Category Archives: Chicago Dog Behavior Training

Behavior and training advice and information in Chicago

Dog owners beware: Anyone can buy a dog training franchise

Lately, more than ever, I am getting inquiries from clients who have already done dog training with “so and so,” or other companies, and were unsatisfied for one reason or another. These people have spent a lot of money in some cases, but didn’t get the results they were looking for. You may imagine this is sometimes the customers fault– and it is… sometimes. But as a pro myself, I can get a pretty good idea what sort of professionally-trained foundation a dog has, or has not had. I hear complaints about other trainers all the time, and I usually take it with a grain of salt, preferring that they focus on what we’re doing now and going forward. Most of these trainers I have never heard of anyway, but clients are more frequently telling me about dog training companies with multiple locations, or in many cases, franchises. These are not the big-box stores like PetSmart and PetCo that are known for their sub-standard version of “training” and wasting peoples time once a week for 150 bucks, these are companies charging a lot of money and promising big results.

To further investigate this concept, I began with a quick Google search, typing in “dog training franchise.” A flurry of results came up. Some of the names: Bark Busters, Fetch Pet Care, Zoom Room, Off Leash K9 Training, Sit Means Sit, Dog Wizard Academy, and many more. It’s not the route I chose to go in my career seven and a half years ago when I started my own business (after years of apprenticing and working for other companies), but apparently this is a popular thing. I have no particular issue with a well-researched individual purchasing into a dog business franchise to run out of their home, but it’s worth a deeper look behind the marketing.

One of the benefits to a franchise is immediate marketing power, and these companies don’t hesitate to tell you that people are willing to pay good money for dog training, and know the brand names. Each brand has something to boast– amazing fast results, guaranteed programs, a special (ultimately meaningless) certification, “featured on tv,” and soforth. But marketing can be misleading. Let’s say the trainers at the headquarters of your franchise had part in a tv episode on “Animal Planet.” Regardless of the fact that they’re not even in the same state, are staffed with completely different trainers, and did the tv spot years before you even joined the company, you can now advertise on your own website: “As Seen on Animal Planet.” That’s positive marketing power. Unfortunately, it can also work in the opposite way. In the past 2 years alone, three Sit Means Sit trainers were charged with animal abuse. Because it’s a franchise, they are independently responsible, but this is caveat emptor to you dog owners: Regardless of the company’s name, know who is training your dog.

What I am also concerned about is the amount of training these freshly minted dog trainers receive.

To see if my concerns were valid, I viewed the websites of four different dog training franchises. They all advertise solving behavior issues, off-leash training, and more. One called “Bark Busters” did not provide any information on length of franchisee training, they ask you to contact them. I have zero respect for Bark Busters as a training company, and I have nothing more to say about them at this time, other than– if you use their services, best of luck to your dog. The other three franchised companies provided more info on their offerings. A company called “Dog Wizard Academy” had a very bright, informative website and offers 12 weeks of hands-on training for new franchisees. However, the topics covered are broad, naturally, and include “aggression,” which in my professional opinion takes much longer than 3 months to even touch upon, let alone become proficient in. In the other 2 cases, companies called “Off Leash K-9 Training” and “Sit Means Sit,” offer 3 weeks of initial hands-on training to the new franchisee. Yes, that’s right– apparently, 3 weeks is all it takes to learn how to be a dog trainer, work with complex behavior issues, and operate a business… Well, that and anywhere from $15,000-$96,400.

A lot of people nowadays want to start their own business and have a career change in life, and that’s great. But dog training is not just something you jump into by hanging a shingle. You will quickly be out-classed. The following is an example of what I found online (I added the bold):

Are you interested in starting  dog training franchise?  Have you always wanted to be a dog trainer? Turn your passion into a dog training business!

As an Off Leash K9 Training trainer, you will spend 21 days at our facility in Northern Virginia, observing and taking part in over 240+ hours of dog training! … At the end of your 21 day training, you will have all the tools, knowledge, and know-how to deal with basic obedience, advanced obedience, and behavioral modification. You will be able to make dogs look like the dogs in our 500+ before/after videos! You will also have a website and everything else you need to get you started in the dog training world!

Let me get this straight. You will have “all the knowledge” and “a website and everything else” in 3 weeks. In my opinion, that’s simply not possible, particularly not the “everything else.” There is no way to master these sort of skills in 240 hours… You’d be about 9,760 hours short of the “10,000 hour rule” of mastery. But even if you do gain an array of positive training and business skills, what about basic math skills? 21 days to become a dog trainer is advertised as “240+ hours of dog training.” I have never heard of such an intensive program that you go 21 days straight for ELEVEN+ hours each day. It doesn’t seem possible, and lends me a degree of skepticism (something I already have a healthy level of).

To be fair, some of these companies do offer continuing education, yearly seminars, and phone support– but what about the dogs these franchisees will be training fresh out of the gate? Do you want your dog to be a guinea pig for a brand new trainer with only a few months of experience under their belt? If you do, that’s fine, but I personally would not pay that kind of money for my dog to be a newer trainers learning experiment.

So how long does it really take to become a dog trainer? I understand everyone wants to jump in and make money, but the reality is, when I have an apprentice trainer who is learning how to train dogs, they are not even allowed to do a private obedience lesson with a customer with less than SIX MONTHS of training under their belt, and more in some cases. The average time to produce a dog trainer is ONE YEAR, for a basic-level trainer, who works with obedience but not more complex behavior issues or aggression. There is no “quick way to rake in the cash,” and you need more than a fancy website, you need more than a well-trained personal dog– you need to provide quality training from a foundation of knowledge and hands-on experience in a variety of venues.

If you want to become a successful dog trainer, buying into a corporate franchise is certainly one of your options, and it does work out well for some people. But it’s certainly not the only option. To be clear, I am not saying all the franchise-owning trainers are bad or sub-standard trainers– absolutely not– it fully depends on the individual person. If they are a driven self-learner, I’m sure they could find a way to compensate for any lack of experience, and work to become a well-versed, competent trainer. In some cases, a franchise trainer may be an already working and adept dog trainer who decided to make a smart business decision and team up with a company. But as a dog owner myself, I don’t want to simply know what “brand” is training my dog, I want to know who is training my dog. What have they accomplished, what’s the scope of their experience, and will they deliver up to the expectations of a big-name company? To know this, you will have to look past the smoke and mirrors of marketing, and learn how to choose a dog trainer.

Are aggressive dogs the fault of the owner?

They say dogs are a reflection of their owners. But when unwanted aggression becomes a big issue, can we place the entirety of blame on the dogs owners?

“Is it all the owners fault their dog is aggressive?”

First, let’s define “aggressive dog” as a dog who displays aggressive behavior with intent to bite or do harm to a person or animal.

