Potential Causes for Reactivity (Shyness, Anxiety, Fear, and Terror) in a Dog

< Updated 22MAY22 >

< A short link for this page – https://bit.ly/Causes-Reactivity >

Reactivity in a dog is one of the most common reasons I see clients with behavioral concerns about their dog. Frequently, this is triggered by fear. Fear occurs on a continuum from mild shyness or timidity to anxiety, fear, and ultimately terror. Reactivity can also be caused by frustration, anger, and rage, another continuum. Even positive stress, or eustress, such as happiness that leads to hyper-excitement, may cause undesirable reactivity. Fear, anger, and hyper-excitement are emotional responses that may result in reactivity and aggression. While what we call “dog training” can work well for teaching a dog to respond to a cue like sit or down, emotional responses cannot be “trained” away. When a dog or person is in an extreme emotional state, they are under stress, making learning very difficult, if not impossible. When experiencing this level of stress, the dog is under the influence of the “fight or flight response” and is solely concerned about its survival.

A dog can be fearful for many reasons:

Genetics – If either parent were on the fear spectrum, all of their offspring would likely be somewhere on the spectrum. Knowing if either of a dog’s parents is fearful can be very helpful in determining how and if we can help them. If you have not already done so, I recommend talking to the breeder or the rescue or shelter where you obtained your dog. However, understand they may not have information or may misinterpret what they do know.

Medical Conditions – A medical issue can often trigger a sudden behavior change. Pain and any physical or emotional discomfort can cause behavioral changes in pets. Disorders of the nervous, endocrine, reproductive, and gastrointestinal systems can also affect your pet’s behavior.

Tick-borne diseases have become much more prevalent in Maine. A few years ago, we only needed to worry about Lyme disease. Today we also need to be concerned about Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Borrelia miyamotoi, Ehrlichiosis, Powassan Encephalitis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. These diseases can cause changes in behavior, including; anorexia, anxiety, confusion, depression, fatigue, malaise, and other subtle mental disorders. I have experienced this with my dog Muppy who has had Lyme disease and anaplasmosis. Both times she exhibited fearful behavior as the only sign of infection. However, once treated by her veterinarian, her behavior returned to normal.

I recommend that a veterinarian rule out any medical issues for fearful behavior before addressing it as a behavioral problem. If your veterinarian does not have experience with treating behavior, I recommend that you see Dr. Christine Calder, a Veterinary Behaviorist practicing in Maine. [ Calder Veterinary Behavior Services, (207) 298-4375, www.caldervbs.com]

Socialization – A puppy has a critical socialization and habituation period that begins when three weeks old and ends between 12 to 16 weeks of age. During this period, a puppy is typically very open to gentle exposure to novel stimuli set up to create a positive association. A puppy should always be given a choice as to whether or not they interact with someone or something. Forced interactions may cause a traumatic experience.

Ideally, you want to carefully expose a puppy to everything it will encounter in its life before they reach 12 to 16 weeks of age. However, if your puppy is acting fearfully during this period, it may be a sign of fear due to a medical issue or genetic issue, in which case I recommend you see your veterinarian immediately.

You can attempt remedial socialization after 16 weeks of age, but it requires a well-thought-out plan. This is not typically a DIY project, and I recommend you seek the services of a credentialed canine behavior consultant or a veterinary behaviorist.

Past or Recent Physical, Mental or Emotional Trauma – A dog’s brain works similar to ours; it is designed to permanently record any distressing experience in one trial to avoid that situation in the future. The next time the dog is exposed to whatever caused the trauma, it may try to flee, freeze in place, or fight if they have no other choice.

Trauma can be physical or emotional. It is vital to understand that only the dogs’ perception matters. In other words, while we might believe that something is not scary or painful, if our dog does find that “something” causes discomfort or is frightening, that is the reality from their perspective. This is a time when our opinion does not matter.

The problem with helping our dog get past a  traumatic event is that we may not even know when it occurred, and the dog has no way to tell us. Nor can our dog provide us with any details about the event. For example, suppose your dog is reactive to a specific individual. It could be due to their appearance, behavior, scent, or sounds they made. It could even be due to something in the environment which your dog associated with the individual. As you can see, appearance, behavior, scent, sound, and the environment open up a wide range of possible triggers. What your dog is reacting to may even be a combination of several things, further complicating matters.

Unfortunately, we may never know what our dog fears unless we witness the triggering event. For example, my first dog suddenly became afraid of her water dish and would not drink from it or approach it. Fortunately, I did witness what happened. It was winter, and the air in our home was very dry. We were all in the living room, where the floor was covered with a thick shag carpet. My dog ran along the carpet to her steel water bowl, which was at the edge of the carpet in the dining room, which was not carpeted. She lowered her head to get a drink which caused her to yelp and run away back into the living room. I walked across the carpet, bent down to look at the bowl, touched it, and received a static shock. It was not something I was expecting, but it clearly explained why my dog was suddenly afraid of her dish. Fortunately, I got her drinking again by switching to a non-metal dish and placing it in another location. However, suppose I had not seen that incident in its entirety. In that case, I might never have determined why Trivia suddenly became afraid of her water bowl.

Thunderstorms can be a traumatic event for some dogs creating a lifelong fear. We presume they are reacting to the thunder or lightning, but that is not always the case. Some dogs start reacting before they hear thunder or see a lightning bolt. For example, a friend had a dog who became afraid of storms when they lived in a home struck by lightning. After that,  a clap of thunder or bolt of lightning caused the dog to run to the basement. However, over time the dog’s fear generalized to other typical things that occur during a thunderstorm, such as trees blowing in the wind. Therefore, it is essential to understand that any fear can generalize beyond the initial trigger.

Some of the more typical traumas experienced by dogs include;

  • Physical injury such as a fall, being hit by a car or being bitten by another animal.
  • Physical abuse such as being hit or kicked by a person or being subjected to training methods and tools designed to force compliance through pain such as shock, prong, or choke collars.
  • Emotional trauma is often associated with physical injuries and abuse. However, even yelling at a dog has the potential to create an unforgettable fear. Likewise, even angry body language expressed by a person can create emotional trauma.

Not all incidents of physical or emotional trauma will cause fear. Whether or not it does depends on the event, the individual dog, and its previous history.

The most important thing to remember when helping a dog overcome anxiety is that the dog gets to decide what causes its fear. Our opinion does not matter.

Addressing Fear – The first two steps in determining why your dog is fearful are; ruling out any potential genetic or medical issues. Neither training nor behavior modification will be helpful until the medical issues are resolved.

The third step is to manage the dog and its environment to prevent exposure to anything that could trigger their fear. In my experience, a well-designed behavior modification protocol and appropriate behavioral medications are almost always necessary when treating anxiety and aggression.

Recommended Resources

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

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

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

Essential Handouts On Body Language, and Canine and Human Behavior from Dr. Sophia Yinhttps://bit.ly/YinBodyLang

Shared Blog Post – Reactivity Misunderstood – https://bit.ly/ReactivityMisunderstood

Shared Blog Post – the misunderstanding of time by Nancy Tannerhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/11/16/shared-blog-post-the-misunderstanding-of-time-by-nancy-tanner/

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

Understanding, Identifying and Coping with Canine Stresshttp://bit.ly/Canine-Stress

The emotional toll of a reactive dog by Jay Gurden in Dog’s Today – http://bit.ly/SharedGurenEmotional

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

Canine Behavior: Myths & Facts – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/03/27/podcast-canine-behavior-myths-and-facts/

Pet Behavior, Vets & The AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines with Dr. Dave Cloutier from Veazie Veterinary Clinichttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/03/13/podcast-the-woof-meow-show-pet-behavior-vets-the-aaha-canine-and-feline-behavior-management-guidelines-with-dr-dave-cloutier-from-veazie-veterinary-clinic/

Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate with special guest host Dr. Mark Hanks – part 3http://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/

The Unintended Consequences of Shock Collarshttp://bit.ly/ShockPodcast

The Pet Professional Guild and the Shock-Free Coalition with Niki Tudgehttp://bit.ly/PodCastShockFree-NikiTudge-2017

What’s Shocking About Shock – What Science Tells Us About the Use of Shock in Dog Traininghttp://bit.ly/WfMw-WhatShock-27JUL19

Podcast – Charlee and the Electronic Shock Containment System w-Dan Antolechttps://bit.ly/Blog-Charlee_E-Fence

To Find A Qualified and Credential Animal Behavioral Specialist

American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB) https://www.dacvb.org/search/custom.asp

Animal Behavior Society ( ABS ) Certified Applied Animal Behavior Consultants – http://www.animalbehaviorsociety.org/web/applied-behavior-caab-directory.php

Pet Professional Accreditation Board (PPAB)https://www.credentialingboard.com/Professionals

________________________________________________________________________

Don Hanson lives in Bangor, Maine, where he is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( greenacreskennel.com ) and the founder of ForceFreePets.com, an online educational resource for people with dogs and cats. He is a Professional Canine Behavior Consultant (PCBC-A) accredited by the Pet Professional Accreditation Board (PPAB) and a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP). Don is a member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG), where he serves on the Board of Directors and Steering Committee and chairs the Advocacy Committee. He is also a founding director of Pet Advocacy International (PIAI). In addition, Don produces and co-hosts The Woof Meow Show podcast, available at http://bit.ly/WfMwPodcasts/, the Apple Podcast app, and Don’s blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com. The opinions in this post are those of Don Hanson.

