Help! My Dog is Aggressive, Reactive, Fearful, Anxious, etc. – What do I do?

< A version of this article was published in the April 2017 issue of Downeast Dog News>

< a short link to this article – http://bit.ly/HelpDogAggx >

< Updated 11NOV21 >

 

Step one – Know that you are not alone. I receive several calls per week from people that are concerned about how their dog is behaving towards them, other people, other dogs, other animals, or maybe some combination of things. Aggression, reactivity, fear, and anxiety are all on a continuum of behaviors and the primary reason I see dogs for behavior consultations. Fear is almost always a direct cause or a major factor in aggression and reactivity. Previously in this column, I have discussed the 2015 American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines which reported that “Behavioral problems affect more dogs and cats than any other medical condition and are one of the most common causes of euthanasia, relinquishment, or abandonment of pets.” You are not alone.

Step two – Act Now!! Accept that behavioral issues will not go away on their own nor will your dog outgrow them. Commit to act NOW! Understand that these matters are every bit as traumatic to your dog as they are to you. You are both suffering. Delaying action is only likely to make the resolution of these issues harder and in all probability take longer.

Step three – Learn to recognize the signs of fear in your dog and act to remove them from fearful situations. Most dogs communicate when they become nervous and afraid through their body language long before they vocalize or act. If you know these signs, you can get your dog out of a situation that will cause them to become more anxious. < FMI – How Can I Tell When My Dog Is Anxious or Fearful?http://bit.ly/DogsSignsofFear > Dog Trainer Angelica Steinker Addresses why this is so important in her article Why Counterconditioning “Doesn’t Work. She explains that counterconditioning protocols typically fail due to user error. Due to ignorance and/or impatience, the people implementing the protocol often neglect to consider the keys to a successful counterconditioning protocol that Steinker outlines in her article. Her core message is the dog being counter conditioned MUST feel safe and relaxed. <FMIhttps://barksfromtheguild.com/2021/11/11/why-counterconditioning-doesnt-work/? >

Step four – Stop the use of force, fear, and pain. Immediately stop the use of any and all aversives for the management and training of your dog. Common aversives include but are not limited to; prong, pinch, choke, or shock collars, alpha rolls, squirt bottles, and the entire dominance/alpha construct. Aversives impair our dog’s ability to learn, damage the human-dog bond and trust, and often result in an emotional outburst resulting in the same behavior problems you wish to resolve. For these reasons, the AAHA guidelines,  The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB), and the Pet Professional Guild (PPG) categorically oppose the use of aversive techniques for the training and husbandry of a dog. < FMI – Dog Training – Reward Based Training versus Aversiveshttp://bit.ly/RewardVSAversive >

Step five – Manage Your Dog and Their Environment to Prevent the Behavior – If you have a dog that could potentially injure any other living thing, you have a moral and legal responsibility to prevent that from happening. It is also essential to understand that a dog that continues to behave aggressively does so because they are being rewarded for that behavior. While you may not be intentionally rewarding reactivity and aggression, the environment or the dogs own internal reward mechanisms can act as a reinforcer. Every time this behavior is rewarded it becomes stronger and more likely.  < FMI – Management of An Aggressive, Fearful or Reactive Doghttp://bit.ly/BhxManagement >

Step six – Talk to your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist. If you have not already done so, make an appointment with your veterinarian to have a detailed discussion about your dog’s behavioral issues. Aggression can be caused by many medical problems. Pain, neurological disorders, tumors, thyroid disease, and other hormone-related problems, and even an adverse reaction to a vaccine can cause aggression. Any medical issues related to your dog’s behavior need to be identified and resolved if you wish the behavior to change.

A Veterinary Behaviorist is a veterinarian who has completed additional education and a residency specializing in animal behavior. These specialists have a comprehensive understanding of your animal. They are uniquely qualified to diagnose and treat all aspects of your pets, physical and mental health. Dr. Christine Calder is the only Veterinary Behaviorist practicing in Maine. I have included her contact information below as well as a link to an interview with her on my radio show/podcast, The Woof Meow Show.

Contact Info for Dr. Calder

Business: Calder Veterinary Behavior Services
Phone: (207) 298-4375
Email: reception@caldervbs.com
Websitewww.caldervbs.com
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/Christine-Calder-DVM-DACVB-Veterinary-Behaviorist-104864721012254/

More info on Dr. Calder from the January 2020 issue of Downeast Dog Newshttps://downeastdognews.villagesoup.com/p/what-is-a-veterinary-behaviorist/1846547

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

Step seven – Seek help from a behavior professional. If your veterinarian determines that your dog’s behavioral issues are not the result of a medical problem, seek the advice of a professional animal behavior specialist, someone who understands canine behavior, ethology and behavior modification. Do not try to resolve this issue on your own or based on what someone tells you on Facebook. It is unlikely that you will be successful and you may make the problem worse and more difficult to resolve.

Behavior modification is not the same as dog training. Dog training is about teaching your dog to offer a particular action when given a cue. Behavior modification is about changing your dog’s emotional response to a stimulus. Aggression and reactivity are emotional responses typically based on fear or anger. Making your dog sit when a stranger approaches you and your dog is unlikely to make your dog less afraid or angry, but in fact, may make your dog feel more threatened. Behavior modification is about helping your dog develop a positive emotional response instead of barking, growling, lunging, or cowering.

The term “behaviorist” is often misused today. The only individuals that should be identifying themselves as a behaviorist are veterinarians who have been credentialed by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (DACVB) and applied animal behaviorists credentialed by the Animal Behavior Society (ABS). Beware of rescue and shelter workers and dog trainers that claim to be a “behaviorist” as it is unlikely that they are credentialed by the DACVB or the ABS. Below I discuss the types of qualifications that I recommend you look for when seeking behavioral help for you and your dog, and the organizations that grant those credentials.

There are three levels of professionals that specialize in assisting pets with behavioral problems.   At the first level, you will find Certified Dog Behavior Consultants (CDBC) and Associate Certified Dog Behavior Consultants (ACDBC) credentialed by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) and Professional Canine Behavior Consultants (PCBC) accredited by Pet Professional Accreditation Board (PPAB). These individuals are typically dog trainers who have completed additional education specific to behavioral disorders, have passed an exam, and maintain continuing education regularly. They are qualified to work with most behavior problems. These individuals are the ones that you will most likely find in your community.

At the next level are Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAAB) and Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (ACAAB) accredited by the Animal Behavior Society (ABS). These behaviorists can work with more difficult behavior problems than the behavior consultants identified above.

At the top level are Diplomats of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (DACVB). These behaviorists are veterinarians with advanced training in behavior. They are skilled in dealing with the most dangerous behavior problems using both behavior modification therapy and medications.

Another place you may find help is from a veterinarian that is a member of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB). This organization is made up of veterinarians and persons holding a Ph.D. in animal behavior or a related field. However, unlike the DACVB, ABS, IAABC, and PAAB, the AVSAB does NOT “…confer upon its members any qualifications or presuppose a level of expertise in the field of animal behavior.” The four other organizations listed above due requiring credentialed members to pass an exam and to maintain continuing education in their field. You can find links to all four of these organizations below.

Step eight – Be patient. While an undesirable behavior such as reactivity towards strangers can be created in a single event, it will likely take a significant amount of time and effort to change your dog’s behavior. Our brains and our dog’s brains work much the same. If we are exposed to something we perceive as dangerous or frightening, we are genetically pre-programmed to remember that for life. It is all about our instinctual motivation to survive. To successfully reprogram the brain can take weeks and even months of carefully planned desensitization and counterconditioning. It is human nature, especially in today’s culture to be impatient and to want instant results. That is not how behavior modification works. Be patient.

It can be very frustrating when our dog behaves anxiously or aggressively, or anywhere between these two emotional responses. Dog trainer Nancy Tanner posted an article on her blog entitled the misunderstanding of time. I encourage you to read it, and then place it somewhere you can find it quickly so that you can reread it anytime you are feeling frustrated or become impatient with your dog. < FMI – 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/ >

Step nine – Take care of yourself. Living with a reactive or aggressive dog is not easy and can be emotionally draining. The blog post The emotional toll of a reactive dog by Jay Gurden at Dogs Today offers some insight on taking care of yourself as you care for your dog. < FMI – Shared Article – The emotional toll of a reactive dog by Jay Gurden-Dogs Todayhttp://bit.ly/SharedGurenEmotional. >

I also recommend that you consider reading the book The Official Guide To Living With DINOS by Jessica Dolce. The acronym DINOS refers to Dogs In Need Of Space, which is precisely what you have when you share your life with an aggressive, reactive or fearful dog. The book is not a replacement for working with a canine behavior professional but offers constructive advice on how to live with a reactive dog. < FMI – Dogs In Need of Spacehttps://dogsinneedofspace.com/ >


How Can ForceFreePets Help?