I would not say it’s “always” the humans who have created the issue. Sometimes it is true, sometimes it’s not. There are many cases where a dog begins to show unwanted behavior, and it is not handled properly by the dog owners. They may not know what to do, or fail to get help. Or they may inadvertently be encouraging the unwanted behavior. There are some people who could virtually make a Pug into an aggressive monster (through permissiveness, mixed signals, and being a poor handler themselves), but not always. Most dog owners we work with do acknowledge that they have made some failure or some mistake in handling of their dog, which has led to worsening problems. I appreciate that they do not want to blame the dog, but recognize they are part of the problem, too. Because if they are part of the problem, they will be part of the solution.
There are cases where you could take the biting dog out of the equation and replace it with a number of other more “average” dogs, and the owners would’ve had no problems. Sometimes it is the dog. They got a dog who is a handful. I meet the dog, and I say “WOAH, that is a lot of dog.” Some dogs are just more challenging, and require more time and training than others. Maybe the dog has a lot of drive, power, or maybe has a lot of “edge” to it. Not everyone is equipped to own a more aggressive type of dog. Just like not every parent would be equipped to handle a child with a behavioral disorder. On the other hand, some dog owners choose a higher-intensity dog with more aggression to it, and they don’t mind. It’s when they are not equipped to own the dog they have issues. A strong dog often needs a strong owner who can be consistent and prepared to work out any issues. But some who are not equipped for it get a dog who is predisposed to have certain traits, and they raise it very typically, socialize it, and do their best with what they know. But it still turns out how it turns out. This is because a dogs personality is not “all how you raise it.” You wouldn’t be surprised if you got a terrier that lived to chase down critters, or a hunting dog who followed his nose, or a German Shepherd who was protective of his home. Dogs behavior is strongly influenced by genetics and instinct, as well as early rearing, training, and various experiences. So often a dog turns out with behaviors that are in accordance with its genetic programming. Especially if human owners don’t nip problematic behavior in the bud at once, the first time it rears its head. Many genetic behaviors can be tempered, re-directed, or controlled through training. That’s the work we do every day. But if not immediately addressed properly, aggression issues always get worse.
Sometimes people make uneducated decisions. A lot of times, actually. I had a client who wanted an easy-going family dog, and purchased a Cane Corso, a large powerful dog breed. They chose this breed because they had a friend with one, and that Corso was very social, chill, and almost lazy. But that was just one dog. They decided to search for a breeder, and they found an ad online for Cane Corso puppies for sale. They did not meet the dogs parents first, ask the breeder for references, or research the dogs breeding and lineage. As their new dog matured, he became suspicious of people, and was skittish and reactive, despite attempts to socialize him. He was also strong and difficult to control as he grew. One day when a stranger bent over to pet him, he reacted negatively and lashed out. He bit them in the face, sending them to the hospital for stitches. His owners decided not to give up on him and to seek guidance from a professional trainer. He was young enough to greatly improve with intensive training, and had owners who were committed and did all the follow-up lessons. So in this case, they were able to keep their dog and successfully modify his behavior. Every case is different. Sometimes a dog is genetically cut out to be nervy and sharp, or even unstable. Sometimes they’re normal stable dogs with an edge. Even good dogs do “dog things,” including protecting their territory, and this can often lead to a bite incident. A dog with little guidance can’t tell the difference between a “bad guy” he is supposed to bark at or bite, and Bob the neighbor who comes to the back door to say hi.  This is why dogs who have protective behavior have to be not only trained, but supervised and properly contained, such as a securely fenced yard. To sum it up, a dog who bites may be genetically unstable, or may be totally normal, it depends. Either way, the owners are going to have to change how they handle the dog. They will need to gain obedience control, respect, and learn to read their dog. To resolve behavior issues, they will need to change the way they live with the dog, and zero in on what behaviors they are reinforcing or allowing to continue.

The prognosis for long-term success depends on the dog and the owners. Every cause and type of aggression is different. Remember that you are your dogs leader. He depends on your guidance to navigate the human world he is a part of. Set your dogs up for success.

Most bite incidents could have been avoided, had the following been kept in mind:
1) Know your dog, and protect your dog. You may imagine you need to protect others from your dog, and this is true, but your dog needs to be protected from making poor decisions, too. For example: If you have a protective or nippy dog, and a cable installer is coming over, put your dog in another room. You know your dog might act sketchy, and you know you might be distracted. It is not worth risking your dog making a poor decision. There is no benefit to leaving your dog loose in this scenario, but there is risk. Similarly, if you know your dog can be testy with the vet, use a muzzle. Condition them to wearing it ahead of time. There is no reason to take risks that have no benefits.
2) Train early, train often, and train properly. Don’t wait until your dog has bitten 5 people, get training as soon as you obtain your dog. Even if you adopted an adult rescue dog, begin setting appropriate habits and establishing yourself as the pack leader immediately. It’s not just the obedience commands, it’s learning how to communicate with your dog, and how to handle problems as they pop up. Not all training is equal! Taking a treat-based class at  PetSmart is not equivalent to real-world obedience skills taught by a professional training facility. Dogs need a large amount of positive reinforcement, but they also need discipline. A dog who has no discipline will end up insecure and will often become out of control and unpleasant to deal with. Dogs who have only discipline and no praise will become depressed and sometimes fearful. Dogs must learn what to do (good stuff), and what not to do (unwanted stuff). There has to be a balance. Common sense tells us that ignoring a bad behavior is often not significant enough to make it stop. There are several effective ways to stop bad behaviors: Physical correction or averse response to stop the behavior, take away the benefit of doing the behavior, reinforce incompatible behaviors, or prevent the behavior from happening.
3) Feel free to get a second opinion. When you have a dog who bites, everyone you know seems to have an opinion. Some will say it’s not the dogs fault, some will say the dog has a screw loose and should be put down, and some will say “try this” or “try that.” Take the advice with a grain of salt. Speak to your vet to rule out medical causes and get a full check-up, but know that most vets are not dog trainers and may have limited knowledge of dog behavior training. Some vets may have never even owned a dog. Get opinions from qualified trainers, but feel free to get a second or third opinion. Make sure the trainer has references of similar case and uses fair and humane methods.

 

-Jennifer

Housebreaking a dirty dog who eliminates inside their crate

Potty training a crate pooper can be very frustrating! A dog is not “supposed to” be comfortable going to the bathroom where they sleep. It is one of the reasons why dogs can be so easily adapted to our homes. But what if you have a dog who seems used to peeing and pooping on himself and lying in it?

I have had clients with dogs of all ages and from various situations who are “dirty dogs,” meaning they will not hold it in the crate and seem ok lying in their mess. Sometimes we can identify why they have lost that natural instinct to stay clean. Some have been raised in puppy mills where they were forced to be in filth, so they got used to it. Some lived outdoors or in a kennel run. Others were puppies from breeders who did not properly train the puppies to be clean. They may have just kept them all in a box together until 8 weeks old. It is actually the breeder who starts housebreaking, by setting up an area where the puppies can go potty separate from their sleeping area, and by routinely taking them outside as they get older (5 weeks+), whenever feasible. When I had puppies, my set up was a large plastic container (half an airline crate) lined with newspapers and filled with cedar bedding. The puppies took to it very quickly, keeping their sleeping and eating areas clean. I also tried a fake grass patch, but the cedar and newspaper was much more attractive. By 7 weeks, they were going potty outside. Not all dogs have gotten this good start, and some we have no history on. All we know is we are doing our best trying to housebreak them, we are crate training, taking them outside on a schedule, so why are they still having accidents inside the cage?