©22MAY22, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved
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Shared Blog Post – Behavioral Euthanasia: Making the Hard Decision

< Updated 05MAY22 >

Considering whether or not euthanasia is appropriate for a pet is never easy. However, it can be even more complicated when behavioral considerations are a primary factor in the process. Dr. Christine Calder, a veterinary behaviorist, recently addressed this topic in an article entitled Behavioral Euthanasia: Making the Hard Decision in the May 2022 edition of Downeast Dog News. If you face a decision of this nature, I encourage you to read the article, as Dr. Calder offers very sound advice and potential alternatives.

FMIhttps://downeastdognews.villagesoup.com/p/behavioral-euthanasia-making-the-hard-decision/1907099

Helping Your Dog Thrive – Brambell’s Five Freedoms

< A version of this article was first published in 2018 as a five-part series in the January, February, March, April and May 2018 issues of Downeast Dog News >

< Updated 1FEB20 >

< A short link to this page – http://bit.ly/Brambells-1-5 >

< Click to download or print a PDF file containing all 5 columns in this series >

We have a responsibility to make our dog’s life the best life possible. Your dog’s quality of life is directly under your control.

In this post I will be discussing Brambell’s Five Freedoms and how you can use them to help your dog have a long, fun-filled life. I will examine the role of nutrition, basic husbandry, veterinary care, training, behavior, and the management of your dog, as they all play a role in the quality of its life.

  • Brambell’s Five Freedoms originated in the United Kingdom in December of 1965. The Brambell Commission published its report over 50 years ago, yet it is still a very applicable standard for evaluating the holistic health of any animal kept by people, including dogs.

The Five Freedoms are Freedom from Hunger and Thirst, Freedom from Discomfort, Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease, Freedom to Express Normal Behavior, and Freedom from Fear and Distress.

Fundamental to being able to assess an animal’s welfare is having a thorough knowledge of a species’ husbandry requirements, behavior, and how they communicate and express emotions. I invite you to consider some of the questions that I will pose in these columns and to contemplate how you would address them within Brambell’s Five Freedoms as you care for your dog.

Freedom from Hunger, Thirst, and Malnutrition

At first read, this sounds relatively simple; provide your dog with food and water, and you have met their needs. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Does the type of food we feed our dog matter? The dog has the digestive system of a carnivore; an animal meant to thrive on meat- animal protein and fat. When you feed your dog kibble or dry dog food, they are consuming food that is predominantly made up of carbohydrates. This highly processed “far from fresh food” is composed of 40% or more carbohydrates. The dog does not need carbohydrates in their diet. That is why you will not find the percent of carbohydrates listed in the Guaranteed Analysis panel on a bag of dog food. Kibble or dry dog food was not created to provide optimum nutrition for our dogs but to provide convenience for us and a long shelf life and higher profits for pet food manufacturers. Dogs can survive on kibble, but my question is: can they thrive on such an unnatural diet?

Can we say, in good conscience, that our dog is free from hunger, thirst, and malnutrition if we are feeding them a sub-optimal diet? Feeding a dog food that will provide them with the best nutrition possible is not inexpensive, at least when compared to grocery store kibble. However, when we start to factor in reduced veterinary bills with an improved diet, we may be further ahead when we feed the best food we can afford.

Is it better to have one pet and to feed her the best diet you can afford, or is it better to have multiple pets for social interaction? It is a question my wife and asked ourselves and is a reason we have downsized from a maximum of five dogs to one dog. We want to do the best we can for Muppy and having a single dog allows for more resources, both time and financial, to be focused on her.

What about pets on prescription diets? In some cases, a veterinarian may recommend a prescription diet for your dog that you can only get from a veterinarian. These specialized foods are available in a kibble or wet (canned) formula. Prescription diets are typically presented as being necessary to treat a specific disease or health issue. They are often much more expensive than a basic kibble, but because they are kibble, they will still be high in carbohydrates. Veterinarians who take a holistic approach to nutrition will seldom recommend kibble-based prescription diets preferring to suggest a diet consisting of fresh, whole food. Again, it comes down to choosing between optimal nutrition or our convenience? Which takes precedence?

What about pet obesity? Studies indicate that 50% of the pets in the U.S. are clinically obese. Obesity is typically due to overfeeding, an improper diet, and lack of exercise. Just as with humans, obesity will affect a dog’s health and welfare. It can tax your dog’s skeletal system and can even change behavior. How much of the obesity problem with our dogs is related to our feeding them diets high in carbohydrates, something they do not need?

Does the source of water you use matter? If you do not choose to drink water from your tap, should your dog? Should they at least be given a choice?

Next month we will examine more of Brambell’s Five Freedoms; Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease, Freedom to Express Normal Behavior, and Freedom from Fear and Distress.


Freedom from Discomfort

Discomfort:

  1. an inconvenience, distress, or mild pain
  2. something that disturbs or deprives of ease
  3. to make uncomfortable or uneasy

– Collins English Dictionary

Many things in our dog’s life may cause pain or anxiety. This may vary in individual dogs depending on their genetics, temperament, anatomy, size, age, and other variables.

  • Are you familiar with how your dog expresses discomfort so that you recognize when your dog is anxious and afraid? – Dogs often indicate stress by various changes in their body language, often called calming or displacement signals. Signs such as looking away, yawning, and tongue flicks will typically occur before signals such as growling or snapping. If you wish to keep your dog comfortable, you first need to know how they indicate their discomfort. Just because a dog is not reacting does not mean they are comfortable. Most people have not been taught how dogs communicate, yet it is one of the most important things they need to know. ( FMIhttp://bit.ly/DogsSignsofFear )
  • Is your dog’s environment free from things that may cause anxiety, stress, and pain? This will vary with the individual dog. Common causes of anxiety can include children, adults, other animals, objects, loud noises, having their picture taken, having their nails trimmed, being hugged, wearing a costume, and many more. One of the easiest ways to avoid these issues is to spend time thoughtfully socializing and habituating your puppy to novel stimuli during their critical socialization period which occurs between 8 and 16 weeks of age. (FMIhttp://bit.ly/SocializationPuppy ) If your dog was older than 16 weeks of age when they joined your family it is very likely that they were not adequately or appropriately socialized. Remedial socialization is possible with an older dog, but it is even more essential that you plan such sessions carefully and that you proceed slowly. In this case, consulting with a professional fear-free, force-free, pain-free trainer is highly recommended. ( FMI – http://bit.ly/HowToChooseADogTrainer )
  • Have you trained your dog? When a dog joins a family, many expect them to automatically fit in, even though dogs and humans are two very different species with different cultural norms. We must teach our dogs how to live in our world, and that can best be accomplished through reward-based training. Failing to train our dog is almost sure to cause discomfort for both them and us. ( FMI – http://bit.ly/WhatIsDogTraining )
  • Are you committed to NEVER using aversives to manage or train your dog? If you are using an aversive (shock collar, choke collar, prong collar, leash corrections, or anything where the intent is to physically or emotionally punish) to train or manage your dog, you are making your dog uncomfortable. The very definition of an aversive is to cause discomfort, possibly up to the point of causing physical or emotional pain. Dogs that are trained in this manner are unlikely to be happy and have a much greater probability of becoming aggressive. ( FMI – http://bit.ly/RewardVSAversive )
  • Does your dog have shelter from the elements, especially extremes of temperature, wind, and precipitation? This one seems straightforward, yet every year dogs are left out in dangerous weather and freeze to death.
  • Does your dog have a quiet, comfortable place where they can rest undisturbed and where they will feel safe? Dogs, like people, need downtime and a place where they will feel secure and safe so that they can get adequate rest. People and especially kids need to respect the adage “Let sleeping dogs lie.”
  • If you have multiple pets, does each pet have adequate resources? Many people have multiple pets. Do the pets get along and enjoy each other, or is there frequent conflict? Are there sufficient resources (food, space, and attention) for all of the pets? If your dog feels they do not have what they need to survive, or if they feel threatened or intimidated by another pet in your home, they are not free of discomfort.
  • Do you maintain your dog’s physical condition, so they do not experience discomfort? – Fifty percent of the dogs in the US are clinically obese. Just as with people, obesity often causes pain and discomfort. Many dogs with long coats require weekly grooming by us to prevent their coats from becoming tangled and matted and uncomfortable.

Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease

In many ways Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease is directly related to the previous topic Freedom from Discomfort as pain, injury and disease are often the cause of extreme discomfort.

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 the physical illness.