I am not currently offering the seminar noted below due to COVID-19 restrictions.

ForceFreePets offers a Help! My Dog is Aggressive, Reactive, Fearful, Anxious, etc. seminar every 4 to 8 weeks. You can learn more about the next scheduled seminar at Upcoming Events page on Bloghttp://bit.ly/Blog-UpcomingEvents.

For more information on Don’s behavior counseling services,  945-684, x103 or go to – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/behavior-counseling


Recommended Resources

References

2015 AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelineshttps://www.aaha.org/globalassets/02-guidelines/behavior-management/2015_aaha_canine_and_feline_behavior_management_guidelines_final.pdf

AVSAB Humane Dog Training Position Statementhttps://avsab.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/AVSAB-Humane-Dog-Training-Position-Statement-2021.pdf

PPG Guiding Principleshttps://www.petprofessionalguild.com/Guiding-Principles

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

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

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

Shared Blog Post – Why Counterconditioning “Doesn’t Work” or How to Help Ensure Counterconditioning Will Workhttps://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2021/11/11/shared-blog-post-why-counterconditioning-doesnt-work-or-how-to-help-ensure-counterconditioning-will-work/

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

Introduction to Canine Communication http://bit.ly/CanineComm

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

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

Canine Behavior – Myths and Facts – Part 1, Where do we get our knowledge about dogs? – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/05/04/canine-behavior-myths-and-facts-part-1-where-do-we-get-our-knowledge-about-dogs/

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

The Unintended Consequences of Shock Collars – http://bit.ly/ShockCollars

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

Important Position Statements Related to Animal Welfare & Care in the USA by Leading Organizations – https://bit.ly/Pos_HumaneTraining

What’s Shocking about Shock? – What Science Tells Us About the Use of Shock in Dog Training – PPG BARKS from the Guild – July 2019http://bit.ly/ShockBARK-JUL2019

Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Started Training Dogs – Gus, the Dominance Myth, An Alpha Roll, and a Damaged Relationship – WWM-SEP2018 http://bit.ly/Things-Gus-Dominance

Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Selected My First Dog – Aversives are Unnecessary and Counter-Productive When Training A Dog – Part 1 – WWM-JAN2019http://bit.ly/Things-Aversives-1

Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Selected My First Dog – Aversives are Unnecessary and Counter-Productive When Training A Dog – Part 2 – WWM-FEB2019 –  http://bit.ly/Things-Aversives-2

Choke Collar Pathology – an excellent blog post from dog trainer Daniel Antolec on the dangers of using a choke collar on a dog. – http://ppgworldservices.com/2017/06/13/choke-collar-pathology/

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

Handouts to Download

Dr. Sophia Yin – Body Language of Fear in Dogs – http://info.drsophiayin.com/free-poster-on-body-language-in-dogs

Dr. Sophia Yin – How To Greet A Dog and What to Avoid – https://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/preventing-dog-bites-by-learning-to-greet-dogs-properly/

Dr. Sophia Yin – Canine Bite Levelshttp://info.drsophiayin.com/download-the-bite-levels-poster

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

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

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

________________________________________________________________________
Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( greenacreskennel.com ) in Bangor, Maine, where he has been helping people with their pets since 1995. He is also the founder of ForceFreePets.com, an online educational resource for people with dogs and cats. Don 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 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 and The Shock-Free Coalition ( shockfree.org ). 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://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.

©11NOV21, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved
< Click for Copyright and Use Policy >

Shared Blog Post – Are You Failing Your Patients in This Major Way?

This post appeared on the blog of Dr. Andy Roark. Written by, veterinarian Dawn Crandell, her opening paragraph reads “There needs to be a shift in veterinary medicine, and it can’t happen too soon.  It isn’t about the medicine.  It is about the way we view our patients.  And it is all about behavior.” While this post is geared specifically towards veterinarians and their staffs, it is applicable to any of us in the pet care services industry as well as pet owners.

Dr. Crandell concludes her post by stating “The pervasive silent influence of the dominance mindset is getting in the way of us doing our jobs, of doing the best for our patients, of being the kind and caring veterinarians our youthful selves envisioned when we submitted our application to veterinary college.  Let’s be a collective voice and kick dominance to the curb.  Maya Angelou wisely says do the best you can until you know better.  Once you know better, do better.  When I graduated more than two and a half decades ago, we did not know better.  Now we do. Let’s all of us do better.”

It is so nice to see the world coming around and moving forward with a new, informed attitude on pet behavior.

If you are a pet care professional (veterinarian, vet tech, vet assistant, dog trainer, pet care technician, groomer, or shelter worker), read this article so you can do the best possible for the pets in your care.

If you are a pet parent, read this article so that you know what to look for and what to avoid in pet care professionals. – http://www.drandyroark.com/this-one-major-way-we-are-failing-our-patients/

Recommended Resources

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

Pet Behavior and Wellness – Pet Behavior as an Essential Component to Holistic Wellnesshttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/10/28/pet-behavior-and-wellness-pet-behavior-as-an-essential-component-to-holistic-wellness/

Dog Training – How science and reward-based training have pulled dog training out of the dark ages – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/04/21/dog-training-how-science-and-reward-based-training-have-pulled-dog-training-out-of-the-dark-ages/

A Rescue Dogs Perspective on Dog Training – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/01/04/dog-training-a-rescue-dogs-perspective/

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

Dog Behavior – Dominance: Reality or Myth – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/06/20/dog-behavior-dominance-reality-or-myth/

Dog Training: A Holistic Approach to Dog Training (Parts 1 & 2) – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/02/01/dogs-dog-training-a-holistic-approach-to-dog-training-parts-1-2/

Dog Training – The Four Essentials For A Great Dog – Part 1 – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/02/02/dog-training-the-four-essentials-for-a-great-dog-part-1-knowledge-relationship-management-training/

Dog Training – The Four Essentials For A Great Dog – Part 2 – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/02/28/dog-training-the-four-essentials-for-a-great-dog-part-2/

Dog Training – What Is Clicker Training? – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2007/02/01/dog-training-what-is-clicker-training/

Green Acres Kennel Shop Position Statement on Pet-Friendly, Force-Free Pet Care –  http://www.greenacreskennel.com/boarding/what-is-pet-friendly

Green Acres Kennel Shop Position Statement on the Use of Dominance and Punishment for the Training and Behavior Modification of Dogs – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/training/position-on-the-use-of-dominance-and-punishment-for-the-training-and-behavior-modification-of-dogs

The Unintended Consequences of Shock Collars – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2013/08/05/dogs-the-unintended-consequences-of-shock-collar/

 

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

<Click on the title to listen to the show>

Canine Behavior: Myths and Facts

The Four Essentials to A Great Dog  

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

Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate with special guest host Dr. Mark Hanks – part 2

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

The Dominance and Alpha Myth

BOOKS

Dog Behavior

On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals, Turid Rugaas, Dogwise Publishing, 2006, An excellent book on understanding a dog’s body language. Includes descriptions of how you can use your own body language to better communicate with your dog.

Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You A Better Friend to Your Pet, John Bradshaw, Basic Books, 2011,

The Other End of the Leash – Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs,Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D, Ballantine Books, 2002, An information-packed, immensely readable book. In it you will learn how to have a better relationship with your dog through better communications. Dr. McConnell clearly explains the manners in which dogs and their people communicate.

For the Love of A Dog Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend, Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D, Ballantine Books, 2005, 2006, A superb review of emotions in both dogs and their people and how they bring us together and can rip us apart. Once again Dr. McConnell helps us to better understand our dogs and in doing so have the best possible relationship with them.

Dogs: A new Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior and Evolution, Raymond and Lorna Coppinger, University of Chicago Press, 2001, An evolutionary biologist and dog lover, Coppinger outlines the likely process which resulted in the longstanding canine-human relationship.

