Podcast – Dog Training and Dog Smart: Evidence-based Training with The Science Dog, an interview with Linda Case, Part 2

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In this second of a two-part series, Kate and Don interview dog trainer and author Linda Case about her book Dog Smart: Evidence-based Training with The Science Dog. In the last episode, we focused on foundational material covered in the book. This week we get into the nitty-gritty of dog training and talk about:

  • The benefits of working with a professional dog training instructor.
  • Qualities to look for in a dog training instructor and what to avoid.
  • Why it is so important to teach students how a dog learns and the most important things we can teach them on this topic.
  • What is clicker training and why it is so useful when training a dog?
  • The power of using food as a reward when training a dog.
  • How we help students address undesirable behaviors, they experience with their dogs.
  • The four most valuable behaviors we teach our students to train their dogs.

If you want to learn about your dog and how to live together happily, you will want to listen to this show and read Linda’s book.

You can hear The Woof Meow Show on Z62 Retro Radio, AM620, and WKIT HD3 at 9 AM on Saturday. If you are not near a radio, listen on your computer at http://streamdb7web.securenetsystems.net/ce/index.cfm?stationCallSign=WZON or your smartphone or tablet with the free WZON 620 AM app. A podcast of the show is typically posted immediately after the show. You can download this show and others at http://woofmeowshow.libsyn.com/ and the Apple iTunes store.

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#WoofMeowShow #LindaCase #ScienceDog #DogTraining

Contact Info

Linda P. Case, MS
AutumnGold Consulting and Dog Training Center
Mahomet, IL

(217) 586-4864

Autumngoldconsulting.com

https://www.facebook.com/pg/LindaCaseAutumnGold/posts/

https://thesciencedog.wordpress.com/

Recommended Resources

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

Book Review – Dog Smart: Evidence-based Training with The Science Dog by Linda P. Casehttp://bit.ly/BkRvw-Case-DogSmart

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

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

Understanding Dog Behavior, How Dogs Learn, and the Most Humane (Best) Ways to Train Them, P.A.W.S. Animal Adoption Center, Camden, Maine – 10NOV18http://bit.ly/PAWS-Camden-10NOV18

What Is Clicker Training? – http://bit.ly/WhatIsClickerTraining

Reward Based Training versus Aversives –  http://bit.ly/RewardVSAversive

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

Teaching the ATTENTION or LOOK Behavior http://bit.ly/GAKS-Attention

Teaching Your Puppy to Come When Called – Starting Pointshttp://bit.ly/Come-Recall

How Do I Get My Dog to Walk Politely Instead of Pulling on the Leash?http://bit.ly/WalkingPolitely

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

Dog Training and Dog Smart: Evidence-based Training with The Science Dog, an interview with Linda Case, Part 1http://bit.ly/WfMw-LCase-11MAY19

Is Feeding A Grain-Free Food to Our Dogs Dangerous?, with Linda Case, MS – http://bit.ly/Podcast-FDA-Grain-Free-LindaCase-29SEP18

How to Choose A Dog Trainer (2017) http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2017/01/08/how-to-choose-a-dog-trainer/

Podcast – The Benefits of Training Your Dog and 2019 Classes at Green Acreshttp://bit.ly/WfMw-Training2019

©18MAY19, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved
< Click for Copyright and Use Policy >

Shared Article – The emotional toll of a reactive dog by Jay Gurden-Dogs Today

< a short link to this post – http://bit.ly/SharedGurenEmotional >

I recently came across this article on Facebook and had to share it. I too have lived with a reactive and severely aggressive dog and can testify that it is not easy and there is a huge emotional toll. I have no regrets because with lots of help and guidance we cured my dog ( FMITikken – Vaccines, Aggression, OCD, & Homeopathyhttp://bit.ly/TikkensAggxStory ) and she lived several more year without any behavioral problems. However, in many ways, my situation made living with a reactive dog easier than it would be for most people. Caring for Tikken during her behavioral issues was a multi-year project, and I have no regrets about doing it. However, Paula and I were able to do it because; we did not have any children to worry about, we both worked at a business attached to our home, so one of us was always there 24//7, and the architecture of our home is such that it was easy to compartmentalize areas where Tikken was allowed unsupervised. That being said, it was emotionally draining. If we had not been fortunate enough to have all of those advantages, Tikken’s life may have had a very different ending. I think it is essential for all pet care professional to realize and understand that not all pet parents will be able to manage and care for a reactive dog and accept that fact, along with the fact that the number of people looking to adopt such a dog is very small.

I cannot thank Jay Gurden enough for writing this article because I believe it is one that should be read by anyone with a reactive dog. < click to read >

Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog

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

Tikken – Vaccines, Aggression, OCD, & Homeopathyhttp://bit.ly/TikkensAggxStory

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

Remedial Socialization – The Watch the World Game

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

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

 

Dog/handler teams are appropriate for this exercise when:

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

 

The handler will need:

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

 

When to Start:

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

Training Sessions:

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

 

The goal is to be able to:

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

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

 

Graduate out of the car:

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

 

Graduate to an outside location:

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

 

What could go wrong?

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

**Comment:

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

 

Recommended Resources

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brambell’s Five Freedoms – Part 5 – The Freedom from Fear and Distress

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

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

This column is the last of a five-part series in which I have discussed Brambell’s Five Freedoms and how they provide a valuable reference point for assessing a dog’s quality of life. So far we have examined the first four of Brambell’s Five Freedoms;

  1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst,
  2. Freedom from Discomfort,
  3. Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease, and the
  4. Freedom to Express Normal Behavior.

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

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

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

Ensure your pet is free from fear and distress

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

To read previous articles in this series visits the Downeast Dog News website at https://downeastdognews.villagesoup.com/ or visit Don’s blog at https://www.words-woofs-meows.com

Helping Your Dog Thrive – Brambell’s Five Freedoms – Part 1, Freedom from Hunger and Thirsthttp://bit.ly/Brambell-Hunger-Thirst

Helping Your Dog Thrive – Brambell’s Five Freedoms – Part 2, Freedom from Discomforthttp://bit.ly/Brambell-Discomfort

Helping Your Dog Thrive – Brambell’s Five Freedoms – Part 3, Freedom from Pain, Injury or Diseasehttp://bit.ly/Brambell-Pain-Injury-Disease

Helping Your Dog Thrive – Brambell’s Five Freedoms – Part 4, The Freedom to Express Normal Behaviorhttp://bit.ly/Bramble-NormalBehavior

Helping Your Dog Thrive – Brambell’s Five Freedoms – Part 5, The Freedom from Fear and Distresshttp://bit.ly/Brambell-Fear-Distress

Recommended Resources

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

________________________________________________________________________
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. He is committed to pet care and pet training that is free of pain, force, and fear. The opinions in this post are those of Don Hanson.

©7MAY18, 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 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 28JUL21 >

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

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/ )

 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.

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