  • Are you familiar with how your dog expresses discomfort so that you recognize when your dog is in pain? –Dogs can be very stoic about hiding their pain. Signs of pain may include agitation, anti-social and aggressive behavior, changes in eating, drinking, and bathroom habits, non-typical vocalization, excessive self-grooming, panting and non-typical breathing patterns, trembling, difficulty moving, changes in posture, restlessness, and anxiety. It is essential to have a thorough understanding of the many subtle signals our dogs use to indicate that they are under stress or anxious. Just because a dog is not reacting does not mean they are free of pain. ( FMIhttp://bit.ly/DogsSignsofFear )
  • Is your dog a working dog or do they compete in dog sports? Dogs that are more physically active have a higher probability of injury than the average pet. Appropriate physical training, just like that for an athlete may be beneficial. Also, if the dog is injured having adequate time off from work and sports to recover can be critical. Depending on the injury, retirement from the activity may be the best decision. Working and competing can negatively affect mental health just as much as it can cause physical problems.
  • Are your dog’s pain and injury being adequately addressed? Sadly, I remember a time when dogs were not given pain medication because it was believed they did not need it. However, today we also need to ask ourselves are painkillers enough? Physical therapy, chiropractic adjustments, and acupuncture can be very helpful in alleviating pain in people as well as pets and should be considered.
  • Does your dog see their veterinarian for regular wellness exams? – Dogs are subject to chronic diseases such as anxiety, arthritis, cognitive dysfunction, diabetes, kidney disease, obesity, periodontal disease and more. Early diagnosis and treatment of disease help prevent pain and discomfort. Every dog should see their veterinarian at least once a year for a wellness exam, and as they age this may need to be more frequent. Behavior and mental health should be discussed at every exam.
  • Is your dog obese? Just as with humans, fifty percent or more of the dogs in the US are overweight. A dog that is obese is more subject to injury, pain, and disease. If your dog is a little chubby or profoundly corpulent, please see your veterinarian and learn how you can address this issue. Your dog will thank you.
  • What is our responsibility when breeding pets? Some dogs, because of their breed standard, are intentionally bred for physical characteristics that often affect their ability to breathe, to move, and even to give birth naturally. How does this benefit the pet? Would it not be more appropriate to breed to eliminate these exaggerated physical deformities that affect soundness and health? Would it not better for dogs if people looking for a pet avoided these breeds?
  • Are you doing all that you can to prevent and avoid genetic disorders? Most purebred dogs are susceptible to one or more genetic disorders. Are breeders doing everything that should be done to eliminate these diseases and create healthier pets? When a person is considering what breed to get, should they avoid breeds prone to genetic disorders?
  • Are you as concerned about your dog’s mental and emotional health as you are about their physical health? Animals can experience mental disease and disorders (anxieties, phobias, dementia, ) just like humans. How do we reconcile that the treatments of behavioral issues are often not considered as necessary as physical disorders? Is it appropriate to breed a dog for behavioral traits that might be regarded as an asset for a dog who works or competes, but might negatively affect that dog’s ability to thrive as a companion dog?
  • Do you use tools and methods for training, management and the care of your dog that are designed to work by causing pain and discomfort? – Aversives (shock collar, choke collar, prong collar, leash corrections, etc. ) are used to physically or emotionally punish a dog. Dogs that are trained in this manner are unlikely to be happy and have a much greater probability of becoming aggressive. ( FMI – http://bit.ly/RewardVSAversive )

Freedom to Express Normal Behavior

When discussing what constitutes normal behavior, I mean behavior for the dog as a species, not what we as a human believe should be “normal” behavior for our dog. As much as we might want to, we cannot dictate what is normal or abnormal for a species.

In our classes, I ask students to list what behaviors they dislike in their dog. The list almost always includes: barking, begging, chasing, chewing, not coming when called  digging, eating “yuck,” getting on furniture or in the trash, growling, guarding things, humping, jumping on people, not listening, play biting, pulling on the leash, rolling in “yuck,” sniffing butts, stealing, being stubborn, and going to the bathroom inside. After reviewing the list, students learn almost everything they have listed is normal behavior for a dog.

One of the easiest ways to create behavior problems in any animal is to deny them the opportunity to express normal behaviors. Caged animals in a zoo that pace back and forth are exhibiting stereotypical behavior caused by stress because they are not able to do what they would normally do. So even though we find some of our dog’s typical behaviors undesirable, we need to find ways to allow them to express these behaviors so as not to compromise their mental and emotional wellbeing.

Some questions you can ask yourself to assess if you are adequately meeting your dog’s behavioral needs are listed below.

  • Do your dogs have an adequate and safe space in which to run, explore and express normal behaviors? Do you provide your dog with an opportunity to do so on a regular basis? Dogs like and need to sniff and explore. You can do this in your yard, home or on a walk. When you take your dog for a walk do you allow them adequate time to sniff, or do you expect your dog to heel by your side during the entire walk? Walking the dog is very overrated as physical stimulation but can be great for mental stimulation if you allow time for exploration and sniffing.
  • Is the environment in which your dog lives suitably enriched so that it stimulates your dogs mind? Mental stimulation is one of the things people often neglect, yet is very easy to provide. Instead of always feeding your dog in a bowl, feed them in a Kong or several Kong toys that you hide throughout your home. Having to search to find their food and then work to get it out of a Kong is great mental stimulation. Walking a different route every day also provides for mental stimulation as do training sessions.
  • Does your dog receive sufficient interaction with family members to establish a bond and to provide ongoing emotional enrichment? Most of us get a dog to be a companion. It is vital that we provide companionship to the dog and not just expect them to be there for us when we want company from them. Like any relationship, both dog and person need to contribute to that partnership. Are you always there for your dog when you come home from a disaster of a day? Some would argue that dog’s offer “unconditional love,” and therefore our role in the relationship does not matter. Really? The idea that a dog offers “unconditional love” is a beautiful myth but believing it is our greatest disservice to dogs because it sets them up to fail and allows us to presume that they will always be okay with whatever we do. Dog’s want and need more from us than our love when it is convenient for us to offer it. Take time to cuddle, to play, and whatever else you and your dog enjoy doing together.
  • Does your dog have canine friends? No matter how wonderful our bond is with our dog, from their perspective, we will never be another dog. Having appropriate doggie friends is just as important for our dog’s social life as having human friends is important to us. However, it is essential to make sure that your dog’s friends are well-matched so that they do enjoy one another’s company. Dogs do not automatically like all other dogs.
  • Do you allow your dog to decline to participate in events they find stressful? Dogs will often tell us with their body language, their normal way of communicating when they are uncomfortable. Are you able to read your dog and when you see these signs do you respect them? Just because we want our dog to be a therapy dog and they can pass the test, is it okay to use them in that role if they do not enjoy it? ( FMIhttp://bit.ly/DogsSignsofFear )

Freedom from Fear and Distress

I will be readdressing some of the same topics from part 2 of this series, Freedom from Discomfort, as fear and distress are an extension of discomfort, especially when considering our dog’s emotional state.

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

Experiencing fear and distress is normal for any living thing throughout its life. However, since one fearful event can be traumatic enough to create a permanent and debilitating disability, it is essential we understand fear and distress and that we do everything possible to minimize its effect on our dog.

  • Can you readily tell when your dog is fearful or stressed?  Dogs typically do one of four things when afraid. 1) They flee and run away as fast as they can from whatever it is that has scared them. 2) They fight by barking, growling, lunging at, and attacking whatever has threatened them. 3) They freeze in place, not moving a muscle, and not making eye contact with what they fear. 4) They fidget about, displaying normal behaviors (sniffing, scratching, etc.) in an abnormal context while ignoring the threat. These four are the most extreme reactions, but well before your dog exhibits any of those behaviors they will give you subtle signs of their emotional distress. It is essential that you know and understand these signs so that you can intervene early.  Unfortunately, when many dog parents see their dog freezing or fidgeting about they say “Oh, he’s fine” not understanding that the dog is in fact distressed. ( FMIhttp://bit.ly/DogsSignsofFear ).
  • Have you and your family committed to NEVER using aversives to manage or train your dog? By definition, an aversive is anything that causes your pet fear or distress, so if you use these tools or methods, you are NOT ensuring your dog is free from fear or distress. Commonly used aversives include but are not limited to shock collars, choke collars, prong collars, leash corrections, or anything where the intent is to physically or emotionally punish the dog as part of training or management. Dogs subjected to aversives are likely to develop behavioral problems and have a much higher probability of becoming aggressive. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) notes that the use of aversives is a significant reason for behavioral problems in pets and that they should NEVER be used. ( FMI – http://bit.ly/RewardVSAversive )
  • Was your puppy well socialized? Early socialization and habituation is key to freedom from fear and distress, as is ongoing socialization and enrichment throughout a dog’s life. Inadequate socialization or inappropriate socialization is a frequent reason for a dog to be fearful in certain situations. Remedial socialization is possible, but you should work with a reward-based, fear-free trainer so that you do not make things worse. (FMIhttp://bit.ly/SocializationPuppy   ) ( FMI – http://bit.ly/HowToChooseADogTrainer )
  • Do you actively look out for your dog’s best interests so that you can protect them from people that do NOT understand canine body language? Most people do not realize that not all dogs want to interact with people nor do those people comprehend the subtle signs that a dog gives that says “please leave me alone.” Most dogs do not want to bite, but only do so when they feel they have no other option.  As our dog’s caregiver, we have a responsibility to look out for our dog’s welfare which means intervening when others do not respect our dogs right not to interact. Additionally, we need to understand that sometimes the best thing we can do for our dog is to leave them at home. Not all dogs enjoy walking in the animal shelters annual fundraiser.
  • Do you understand the necessity of providing both physical and mental stimulation for your dog while not letting either go to extremes?  A lack of adequate physical and mental stimulation can cause a pet to be distressed. However, too much stimulation and exercise can also be even more detrimental, creating a state of chronic stress. Playing fetch or going to the dog park every day can become addictive, causing chemical changes in the brain which can contribute to distress and other behavior problems.
  • Do you understand that while the dog is a social species, they may not like every dog they encounter, even ones that you may want to add to your family? While the domestic dog is considered to be a social animal, some are more social than others. Dogs do not automatically like on another. If we force a dog to live with another pet that they are afraid of, we are causing fear and distress.