Stress in Dogs, Martina Scholz and Clarissa von Reinhardt, Dogwise Publishing, 2007, This book outlines the physiology of stress in dogs, signs of stress, and how to make your dog’s life less stressful. It emphasizes that more activity and involvement in dog sports is often not the answer to reducing stress in dogs but can be a major contributing factor. This book is a must read for anyone with an anxious or hyper dog.

The Culture Clash, Jean Donaldson, James & Kenneth Publishers, 2005. An exciting book by an outstanding dog trainer and one of Don’s favorites. Donaldson makes a powerful case for thinking in terms of behavior modification rather than the older and more anthropomorphic dominance models of dog training. Includes an excellent section on operant conditioning. Winner of the Dog Writer Association of America’s “Best Behavior Book” award for 1997.

Dog Training – Basic

The Power of Positive Dog Training, Pat Miller, Howell Book House, 2001. I have been reading Pat Miller’s articles in the Whole Dog Journalfor years and have loved everything she has written. She is a skilled and compassionate dog trainer who really knows how to communicate to dog owners through her writing. This book is a superb “basic dog book” for anyone with a dog, and I highly recommend it.

The Dog Whisperer, Paul Owens with Norma Eckroate, Adams Media Corp., 2007. This book emphasizes a compassionate, nonviolent approach to dog training. It offers great advice on building a relationship with your dog and shows you how to teach your dog all of the basics they need to be a great companion.

Don’t Shoot the Dog – The New Art of Teaching and Training (2ndedition), Karen Pryor, Bantam Books, 1999. A pioneering book using shaping to change behavior in animals – dogs, cats, even humans.

Cat Behavior & Training

Training Your Cat, Dr. Kersti Seksel, Hyland House Publishing, 1999. Written by an Australian veterinarian, this book is an excellent primer on cat behavior, care and training. While many people think cats cannot be trained, this book demonstrates exactly how easy training a cat can be.

 

©3DEC16, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

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

<Click to listen to podcast>

2JUL16-ENCORE-AAHA Bhx Guidelines w Dave Cloutier 400x400Sometimes the topics we discuss on the show are so important we choose to run the show again. This is one of those shows. In this encore presentation of a show that aired on March 12th,  Kate, Don and Dr. Dave Cloutier of the Veazie Veterinary Clinic discuss the American Animal Hospital Associations (AAHA) new guidelines on behavior management for dogs and cats. This groundbreaking document represents the first time that a major veterinary organization has addressed pet behavior. According to the guidelines “More dogs and cats are affected by behavioral problems than any other condition, often resulting in euthanasia, relinquishment of the patient, or chronic suffering.” Tune in and learn why behavior is so important and why a behavioral assessment should be part of every pet’s annual wellness exam.

Dr. Cloutier, Kate, and Don discuss reasons for an increase in behavior problems, and how these problems can best be addressed. Dr. Cloutier explains changes he and his colleagues have made to work towards free-free visits for their clients. We address serious behavioral problems such as separation anxiety and aggression as well as nuisance behaviors like jumping, barking, and counter surfing. We discuss how veterinarians and dog trainers can work together and why it is essential to focus on rewarding desired behaviors and removing rewards for unwanted behaviors. Lastly, we review the guidelines recommendations on refraining from using any training methods that use aversive techniques such as electronic shock collars, choke collars, prong collars, alpha-rollovers, and other things that work on the basis of fear, intimidation, force, discomfort or pain.

You can hear The Woof Meow Show on The Pulse AM620, WZON, and WKIT HD3 at 9 AM on Saturday. If you are not near a radio, listen on your computer at http://www.wzonthepulse.com or your smartphone or tablet with the free WZON 620 AM app. A podcast of the show is typically posted immediately after the show, and can be downloaded at www.woofmeowshow.com and the Apple iTunes store.

<Click to listen to podcast>

Recommended Resources

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

Dog Training – How science and reward-based training have pulled dog training out of the dark ages – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/04/21/dog-training-how-science-and-reward-based-training-have-pulled-dog-training-out-of-the-dark-ages/

A Rescue Dogs Perspective on Dog Training – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/01/04/dog-training-a-rescue-dogs-perspective/

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

Dog Behavior – Dominance: Reality or Myth – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/06/20/dog-behavior-dominance-reality-or-myth/

Dog Training: A Holistic Approach to Dog Training (Parts 1 & 2) – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/02/01/dogs-dog-training-a-holistic-approach-to-dog-training-parts-1-2/

Dog Training – The Four Essentials For A Great Dog – Part 1 – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/02/02/dog-training-the-four-essentials-for-a-great-dog-part-1-knowledge-relationship-management-training/

Dog Training – The Four Essentials For A Great Dog – Part 2 – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/02/28/dog-training-the-four-essentials-for-a-great-dog-part-2/

Dog Training – What Is Clicker Training? – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2007/02/01/dog-training-what-is-clicker-training/

Green Acres Kennel Shop Position Statement on Pet-Friendly, Force-Free Pet Care –  http://www.greenacreskennel.com/boarding/what-is-pet-friendly

Green Acres Kennel Shop Position Statement on the Use of Dominance and Punishment for the Training and Behavior Modification of Dogs – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/training/position-on-the-use-of-dominance-and-punishment-for-the-training-and-behavior-modification-of-dogs

The Unintended Consequences of Shock Collars – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2013/08/05/dogs-the-unintended-consequences-of-shock-collar/

 

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

<Click on the title to listen to the show>

2015 Dog Training Classes at Green Acres Kennel Shop

Canine Behavior: Myths and Facts

The Four Essentials to A Great Dog  

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

Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate with special guest host Dr. Mark Hanks – part 2

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

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

Managing An Aggressive, Fearful, or Reactive Dog

<A version of this article was published in Barks from the Guild, a publication of the Pet Professional Guild  on Nov. 2020, pp.29-31>

< Updated 29DEC20 >

< A short link for this page – http://bit.ly/MngAggxFear >

 

When you have a dog that is exhibiting aggressive behavior, you have a responsibility to keep yourself, your family, your pets, and your community safe. A dog that is behaving aggressively is experiencing some form of emotional stress, so it is your responsibility to identify and keep him away from the stressors that trigger the behavior while working with a professional who can help you.

#1. Get Help from an Accredited Professional As Soon As Possible

Helping change aggressive behavior is not a Do-It-Yourself project, nor is your dog likely to “grow out of it.”

Aggression is an emotional response. That response could be due to fear, anger, or frustration and may be intensified by chemical imbalances in the brain.

Working with a dog trainer and teaching your dog behaviors like SIT, LEAVE IT, and more are extremely unlikely to change how your dog feels.

As such, I recommend you immediately seek help from a Veterinary Behaviorist, Applied Animal Behaviorist, or credentialed behavior consultant (PCBC or CDBC). The earlier you get professional help for your dog, the sooner you can relieve his suffering and the greater probability you have of changing their aggressive behavior.

Resolving this behavior will very likely require behavior modification and, potentially, medication as well. A Veterinary Behaviorist can provide you with both.  FMI –  http://bit.ly/WWM-Trainer-Behaviorist, http://bit.ly/HumanePetPros,  https://www.petprofessionalguild.com/Zip-Code-Search

#2. Ensure Safety

Preventing your dog from hurting you, another person, another animal, or themselves must be your priority.

  • Please keep your dog physically isolated from people or animals that could become the target of their aggression.

This may mean keeping him crated, preferably in another room, or closed/locked in another room when you have guests in your home.

  • When the dog is outside of your home, make sure that you can safely handle him. When he is outside of your home and in an unfenced area, he should be on a regular 6ft leash.

Please do not use a Flexi or retractable leash, as they do not provide adequate control. The leash should be securely attached to a front-connect harness.

  • Consider using a muzzle if you can do so safely. It is essential to gently condition your dog to wear a muzzle before using it. Seek the advice of a trained professional in helping you accomplish this task.

Muzzles can be a useful management tool; however, in my experience:

1) a determined dog can get out of any muzzle;
2) putting on the muzzle can cause the dog stress;
3) muzzling your dog and having them around others is tantamount to advertising that you have an aggressive dog and thus may change the people’s behavior which can cause a reaction by the dog;
4) a muzzle may make the dog more fearful; and
5.) A muzzle can limit your dog’s ability to breathe correctly, causing additional distress.

A muzzle is, at best, a temporary solution and does nothing to address the source of the dog’s behavior or his emotional state.

  • Do NOT leave your dog outside, unattended. Being tied-out can be very stressful to a dog and can be a frequent cause of fear aggression.

