to understand that pets who do “okay” together may not be thriving, and may be living under stress? Is that fair to either pet? Should one be rehomed, or would that be worse? If so, how do we counsel clients about which one should stay?
  • Communication and understanding are the cornerstones of good relations. How do we get the dog-owning public to understand that learning dog body language and training their dogs with reward-based training is key to ensuring that their dogs do not live in fear and distress?
  • Stress comes in two varieties: distress (scary things, trauma) and eustress (excitement). Whether distress or eustress, what happens to the body physiologically is very similar, and being in a state of frequent eustress or distress can have negative impacts on health. How do we get people to understand that, while occasional, moderate distress and eustress is in fact essential to life (and unavoidable), high or frequent doses can be extremely detrimental? How do we help them balance and manage their pets’ lives to avoid long-term, high levels of stress? If going to the vet is causing extreme stress, yet is necessary for freedom from disease and pain, how do we respond? Which carries more weight?
  • As trainers we may choose to put our own dogs into situations where they serve as a decoy dog while we evaluate a client’s dog-aggressive dog. Even though we take great effort to prevent physical and emotional harm to our dogs, the latter is not always easy to measure at the time. Is it ethical to place our dogs in this situation?
  • Working with dogs, and observing others working with dogs, is an essential part of how we learn to become better trainers. Is it fair to bring out a dog who is experiencing fear and distress and to use him in a demonstration in front of a group? Can we come up with a better way for us to learn, without causing dogs even more distress?

There are not necessarily any straightforward answers to satisfying Brambell’s Five Freedoms for all animals in all situations. As with any treatment or training plan, all factors need to be considered and weighed. I encourage you to spend some time thinking about the freedoms and how they apply to the animals in your life, the global ethical questions they bring, and also learning how you can use them to help your clients and their pets.

 

Footnotes

1 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs-Farm Animal Welfare Committee-Five Freedoms: http://www.defra.gov.uk/fawc/about/five-freedoms/

2 “Press Statement”. Farm Animal Welfare Council. 1979-12-05: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20121010012428/http://www.fawc.org.uk/pdf/fivefreedoms1979.pdf

 

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