Recommended Resources

References

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

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

Assessing Pets’ Welfare Using Brambell’s Five Freedoms, D. Hanson, APDT Chronicle of the Dog, Fall 2014http://www.greenacreskennel.com/images/stories/pdf/Articles/assessing%20pets%20welfare%20using%20brambells%20five%20freedoms-apdt_cotd_fall2014.pdf


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

Animal Welfare – Assessing Pets’ Welfare Using Brambell’s Five Freedomshttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2014/10/01/animal-welfare-assessing-pets-welfare-using-brambells-five-freedoms/

Pet Nutrition – What Should I Feed My Pet?http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/06/04/pet-nutrition-what-should-i-feed-my-pet/

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

Puppy Socialization and Habituationhttp://bit.ly/SocializationPuppy

How to choose a dog trainerhttp://bit.ly/HowToChooseADogTrainer

What is Dog Training?http://bit.ly/WhatIsDogTraining

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

Is Your Dog Your Best Friend or a Family Member?, If Yes, Then Please Join Me and Take the Pledgehttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/10/01/is-your-dog-your-best-friend-or-a-family-member/

The Unintended Consequences of Shock Collarshttp://bit.ly/ShockCollars

What’s Shocking about Shock – What Science Tells Us About the Use of Shock in Dog Traininghttp://bit.ly/ShockBARK-JUL2019

Canine Behavior – Understanding, Identifying and Coping with Canine Stresshttp://bit.ly/Canine-Stress

Signs of Anxiety and Fear from Dr. Marty Beckerhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2018/01/17/signs-of-anxiety-and-fear-from-dr-marty-becker/

Preventing separation anxiety – Teaching your dog to cope with being alonehttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/03/14/dog-training-preventing-separation-anxiety-teaching-your-dog-to-cope-with-being-alone/

Crate Habituation to Reduce Anxietyhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/01/30/dog-behavior-crate-habituation-to-reduce-anxiety/

Your Pet’s Behavioral Health Is As Important As Their Physical Well-Beinghttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/08/01/pet-health-and-wellness-your-pets-behavioral-health-is-as-important-as-their-physical-well-being/


Podcasts from The Woof Meow Show ( http://bit.ly/WfMwPodcasts )

What do you feed your pets?http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/04/22/podcast-encore-what-do-you-feed-your-pets/

Pet Behavior, Vets & The AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines – Dr. Dave Cloutier – Veazie Veterinary Clinichttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/07/02/podcast-encore-pet-behavior-vets-the-aaha-canine-and-feline-behavior-management-guidelines-dr-dave-cloutier-veazie-veterinary-clinic/

Canine Behavior: Myths and Factshttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/03/27/podcast-canine-behavior-myths-and-facts/

Separation Anxiety with Dr. David Cloutier from Veazie Veterinary Clinichttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/05/01/podcast-separation-anxiety-with-dr-david-cloutier-from-veazie-veterinary-clinic/

What’s Shocking About Shock – What Science Tells Us About the Use of Shock in Dog Traininghttp://bit.ly/WfMw-WhatShock-27JUL19

 

©01FEB20, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved
< Click for Copyright and Use Policy >

Do I Need a Dog Trainer or a “Behaviorist”?

< A version of this article was published in the November 2019 issue of Downeast Dog News>

< Updated 09FEB21 >

< A short link to this page – http://bit.ly/WWM-Trainer-Behaviorist >

Dogs do not come with written instructions, and whether you have an 8-week old puppy, a six-year-old rescue dog, or anything in between having a relationship with a professional and accredited dog training or behavior expert can be your greatest asset.

Dog trainers typically teach you how to train your dog to be a great companion. They will address house-training, bite inhibition, jumping, and socialization with puppies and skills like teaching sit, down, stay, come, heel, leave it, and attention. Dog training is not a licensed profession, so you need to do your research carefully before making a selection. You can learn more at these links

If you have a dog with anxiety, fear, or aggression issues, you may need more than an accredited, professional dog trainer. In, fact if you are experiencing any of these issues, you should start with a visit to your veterinarian as there are medical issues that could be contributing to your dog’s undesired behavior. Any medical issue causing pain or discomfort can contribute to aggression. Other medical problems that can affect behavior include endocrine and neurological disorders and even tick-borne diseases.

Aggressive behavior is often an emotional response (anger or fear), and training alone may not be helpful. For example, a dog who has been trained in a wide variety of scenarios may well be able to sit on a single visual or verbal cue, but when under stress they may not respond to the cues you give. For example, you may be able to recite Shakespeare or solve differential equations, but your ability to do so when stressed may make it doing those tasks very difficult. We need to recognize and accept that a reactive dog is stressed and uncomfortable.

If your veterinarian rules out a medical reason for your dog’s behavior, you will want to seek the assistance of a professional credentialed to work with behavior cases. There are three levels of professionals to consider.

At the top of the list is a Diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. This is a veterinarian that has completed additional training in behavior and is entitled to use the term “Veterinary Behaviorist’ and use the initials DACVB after their name. They will be experienced in training, behavior modification, and in the use of pharmaceuticals to aid in treating behavioral issues. As of the Fall of 2019, Maine has its first Veterinary Behaviorist in the state, Christine D. Calder DVM DACVB. [ FMI – Introducing Dr. Christine Calder, Maine’s 1st Veterinary Behaviorist – http://bit.ly/WMw-DrCalderVetBhx ]

Next on the list are individuals who are credentialed by the Animal Behavior Society. They usually have a doctorate or master’s degree in animal behavior and have passed an exam that then allows them to use the title Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAAB or ACAAB). You can find a list of these individuals at http://www.animalbehaviorsociety.org/web/applied-behavior-caab-directory.php. I am not aware of any currently practicing in Maine.

At the next tier are those like myself that are credentialed as Behavior Consultants. Although people occasionally refer to me as a behaviorist, I am not. The only people that should be using the title “behaviorist” are those that are credentialed by the Animal Behavior Society or the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. There are three independent accrediting bodies that credential people like myself doing behavioral work listed below.

Like dog training, behavior consulting is not a licensed profession, so please verify the credentials of whomever you select to help your dog. If they recommend the use of any type of aversive (shock collar, choke collar, prong collar, spray bottle, dominance downs), anything meant to punish, look for someone else. Punishing your dog is only likely to make their aggression worse and more dangerous.

Lastly, you might want to review a past column of mine at the link below.

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

Recommended Resources

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

What Is Dog Training?http://bit.ly/WhatIsDogTraining

How to Choose a Dog Trainerhttp://bit.ly/HowToChooseADogTrainer

Maine Dog Trainers That I Recommendhttp://bit.ly/MEDogTrnrs

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

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

Introducing Dr. Christine Calder, Maine’s 1st Veterinary Behavioristhttp://bit.ly/WMw-DrCalderVetBhx

Web Sites

American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB)https://www.dacvb.org/

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB)https://avsab.org/

Animal Behavior Society – https://www.animalbehaviorsociety.org/web/index.php

Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT)https://www.ccpdt.org/

International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC)https://m.iaabc.org/

Midcoast Humane – https://midcoasthumane.org/behavior/

Pet Professional Accreditation Board (PPAB)https://www.credentialingboard.com/

__________________________________________________________________
Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( greenacreskennel.com ) in Bangor, ME 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, that airs on Z62 Retro Radio WZON (AM620) and WKIT 103.3-HD3 and is streamed at http://bit.ly/AM620-WZON every Saturday at 9 AM. Podcasts of the show are available at http://woofmeowshow.libsyn.com/, the Apple Podcast app, and at Don’s blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com.  The opinions in this post are those of Don Hanson.

09FEB21, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved
< Click for Copyright and Use Policy >

Shared Blog Post – the dodo – Cesar, When You Hit A Dog You Pay The Price

< a short link to this post – http://bit.ly/dodoDW-Holly >

If you found this post because you have a dog that is guarding their food or is doing any type of resource guarding or other form of aggression, I strongly encourage you to seek professional help from a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant ( click to find a CDBC near you ), a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, CAAB ( click to find a CAAB near you ), or a Veterinarian that is Board Certified in Veterinary Behavior, DACVB ( click to find a DACVB near you ). Resource guarding or any type of aggression by a dog has the potential to result in a dog bite. If you are concerned that your dog has a high probability of biting you need to address this immediately. A dog that bites can be very dangerous < click to read about dangerous dogs >. As you will see in the following video provoking the dog or threatening them or trying to be “dominant” is only likely to make matters worse.

There is a segment in the documentary film Dogs, Cats and Scapegoats < click to view > that shows the Dog Whisperer, Cesar Milan, punching a yellow Labrador Retriever in the neck, allegedly to teach her not to guard her food. I am sharing this blog post and video because it is an excellent tool for learning more about canine body language when a dog is feeling threatened.

In a November 2014 blog post from the dodo, Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and a Fellow of the Animal Behavior Society, discusses this episode, Showdown with Holly, and a slow-motion version of the show entitled Show Down with Holly in Slow Motion – A dissection of canine body language. The latter adds commentary that points out the body language used by Holly to indicate that she was feeling threatened. It also illustrates the additional visual signals Holly uses in an attempt to de-escalate the confrontation. Milan was either unaware of these signals and their importance (I didn’t see that coming!) or simply chose to ignore them. Milan is bitten when he moves the same hand he used to punch Holly near her face. < click to view > NOTE: You will need to click on “Uncover Video.”

Bekoff has this to say about the video Show Down with Holly in Slow Motion – A dissection of canine body language:

“This short video is a wonderful example of dog body language. I think of it as a crash course in canid ethology — dog behavior 101. I highly recommend those people who want to see what happened to study this video very closely. I’ve watched countless hours of video of a wide variety of social encounters in various canids — members of the dog family — and I still learned a lot from this encounter. I watched it more than a dozen times and I’m sure I’ll go back to it.”

There are many lessons in this video about how dogs communicate what they’re feeling using all parts of their body and various vocalizations. There also are valuable lessons for the need to respect what a dog is telling us, what they want and what they need. Holly was very clear about her state of mind, what she was feeling, and what she needed.”