When a dog is tied up, he knows that he cannot flee or fight, which are both typical reactions a dog would pursue if afraid. Even if you have a fenced yard, I recommend you remain with your dog anytime that he is in the yard, as no fence can be guaranteed to be 100% secure.

  • If your dog does not need to go with you, leave him at home.

A dog that is reactive while in the car can be a threat to your safety and that of others. If he becomes reactive wherever you take them, you may make yourself unwelcome, and you are probably making him more likely to react in the future too.

#3. Prevent the Behavior from Getting Worse

  • This is a given but I will mention it anyway. Refrain from using any training and management tools that have the potential to cause your dog distress, discomfort, or pain. This includes alpha rollovers, shock collars, choke collars, prong collars, citronella collars, anti-bark collars, spray bottles, or anything else that has the potential to cause your dog distress, discomfort, or pain.
  • Avoid placing your dog in situations where there is a potential for him to display the behavior of concern. Preventing him from acting aggressively is essential to ending this behavior.

Each time the dog has the chance to engage in the behavior, it can make it more likely to occur again and to increase in intensity. Events like this can affect the chemistry and anatomy of the brain, making future reactions more likely.

  • Limit movement when your dog reacts. An activity can increase arousal, and this can increase the probability of aggression and reactivity.

If your dog is barking and running back and forth from window to window, either in your home or car, try to restrict movement either with a crate, a leash or if in the car, a seat belt.

If your dog chases people or other animals along your fence line, keep him on a 6ft leash.

  • Carefully consider safety issues and the possibility of making your dog’s behavior worse if you walk him away from home.

If you cannot walk your dog safely or if you continue to expose him to his triggers, you are better off staying at home. If you do take him for walks, choose locations and times when you are least likely to encounter his triggers.

When walking a dog with reactivity/aggression issues, you must be constantly aware of your environment. It is not a time to be daydreaming, thinking about tomorrow’s schedule, chatting on your cell phone, conversing with a friend walking with you, or listening to music.

Alternatively, you can find other ways to provide your dog with physical and mental stimulation, such as playing in the yard and feeding him with a Kong.

  • If your dog is aggressive towards people or dogs, you need to keep your dog away from places where people and dogs congregate. Dogs with aggression issues will not get better if you take them places like; pet stores, dog parks, dog events, charitable walks, or any site where people and dogs gather.
  • Prepare people before allowing them to interact with your dog, and do not force your dog to interact. Remember, it is not just your dog’s behavior that will determine the result of a dog/human interaction, but also the actions of the person.

Do your best to teach people that come to your home how to interact with your dog. Providing them with a copy of Dr. Sophia Yin’s How to Greet A Dog (And What to Avoid) handout is an excellent first step FMIhttp://bit.ly/YinHow2Greet.

Allow the dog to decide if he wants to interact with people, and if he declines, allow him do so. You need to be especially prepared if you have a breed that some people readily prejudge. If someone is anxious around your dog, it will likely make you and your dog nervous as well.

  • Be especially cautious in these situations:
    • whenever your dog is around large gatherings of people. Large groups are likely to increase his excitement/anxiety/fear/frustration, which increases the probability of an inappropriate response.
    • Anytime your dog is around children. Most children do not understand how to behave around dogs. Children and dogs ALWAYS need adult supervision.
  • NEVER punish your dog or get mad at them for growling. While a dog’s growl can be upsetting and disheartening to us, it also serves the beneficial purpose of alerting us to the fact that the dog is feeling threatened or uncomfortable.

It is the dog’s way of saying, “If something in this situation does not change, I may feel threatened enough to bite.” If your dog growls, calmly remove them from the situation. with as little fanfare and emotion as possible. FMIhttp://bit.ly/DogGrowls

  • Consider how your emotions and those of others may be affecting your dog. Dogs are very adept at reading the emotions of people through a person’s body language and scent, which may change how the dog reacts to them and/or you.

Since our emotions are always part of the dog’s environment, any anxiety and frustration we, or others, feel may cause our dog to become more anxious.

If your dog detects someone is angry, it may cause them to become angry or afraid. He will not inherently know why a person is angry or scared, but may react out of self-preservation.

If you are having difficulties with your emotional response, it may be beneficial for you to seek assistance. Your dog may also benefit from seeing a veterinary behaviorist that can help him temper their emotions.

#4. Reducing Your Dog’s Stress

  • Learn how stress affects your dog’s behavior. Stress, either the detrimental kind, distress, or the beneficial type, eustress, is frequently a component in undesirable behavior for people and animals.

Our bodies react very similarly when experiencing distress or eustress, producing hormones, and other chemicals that make us more likely to be reactive and irritable.  People often think of adverse events or memories of adverse events as being the cause of stress.

Even a particular scent may cause your dog distress and trigger an emotional response such as fear or anger. A scent can affect our dogs and us because smells have a more direct link to memory and emotion than any of our other senses. Knowing about the dog’s powerful sense of smell and the role of smell in emotional memories, we must consider scent when looking for a potential trigger for a reactive dog. I have worked with clients where cigarette smoke, deodorant, and cologne have triggered reactive behavior.

Even things our dog enjoys, such as playing fetch, can also cause stress.  When something our dog likes is allowed to the extreme, reactive behavior can become more likely. FMIhttp://bit.ly/Canine-Stress

  • Minimize Unpredictability and Be Consistent. Unpredictability in our behavior can be a significant stressor for our dogs. As a family, you all need to commit to working together and using the same training approach with your dog.

Getting a different response from each of you only stresses the dog more. You all need to have consistent expectations, but they do need to be reasonable.

  • Work with an accredited professional to consider options for helping reduce your dog’s stress. A veterinary behaviorist may recommend prescription medications and non-prescription products that may help alleviate your dog’s anxiety. Holistic veterinarians that practice Chinese medicine and homeopathy may also help as may other types of credentialed practitioners.

#5. Document Your Dogs Behavior

  • Keep A Daily Journal. Behavioral issues are seldom straightforward. However, if you keep a detailed journal of what happened and when, your chosen professional will be better equipped to help you help your dog.

A journal has the added benefit of allowing you to see improvements in your dog, which is positive reinforcement for you continuing to follow the program you are using.  FMIhttp://bit.ly/BHXDailyJournal.

#6. Train Your Dog

Training your dog to offer specific behaviors when cued will not necessarily change his emotional state. However, teaching him certain behaviors may make him easier to manage, especially if you can intervene well before he starts reacting.

Training your dog is also a great way to build and maintain trust, provided you use only rewards and do not use any aversives.

If you are unsure about how to train, find a professional, credentialed dog trainer (PCT, CPDT-KA). FMIhttp://bit.ly/HumanePetPros & https://www.petprofessionalguild.com/Zip-Code-Search

 

Recommended Resources

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

Do I Need A Dog Trainer or a “Behaviorist”http://bit.ly/WWM-Trainer-Behaviorist

Where Can I Find A Humane and Ethical Pet Care Professional?https://bit.ly/HumanePetPros

How To Greet A Dog and What to Avoid – Dr. Sophia Yinhttp://bit.ly/YinHow2Greet

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

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

Keeping A Daily Journalhttp://bit.ly/BHXDailyJournal

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

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

Introduction to Canine Communication –http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/04/05/dog-training-introduction-to-canine-communication/

The Body Language of Fear in Dogs (Dr. Sophia Yin)http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/04/04/body-language-of-fear-in-dogs-dr-sophia-yin/

Dominance: Reality or Myth –http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/06/20/dog-behavior-dominance-reality-or-myth/

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

The emotional toll of a reactive dog by Jay Gurden-Dogs Todayhttp://bit.ly/SharedGurenEmotional

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

Other Resources

Dog Training by Kikopup . (2013). Teach your dog to wear a muzzle [Video File]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJTucFnmAbw

Pet Professional Guild: Find an Experthttps://www.petprofessionalguild.com/Zip-Code-Search

Muzzle Up Project. (n.d.). Muzzle Traininghttps://muzzleupproject.com/muzzle-training/

Yin, S. (2011). Preventing Dog Bites by Learning to Greet Dogs Properlyhttps://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/preventing-dog-bites-by-learning-to-greet-dogs-properly/

Books

Dogs In Need of Spacehttps://dogsinneedofspace.com/

________________________________________________________________________
Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( greenacreskennel.com ) in Bangor, Maine, where he has been helping people with their pets since 1995. He is also the founder of ForceFreePets.com, an online educational resource for people with dogs and cats. Don 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 is a member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG). Don is committed to PPG’s Guiding Principles and the Pain-Free, Force-Free, and Fear-Free training, management, and care of all pets. He serves on the PPG Steering Committee and Advocacy Committee and is the Chair of The Shock-Free Coalition ( shockfree.org ). 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://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.

