Canine Behavior – Dog to Dog Interactions

Not all dogs enjoy interactions with other dogs. Whether you and your dog are at the dog park, a fundraising walk with other dogs, or just with other friend’s dogs, your dog may be afraid and may prefer to be somewhere else. Unfortunately, not everyone can readily read the signals that their dog uses to say “Help! I’m afraid, can we please go home?” These new posters created by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) will help dog lovers look out for their dogs.

iaabc-dogpark-Is Your Dog Scared

iaabc-dogpark-Is Your Dog Scared-2

Just as some dogs do not like the dog park because they get picked on, some dogs bully other dogs at the dog park. If you have a dog that is being pushy, you should intervene immediately. These images will show you what to look for and what to do.

iaabc-dogpark-Is Your Dog Pushy

iaabc-dogpark-Is Your Dog Pushy-2

Recommended Resources

Blog Posts

Dog Behavior – Introduction to Canine Communication – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/01/16/dog-behavior-introduction-to-canine-communication/

Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

YouTube

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

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>

Selecting A Pet Care Provider – Yes! A Trend Towards Kinder and Gentler Professional Pet Care – A Veterinary Perspective – Part 3

This article first appeared in the July 2015 edition of the Downeast Dog News.

<You can listen to a companion podcast to this article, first broadcast on The Woof Meow Show on the Voice of Maine on June 27, 2015, by clicking here>

When this series started back in April, the intent was to alert pet owners that not all pet care services are pet-friendly and to emphasize the importance of making sure a pet has the most positive experience possible when it is boarding, day-caring, being groomed, training or while at the veterinarian. All of these animal care services can be done with a pet friendly approach; our pets deserve that. In this column I’ll be focusing on visits to the veterinarian and how many in the veterinary community are working to make those visits fear-free.

Few people look forward to visiting the doctor or the dentist so we should not be surprised when our pets get anxious at the veterinarian. A healthcare usage study by Bayer Veterinary indicated that 37% of dog owners and 58% of cat owners said their pets hate going to the vet1. Going to the vet can be a frightening experience and fear is a powerful emotion. According to Dr. Marty Becker, “Fear is the worst thing a social species can experience and it causes permanent damage to the brain.” As a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, I work with many dog owners and their dogs, often on fear related issues. It is a basic survival mechanism that allows fear to be locked into a memory in an instant and that trauma can be remembered for a lifetime. While these fears may be overcome, it can often take weeks, months, and even years of work to do so.

Unfortunately, if we as pet owners and the pet care professionals handling our animals don’t recognize the signs and detrimental effects of stress and fear in our dogs and cats we cannot help them. In her blog The Science Dog, Linda P. Case recently wrote about fear and two research studies2 that examined how well owners and pet care professionals recognized and responded to signs of stress and fear in dogs. The first study indicated that over 90% of the people that participated could tell when a dog was happy; however, only 70% of dog professionals and 60% of dog owners could identify the fearful dogs. [bold emphasis mine]. That means a significant number of pet professionals and dog owners cannot tell when their dog is stressed or afraid. Clearly there needs to be more education in this arena.

The late Dr. Sophia Yin, a veterinarian and animal behaviorist, made it her mission to educate other veterinarians, pet professionals and pet owners on how people can better understand and interact with pets so as to reduce stress for all concerned. Her seminars, DVDs, and book on low stress handling of pets have helped pet professionals make their practices “pet-friendly.” When professionals can identify fear and stress, and know how to respond accordingly, they can make efforts to minimize or eliminate it so that pets actually enjoy visiting and being handled. At the same time, the skills learned help staff become more competent in animal handling, resulting in improved safety for all parties and reduced costs. Pet professionals, pet owners and pets are all benefiting tremendously from these practices3.