I encourage you to read Marc Bekoff’s entire blog post < click here >

At the conclusion of Show Down with Holly in Slow Motion – A dissection of canine body language you will find two links to more information. The first is an excellent article on resource guarding by Dr. Patricia McConnell, a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and author < click to read >. The second is a blog post by Jim Crosby < click to read > which provides a written description with time codes of the Showdown with Holly as it originally appeared on TV < click to view >. It is also very educational for those wishing to learn more about canine body language.

It is important to note that training your dog will NOT typically resolve resource guarding issues — a dog that is behaving aggressively, whether due to fear or anger, is responding emotionally. Teaching your dog to sit, leave it, or any other behavior is all about teaching them to offer a specific behavior when given a particular cue. Training is unlikely to change a negative emotion and may make it worse. Emotional responses can be altered through behavior modification, and that is where a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, or a Veterinarian that is Board Certified in Veterinary Behavior, DACVB can help you.

As a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, CDBC I offer behavior consultations for clients with dogs with problem behaviors. You can learn more about those services at our website < click to read > and about my approach to these types of problems in this article from my blog; Help! My Dog is Aggressive, Reactive, Fearful, Anxious, etc. – What do I do? < click to read >.

Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog

( http://www.words-woofs-meows.com )

Dangerous Dogs! – What Shelters, Rescues, Prospective Adopters, and Owners Need to Know – http://bit.ly/Dangerous-Dogs

 Dominance: Reality or Myth –  http://bit.ly/Dominance-RealityorMyth

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

What Should I Do When My Dog Does Not Let Me Take Something They Have Stolen and Snaps or Tries to Bite Me?http://bit.ly/StealGuardGrowlSnap

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

Shared Blog Post – Dogs, Cats and Scapegoats: Messes We Make With Companions – A new film by Hugh Dorigo about the plight of millions of companion animals by Marc Bekoff in Psychology Todayhttps://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/09/25/shared-blog-post-dogs-cats-and-scapegoats-messes-we-make-with-companions-a-new-film-by-hugh-dorigo-about-the-plight-of-millions-of-companion-animals-by-marc-bekoff-in-psychology/

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

Podcast – The Woof Meow Show: The documentary film Dogs, Cats and Scapegoats with Producer and Director, Hugh Dorigohttps://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/09/23/podcast-the-woof-meow-show-the-documentary-film-dogs-cats-and-scapegoats-with-producer-and-director-hugh-dorigo/

Books

Mine! – A Practical Guide To Resource Guarding In Dogs, Jean Donaldson, Dogwise Publishing, 2002

Other Articles On The Web

Cesar, When You Hit A Dog You Pay The Price – Marc Bekoffhttps://www.thedodo.com/cesar-when-you-hit-a-dog-you-p-812125567.html

The Other End of the Leash, Dr. Patricia McConnell – Resource Guarding: Treatment and Prevention  – https://www.patriciamcconnell.com/theotherendoftheleash/resource-guarding-treatment-and-prevention

Canine Aggression Issues with Jim Crosby – Food Aggression and a Famous Trainerhttp://jimcrosby.canineaggressionissueswithjimcrosby.com/2012/09/food-aggression-and-famous-trainer.html

 

Videos

Show Down with Holly in Slow Motion – A dissection of canine body languagehttps://www.facebook.com/799673286/videos/10152902693393287/ – NOTE: You will need to click on “Uncover Video.”

Showdown with Holly | Dog Whispererhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ihXq_WwiWM&feature=share

 

Resources for Finding Help From A Credentialed Expert in Canine Behavior

The American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB)https://www.dacvb.org/search/custom.asp?id=4709

The Animal Behavior Society (ABS) – http://www.animalbehaviorsociety.org/web/applied-behavior-caab-directory.php

The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC)https://iaabc.org/consultants

Remedial Socialization – Bring the Junkyard Home

OBJECTIVE: To help a neo-phobic dog habituate to novel objects in their environment.

Dog/handler teams are appropriate for this exercise when:

  • The dog is well bonded with and trusting of the handler.
  • The handler is very sure that this exercise will work. If there is any doubt, consult with a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC) that is experienced in working with fearful and reactive dogs before proceeding.

The handler will need:

  • To read the recommended resources at the end of this document.
  • A hungry dog with a properly fitting harness or collar, one that they cannot remove or slip off. Shock, choke, or prong collars should NEVER be used.
  • A standard, 6-foot leash.
  • High value treats such as freeze-dried liver, meat, or cheese.
  • A yard and/or room large enough that the dog has space to feel secure in the presence of a novel object.
  • A variety of novel objects that they can place in their home or yard.

When to Start:

  • During a quiet time when your dog is not overly stimulated or excited.
  • Enter the room/yard so that the dog is as far away from the novel object as possible.
  • As the dog notices the object, give treats to the dog as long as they are not fearful or reactive.
  • The goal is for the dog to see something in the distance and anticipate a yummy treat.
  • Graduate to walking around the object.
  • With success move closer to the object in future sessions.

Training Sessions:

  • Are short and very fun – quit before the dog is sated, typically within five minutes.
  • Happen frequently and are repeated in the same location until successful (don’t introduce a second object or a new location until you can be with the dog, giving treats, within 10 feet of the object without your dog becoming fearful or reactive.
  • Are at the beginning level of difficulty until the dog sees something new and promptly looks toward its handler for the yummy treat.
  • Are only gradually increased in difficulty as the dog is successful.

The goal is to be able to:

  • Sit in a room/yard with different types of novel objects without your dog becoming anxious or reactive.

 

Recommended Resources

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

 

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

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

Management of An Aggressive, Fearful or Reactive Doghttp://bit.ly/BhxManagement

Remedial Socialization – People – The Watch the World Game – http://bit.ly/RemedialSocializationPeople

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

Understanding, Identifying and Coping with Canine Stress – http://bit.ly/Canine-Stress

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

What Should I Do When My Dog Does Not Let Me Take Something They Have Stolen and Snaps or Tries to Bite Me?http://bit.ly/StealGuardGrowlSnap

What Should I Do When My Dog Growls?http://bit.ly/DogGrowls

 

©11SEP18, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved
< Click for Copyright and Use Policy >

Remedial Socialization – The Watch the World Game

The original idea for this protocol was developed by Laura Van Dyne CPDT-KA, The Canine Consultant LLC, Carbondale, CO.

OBJECTIVE: To help a neo-phobic dog habituate to novel people in novel environments

 

Dog/handler teams are appropriate for this exercise when:

  • The dog is well bonded with and trusting of the handler.
  • The handler is very sure that this exercise will work. If there is any doubt, consult with a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC) that is experienced in working with fearful and reactive dogs before proceeding.

 

The handler will need:

  • To read the recommended resources at the end of this document.
  • A hungry dog with a properly fitting harness or collar, one that they cannot remove or slip off. Shock, choke, or prong collars should NEVER be used.
  • A standard, 6-foot leash.
  • High value treats such as freeze-dried liver, meat, or cheese.
  • A vehicle with a door that can be opened so the dog and person can sit inside the vehicle together (hatchback or van with sliding side door) facing outward with the door open.
  • A parking lot with an appropriate level of activity, little or no action at first that is sufficiently large that you can position your car several yards away from any activity.

 

When to Start:

  • During a quiet time.
    • Sunday morning, unless it’s a church parking lot.
  • Park at a distant point with the door for sitting facing the parking lot.
  • Sit inside with the dog either tethered or securely in hand.
  • Give treats to the dog as long as the dog is not reactive.
  • The goal is for the dog to see something in the distance and anticipate a yummy treat

Training Sessions:

  • Are short and very fun – quit before the dog is sated, typically within five minutes.
  • Happen frequently and repeated in the same location until successful (don’t go to parking lot #2 until your dog is non-reactive and content in parking lot #1).
  • Are at the beginning level of difficulty until the dog sees something new and promptly looks toward its handler for the yummy treat.
  • Are only gradually increased in difficulty as the dog is successful.

 

The goal is to be able to:

  • Sit in front of a busy grocery store with different types of people, grocery carts, cars, etc. passing by. Ideally, some of the people are speaking other languages and are of different nationalities

Remember Thus far – the team is still cocooned within the safety of the vehicle

 

Graduate out of the car:

  • Only when assured of success.
  • Perhaps in the original parking lot (#1), at the distant (station #1) location.
  • Step out of the car and simply stand there holding the leash securely in hand, if the dog is comfortable it should step out and stay with you to get more treats (Stay at this level for as many repetitions as necessary).
  • Graduate to walking around the car.
  • With success move closer to the action in future sessions.

 

Graduate to an outside location:

  • Find an appropriate bench or take something to sit on (Suggestion-have the dog sitting next to its person; it’s a more secure place than being removed to the ground).
  • Choose a place that is so easy; your dog is practically guaranteed to be non-fearful and non-reactive – maybe it’s just a quiet place – no people, vehicles, etc. at first
  • Gradually increase the difficulty – Over Practice Success!

 

What could go wrong?

  • Someone passing by could want to, ‘Pet the dog’ or come to visit with the person. The cuter and smaller dogs will be more attractive to passersby.
  • Sometimes, for safety and success the handler may have to be assertive to the point of rude to keep people away**
  • Bring a helper to run interference if necessary.
  • If the handler cannot read the stress level of the dog accurately, the dog could get worse!
  • “Life Happens” – at any time, if things go awry, leave.

**Comment:

Many people in the general public think they are a dog person, “Dogs love me!” and they move in, forward facing, staring at the dog, with their hands reaching for the dog’s face (actually doing all the wrong things!). A handler comment like, “Please don’t approach, my dog is fearful.” seems to stimulate the worst in passersby so the handler may have to interrupt and, perhaps, cross the border of polite behavior to prevent problems.