HOW TO FIX IT

Determine what the problem is:

  1. He isn’t going potty when outside.
  2. He is stressing and working himself up to defecating in the crate.
  3. The crate is too big, so he is using half as a bathroom and sleeping in the other half. Or possibly the crate contains bedding the dog is urinating on and it’s soaking it up.
  4. He doesn’t care about being dirty. Where as most dogs will hold it (within reason) until they are given opportunity outside, this dog will eliminate as soon as the slightest feeling strikes him.
  5. Medical issue. Parasites such as worms or Giardia. Appearance of worms or soft stool may or may not be present. UTI and bladder infections can cause a dog to urinate inside the house or more frequently than usual.
  6. Diet issue. Overfeeding the “good stuff.”
    Or feeding cheap.
    Fillers in cheap food can cause a mass quantity of waste. Food sensitivities can cause issues.

Determine your corresponding solutions:

  1. If he is not going potty outside in the proper place, it’s only obvious that he will end up going inside or in the crate. There can be different reasons why  a dog will not go outside. Some are not used to being on a leash, and may feel like they need to wander around more freely. Some have been scolded so much for pottying inside that they have associated pottying in front of their owner with being yelled at. Some are too distracted or nervous outside– they are just squirrely. Others are just not in the habit, and need to be taught. The first step is getting some occurrences of the dog pottying outside so you can set a new routine and reward and praise for it.  We teach dogs to eliminate on command, like service dogs. You will take the dog to the same area every time, give your verbal cue “go potty,” and walk around a small area until the dog goes. Praise sniffing and allow the leash to be slack and the dog to trail around in front of you. You may want to use a longer leash, such as a Flexi Lead. Yes, I know trainers hate Flexi Leads, but they are great for potty breaking a dog. The second you attach that long leash, he will know this is a cue and it’s potty time. After he goes, you may switch back to your regular 6′ leather obedience lead. For urination, you can begin by adding some water to the dogs food so they are taking in a bit more water than usual. They will soon have to pee, and you will be ready to get them outside and to the potty area. For pooping, if a dog will not poop right away, there is an old dog show trick: matching a dog. In the dog show ring, any dog who urinates or defecates will be an automatic disqualification, therefore, it is imperative that they be “emptied out” ahead of time. You take a match (or a q-tip is ok for a quite large dog) and put it about half-way into their rectum. This will pretty quickly stimulate them to go. A regular (unlit, obviously) paper match or two is fine. Lift the tail up and get them in there about half-way, then wait. Use your cue “go potty” or whatever your potty cue is. Now be ready to praise your dog!
    Tools you will need: regular paper matches, Flexi Lead extendable leash, treats for a reward
  2. Stress can cause any animal to eliminate where they would not normally do so. If your dog has other signs of anxiety, such as barking excessively in the crate, drooling, or trying to escape, you need to fix the anxiety issues. Every dog should be taught to calmly accept confinement when their owner puts them in a cage and leaves for a period of time. Your dog may be in a stressful environment, or he may have separation anxiety.
  3. When crate training a puppy or new dog, the point of a crate is that it’s the dogs personal area and is to be kept clean as a resting space. If the crate is huge, some dogs will designate half as a bathroom and half as their sleeping quarters. This is why many wire crates come with a divider panel, so you can adjust the crate as the puppy grows, keeping it just large enough for him to turn around and lie down comfortably. His back and head should not touch the top when standing up. Your dogs cage should not be like a condo! Get a smaller crate, or use a divider panel. You also do not need tons of bedding. Unless you have a senior dog or a very large breed who spends a lot of time crated, dogs do not need bedding in their crates. Bedding is for comfort, but it can also be a hazard for young dogs who can shred and eat it, causing intestinal obstructions and requiring lifesaving emergency surgery. It can also be a problem for a dog who is being crate trained if they urinate on the bedding and it is all soaked up so they do not mind doing it again. Try eliminating the fluffy bedding, at least for now.
  4. The dirty dog… This can be one of the more difficult fixes, and can depend on the dog. I have fixed several dirty dogs. Some of them just need a new habit. Almost all of them need a lot of time and observation, so you can take them out often. Most accidents will occur when they are left alone and crated. You may not realize the dog is under stress when you’re gone and is moving around or pacing or spinning in the crate, so it’s good to observe this. Also eliminate medical and diet (numbers 5 and 6). A dog who is calm and at rest will be much more likely to hold it. You may need to consult an experienced trainer and try a few things to find a solution:
    A new setup. If a dog has really never had to hold it before, the muscles will not be there for that. When I had brand new rescue dogs I was fostering, they were adult kennel dogs who lived in indoor-outdoor runs. Never in a house or crate. So they had never had to hold it before. They did have some accidents in the crate, but after 2 weeks they were perfect. Any time they have an accident, they need a bath and everything needs to be cleaned well. They obviously have to go out often, and especially soon after they eat or drink. But what if you have a job? Not everyone can be home to take a dog out every 2 hours! For some people, an outdoor dog run works. But not everyone has a yard, and not everyone with a yard can leave their dog outside alone. Some dogs will need an exercise pen, or x-pen, attached (use zip ties or clips) to a crate inside. This way they can sleep in the crate and get out into the x-pen if they have to use the toilet. Your “toilet” will depend on the dog. For a small dog, a litter box with newspapers is fine, for a large dog, half an airline crate or a small kiddie pool filled with mulch or woodchips (buy a few bags at the garden store) will be the best. This is all to encourage the dogs natural instinct to have a separate living and potty area.
    Umbilical cording. This is a method in which the dog will be will you all the time. You will have a leash on them and it will always be either in your hand, or tied to something close to you. I will tie a dogs leash to the chair I’m sitting on, or sit on the leash. Most dogs will follow me around and lie down quietly when I am busy. This way, the dog will not have any accidents inside. They will be under your watchful eye all the time, and be taken outside on a schedule. This is a great method but it does require you to be home a lot and have a dog with you often. If you need to do other chores around the house, you can tie (tether) the dog to something stable while you are in the same room doing something else. But they are never to be out of your sight or alone in the crate.
    Are there dogs who can never be reliably housebroken? Yes. I believe there are a very small number of dogs who will never have the instinct to be clean and learn to “hold it” and just cannot be reliably housebroken. I feel for the vast majority of dogs, it can be taught, it just takes patience and having the right approach. I can do customized troubleshooting for clients on this issue.
  5. Medical issues can cause dogs to have soft stool or diarrhea, and they are unable to hold it for very long. Your dog can have a parasite like giardia which causes them to lose control of their bowels. Giardia can flare up and then go dormant, so many people think it’s just intermittent upset stomach when in fact it’s a parasite. Get a fecal test for both worms and giardia. Your dog can have worms without any visible evidence in his stool. There are other medical causes that may be linked to excessive urination. Diabetes, cushings disease, kidney problems, etc. can all lead to excessive thirst and urination. Dogs with urinary tract infections or bladder infections do not have a way to tell us they are in pain. UTI’s are most often noticed when dogs begin peeing in the house or peeing more often than usual. A urinalysis should be completed to rule out any medical causes. Talk to your vet.
  6. One of the common issues I see with dogs who poop in their crate is that they are pooping way too often to begin with. I often ask people “How often does your dog go number two?” If they say “Three, four times a day…” I know something is off. I will ask what they are feeding, and it’s either 1) Too much of the good stuff, or 2) The cheap stuff with fillers. They may say they are feeding a super-premium high quality grain-free diet. Great. But how much? Overfeeding a dog will cause it to just crap everything out, and crap constantly. The body can only absorb so much at one time. Do NOT follow the recommendations on a bag of dog food! They are almost always inflated. I had a client feeding their 6-month old Lab 6 cups of high-calorie puppy food a day! That is insane. No wonder he is crapping 24/7, that is way more food than any dog, short of a working sled dog or Great Dane, should need. You want to feed the least amount that your dog will still maintain a good healthy muscle mass and weight on. It’s also appropriate to feed for the activity-level. If I sit in my office all day I am not going to need as much of a dinner as if I spent the day working strenuously outdoors.
    I commonly hear “that food (insert brand) was just too rich for my dog, it gave him soft stool.” Well no, you probably just fed too much of it. There is no such thing as “too rich,” dogs are meat eating predators. Their diet should be almost all animal ingredients– not plant, and high in protein and fat. When you switch to a high quality concentrated dry kibble, you do not need to feed as much as one that contains things like rice and other cereal grains.
    If you are feeding the cheap stuff with fillers, you are paying for what is essentially a big bag of cereal grains and corn. What little protein and meat that’s in the cheap food is not highly digestible (it’s the nasty bits that are unfit for Spam), so expect a lot of waste, and frequently. Foods like Purina Puppy Chow, Beneful, Alpo, Pedigree, etc. are low quality and produce a lot of waste. The best diets are grain-free and do not contain by-products. You may have to try a few foods before finding some your dog does well on. This is totally normal. I highly recommend adding probiotics to your dogs food, and switching proteins and varieties about once a month. Mix the foods together for a few days, but always switch so your dogs system can handle a variety of proteins.
    I have seen many dogs improve with their housebreaking issues when put on a raw food diet. Dogs on raw diets will have drastically less waste, and will typically defecate only once a day, maybe twice. There are many resources out there on raw diet, including pre-made foods you can buy in stores and order online, and books about how to buy your own raw diet from a meat supplier.
    Tools you will need: A high-quality grain-free kibble or raw diet. Probiotics. A measured scoop for monitoring food.