©2020, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Canine Body Language – How To Greet A Dog and What to Avoid – Dr. Sophia Yin

This poster from Dr. Sophia Yin illustrates how to greet dog and how not to greet a dog. If you have a dog that is shy or reactive towards people you and they should familiarize yourself with the material in this poster. You can download your own copy of the poster from Dr. Yin’s website at https://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/preventing-dog-bites-by-learning-to-greet-dogs-properly/

How to Greet A Dog and What to Avoid

Body Language of Fear in Dogs – Dr. Sophia Yin

This poster from Dr. Sophia Yin illustrates how a dog may use it’s body to signal they are afraid. You can download your own copy of the poster from Dr. Yin’s website at http://info.drsophiayin.com/free-poster-on-body-language-in-dogs

Body Language of Fear in Dogs

Dog Behavior – Crate Habituation to Reduce Anxiety

< Last updated 22MAY20 >

< Short Link to this page – http://bit.ly/CrateHabituation >

Dogs are den animals and often find security and comfort in a den-like space such as a crate, under a table, or in some other small, confining area. For a crate to offer your dog security, it must be “den-like.” Crates often work best when they are not a wire cage, but are one of the airline-style crates that are plastic or fiberglass. These crates are usually enclosed on all sides except for a door at the front, making them more like a natural den, which in the wild would typically be a hole in the ground.

If you have a wire crate, you can convert it into a den by placing a board on top of it to make it more den-like. Make sure the board extends a couple of inches beyond both sides of the crate so you can hang a blanket over the board to close in the sides. You do not want the dog to be able to pull the blanket into the crate. Many wire crates have a pan at the bottom, which can make noise and move around unexpectedly, which some dogs may find unsettling. You may wish to remove the pan or place an old towel or blanket over the tray, but make sure that your dog will not rip it apart and ingest it.

A crate should be large enough for your dog to sit up, lie down, and turn around comfortably. However, if still housetraining, the dog should NOT have enough room to sleep in one corner and eliminate in another part of the crate.

Some beds are made explicitly for dog crates. Still, I do not recommend them for dogs with anxiety issues, as they will often chew and possibly ingest items like this when left in the crate. Until you know your dog will do well in the crate and is housetrained, I would recommend you do NOT use any bedding material.

Place the crate in a quiet area, but where your dog can still see and hear you. Remember, dogs are social animals and want to be with the rest of the family. They do not like feeling isolated. Putting the crate in your bedroom at night will help to strengthen the bond between you and your dog by allowing him to sleep near you.

Do not abuse the use of the crate. We want the dog to like the crate, so NEVER use it for punishment. If your dog spends a significant amount of time in a crate, it will also need a substantial amount of time to exercise and play.

Many dogs will find a den-like space such as under a desk or an end table like shown above.

If Your Dog Is Already Acting Negatively Towards the Crate

Some dogs have already had a bad experience in a crate and will panic if you try to put them in a crate. In this case, we need to go slower and start with something crate-like, but different. What I am going to suggest will NOT confine the dog; thus, active management is mandatory, but will hopefully allow them to acclimate gradually to a crate-like environment.

Find a small table; a card table can work nicely for most size dogs, and start practicing the following exercises:

  1. Toss a treat or a favorite toy under the table, so your dog goes underneath to investigate. Do this a couple of times a day for several days.
  2. Start feeding your dog his meals under the table. Place the dish near the front of the table, so the dog barely has to put his head in, to Over several meals, as the dog becomes more comfortable, start putting the dish further back under the table.
  3. Once the dog is happily eating and spending time under the table, get an old blanket or some pieces of cardboard and cover two sides of the table so that it is now semi-enclosed. The front and back should still be open. Continue the exercises above with this newly configured table, recognizing that you may need to start slowly to get your dog comfortable.
  4. When the dog is happily spending time under the table with two sides enclosed, enclose the back of the table and continue the exercises you started above. After the dog is comfortable in this setting, try introducing a crate, as noted below.

Introducing the dog to the crate

  1. Remove the door to the crate and let your dog explore it. Toss in a treat or a favorite toy, so that he goes in to investigate. Do this a couple of times a day for several days.
  2. Start feeding your dog his meals in the crate. Place the dish right up near the front of the crate, so the dog barely has to put his head in, to Over several meals, as the dog becomes more comfortable, start putting the dish further back in the crate.
  3. At the same time, you start feeding your dog his meals in the crate; you can also begin some other crate exercises to practice during the day. Have your dog go into the crate and feed him a high-value reward (cheese, a piece of chicken, something delicious) through the door of the crate. While doing this, he is learning he gets the best rewards while in his crate. To keep these rewards high value, he should only get this treat for this particular exercise.
  4. When your dog is comfortable going all the way into the crate to eat his meal, put the door back on and quietly close the door behind them, but do NOT latch Let him come out when he wishes.
  5. Pick a word such as “kennel” and use it immediately before you put the dog in its crate for eating. When the dog is comfortable with the door closed, start latching it, but stay close.
  6. When the dog is comfortable staying in the crate eating with the door latched, start leaving them in the crate for more extended periods after they finish eating.
  7. When you can keep the door latched for 5 minutes after the dog has stopped eating, start leaving the room. Be out of sight but close by so you can hear your dog if they become anxious. Return after 5 minutes as long as the dog has not become anxious, and let the dog out of the crate. Do not make a big deal out of letting him out. Continue this until you can stay out of sight, with the dog in the crate for at least 15 minutes. What we hope will happen is that the dog will eventually lie down and settle in the crate.
  8. Start using the word “kennel” to put your dog in the crate for short periods other than at mealtime. Give them a sturdy toy like a stuffed Kong or Benebone to interact with while in their crate. The first time you do this, just step out of sight for 5 minutes or less. If the dog does not panic or become anxious, continue to gradually, in baby steps, increase their amount of time in the crate with you out of sight.
  9. When you can leave the dog in the crate for at least 30 minutes, with you just out of sight, try placing the dog in the crate, and leaving the house. Come back to the house after a couple of minutes, listen, and see if the dog is still calm. If so, just stay out of sight and continue to work on increasing the amount of time your dog is left in the crate. Gradually, increase the time you are outside until you can leave the dog for 30 minutes with you outside.
  10. When you can leave the dog in the crate for at least 30 minutes, with you outside, leave the dog in the crate, leave the house, get in the car, start it and drive at least 100 feet away. Turn off the car, walk back to the house and see if the dog is still relaxed. Gradually, increase the time you can leave the dog for in the crate with you driving away until the dog can be left for 3 to 4 hours. Remember, if you want to be successful, you need to go in baby steps. For some dogs, this might mean increasing the amount of time you leave them by just 1 or 2 minutes per session.

©2020, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Canine Behavior – Understanding, Identifying and Coping with Canine Stress

< A version of this article was published in the July 2021 issue of Barks from the Guild, a publication of the Pet Professional Guild>

< Updated 17NOV21 >

< A short link for this page – http://bit.ly/Canine-Stress >

A podcast about this article – https://bit.ly/WfMw-09OCT21-CanineStress >

Like us, our dogs can and do experience stress. Just as stress can make us feel afraid or hyper or edgy or irritable, it can do the same to our dogs. As a pet behavior consultant, I have observed that most behavior problems with pets, especially the more serious, such as aggression and separation anxiety, are related to one or more stressors in the animal’s life. It is a well-established fact that chronic stress can have a detrimental effect on our behavior, health, and overall well-being. If we want our dogs to have long and healthy lives, in my opinion, we also have an obligation to understand stress and its impact so we can do what is necessary to minimize stress in the lives of our canine friends.

“Good” Stress versus “Bad” Stress

Certain levels of stress are normal and even necessary for survival and the development of gray matter in the brain. Often when people hear the word “stress,” they immediately start thinking about “distress” and the harm it can do. Distress is associated with negative emotions such as anger, fear, and sadness. Negative emotions are those that most of us avoid if given the opportunity. They are undesirable because they make us feel bad. The brain remembers these bad things in one trial, thereby learning to prevent suffering in the future. However, while limited amounts of distress can be good for us, the susceptibility to distress varies with each individual organism. How an individual responds to distress is often affected by a combination of inherited genes and events within the organism’s environment. Distress can start as an acute incident and rapidly become chronic until an organism collapses in exhaustion or self-destructs.