 

Recommended Resources

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

 

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

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

Management of An Aggressive, Fearful or Reactive Doghttp://bit.ly/BhxManagement

Remedial Socialization – Objects – Bring the Junkyard Homehttp://bit.ly/RemedialSocializationObjects

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

Understanding, Identifying and Coping with Canine Stress – http://bit.ly/Canine-Stress

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

What Should I Do When My Dog Does Not Let Me Take Something They Have Stolen and Snaps or Tries to Bite Me?http://bit.ly/StealGuardGrowlSnap

What Should I Do When My Dog Growls?http://bit.ly/DogGrowls

©11SEP18, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved
< Click for Copyright and Use Policy >

Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Selected My First Dog – Gus, the Dominance Myth, An Alpha Roll, and a Damaged Relationship

< Updated 2JAN19 >

< A version of this article was published in the September 2018  issue of Downeast Dog News >

< A short link to this article on my blog – http://bit.ly/Things-Gus-Dominance >

In a recent interview, I was asked a series of questions about how to choose a dog trainer. One of the questions was “What would you like to have known when you started training dogs?” This post will be the first of a series of article inspired by that question.

This series of articles has since been renamed Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Selected My First Dog, and you can find a complete list of posts in the series at < http://bit.ly/ThingsIWishIHadKnown >

Don & Gus in 1991, Before the Alpha Roll

In the spring of 1991, I had a new 12-week old Cairn Terrier puppy named Gus. I had no knowledge of dog training, but a desire to learn. I started to learn by reading two of the most popular dog training books at the time; How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend and Mother Knows Best. The basic premise of both books was that a dog is a wolf and the best way to train and care for a dog is to dominate it like an Alpha wolf would dominate a wolf pup. My wife and I also enrolled ourselves and Gus in a puppy kindergarten class offered by the local dog club.

Our first night in puppy class was a complete disaster. I was told to command Gus to sit, and Gus failed to comply. Now, this was not a big deal to us nor a surprise, as we were well aware that Gus had no clue what we wanted him to do when we said the word “Sit.” However, Gus’ failure to comply was a massive deal to the two instructors. They told me, in no uncertain terms, that Gus was exerting his dominance and that I had to alpha roll him to show him that I was the Alpha. The alpha roll was precisely what the books we were reading recommended, so not knowing any better I did as I was told. As I grabbed Gus by the scruff and pinned him, he immediately began thrashing around underneath me, growling and snapping, and trying to connect his teeth with me, so that I would let him go. I know now that Gus was terrified but at the time believed I was doing the right thing.

The instructor now became even more adamant: “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 tried grabbing 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 followed his; I failed to pay attention 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.

When we got back home, it was evident that the relationship between Gus and I was severely damaged. I was no longer being asked to “throw the ball” by the puppy with the joyously vibrating tail. Gus did not trust me, and I did not trust him. Over many months Gus and I learned to trust one another again, and training and behavior became something we both enjoyed. We were fortunate to discover Dr. Patricia McConnell where we learned about the wonders of reward-based training. We had fun; our dogs had fun and that should be a primary focus of training.

So this is what I would have liked to have known before I started training Gus.

  • Just because something is in a book written by an alleged expert does not mean it is good advice or even factual.
  • The study of wolf packs in the wild has taught us that a wolf pack is a family working cooperatively to survive to pass on their genes. Their survival depends on cooperation, NOT competition to be the alpha within the pack.
  • The violent alpha roll described in the books I read has never been observed happening in a wolf pack. A wolf pup may voluntarily roll on its back and submit to an older wolf, but it is never physically forced to do so.
  • Karen Overall is a veterinarian who is also one of the few vets that is also a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behavior. She also has a PhD and is certified by the Animal Behavior Society as an Applied Animal Behaviorist. In other words, she is one of the leading experts on the planet on dog behavior. This is what she said about dominance at a PPG conference in 2016. “Dominance theory has shut off scientific research and has crept into medicine to the point where we think we can do things to animals whereby we are asking them to ‘submit’….dominance theory is insidious and has crept into everything we do with dogs and it’s wrong. It has gotten in the way of modern science and I’ve just about had it. Every single thing we do with dogs hurts them because we don’t see them as individuals or cognitive partners.” [ Emphasis Added ]
  • In the 2017 documentary, Dogs, Cats and Scapegoats Overall sums it up very well when she states: “In the evolutionary literature “alpha” was just a shorthand for breeding. I’m the alpha – that you feel that you have to compete with a dog in your household over some imaginary rank, what does that say for how you live with people?” [ Emphasis Added ]
  • The entire concept of dominance is not only an erroneous understanding of the dog-human relationship, but it is also counterproductive to a harmonious relationship with our dog and may cause aggression as it did with Gus.

Unfortunately the same bad advice I received in 1991 is still being promulgated today, in spite of the fact that major canine organizations such as the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB), the Pet Professional Guild (PPG), the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT),  all warn of the use of dominance-based training.

Recommended Resources

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

Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Selected My First Dog Link Page http://bit.ly/ThingsIWishIHadKnown

Dog Behavior – Dominance: Reality or Mythhttp://bit.ly/Dominance-RealityorMyth

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

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

Other Publications

BARKS from the Guild – May 2017 – Thank You,  PPG , and Gus Too! https://issuu.com/petprofessionalguild/docs/bftg_may_2017_online_edition_opt/58

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

 

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.

 

©2JAN19, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved
< Click for Copyright and Use Policy >

How Can I Tell When My Dog Is Anxious or Fearful?

As a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC) I work with clients with dogs with a wide variety of anxiety related issues. In some cases, the dog has a minor fear towards a particular type of person, and other times the dog might be terrified. Most people recognize the latter, but many see a dog that is not reacting as being “fine” or “okay” when in fact, these dogs can be very afraid. A dog that is not reacting may be frozen in fear. It is important to understand how your dog expresses their emotions so that you can help them when they are frightened.

Dogs are visual communicators and in most cases do an excellent job of trying to tell one another and us when they are uncomfortable. This starts with subtle body language and can rapidly escalate to vocalizations and actions such as lunging, snapping, and biting. Below you will find several resources that will help you to understand better what your dog is trying to tell you.

Recommended Resources

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

Introduction to Canine Communicationhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/01/16/dog-behavior-introduction-to-canine-communication/

Body Language of Fear in Dogs – Dr. Sophia Yinhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/04/04/body-language-of-fear-in-dogs-dr-sophia-yin/

Canine Body Language – How To Greet A Dog and What to Avoid – Dr. Sophia Yinhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/04/04/canine-body-language-how-to-greet-a-dog-and-what-to-avoid-dr-sophia-yin/

Signs of Anxiety and Fear from Dr. Marty Beckerhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2018/01/17/signs-of-anxiety-and-fear-from-dr-marty-becker/

Understanding, Identifying and Coping with Canine Stresshttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/11/01/canine-behavior-understanding-identifying-and-coping-with-canine-stress/

What Should I Do When My Dog Growlshttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/07/18/canine-behavior-what-should-i-do-when-my-dog-growls/

Help! My Dog is Aggressive, Reactive, Fearful, Anxious, etc. – What do I do?http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/04/03/help-my-dog-is-aggressive-reactive-fearful-anxious-etc-what-do-i-do/

 

Books

A Kids’ Comprehensive Guide to Speaking Dog! by Niki Tudge – < Read a Review >

On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas – < Read a Review >

The Other End of the Leash – Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs by Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D., < Book Review >

Web Sites

iSpeakDog – http://www.ispeakdog.org/

Turid Rugaas – Calming Signalshttp://en.turid-rugaas.no/calming-signals—the-art-of-survival.html

YouTube

Turid Rugaas Calming Signals DVDhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lj7BWxC6iVs

©17-Jan-18, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved
< Click for Copyright and Use Policy >

Dangerous Dogs! – What Shelters, Rescues, Prospective Adopters, and Owners Need to Know

< Versions these articles were published in the MAY 2017 and JUNE 2017
Issues of Downeast Dog News>

<Updated 11JUN17>

These articles have been updated since they were published in the Downeast Dog News. I have added material at the end which discusses an incident which occurred in Virginia Beach, VA on June 1st where a 91-year-old woman was attacked and killed by a newly adopted rescue dog with a previous bite history.

What defines a dangerous dog? – Part 1

Last July I wrote the first of three columns addressing dog bites and fatalities after a seven-year-old boy died as a result of an attack by a dog. For the past few weeks, the news and social media have been abuzz with a rescue dog from the Waterville area (Dakota) that has attacked and killed a dog. This dog was scheduled for euthanasia, has been pardoned by the Governor, then the court reinstated the euthanasia order, and now this case has been appealed to a higher court, which means a final disposition of this case may not happen until this fall.

Dakota’s case has been emotionally charged, and I think it will be to the benefit of all dogs and dog lovers if we look at this case objectively. This is my attempt to do so.