Many other veterinarians are also addressing this issue.  Dr. Marty Becker is a veterinarian who is actively educating his colleagues on the importance of fear-free veterinary visits. In January, Dr. Becker presented on this topic at the North American Veterinary Community conference1, one of the largest continuing education events for veterinarians in the world. He talked about the Hippocratic Oath taken by veterinarians which emphasizes “First do no harm” and to “Cure sometimes. Treat often. Comfort always” [bold emphasis mine]. He discussed how the intense focus on medicine has caused veterinarians to sometimes neglect the parts about doing no harm. Dr. Becker continually underscores the value of making sure a patient is comfortable.

The trend toward fear-free veterinary visits is rapidly growing. A Google search of the words “fear free veterinary visits” yields about 819,000 results. The website DVM360, a website for the veterinary community, lists 19 articles on the fear-free philosophy from April 1st through June 5th alone.

With this trend, the move towards “Fear-Free” veterinary care is alive and well in Maine. Kate and I recently invited Dr. David Cloutier, from the Veazie Veterinary Clinic4, to join us on The Woof Meow Show to discuss his clinic’s approach to fear-free veterinary care. Dr. Cloutier is clearly very passionate about this topic. He explained how it’s not only the best approach for the vet, the vet’s staff, the pet owner and the pet, but is also personally very rewarding.

On our show with Dr. Cloutier we talked about dogs and cats and the fact that creating a fear-free visit for a cat is every bit as important as a fear-free exam for a dog however, because of a cats highly developed flight or fight instincts, doing so takes even more effort. Dr. Cloutier worries that if a cat owner has a bad experience taking their cat to the veterinarian that they may never go back to any veterinarian. This can result in very negative consequence for that cat’s health which is why making every visit a good one is so essential.

Some of the things that Dr. Cloutier and his team at Veazie Veterinary are doing to make a pet’s visit fear-free include staff training on behavior, stress, and canine and feline body language, having separate waiting areas for dogs and cats, being patient and allowing pets time to settle, minimizing restraint as well as the number of people in the room with the animal during an exam and treatment, using high-value treats to reward calm behavior and to desensitize a pet to any perceived threats, using pheromones like Feliway with cats to help calm them, and teaching clients what they can do at home to help prepare their pets for a visit to the vet.

It is essential for all pet care professionals to be following a pet friendly, fear-free philosophy if we are going to do well by your pets. If one of us causes a pet to have a fearful experience, due to the way the brain processes and remembers fear, that animal may now fear all of us.

Lastly, we talked with Dr. Cloutier about the role of the pet owner in reducing stress. That role starts with learning about your pet and signs of stress and discomfort.  Next it requires you to be an advocate for your pet and all of the people that participate in your pet’s care. You not only need to make sure that pet professionals that care for your pet follow a pet friendly philosophy, but you also want to make sure that family members and friends that care for your pet also follow your philosophy. Your pet cannot speak for themselves so please ask questions and speak on their behalf. They’ll be glad you did.

Next month’s article will be focused on specific things you can do at home to help prepare your pet for a visit to your veterinarian, a boarding kennel, the groomer, or a training class.

References

1 Creating Fear Free® Veterinary Visits Puts Pets Back Into Practices -DrMartyBecker.com, Presentation at NAVC – http://www.drmartybecker.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Creating-Fear-Free-Veteirnary-Visits-NAVC-15-FINAL.pdf

2 Fear Itself, The Science Dog, June 9, 2015, by Linda P. Case – https://thesciencedog.wordpress.com/2015/06/09/fear-itself/

3 http://drsophiayin.com/

4 http://www.veazievet.com/

 

Other Links of Interest

Signs of anxiety and fear in dogs from Dr. Marty Becker – http://dvm360.com/sites/default/files/images/pdfs-for-alfresco-articles/Signs_of_anxiety_fear.pdf

Links to the first two part of this series can be found below.

Selecting A Pet Care Provider – Yes! A Trend Towards Kinder and Gentler Professional Pet Care – Green Acres Kennel Shop’s “Pet Friendly” Philosophy – Part 1 – <Click Here>

Selecting A Pet Care Provider – Yes! A Trend Towards Kinder and Gentler Professional Pet Care – The PPG – Part 2 – <Click Here>

 

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

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