Yet, people do not always consider the positive aspects of stress. They may, therefore, not be familiar with the term eustress. Eustress allows an organism to utilize energy positively and assists in the development of new capabilities. A positive emotion associated with eustress is happiness. Positive emotions are those that most of us enjoy experiencing because they are pleasant. Eustress, in appropriate quantities, is essential to normal growth. However, as with most things in life, too much of anything can be detrimental.

Both eustress and distress occur over a continuum, as illustrated in the graphic “Understanding Canine Stress.”

Whether stress is “distress” or “eustress,” physiologically, the manifestation of stress in dogs is similar to that in humans, with the same negative and positive effects. Stress can make an individual ill, suppress the immune system, cause behaviors that damage relationships with others, and increase arousal. Furthermore, this increase in arousal dramatically increases the probability of inappropriate and even aggressive behavior.

Eustress can range from contentment to excitement to hyper-excitement. Distress can begin with worry, transform to fear, and end in terror. Likewise, frustration can lead to anger and then rage. As the intensity of the emotion increases, an organism reaches a tipping point where it goes into a classic “fight or flight” response.

Physiological Effects of Stress

When something stressful happens, we (or animals) are startled or frightened, experience physical pain, or are at a high state of emotional arousal due to distress or eustress; our body falls under the control of the sympathetic autonomic nervous system (SANS), which is responsible for controlling the fight or flight response. This occurs when our bodies go on autopilot to protect us from the perceived threat.

The SANS is closely associated with the limbic system, the section of the brain that deals with the expression and experience of emotions, storage of memories, and expression of aggression. It is the most primitive part of the brain and is very involved with instinctual survival mechanisms. It is separate from the cerebral cortex, which is thought to be the “thinking” part of the brain and the site of conscious thought and intelligence. Remember, the brain is hard-wired to always remember negative emotional responses to help ensure our future safety.

When the limbic system (emotional autopilot) is activated, the cerebral cortex is suppressed. This is why one does not typically behave rationally when in a highly charged emotional state. It is also why expecting our dogs to respond to a well-trained cue when they are in distress is usually a futile effort. Likewise, the parts of the brain responsible for learning something new are shut down at this time. Conversely, when the cerebral cortex is highly active, the limbic system is suppressed.

During a stressful situation, the release of various neurotransmitters and stress hormones triggers a plethora of reactions within the body that shuts down all the systems not necessary for survival. For example, adrenaline levels, a neurotransmitter, become elevated, increasing pulse rate, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and dilation of bronchial tubes and pupils, preparing the body for the surge of energy necessary for the fight or flight response. Cortisol production also increases, suppressing the immune system and other systems not essential for our short-term survival. (See Recommended Resources for more information.)

After the stressful situation has passed, the body’s stress response is supposed to “turn off,” and neurotransmitters and stress hormones should return to normal levels. However, these changes do not “turn off” instantly but can take 24 to 72 hours to return to their normal (non-stress) levels. As a result, if an organism is exposed to frequent stress events (daily or multiple times per day), those levels may never return to normal.  This can place the individual in a chronic state of stress. For example, think of the dog that aggressively reacts to the mail carrier Monday through Saturday of every week. That dog’s stress levels may never get a chance to return to normal. The same can happen with the dog that demands to play fetch every day. While fetching the ball is a positive emotional event for most dogs, for some, it can cause such a state of euphoria that they can become obsessive about it. This positive emotional response turns into the negative emotion of frustration. Frustration may cause the dog to start demand barking and become aggressive when the person no longer plays the game. That can also lead to chronic stress and its debilitating effects on the body. Sometimes when an individual is subjected to chronic stress, the mechanisms that are supposed to turn off the production of stress hormones cease to function, so ‘within a few days, four times as much cortisol as normal is present, (Scholz & von Reinhardt, 2007) potentially creating a critical mental and physical health crisis.

What Does Stress Feel Like?

Stress affects us both physiologically and emotionally, and the two are always interconnected. Whether experiencing eustress or distress, the physiology and the effects on the body are essentially the same. Therefore, the most significant difference between the two types of stress is our perception of how we feel.

We have all experienced both eustress and distress at some point in our lives. Fortunately, not all of us have experienced extreme eustress or distress. Some medications can cause the same physiological effect as distress. One such medication is Prednisone.

Prednisone is a manufactured corticosteroid used to reduce inflammation. It is used to treat autoimmune disorders, asthma, lupus, colitis, Bell’s palsy, rheumatoid arthritis, and other inflammatory diseases. Prednisone mimics cortisol, a stress hormone. Therefore, the side effects of prednisone can be similar to those of an organism experiencing extreme stress. These side effects include; insomnia, euphoria, depression, mania, mood swings, irritability, and even psychotic behavior. As an asthmatic, I have been prescribed a course of prednisone numerous times and know how it makes me feel. While it eventually makes me physically healthier, the side effects are not pleasant for me or those around me. I have also observed animals on prednisone, and sometimes they can react negatively and experience significant behavioral changes, which do not always resolve long after the drug is no longer being used. I often share this experience with my clients because they have a greater appreciation for how their dog feels under extreme stress if they have ever taken prednisone.

Causes of Stress in Dogs

Brambell’s Five Freedoms

An animal typically experiences distress when its most basic needs are not met. One of the first and most comprehensive efforts to define an animal’s most basic welfare needs started in Great Britain in 1965 with the establishment of the Brambell Commission. This commission, created by Parliament, was charged with reviewing the treatment of farm animals and developing a minimum standard for meeting their needs. They wrote a document known as “The Five Freedoms,” which is an excellent starting point for evaluating the welfare of any animal, including companion dogs. The five freedoms are:

  1. Ensure your dog is free from hunger, thirst, and malnutrition.

This sounds relatively simple — provide your dog with food and water, and you have complied with this first freedom. However, I encourage you to give this more thought. Is the food you feed your dog wholesome and a type that would be in their natural diet? Are they allowed to consume this food in a manner that is natural for their species? We also must consider that too much food is equally bad, as evidenced by the significant number of obese dogs we see today.

  1. Ensure your pet is free from discomfort.

Again, this freedom seems relatively straightforward — make sure your pet always has adequate shelter from temperature and weather extremes. However, there is much more to comfort than hot versus cold and dry versus damp.

Your dog also needs a quiet, comfortable resting place where they can be undisturbed and where they will feel safe. You need to make sure that their environment is free from things that may cause them harm.

Your dog’s breed also affects what they need to be comfortable. For example, if they have long hair, they may be unable to groom themselves adequately. If that is the case, their guardian must groom them regularly so that their hair does not become tangled and matted, causing them discomfort.

Obesity puts a strain on the joints and may cause pain and discomfort, so it is essential to monitor how much we feed our dogs so they do not become overweight.

Lastly, like humans, dogs are social animals. They may depend on interactions with others, particularly of their species, to be comfortable. However, if they do not feel safe around other dogs, being compelled to live with another dog may cause discomfort. Therefore, knowing and responding correctly to your dog’s social needs is critical, as is putting their needs above our own where necessary.

  1. Ensure your pet is free from pain, injury, and disease.

You can easily meet the requirements of this freedom by ensuring that your pet receives routine veterinary care. In addition, a weekly body check by you can alert you to any changes in your pet’s physical condition.

Being free from pain is very similar to being free from discomfort, so the dog’s grooming needs must again be considered. Remember, dogs are designed by nature not to show pain and thus weakness, so often they will attempt to hide their pain. Obesity and matted coats may both cause pain.

Since the use of aversives in training are specifically designed to cause an animal emotional or physical discomfort, we must ensure such methods and tools are never used with our dogs.

  1. Ensure your pet is free to express normal behaviors.

To meet this requirement, you first need to know and understand what constitutes normal and abnormal canine behavior. Unfortunately, this can be difficult because there is so much incorrect information about canine behavior circulating as myths and perpetuated in outdated books and inaccurate websites.