So what defines a dangerous dog? Title 7, Section 3907, 12-D of the Maine statutes defines a dangerous dog as –  “Dangerous dog” means a dog or wolf hybrid that bites an individual or a domesticated animal who is not trespassing on the dog or wolf hybrid owner’s or keeper’s premises at the time of the bite or a dog or wolf hybrid that causes a reasonable and prudent person who is not on the dog or wolf hybrid owner’s or keeper’s premises and is acting in a reasonable and nonaggressive manner to fear imminent bodily injury by assaulting or threatening to assault that individual or individual’s domestic animal. “Dangerous dog” does not include a dog certified by the State and used for law enforcement use. “Dangerous dog” does not include a dog or wolf hybrid that bites or threatens to assault an individual who is on the dog or wolf hybrid owner’s or keeper’s premises if the dog or wolf hybrid has no prior history of assault and was provoked by the individual immediately prior to the bite or threatened assault.” [Emphasis added]

The definition above makes it clear that if a dog bites a person or a domesticated animal they meet Maine’s legal criteria of being a “dangerous dog.” In fact, based on the above definition the mere act of exhibiting threatening behavior, without actually biting, would meet the definition of being dangerous. While the law does not specifically address whether or not a dog that kills a person or a domesticated animal is dangerous; it seems that the logical conclusion would be that a dog that kills is extremely dangerous.

The legal community and canine behavior professionals have been using a bite scale developed by Dr. Ian Dunbar for many years. The scale is an objective assessment of the severity of dog bites based on an evaluation of wound pathology. It starts off with Level 1, which is described as “Fearful, aggressive, or obnoxious behavior but no skin-contact by teeth. [Emphasis added]” The Dunbar bite scale is very similar to Maine law which declares that a dog that is threatening may be considered as dangerous.

Dr. Dunbar rates the prognosis of rehabilitating a dog with a Level 1 to Level 2 bite as good and a level 3 bite as fair. However, Dr. Dunbar states that a dog exhibiting a Level 4 bite (a single bite with at least one puncture) is dangerous with a poor prognosis for rehabilitation. Dogs that have bitten at Level 5 (multiple bites and severe mutilation) through Level 6 (the victim is killed) are considered to be dangerous by Dr. Dunbar and have a dire prognosis for rehabilitation. I believe Maine’s law on dangerous dogs could be improved by incorporating Dr. Dunbar’s bite scale.

In this article from 2012, the late Dr. Sophia Yin describes her approach to evaluating dog bites based on Dr. Dunbar’s bite scale. – https://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/was-it-just-a-little-bite-or-more-evaluating-bite-levels-in-dogs/

FMIhttp://www.dogtalk.com/BiteAssessmentScalesDunbarDTMRoss.pdf

If the court finds that a dog is dangerous as defined above, the law dictates that the court shall impose a fine and:

  • Order the dog confined in a secure enclosure except as provided in paragraph C or subsection 8. For the purposes of this paragraph, “secure enclosure” means a fence or structure of at least 6 feet in height forming or making an enclosure suitable to prevent the entry of young children and suitable to confine a dangerous dog in conjunction with other measures that may be taken by the owner or keeper, such as tethering the dangerous dog. The secure enclosure must be locked, be designed with secure top, bottom and sides and be designed to prevent the animal from escaping from the enclosure. The court shall specify the length of the period of confinement and may order permanent confinement; [2011, c. 82, §1 (AMD).]”
  • “Order the dog to be euthanized if it has killed, maimed or inflicted serious bodily injury upon a person or has a history of a prior assault or a prior finding by the court of being a dangerous dog; or [2011, c. 82, §1 (AMD).]”
  • “Order the dog to be securely muzzled, restricted by a tether not more than 3 feet in length with a minimum tensile strength of 300 pounds and under the direct control of the dog’s owner or keeper whenever the dog is off the owner’s or keeper’s premises. [2011, c. 82, §1 (NEW).]”
  • The court may also choose to order restitution to the injured parties.

I love dogs and hate to see a dog lose its life to natural causes or state-mandated euthanasia; however, I also hate to see a person or another animal attacked and even possibly killed by a dog. The fact is not all dogs that exhibit aggression can be rehabilitated and are safe to be rehomed. We need to have equal concern for the community at large as we do for any individual dog.

This case leaves me with questions for which I do not have an answer. If Dakota is released, who will be legally, financially and morally liable for any future aggression by Dakota? The courts, the Governor, those who have evaluated Dakota and insist he will be safe in the future, Dakota’s owner, or all of the above?

Next month I will delve into this issue further, discussing the obligations those that rehome a dangerous dog and the responsibilities of someone who adopts a dangerous dog.

Dangerous Dogs – Part 2

Responsibilities of Shelters/Rescues, Prospective Dog Owners, and Dog Owners

Last month I discussed the definition of a dangerous dog as defined by Maine state law. I also described the bite scale developed my Dr. Ian Dunbar. I use the Dunbar bite scale when assessing the severity of a bite as do other canine behavior consultants and attorneys. As I indicated last month, per Maine law and Dr. Dunbar’s bite scale, a dog that merely threatens can be considered dangerous and can be classified as a dangerous dog.

Shelters/Rescues

I appreciate the effort made by shelters and rescues to find homeless and wonderful dogs a new forever home; however, I believe that first and foremost, shelters and rescues have a responsibility to act in the best interest of their local community. That means:

  • Management and all employees and volunteers responsible for adoptions have been trained on Dr. Dunbar’s bite levels as well as Maine state law covering dangerous dogs.
  • They have, and they follow, detailed written policies on the adoption of dogs with a bite history that indicate when and why they will adopt and when and why they will not adopt.
  • They provide full disclosure of any bite history or behavioral issues with any dog they adopt. They NEVER fail to disclose information, such as a bite history, in an attempt to make a dog more adoptable.
  • If a dog in their care has bitten at level 3 or greater, they will not make that dog available for adoption until they have the dog evaluated by a veterinarian, with behavioral experience, that is independent of their organization. Additionally, they will consider having these dogs evaluated by a dog behavior consultant credentialed by; the Animal Behavior Society (ABS), the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC), or the Pet Professional Accreditation Board (PPAB).
  • If they adopt dogs with a Level 3 or higher bite, they will counsel the adopters before the adoption and provide them with all the information necessary to keep them, their family, and the community safe. This includes making sure that the adopter understands their legal liability for keeping a dangerous dog.
  • They have a written return policy which clearly indicates that an adopter can return a dog at any time, for any reason, with no questions asked.
  • They will have policies in place that support the AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines and will not use or refer to dog behavior consultants or dog trainers that use aversive training techniques and tools.
  • They have a euthanasia policy that clearly indicates that despite their best wishes not all dogs can be successfully rehabilitated and rehomed and that there are times when euthanasia is not only the safest option for the community but is also the most humane and kind option for the dog.

Potential Dog Owners & Dog Owners

Most people who are looking for a dog to bring into their family are looking for a well-mannered companion. They are not looking for a dog that could be a potential threat to their family or their neighbors. That is why adopting a dog or keeping a dog with a known bite history requires careful consideration. It is not a decision that should be made lightly because living with such a dog will require a great deal of work and also involves a certain level of unknown risk.

Potential Dog Owners

If you are thinking about adopting a dog with a bite history or other significant behavioral issues, I suggest that before you commit to the adoption/purchase that you do the following:

  • Consult with your veterinarian and get their advice and input on how well they believe this dog, and its issues will fit into your family and environment. If you do not have a veterinarian because this is your first dog or the first dog in a long time, keep looking for a dog without a bite history or behavioral baggage. There are many dogs looking for homes that are not biters and that do not have behavioral issues, being patient and taking the time to find a better fit, makes sense, especially if this is your first dog.
  • Consult with a dog behavior consultant credentialed by; the Animal Behavior Society (ABS), the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC), or the Pet Professional Accreditation Board (PPAB). Bite issues and most behavioral problems do not resolve on their own or through training. Taking the time to seek advice from a professional canine behavior consultant before you commit to an adoption is like taking a used car to an independent mechanic for an evaluation before you purchase the car. Taking this step may save you a great deal of time, money, and grief.
  • If you have kids, elderly parents, or other animals in your home and on your property, keep looking, a dog with a bite history is not the dog for you.
  • Make sure all the adults in the home support the decision to get this dog. No one should be forced to live in a home where he or she is afraid of the dog and is concerned about being bitten.
  • Make sure that you have a written document from the shelter/rescue that states that you can return a dog at any time, for any reason, with no questions asked.
Dog Owners

If you already have a dangerous dog read my April column “Help! My Dog is Aggressive, Reactive, Fearful, Anxious, etc. – What do I do?” – bit.ly/HelpDogAggx

My Story with Aggression & a Serious Bite

By definition, I have owned and lived with a “dangerous dog,” Shortly after our Golden Retriever Tikken turned three she began to show aggression towards other dogs. In the summer of 2000, she attacked and severely injured our Pekinese, Crystal. We immediately sought veterinary advice and began treating Tikken. Over the next three years we worked with our local veterinarian, the veterinary behavior team at Tufts University, applied behaviorist Patricia McConnell, and with homeopathic veterinarian Dr. Judy Herman. We eventually helped Tikken through this ordeal, but it was only after extensive treatment and three plus years of close supervision. We had ten wonderful years together after Tikken’s full recovery, but that came after three very tense and stressful years. While living with a dog with a severe bite history can be done, it requires a level of financial and emotional commitment that is not something everyone will be able to undertake.  FMI – bit.ly/TikkensAggxStory

UPDATE

Since I wrote part 2 of this column in May, a tragic and fatal incident occurred on June 1st in Virginia Beach, VA when a 90-year-old woman was attacked by a dog that had just been adopted by the family from the Forever Home Rehabilitation Center. The news media indicated that the woman underwent surgery including the amputation of an arm, before dying from her injuries. < http://www.13newsnow.com/news/local/mycity/virginia-beach/woman-in-her-90s-dies-after-pit-bull-attack-in-virginia-beach/444861256>. Apparently the dog had bitten a child multiple times in a previous home. The rescue had allegedly “rehabilitated” the dog before placing it.