Does my dog need “obedience” or “behavior modification”?

In my business I work with a large number of clients who contact our trainers because of specific behavioral problems. They often don’t see the link between obedience training and a well-behaved dog. Training is not just about concrete commands (I mean, who cares if your dog can do a fancy heel and tricks if he’s attacking other dogs). But there is much more value in obedience than a dog who “looks” behaved. Obedience and dog training in general is training of the dogs mind, giving them skills, and teaching them to make appropriate choices. We often say obedience training gives your dog a “job.” That “job” is following your direction. Imagine the confidence and security your dog will feel when he knows what’s expected of him!

I often use analogies with children, not because I equate a dog with a child, but because it’s easy for people to understand and relate to. Imagine raising a child…
Some of the traits you would hope to see in school-aged children:

  • Follows direction
  • Respects the authority of adults
  • Gets along well with others
  • Stays on task
  • Behaves appropriately for the situation, i.e. is quiet when required (in class), and plays when is appropriate (in recess)
  • Drive and desire for learning
  • Confident yet respectful of others

All of the above traits are also qualities we would like to see in a dog. These qualities begin in the home, but they are further instilled in a school environment, where children are taught order, self-discipline, and respect for adults. Just like a child, a dogs desire to learn should be encouraged. Our training encourages dogs to put in more effort, and we reward them for the efforts they give us. A task well done is praised, which builds work ethic in the dog. It builds the desire to do right.

School is not just about the actual academics. In school, we learned algebra, reading, history, etc. but we also learned important social lessons: how to behave, how to sit quietly and listen, how to follow direction. We were not given a choice to attend our classes, we were required to attend. In the evening at home, it was not “Would you rather do your homework, or would you rather go play outside?” It was required that we do our homework, and then we could go play outside. Playing outside was the positive reinforcement for completing a task that we would otherwise probably not choose to do. If we did not comply, pressure was put upon us. Mom would put her hands on her hips, stand squarely at us and command “Sit down and do it, now.” And if we still did not comply, privileges were taken away. We knew mom wouldn’t cave, because she never did. So we did not bother with protesting– it got us no results. We did our homework the first time, every time, and got to play outside or watch tv the rest of the evening.

“We knew mom wouldn’t cave, because she never did. So we did not bother with protesting– it got us no results.”

Your dog is the same way. To a child’s young mind, and a dogs ever-young mind, instant gratification is very attractive. The world is full of interesting and fun things. We all want our dogs focus at times when we need it, so you need to be interesting and fun, but also worthy of respect and able to function as a leader. Obedience training is not just about the tangible actions, no more than school is just about learning facts and figures. Virtually nobody calls a trainer to say “You know, the problem with my dog is he just doesn’t do a good sit-stay.” They call because something is bothering them, or bothering their dog. An insecure, troubled dog often lacks leadership and really we must remember, they are dogs. They have to be taught what’s ok and what’s not ok, and in a manner that is clear to them. That’s where a trainer, someone who “speaks dog,” gets a phone call.

Virtually nobody calls a trainer to say “You know, the problem with my dog is he just doesn’t do a good sit-stay.”

Of clients we work with, there are three main categories:
-My dog just needs to learn “the basics”
-My dog has some annoying habits
-My dog has some concerning behavior issues

“The Basics” Dog
When people refer to “the basics,” I will usually assume they mean obedience training. To me, a dog with basic training can walk on a loose leash (no pulling), heel, come when called (around distractions), sit, down, stay, and has manners such as not jumping, barking, or taking things that aren’t theirs. The training instills a key component: self-control. That is all covered in a basic train, and I can almost guarantee you that with proper obedience training, the dog will be a model citizen. The “basics dog” has few ingrained bad habits, and no serious behavioral problems– and because he will get a good foundation, he has a much lower chance of developing any.
One of the common mistakes I see pet owners make is thinking that just any ol’ trainer will do, since it’s just basic stuff. So they go to PetCo or another big box retail store that isn’t a professional training facility, and they waste their time and money while feeling like they did training. In reality, they are lucky if their dogs learned a couple tricks for a treat, but they certainly won’t have any solid or useful obedience skills. Because we are experienced in higher levels of training, I believe we do a better job on the basics, too. If you wanted to learn tennis, you don’t need to hire Venus Williams, but you do need someone who knows 1) how to teach, 2) how to produce good results. Unfortunately, some trainers are more like a dude down the street who took a couple tennis classes and now thinks he’s good enough to advertise as an instructor.

“In reality, they are lucky if their dogs learned a couple tricks for a treat, but they certainly won’t have any solid or useful obedience skills.”