What we know about canine behavior today has changed dramatically since the 1970s. Many of the old “truths” are false. Statements such as “Dogs are like wolves,” “Dogs are pack animals,” “You must be ‘dominant’ or ‘alpha’ over your dog,” and “Dogs need to be trained with choke collars, shock collars, and alpha wolf rollovers, and other types of intimidation” are both false and harmful. While some might maintain that such statements are supported by scientific research, this is not the case. Managing and training a dog with aversives is highly likely to cause unnecessary and extreme distress for both parties. Indeed, based on what we know about distress, if either the dog or the handler is in a negative emotional state, they are more likely to be irritable, irrational, potentially aggressive, and less likely to be able to learn. This is no way to build or maintain a relationship. (See Recommended Resources for more information.)

The Pet Professional Guild (PPG) and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) have been instrumental in refuting the many myths about canine behavior and training. If you wish to learn more, I encourage you to read the PPG’s many position statements at https://www.petprofessionalguild.com/Position-Statements, where you can also find citations to the peer-reviewed scientific literature supporting what we know about canine behavior.

Another excellent resource, especially for veterinarians, is the AAHA’s 2015 Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines. Every veterinarian should be thoroughly familiar with this document. You read the guidelines at https://www.aaha.org/aaha-guidelines/behavior-management/behavior-management-home/

In my 26 plus years of experience, the freedom to express normal behaviors is the freedom that pet parents most often overlook.  Many are unaware of the vast repertoire of normal dog behaviors. Because they find some of these behaviors undesirable from a human perspective, such as “butt sniffing,” they categorize them as” abnormal.” It is imperative that a pet parent the times to learn what constitutes normal behavior for a dog. The best way for them to do so is to enroll in a dog training class taught by an individual who has been certified by either the Pet Professional Accreditation Board (PPAB) or the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT). Minimally, they want to make sure their trainer is a member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG). (See Recommended Resources for more information.)

Your dog needs adequate space to explore and an enriched environment to stimulate their minds and bodies to express normal behaviors. The ability to sniff and explore the world is key to a dog’s life. Dog walks are more important for opportunities to sniff than they are for physical exercise. If you are a power-walker who likes to walk the same route as fast as you can, your dog will probably be happier at home.

Toys enrich your pet’s environment by giving them something to play with; however, your dog also needs appropriate interaction with living things as well. That can come from other dogs and us, and perhaps even other companion animals, depending on the dog.

Playing with your dog is good for establishing and maintaining a lifelong bond. It is also an excellent outlet for mental and physical activity and can be just plain fun! However, it is essential to understand that play, especially very active play, is stressful in itself and increases your dog’s arousal level. Therefore, play should be frequently interrupted, and as soon as the dog has calmly settled, they can be rewarded with more play. If the dog does not or cannot settle, then play stops.

Overly rough play between a person and a dog, especially play where the dog exhibits mouthing, and nipping behavior is inappropriate. For the safety of others, as well as yourself, nipping must  ALWAYS be discouraged. The best way to prevent such play is to stop playing when it occurs immediately. To do so effectively, guardians need to learn to recognize the signs that indicate their dog’s level of arousal is increasing so that they can stop play before any mouthing occurs.

While our dogs, hopefully, enjoy our companionship, many of them also need adequate opportunities to interrelate with others of their own kind in a positive situation. That does not mean you need to have more than one dog, but it does mean your dog may benefit from having some suitable doggie friends in the neighborhood or at doggie daycare. However, ideally, these friends must be of a similar temperament, age, size, and playstyle as much as possible. In addition, the interactions must be enjoyable for all parties.

Lastly, not all dogs enjoy the company of other dogs, just as many people do not particularly appreciate interacting with other people. In this case, it is essential to understand that you cannot make a dog like another dog or a person.

  1. Ensure your pet is free from fear and distress.

I genuinely believe that no psychologically healthy human would ever intentionally cause their dog fear or distress. However, lack of knowledge or incorrect perceptions and beliefs about canine behavior can undoubtedly cause a great deal of fear and distress in our canine companions. As a behavior consultant, I see many dogs for “aggression” that is almost always based on stress-related fear.

Puppy Socialization

Preventing future fear in a puppy starts during their critical period, when we first typically bring them into our lives at 8-weeks of age. Unfortunately, this is a short amount of time, as this period ends between 12 and 16 weeks of age.

During this time, most puppies accept new environments, people, and situations. However, it is essential to plan those interactions, so they are a positive experience. A socialization event that a puppy finds distressing can be a significant setback. This is where working with a properly credentialed professional trainer can be helpful. (See Recommended Resources for more information.)

Although a dog’s critical period ends by 16-weeks of age, you should never stop exposing your dog to new things while associating the experience with a high-value reward. This should continue throughout the pet’s life. Of course, a dog can be desensitized after 12 to 16 weeks of age, but I recommend that guardians work with a certified dog behavior consultant to help them develop a remedial socialization program that will be beneficial and not risk causing harm.

A lack of adequate physical and mental stimulation can also cause a dog to become anxious and fearful. A dog needs a moderate amount of both physical and mental exercise regularly. A dog that does not get adequate physical and mental enrichment may become bored and frustrated and start exhibiting behaviors guardians may find undesirable. On the other hand, too much stimulation and exercise can also be detrimental, causing a state of chronic stress. Throwing the ball 20 to 50 times daily and daily visits to the dog park or a doggie daycare are often counter-productive and unhealthy as they can also lead to chronic stress. Activities need to be well balanced with ample opportunities for rest. Remember, a dog typically sleeps 17 hours per day.

When we add a dog to our family, we bring them into a very foreign environment and culture with very different rules. On top of that, we expect them to understand a foreign language while we often make no effort to learn their language. We need to educate our dogs to live in our world and educate ourselves about the dog world to keep them free from fear and distress.

We also need to actively protect our dogs by avoiding stressful situations until they have had adequate socialization and training. As guardians, we must take responsibility for managing their interactions with the environment and other living things.

Lastly, understand that dogs are exceptionally good at reading human emotional states,  especially those that live with them. They do it by observing our body language and facial expression, our behavior, the tone of our voice, and even our scent. Unfortunately, they are not as good at knowing why we are emotionally upset. If we are angry with our spouse or kids, frightened because a car almost hit us, grieving at the loss of a family member, or ecstatic because we just won the lottery, our dogs do not know why. Because they do not understand why we are upset, they may change their behavior towards us.

Fear Responses

What does an animal do when they are afraid? Animals, humans included, have four typical responses when they are scared; Flee, Fight, Freeze, and Fidget About (see the image below).

Flee: This is self-explanatory and is all about the fight or flight response. It is essential to understand that when a dog is on a leash, they know that they cannot run away from what is scaring them. The inability to flee is why a dog may be more reactive when they are on a leash. Instead, they desperately try to scare whatever they are afraid of, such as another dog, a person, a cyclist, etc. This is not, however,  an excuse to have a reactive dog off-leash. A known reactive dog should ALWAYS be on a regular 6-ft leash or inside a securely fenced area when they are outside of your home. It is essential to keep them out of situations where they react like this. Every time such a reaction occurs, it becomes more likely to happen again. (See Recommended Resources for more information.)

Fight: Becoming aggressive is also part of the fight or flight response.  Allowing a dog to react in this manner can be a liability risk and a safety risk for the dog’s handler and others. Dogs can do an incredible amount of severe damage in a very short amount of time. It is a dog’s guardian’s responsibility to prevent this type of behavior. As explained with fleeing, a dog on a leash comprehends that the leash will restrain them from fighting effectively. It can also worsen if two dogs on leash are fighting and the leashes become entangled. Separating dogs in this scenario is complex and risky. Again, none of this is an excuse to have a reactive dog off-leash.

It is essential to keep dogs who may behave aggressively out of situations and environments where they could attack another person or animal because there is always a risk of severe injury or even death. Every time such a reaction occurs, it becomes more likely to happen again. Dogs that have attacked other dogs should never be taken to a dog park or a doggie daycare.

Freeze: This involves becoming totally rigid and immobile. It is essentially the absence of any behavior that the dog feels could be provocative. Freezing often occurs when the dog’s emotional state has moved from being afraid to being terrified. Dog guardians often misunderstand freezing. Since their dog is non-reactive (not vocalizing or moving), guardians assume the dog is “fine,” when in reality, they are terrified. A terrifying incident of this nature is unlikely to be forgotten. When a dog freezes in fear, it is incumbent upon its guardian to carefully and quietly remove them from that situation as quickly as possible.