When asked to comment, the Forever Home Rehabilitation Center released this statement: “We send out our deepest condolences to the Patterson family who adopted Blue. Blue went through our 3 month board and train program, and was a favorite amongst all of the staff members and volunteers. Blue loved other dogs, and didn’t know a stranger. He never showed any aggression while at our facility, and passed his final evaluation with flying colors before being adopted out to the Patterson family.[Emphasis Added] Trainers spent yesterday morning checking over Blue’s new home and going over training with Blue’s new owner. There were 2 other dogs in Blue’s new home, who Blue immediately bonded with. We do not know what events transpired in the moments before this tragedy occurred with Blue’s owners mother, and none of us could have ever predicted this horrible event. We are devastated for the Patterson family and our thoughts and prayers go out to them.” I have placed part of the above statement in bold because it demonstrates that a behavioral evaluation is not a guarantee that a dog will be safe. Unfortunately, some shelters and rescues do not emphasize that an assessment or evaluation is only a snapshot of that dog’s behavior at that moment in time. Satisfactorily passing an “evaluation” does NOT guarantee the dog is safe, especially if they have a history of dangerous behavior involving multiple bites.

It has been alleged that the Forever Home Rehabilitation Center routinely uses remote shock collars and other aversive training techniques as part of their “rehabilitation” program. This is despite the fact that leading authorities on canine behavior such as the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, and the Pet Professional Guild all have specific position statements explicitly recommending against the use of aversives for training or behavior modification under any circumstances but especially for treating aggression, as these aversive techniques often cause aggression

Experts in the canine behavior and dog training community have been reacting to this attack.

Dr. Ilana Reisner, a veterinarian board-certified in behavioral medicine, wrote an excellent analysis on her Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ReisnerVetBehavior/posts/1355502811202275) Dr. Reisner made several key points, and I would encourage you to read her entire post; however, since not everyone uses Facebook I wanted to highlight the following:

“1. The incident itself could have been an episode of impulsive, disinhibited, affective defensive aggression, or it could have been an example of toggle-switch predatory behavior. Vigorous shaking is intended to kill the victim, but that does not always imply that the attack started as a predatory event. Aggression is common, biting is common, but the character of aggression in this episode is not at all common. [Emphasis added]

“4. The Forever Home Rehabilitation Center, which I have never visited, freely posts pictures of its use of remote shock collars and prong/pinch collars. The website description uses terms linked to Cesar Millan, such as “rehabilitation”, “our pack”, “balanced”, and “calm, relaxed”. Without knowing more about the details of their dog management and training, it is reasonable to assume that they train with a generous amount of punishment through shock and perhaps flooding, two of Millan’s well-known tools. Such handling is associated with defensive aggression, fear, arousal, stress and learned helplessness. Blue’s experience at the Center, which might have included long-term suppression (through shock or other corrections) might have contributed to the attack. Three months is certainly long enough to alter brain chemistry in a predisposed individual. [Emphasis added]

5. In my opinion and experience, it may be unrealistic or just impossible to “rehabilitate” all aggressive dogs to the point of “calm, relaxed” behavior. This is a euphemism for learned helplessness or being shut down. Even shut down dogs can be switched back on.” [Emphasis added]

Temperament testing – whatever that means for each facility or rescue – cannot prevent or predict explosive, disinhibited aggression. Unfortunate, but true. It can’t reliably predict even inhibited, “appropriate” aggression such as one-bite resource guarding in the long-term. [Emphasis added]

I believe the shock collar training and “rehabilitation” might have contributed to the behavior. The training methods apparently used in such facilities are likely to do harm. However, I do not believe the attack resulted from the removal of the shock collar. It might not have interrupted the attack even if it was still on. [Emphasis added]

Lisa Mullinax of 4Paws University has posted an excellent article on her blog entitled Bad Rescue Hurts Dogs < http://www.growlsnarlsnap.com/single-post/2017/06/05/BAD-RESCUE-HURTS-DOGS >. I completely agree with t her article and would encourage you to read it in its entirety, especially if you are part of a shelter or rescue. The gist of Lisa’s article is that not all rescues and shelters are as knowledgeable about canine behavior as they would have you believe, and as a result, they end up placing dangerous dogs in inappropriate homes.

In her article The Perils of Placing Marginal Dogs Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC) Trish McMillan Loehr discusses her philosophy that “…that shelters should be where people come to get the best dogs, not to become expert trainers or to have their bank accounts drained.” < https://summer2016.iaabcjournal.org/the-perils-of-placing-marginal-dogs/ >

Almost every canine professional I know has a horror story to tell, in some cases many more than one, about the placement of a dangerous dog with severe aggression issues. Sadly, when this occurs, those adopters are unlikely to seek out a rescue dog again. That hurts those dogs without behavioral issues and shelters and rescues that are doing things well and trying to find forever homes for those dogs.

In conclusion, please understand that not all dangerous dogs can be rehabilitated and made safe. Shelters and rescues need to be responsible members of the community in which they rescue and rehome dogs and should err on the side of safety. If a shelter or rescue has knowledge to suggest that there is any probability of a dog being dangerous, then they should be prepared to accept full legal and financial responsibility for placing a dog that they knew was dangerous or suspected might be dangerous.

______________________________________________________________________________

Recommended Resources

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

Dog Behavior – Dog Bite Fatalities & Dog Bites – Parts 1, 2, and 3http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/08/15/dog-behavior-dog-bite-fatalities-dog-bites-parts-1-and-2/

Dog Bites – Dr. Sophia Yin – Canine Bite Levelshttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/01/17/dog-bites-dr-sophia-yin-canine-bite-levels/

Reward Based Training versus Aversiveshttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/04/25/dog-training-reward-based-training-versus-aversives/

Help! My Dog is Aggressive, Reactive, Fearful, Anxious, etc. – What do I do?http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/04/03/help-my-dog-is-aggressive-reactive-fearful-anxious-etc-what-do-i-do/

Tikken – Vaccines, Aggression & Homeopathyhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2014/10/06/complementary-medicine-tikken-vaccines-aggression-homeopathy/

Adopting A Pet – Finding the Right Dog for You and Your Familyhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/01/16/adopting-a-pet-finding-the-right-dog-for-you-and-your-family/

 

Other websites, blogs and Facebook

Woman in her 90s dies after Pit Bull attack in Virginia Beachhttp://www.13newsnow.com/news/local/mycity/virginia-beach/woman-in-her-90s-dies-after-pit-bull-attack-in-virginia-beach/444861256

Was It Just a Little Bite or More? Evaluating Bite Levels in Dogs – https://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/was-it-just-a-little-bite-or-more-evaluating-bite-levels-in-dogs/

Dr. Ian Dunbar’s Dog Bite Scale (Official Authorized Version) – http://www.dogtalk.com/BiteAssessmentScalesDunbarDTMRoss.pdf

Bad Rescue Hurts Dogshttp://www.growlsnarlsnap.com/single-post/2017/06/05/BAD-RESCUE-HURTS-DOGS

Dr. Ilana Reisner on June 1st Dog Attack in Virginia Beach, FLhttps://www.facebook.com/ReisnerVetBehavior/posts/1355502811202275

The Perils of Placing Marginal Dogshttps://summer2016.iaabcjournal.org/the-perils-of-placing-marginal-dogs/

Rescue Decisions: The Dog, or the Community?https://paws4udogs.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/rescue-decisions-the-dog-or-the-community/

Rescue Group Best Practices Guidehttp://www.animalsheltering.org/sites/default/files/content/rescue-best-practice-guide.pdf

2015 American Animal Hospital Association Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines – https://www.aaha.org/professional/resources/behavior_management_guidelines.aspx

The Guiding Principles of the Pet Professional Guild – http://www.petprofessionalguild.com/PPGs-Guiding-Principles

The Pet Professional Guild Position Statement on the Use of Pet Correction Devices – http://www.petprofessionalguild.com/Equipment-Used-for-the-Management-Training-and-Care-of-Pets

The Pet Professional Guild Position Statement on the Use of Choke and Prong Collars – http://www.petprofessionalguild.com/chokeandprongcollarpositionstatement/

The Pet Professional Guild Position Statement on the Use of Shock In Animal Training – http://www.petprofessionalguild.com/shockcollars/

The Pet Professional Guild Position Statement on the Use of Dominance Theory in Animal Training – http://www.petprofessionalguild.com/DominanceTheoryPositionStatement/

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) Position Statement on the Use of Dominance Theory in Behavior Modification of Animals – https://avsab.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Dominance_Position_Statement_download-10-3-14.pdf

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) Position Statement on The Use of Punishment for Behavior Modification in Animals – https://avsab.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Punishment_Position_Statement-download_-_10-6-14.pdf

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

<CLICK ON THE TITLE TO LISTEN TO THE SHOW>

Podcast – Dog Bites and Fatalities with Janis Bradley (Updated 15AUG16)

Yes! A Trend Towards Kinder and Gentler Professional Pet Care – Green Acres Kennel Shop’s “Pet-Friendly” Philosophy

Yes! A Trend Towards Kinder and Gentler Professional Pet Care – The Pet Professional Guild and Force-Free Pet Care with Niki Tudge

Yes! A Trend Towards Kinder and Gentler Professional Pet Care – Fear-Free Veterinary Visits with Dr. Dave Cloutier from Veazie Veterinary Clinic

Pet Behavior, Vets & The AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines – Dr. Dave Cloutier – Veazie Veterinary Clinic

Finding the Right Dog for You and Your Family – Part 1

Finding the Right Dog for You and Your Family – Part 2

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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.

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