“Annoying Habits” Dog
This dog will probably be lacking in the basics, which is why he has bad habits. The owner may have already done some obedience training, lessons, or classes, but they did not work, either because the methods were not effective, the trainer was not experienced, or they were non-compliant students and did not follow-up with the training themselves. (When your trainer says you need to practice these new habits and routines every day… you need to practice every day. And because I assume you interact with your dog on some level every day, there is no excuse.) Some of the habits will be more ingrained. The “bad habits” dog may think his name is “No, No, Stop-That!”  The relationship between dog and human may have become strained, and people will often express to me “It’s just not fun anymore.” We may see things like barking, stealing food, mass destruction, chewing furniture, nipping, clawing, bolting away when off-leash, or persistent housebreaking trouble. Once the dog learns more positive and productive behaviors, he will not need to be naughty to get attention. Again, I can almost guarantee you that with proper obedience training, most, if not all of these issues will dissipate. For any remaining issues that are more persistent, we have specific creative solutions. The most fulfilling thing about problem-solving behavior is seeing the dog finally gain clarity. “Oh, this is how you want me to behave.” Once the dog is trained, everyone is happier and more content.

“The ‘Bad Habits’ dog may think his name is ‘No, No, Stop-That!”

“Concerning Issues” Dog
This may be a dog who has social issues, aggression, fear or anxiety, or has bitten a person or another dog. They may have already worked with other trainers or hired a veterinary behaviorist. We work with a good number of dogs with severe issues, and we are known for successful rehabilitation. Often the owners of dogs with behavior problems will specify to me “I am not worried about the obedience stuff, I really want to focus on the behavior problem.” I understand exactly what they mean, but that is a huge flaw in thinking. The goal of training is that they can handle their dog, control their dog, and that the dog makes better choices. Choices like “I have a bone I value greatly, but I am now comfortable with you coming near me and I trust the outcome,” or “I see that little yappy dog lunging at me on the sidewalk, and I kinda want to tell him off, but I am going to ignore him and move on because that produces better results for me.” But the problem is– if the dog does not listen to his owners over the small things (like an obedience command, spoken a single time), why should the dog listen to them over the big things (like not biting that random dude on the street)? You have to start somewhere. It is necessary that your dog obey you– the first time, every time. It is not your dogs job to be judge, jury and executioner of perceived “bad guys” on the street. It is not your dogs job to escape confinement that you put him in. He might think it’s his job to tear through the door to come find you when you’ve left, but we have to communicate to him that this behavior is not necessary.

“If the dog does not listen to his owners over the small things, why should the dog listen to them over the big things?”

In order to modify behavior, you need a clear line of communication. There is no magic wand. Despite what you may see on tv, your dogs issues cannot be magically fixed in a day, they cannot be fixed by being in a pack of dogs, or by pills from the vet. It takes changing the way you think, changing the way you interact, and changing the way you handle your dog. And yes, it takes obedience training.

Are you causing your dogs anxiety and over-attachment?

Most often, over-attachment is an issue within the relationship of the dog and the person. It is a problem because it’s very stressful, physically and mentally on a dog. It’s also problematic for people, as the symptoms of the problem are bothersome. If you think your dog may be over-attached or have signs of separation anxiety, you must consider: are you behaving in a way has enabled an unhealthy over-attachment?

Have you noticed these signs of separation issues?

  • Excessive stress barking when left alone, sometimes for hours
  • Refusal to eat when left alone
  • Breaking out of enclosures, sometimes causing self-injury
  • Drooling, panting, whining; panicked and frantic behavior
  • Any numerous other stress signs
  • Insecure or nervous personality and/or behavior may predispose a dog to suffering from this
  • Separation issues are a common reason dogs are given up to shelters (because of the destruction that ensues), so we see this issue a lot in rescue dogs particularly. It also has to do with how the dog is introduced to the new home and new owner. If you get a new dog, begin obedience training classes/lessons immediately.

How many of the following signs apply to you and your dog?

  • Do you allow your dog to follow you around all the time?
  • Have you neglected to crate-train or pen-train your dog?
  • Have you considered getting another dog “to keep him company”? (Hint: don’t!)
  • Do you tend to have very emotional greetings?
  • Are you constantly acknowledging and touching the dog?
  • Do you give the dog constant attention?
  • Are you your dogs primary (or only) caretaker?
  • Do you often re-arrange your schedule to satisfy your dog?
  • Have you hand-fed the dog?
  • Do you co-sleep with your dog?
  • Are you often cuddling together?
  • Do you have emotional goodbyes?
  • Are you allowing your dog to get what they want on their own terms without earning anything?
  • Can you handle your dog in basic obedience situations?
    • Do you struggle to get your dog to obey commands the first time you say them?
    • Can you have your dog lie down across the room and simply stay put and be quiet?
      • How much will you struggle if tasked with an “out of sight” down-stay?
    • Are you the type to “give up and give in” when your dog isn’t listening?

Some people do these sort of things all the time, and for most dogs it’s not going to be a big deal, but for a dog prone to over-dependence, it is. A lot of people who present with over-dependent dogs are (coincidentally?) also very in-tune to their dog. But in a way, their dog has trained them, rather than vice versa. So you have to think of all the things a particular dog wants, and how the person behaves in every interaction. Remember, there is no such thing as an “untrained” dog, there is only poorly trained or well trained. Dogs with bad habits have been poorly trained and have adapted to the behaviors they’ve been allowed to practice. All this sort of prior “training” has to be un-done. Imagine you had a brand new dog, and he was extremely standoffish. All he wanted to do was do his own thing, and had no use for you. What would you do to get him to bond to you? Maybe you’d tether him to you (aka “umbilical cording”), or maybe you’d hand feed him and sleep in bed together. Think of all those things, then reverse them for your over-attached dog.

Solutions: Your solutions will depend on your individual case, but here are some general tips.

  • Have designated times where you ignore the dog and go about other activities, and I mean totally ignore. No touch, no talk, no eye contact.
  • You will not allow the dog to jump on you when they return to an area, or when you come home. You will walk right through the dog and go about other activities until the dog is completely settled down, which could take 5 minutes, or an hour.
  • A new person should immediately begin to care for the dog
    • They will provide the food
    • They will provide access to outside, toys, and attention for the dog
    • Time to drop doggie off at a friends house or a trainers house for the weekend. This is a great time for board and train!
  • You will iron-out much of these over-dependence issues in obedience training.
    • Obedience builds a dogs confidence in their job
    • Obedience is a healthier bond, a partnership between dog and human
    • You will practice more control-based exercises, like down-stays, in a calm manner.
    • You will work your dog 6 days a week, for 20-60 minutes a day
    • At the end of basic obedience, you will demonstrate a 5-minute out of sight down-stay
  • Your dog will learn crate manners
    • You will begin by crating your dog randomly while you are home
    • Begin by crating the dog for 30 minutes while you go do the dishes or some other task, just put him in there and close the door
    • You will leave for longer and longer periods of time
    • When you arrive home, you will not let the dog out of the crate first-thing. You will go about another activity for 15 minutes, until the dog is completely settled down.
  • Exercise program will be instated
    • This will include both cardio (like playing fetch), and exercise that uses mental capacity (like obstacles, scent work, games)
    • His down-time will be calm and relaxing… and on his own.
    • Dog will be off-leash trained so it can get proper exercise
  • You will not get another dog “to keep him company”
  • Your dog will earn things and learn a system of training where he works for rewards!