Fidget About: This is essentially the dog exhibiting a normal behavior in an abnormal context, aka a displacement behavior. This may be as simple as looking away, sniffing, or playing with a toy. It is the dog’s way of ignoring what they perceive as threatening with the hope that the threat will ignore them and go away.

The critical thing to remember with any of the four F’s (Flee, Fight, Fidget About, or Freeze) is that we want to minimize putting our dogs in these situations once we know any of these behaviors is a likely possibility. The brain is designed to remember scary things after the very first event. Subsequent exposures will just reduce the probability of ever being able to move beyond this fear.

Identifying Stress in Canines

Dogs express themselves and communicate with vocalizations, body language, and behavior. By getting familiar with our dogs’ bodies, we can tell when they start to feel stressed. It is imperative to look at the entire body and not just isolated parts to get the best understanding of what our dogs are feeling.

As described by Norwegian ethologist and dog behaviorist Turid Rugaas (2013), calming signals are very subtle changes in a dog’s body that suggest building stress. These signals are used in an attempt to diffuse conflict before it happens. A calming signal is a polite request to another dog to change its behavior and, therefore, prevent any dispute from occurring. Dogs use calming signals to communicate with us as well.

Two of the calming signals we see frequently are yawning and licking of the nose. The dog in the picture demonstrates both “averting of the eyes” and a “nose lick.” Other signs that can be calming signals are: the turn away, a softening of the eyes (squinting), averting the eyes, freezing, play bow, sitting down, lying down, sniffing, scratching, and splitting. I recommend that every pet parent and every pet care professional read at least one book on canine body language (See Recommended Resources for more information).

The Stress Escalation Ladder

Stress and the dog’s arousal happen on a continuum. Some of the signs of stress start appearing at very low levels of arousal. As the arousal level continues to rise, it may result in growling, showing of teeth, lunging, and biting at the most extreme levels. It is important to remember that arousal levels increase with positive stress (eustress) and negative stress (distress). Remember, it can take 24 to 72 hours for those levels to return to normal. A dog that is ramped up and highly aroused in play is also more likely to bite and lose its bite inhibition.

The image to the right reflects my interpretation of the Stress Escalation Ladder first described by Turid Rugaas. It illustrates the signs seen at various levels of arousal. It should always be our goal to keep the dog out of the yellow and red zones. I encourage every pet parent to recognize the signals that occur in the green zone, so they help their dog by getting them out of a stressful situation before it gets out of control.

Reducing Stress in Dogs

To reduce our dogs’ stress, we first need to understand it. Then, once we have identified the cause, there are many approaches to eliminating the stress.

The easiest way to deal with a dog under stress is usually management — removing the dog from the situation/context where the stress occurs. While this does not solve the problem, it is a temporary fix that will make the dog feel better. If this is a context/situation the dog will need to be exposed to in the future, it is advisable to work with a qualified behavior consultant or veterinary behaviorist to help the dog live in this context without experiencing stress. Behavioral medications may be necessary. Few people successfully resolve serious behavior issues on their own and, in my professional opinion, often make the problem worse. A dog chronically experiencing high levels of eustress or distress is not healthy and may be suffering. My recommendation is that such dogs need to be seen by a veterinary behaviorist.

A non-veterinary professional behavior consultant will always recommend that guardians discuss their dog’s behavioral issues with their veterinarian. Pain and other medical conditions can cause behavioral problems, and they need to be addressed first. In addition, in many parts of the world, tick-borne diseases are becoming more prevalent. These can cause behavioral/mental health symptoms in people (altered mental states, anorexia, anxiety, confusion, depression, fatigue, malaise, etc. ). Therefore, dogs with behavioral issues and tick-borne diseases may require treatment for those diseases as the initial step.

A behavior consultant will consider several methods to help your dog deal with their stress. Typically this will almost always include a behavior modification protocol (i.e., a specialized program for the dog’s specific situation) and management strategies to keep the dog out of stressful situations.

For many reasons, a training class is seldom recommended for a dog with stress-based issues such as anxiety or aggression. Behavior issues are often the result of an extreme emotional response. During such a response, the dog’s brain is not open to learning, and training does not change a dog’s emotions.

Teaching a dog to sit, down, stay, etc., will not change the way they feel. Asking a dog to sit in the presence of something that causes them to react may make them more fearful. Lastly, if a dog is reactive towards other dogs or people, putting them in a class where they will encounter those triggers would be highly counter-productive. A behavior modification program is all about changing a dog’s emotional response to what makes them fearful or angry. (Note: A veterinary behaviorist may also determine whether drug therapy is necessary.)

Stress can make us feel miserable, and it can have the same effect on our dogs. For guardians who have a dog living under stress, I recommend they take steps to help them as soon as possible.

Take time to relax and destress with your dog. You will both benefit.

 

 

Recommended Resources

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

 

Animal Welfare – Assessing Pets’ Welfare Using Brambell’s Five Freedoms http://bit.ly/Brambells-APDT2014

Do I Need a Dog Trainer or a “Behaviorist”? – http://bit.ly/WWM-Trainer-Behaviorist

Dominance: Reality or Mythhttp://bit.ly/Dominance-RealityorMyth

Helping Your Dog Thrive with Brambell’s Five Freedomshttp://bit.ly/Brambell-1thru5-PDF

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

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

Introduction to Canine Communicationhttp://bit.ly/CanineComm

Understanding Behavior; Why It Mattershttp://bit.ly/AnimalWelfare-Behavior

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

Puppy Socialization and Habituation – http://bit.ly/SocializationPuppy

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

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

What Is Dog Traininghttp://bit.ly/WhatIsDogTraining

Your Pet’s Behavioral Health Is As Important As Their Physical Well-Being: The New AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelineshttp://bit.ly/WWM_AAHA_Bhx

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

Understanding, Identifying, and Coping with Canine Stresshttps://bit.ly/WfMw-09OCT21-CanineStress

Canine Behavior: Myths and Facts – http://bit.ly/WfMwK9Bhx-26MAR16

Pet Behavior, Vets & The AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines with Dr. Dave Cloutierhttp://bit.ly/WfMw-AAHA-Guidelines-13MAR16

The Dominance and Alpha Myth (2010) – http://bit.ly/WfMw-Dominance-2010

Other Online Resources

American Animal Hospital Association (2015.) AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines – https://www.aaha.org/aaha-guidelines/behavior-management/behavior-management-home/

BCSPCA. (2016, June 28). Tip Tuesday: Tips for dealing with dog reactivity – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1J8uuJi0Ys

 Garrod, D. (2019, November). Stress Matters. BARKS from the Guild (39) 36-39https://issuu.com/petprofessionalguild/docs/bftg_november_2019_online_edition_x_opt/36

Pet Professional Guild Finding A Professional (2020) – https://www.petprofessionalguild.com/Zip-Code-Search

Pet Professional Guild Guiding Principles (2012)  – https://www.petprofessionalguild.com/Guiding-Principles

Pet Professional Guild Position Statements (2012-2019)https://www.petprofessionalguild.com/Position-Statements

Turid Rugaas – Calming Signals – The Art of Survival (2013)  – http://en.turid-rugaas.no/calming-signals—the-art-of-survival.html

Books

Brambell, R. (1965). Report of the technical committee to enquire into the welfare of animals kept under intensive livestock husbandry systems. London, UK: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.

Chin, L. (2020). Doggie Language: A Dog Lover’s Guide to Understanding Your Best Friend. Chichester, UK: Summersdale Publishers

O’Heare, J. (2005). Canine Neuropsychology, 3rd edn. Ottawa, ON: DogPsych

Rugaas, T. (2005). On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals, 2nd edn. Wenatchee, WA: Dogwise

Strong, V. (1999). The Dog’s Brain — A Simple Guide. Windsor, UK: Alpha Publishing

Tudge, N. (2017). A Kids’ Comprehensive Guide to Speaking Dog! n.p.: Doggone Safe

________________________________________________________________________
Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( greenacreskennel.com ) in Bangor, Maine, where he has been helping people with their pets since 1995. He is also the founder of ForceFreePets.com, an online educational resource for people with dogs and cats. Don 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 is a member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG). Don serves on the PPG Board of Directors and Steering Committee. In addition, he chairs the Advocacy Committee and The Shock-Free Coalition ( shockfree.org ). 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://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.

©17NOV21, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

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

A dog that growls is not a bad dog.

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

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

Dog growling over a stick
Dog growling over a stick

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links

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

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

 

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