Once this issue is addressed, your dog will be calmer, more relaxed, and you will both be less stressed. Then you can focus on what’s really important: Experiencing the joy of having a good companion.

Problem solving dog behavior: Barking

Here, we have a fairly in-depth case study on a common and simple companion dog behavior problem: unwanted barking. Behavior problems in dogs are defined as whatever the owner finds problematic. Keep in mind that what one person considers a problem is not what everyone would consider a problem. Now, dogs bark for many reasons, and this is just one example. Cases we work with as behaviorists can range from annoying things like this, to more severe or serious issues like fear, anxiety and dog or human aggression.

The basis for dog behavior is this:

Dogs do things because they have been rewarded (reinforced) for those things in the past. Animals perform behaviors because they work. If a behavior “works,” it is likely to be repeated.

Case study:

Source: Phone/email consult from out-of-state 
Owner
: Beth
Dog: Rocco, terrier mix, 15 months old, in good health
When/where dog was obtained: From a friend, at 6 months of age
Past training history: Basic obedience class at PetCo (essentially useless), behavior consultation with another trainer (for this issue, recommended giving him a Kong and giving him treats when he stops barking. Problem is, giving him treats for stopping will create a behavior sequence: 1) Bark like a nutjob, get it all out, 2) Stop barking and eat treats)
Presenting problem: Beth works full-time from home. Rocco barks at her for attention. This is annoying to her, and also a work-related problem because she is frequently on the phone with customers. If he is not barking at her, he is barking at the door to go for a walk.
Approaches already tried (in the past): Saying “NO,” ignoring Rocco, giving him a bone or filled Kong to distract him, throwing a toy, putting him in the bedroom with the door closed (this is called management), attempts to exercise him more to tire him out. None have been effective for more than a short period of time.
Severity of problem: (note: I like to get an idea of how “severe” a behavior is considered by the owner. Some owners will describe a behavior as only mildly annoying, almost an afterthought, yet others can experience the same type of behavior and for them it is something they would give the dog up over, or even put it to sleep for) The behavior is considered moderately problematic, if this cannot be fixed, the dog will not be given up.
Things dog finds reinforcing: These are things he enjoys- attention, praise, going outside, food, and highly values toys and play. These are typical things any dog enjoys, but some will value more over others. This can also be modified through training. For example, we can teach a dog to value food more by using it in training, restricting daily meals to training session times, and by using tastier food. We can increase the value of toys by playing with our dogs and increasing prey drive. We can increase the value of praise and attention by applying most of our praise during training sessions, and by preceding tangible rewards with verbal praise. Remember that to many dogs, simply being acknowledged is reinforcing.

Questions:

Why is Rocco barking? Anyone would be able to guess the answer to this: the dog is barking for attention.
Why does he continue to bark? Two reasons: Because it has been reinforced in the past. Because he is a terrier, and has an innate tendency towards being vocal.
I asked Beth when she had been throwing the toy for Rocco. She explained that the common pattern was the dog would begin barking at her, she would attempt to ignore, she would scold him and yell at him, and then eventually when she was on a phone call she would throw the toy to keep him quiet. He quite enjoys a game of fetch, and will bring the toy and drop it in front of her to initiate play. She has, in effect, trained Rocco to be persistent with barking. She has taught him that if he wears her down enough, she will reward him by throwing the toy, or giving him a bone or filled Kong. He also has her trained to take him outside if he barks at the door! This first began during housebreaking, when Beth rewarded him for “telling her that he has to go out.” Now he does it whenever he wants.
Why have prior attempts to curb the behavior failed? Because they were not followed through completely, or were otherwise not designed to be effective.
How can we re-train the dog? First, Rocco has to learn that barking does not produce reward.

If a behavior no longer works, the dog will try something else.

Instructions for owner: CHOOSE YOUR SOLUTION

We believe in giving clients OPTIONS for solving problems. The theory being, if you choose your own option you are more likely to follow-through.

-Games, playing, and walks are now on your terms
Pick up all the loose toys in the home. The home should be a place of calm and good manners, not a playground. Rocco cannot run up and drop a toy in front of you at the desk if there are no toys lying around. You should be in control of the toys, because play sessions should be on your terms, not your dogs. Rocco will still get to play with toys, in fact, he will play more, and you will initiate play sessions at your convenience. Toys will be in the closet, or in a place Rocco cannot reach them. You will initiate the game, and you will end the game. The same will go for walks. Do not allow your dog to train you to take him out when he barks at the door. His daily exercise and walks are very important, but make it your idea, not his. Take his favorite toy with you on a walk and use it to exercise him at the park with a 20-ft longline.
-Reinforce desired behavior, ignore or correct unwanted behavior
If you glance over and see Rocco lying down calmly and quietly across the room, that is the time to praise him and offer him a tidbit. Not while he is staring at you or vocalizing.
-Teach “place” command
You will teach Rocco a 3-in-one command that means 1) Go to your bed or a cot, 2) Lie down, 3) Stay put until released. You will use this for now to better manage him inside the home. Starting with small amounts of time, he will work up incrementally to about 30 minutes twice a day on place. I will provide you with an instructional video on how to begin this simple skill. Any bones or Kongs will be given on “place.”
-Teach calmness using the leash
“Sit on the dog” exercise. You will leave a lightweight leash dragging while in the house. As you sit at your desk, during the times Rocco would normally be barking, you will sit on the length of the leash so the dog has only enough room to lie down quietly next to you. Any protesting or barking will be ignored. You must have more patience and tenacity than your dog. You will only acknowledge, praise, or touch him if he is behaving calmly. If he is seen patrolling the front window, you will interrupt that behavior; tell him “leave it” as you guide him away by the leash.
-Effectively correct barking
Because the barking is a habit, it may not stop right away. In order to cease it more effectively, we will use mild discipline to correct it. Imagine a cost-benefit analysis from the dogs point of view: If barking costs more than it is worth, why continue to do it? Saying “NO” is not a big enough “cost” for Rocco, he simply does not care, or is immune to the word. You have two choices: You will purchase a simple squirt bottle, and will give him a squirt of water if he barks. If he doesn’t mind it (or even enjoys the water) you will use a Pet Corrector, a small canister that gives a harmless blast of air. This is priced at $8.99, and is quite effective. You will say “no” .5 seconds (half a second) before you apply the correction.

Imagine a cost-benefit analysis from the dogs point of view: If barking costs more than it is worth, why continue to do it?

Further important recommendation: Join a local obedience class that utilizes balanced and effective methods. This will give you the ability to communicate with your dog, will provide mental stimulation for him, and will give you the ability to correct any unwanted behaviors while reinforcing good skills. Since you are not local to Chicago, I will recommend a trainer in your area for obedience.

Training in Hong Kong

This February, Jennifer Hack of Dynamic Dogs was honored to be invited to teach a seminar at a kennel and training facility in Hong Kong.

The seminar was advertised, and spots soon filled, with 12 dogs and many spectators. “Training the Dynamic Dogs Way.” The topics covered were canine behavior, obedience, and problem solving. From pets with aggression and fear issues, to competitive obedience dogs. This marks Jennifer’s second international seminar.

“I had an amazing time visiting, exploring, and most of all– learning more about the dog culture in Hong Kong. I was able to attend the Pet Expo, dog show, tour the ASPCA, do training sessions with other professional trainers, and more. I was able to work with several great dog trainers and meet many dog lovers! I am grateful to all who showed me hospitality.”

-Jennifer Hack

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Performance: Are Your Dogs Recreational Activities Helping or Hurting?

There are a lot of things people do that they do not notice, or do not consciously spend the time to realize.  Here are some common mistakes handlers and trainers can make:

1.  Provide their dog conditions in which it’s being reinforced for the wrong behaviors.  One example of this is when people allow their dogs to be strongly reinforced by outside things.  Then complain “my dog is too distracted.”  Or is too distractable, too hyper, won’t perform well, or won’t pay attention.

In the case of allowing outside activities to reinforce your dog, this is coming from our basic desire to want to give the dog what it seemingly wants.  I imagine people get pleasure in seeing their dog enjoy things, because don’t we all.  But it has to be a healthy activity.  Dog parks are not always conducive to your dogs training or improved behavior.  You are essentially teaching them that the highlight of their day (or week) is to unload energy with other dogs.  There is play, and there is wrestling that is “too much,” that goes beyond healthy and polite interactions.  If you want your dogs to socialize with others and play, it has to be in a structured environment and with boundaries, and preferably with dogs you are familiar with.  A group of 30 strange dogs is not ideal.  You don’t know what sort of habits (or even diseases) your dog may pick up when you allow them to run loose with a pack of strange dogs.  This can contribute to some dogs becoming very over-stimulated in the presence of other dogs, because the highlight of their life is unloading on other dogs.

Playing a game of “chase” might seem like fun, but it’s not fun when you can’t catch your dog!  Do not engage in games where you are chasing your dog or puppy.  You want them to follow your lead, not the other way around.

I love to see my dog exploring nature, swimming in the lake, I love to see my dog enjoying bitework, and running through a field as I’d imagine she’d be saying “Yiiipeeee!!!”  I enjoy seeing my dogs enjoy things they like, including playing together.  But I can tell when I’m just seeing uncontrolled arousal or frantic excitement, and when I’m seeing joy and fulfillment.  I can also tell when a behavior is healthy or not, and if it’s conducive to my training.  We also enjoy agility, obstacles, and pack walks.  The activities I listed are actually all conducive to my training.  Swimming is a game of fetch, exercising prey drive and retrieves in play, while physically conditioning my dog.  Bitework is not only what my Malinois are bred for, it’s an exciting activity for my dogs and directly involves me as well.  That is the key, that the activities we do always involve me.  Even when they are running loose in a park, at a distance, they are always looking to me every so often, checking to see how far I am, knowing they can only venture off so far before I holler and they trot back.  They will come when called, be praised, and be immediately released.  This is the best way to train this casual but reliable recall, the “check in.”  Make it easy, make it fun, and make it mandatory– and your dogs will do it every time.

2.  What you allow is what will continue.  If your dog has a problem with something, do not allow it to be rehearsed.  Change the behavior first before putting your dog back in that situation.

3.  Here’s another handler mistake– demanding a behavior when the foundation is not yet there.  There is not a full understanding yet.  Why do people go straight to punishment when the dog doesn’t understand the exercise yet?  I suppose the reason is out of frustration, because they are trying to force something too quickly.  You must understand this will not work well.  You cannot punish your dog into learning something he doesn’t fully understand, or can’t yet perform under the particular conditions.

Remember…

Choose your activities wisely.  Consider how the activities and the way they are structured will impact your dogs behavior and training progress.

Teach the dog and proof behaviors before expecting them to be performed in all environments.

Why your dog is reactive on walks

“MY DOG IS REACTIVE TO OTHER DOGS ON WALKS!”

We deal with this training issue a lot, especially working in the busy neighborhoods of Chicago, where around 6pm, dogs are pouring out of hi-rises, condos, and houses.  “Reactive” can be a somewhat over-used term, and it can range from a dog that is social and friendly but just over-excited, to a dog that intends to bite.  Dictionary definition “reactive” a : readily responsive to a stimulus
b : occurring as a result of stress or emotional upset.

A dogs acting out on a leash can stem from several causes, and may be related to other issues:

  1. Lack of ability to self-regulate and cope with the level of frustration or stimulation… many people feel it’s like their dog is in tunnel vision.
  2. A lack of solid obedience training.  If your dog is barking and lunging, he is not obedient— and therefore needs obedience training.
  3. Often dogs with on-leash aggressive displays are described as low confidence and insecure, often taking the defensive when feeling threatened.
  4. Inappropriate inter-dog social skills.  Not all dogs have equal inter-species communication skills.  Some are more like Tarzan!
  5. Avoidant– if they aren’t reacting, they’re avoiding.
  6. MANY have lack of respect of the handler, and therefore the handler pulling them back and saying “NOOO, stop that!” is ineffective, or just makes it worse by adding high emotion to the situation.
  7. The handlers behavior as another dog is approaching– dog associates “Why is my human so tense and nervous, maybe it’s because of the other dog?”Are you choking up on the leash and changing your pace when you think a dog is nearby?  Or maybe you are giving verbal cues, you are relaxed the whole walk, but when you see another dog down the sidewalk you are whispering “Now stay with me, you better be nice, heel, heel…” and your dog is getting psyched up.  You do not want a negative association with other dogs coming.  You want a neutral or positive response to other dogs, and we reward appropriate behavior.  Your dog looks at another dog, calmly and looks away?  Great, yes them and pay them.
  8. Then there are less common, dogs who present with animal-aggression with the intent to severely fight or kill other animals, not just posture for rank.  These dogs can be a real danger, and require intensive training and behavior modification, as well as common-sense management throughout their lives.  Things like secure fencing, leash, supervision, etc.  A dog who may seriously injure another animal requires a responsible handler, and safety precautions in place.  They may or may not be aggressive towards people.  The handler of such a dog needs to be aware of any propensity for re-directed aggression, which can happen with some dogs.  This refers to when their frustration/aggression level goes high and they re-direct their anger onto the nearest thing.  Dogs who have a tendency towards this can be dangerous to people as well.
  9. Other types of aggression: For example, an in-tact male who typically goes after other males is not “reactive,” he is same-sex aggressive and may ready to fight with teeth for rank.
  10. Some dogs just *do not like* other dogs, or are very selective.   They CAN be taught to behave (through solid obedience and behavior modification) and they can be trained to tolerate, but will never enjoy interacting with certain dogs in close proximity for the sake of interacting itself.  This should be respected as part of the dogs personality, and interaction shouldn’t be forced upon the dog, or they may be negative experiences.  It’s important to address training with a professional so your dog is safe and will respond to you.  Sometimes dogs may begin to be more “grumpy” or non-social with others, due to pain or not feeling well, so make sure your pet has no health issues or body or joint pain.   A trainer who has been training for over 40 years said this to a client who wanted her dog to “be nicer” to the dogs she’d gotten into fights with: “Some dogs will never get along.  Don’t you know people who don’t get along???”  I know some people who you couldn’t just invite to the same dinner party without risking a possible altercation!  Not all dogs are as nice or patient as others.  As a trainer, we have a very good feel for which doggie personalities and energy types will mesh well together, and which will clash.  Sometimes you just have to be selective.
  11. Territorial response. Most of the dogs who are reactive on walks do not look at another animal coming towards them on the street as a “friend,” or as a neutral occurrence, but as something outside their pack that stimulates a territorial response, especially when tethered to their owner, frustration is increased on leash as well.  The look of some dogs on walks is like one of a predator hunting.
  12. They may or may not actually bite another dog… some just put on a big nasty show- that doesn’t mean they won’t get bit themselves though, if they do that display to the wrong dog.
  13. BUT MY DOG PLAYS WITH OTHER DOGS SO WELL! With some excitable types, it does not matter if they have daycare or play-groups 3x a week and are great with dogs there, it’s different when they’re moving & covering ground attached to their owner as a unit, they may begin displays that look aggressive, or are territorial.  Or maybe it’s not aggression-related at all- just barking out of frustration.  That is remedied by obedience training, teaching focus on you.  We train for our dogs to be neutral to other dogs– not overly-interested to the point of losing all focus!
  14. It’s the way you are walking your dog! You are not walking with purpose and with control– by that I mean responsiveness without physically restraining the dog on a tight leash.  A dog that has a respect for how far away he will walk before considering your proximity.  I will only walk a dog that has natural desire to stay with me, and move as a unit, no dragging me or bolting away!  I think a big part of the problem is that people walk their dogs around from the time they get them untrained, and let bad habits develop.  Except for puppies, I WILL NOT walk a dog (yard only, or field on longline) around the city until they are leash trained and not going to cause a ruckus, I dont want to rehearse bad habits.  If any bad habits surface, they are immediately corrected, and not allowed to continue.  Some dogs just like to be bullies… the dog should know aggressive behavior is something that displeases me and it will have swift consequences.

I hope this was informative to you and gave you ideas to think about.  Please visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/dynamicdogschicago and feel free to ask us any questions you might have, or share your experiences in how you were able to train your reactive dog.

Sincerely,

Dynamic Dogs Chicago Trainers

Canine Aggression Series: Territorial Aggression

TERRITORIAL AGGRESSION:  Many dogs were bred to have guarding instincts, including many of the working breeds like German Shepherds, Doberman, or Rottweiler.  Most dogs have a natural instinct to alert or guard what they perceive as their territory.  This can manifest in a dog that barks when strangers approach the yard or won’t let visitors come into the house.  Look into a breed’s history and you may find territorial aggression was a selected trait used for guarding property or livestock flocks and herds.

SIGNS:  Patrolling the yard, house, windows, or yard.  Barking or growling when people or other dogs are seen approaching.  A dog that takes regular walks around the neighborhood or marks its territory may consider the whole block part of its territory.

Territorial aggression is often made worse because the dog learns that his barking causes the threat to go away.  When the mail carrier comes, the dog barks, and so the person leaves.  The dog does not know that they were going to leave anyway- they think it was their barking that warded them off.  Similarly, if the dog growls and someone backs away, the dog learns it works.  Being in small or confined areas makes territorial aggression worse, such as a dog on a short chain in the yard, or a dog barking in the car.

TREATMENT:  This can be managed through training, obedience, teaching alternate behaviors, and leadership.  Prevention is important, as well as re-directing behavior.  For example, when your dog barks at the fence, you immediately have him come when called.  When the doorbell rings, you have him “place” on a dog bed quietly.

Canine Aggression Series: Fear Aggression

In this series we go over the types of aggression, including causes and possible treatments.
FEAR AGGRESSION: A fear-aggressive dog shows physiologic signs of fear along with aggression. A fearful dog may appear generally insecure and give off signals like cowering, shaking, or averting is eyes. Owners may describe their dog as “skittish,” “nervous,” or “snapping at people.” Not all fearful dogs are aggressive. There are different thresholds for when a dog will become aggressive towards different stimuli. For some fearful dogs, avoidance and ‘shutting down’ is their response when afraid. Others may become defensive: growling, snarling, lunging, or biting. Fear-aggressive dogs may appear worse when they are confined, such as in a crate, in their home, or on a leash. When a dog is confined by a leash, his option to flee is limited, so he may become defensive out of fear- towards other dogs or towards people. To work with a fearful animal, a trainer must be very skilled at reading the dogs body language and signals. Causes of fear aggression can include genetics (one or both parents may have been fearful dogs), experiences in early puppyhood, and lack of socialization and training. If you have a fearful dog, realize that it may be strongly genetic, as fear is a hardwired response in animals.
TREATMENT FOR FEAR AGGRESSION: A fearful dog does the best with a patient and confident trainer who can make them feel safe and give them guidance. We want to teach the dog to defer back to us for guidance in situations where he is unsure. As dog trainers, we don’t want to associate punishment with something the dog is already afraid of, example “I am already scared of dogs, and now every time a dog comes around I get punished.” We want to make a good association of “Every time a dog comes around, good things happen!” This is “counter-conditioning.” You play a big part in your dogs behavior and training. It is important to not reinforce your dogs fear through trying to comfort them when they are displaying aggression (growling, snapping, lunging), which can be taken as praise for that behavior. To counter-condition, praise and reward must come before the dog shows aggression, and the training plan should use a desensitizing technique along with counter-conditioning. First and foremost, you will need a strong and reliable foundation of obedience so you can have control, including sit, down, sit-stays and down-stays. Obedience gives your dog something else to focus on.  Your dog should be getting about 30 minutes of exercise per day along with his obedience lessons. Anxiety medication may also be recommended through your veterinarian, such as fluoxetine (Prozac), amitriptyline, or clomipramine.
TRIGGERS FOR FEAR OR AGGRESSION: Before beginning training, you will make a list of all your dogs triggers, then we will address them through training. Sometimes you will never know why your dog is afraid of a certain thing, there is no reason that we can explain as humans, because we cannot see through the animals eyes.  We cannot see things or understand things the same way they do.  Triggers are anything your dog is afraid of, here are a few common ones:

  • Children: Their movements are more erratic than adults, they make different noises, and they are often more unpredictable in movement and have a higher pitched voice. Maybe your dog was not socialized to children at a young age, or was teased by a child or touched in a way that was uncomfortable.
  • Dogs:  Maybe it’s large dogs, maybe small.  Your dog may not have been socialized to other dogs or may have been attacked.
  • Men: Males are often a trigger because they have a larger stature and a deeper or raspier voice. Your dog may have been abused by a man, but this is not always the case. Even dogs who have never been mistreated can be fearful of men just by simply not being exposed to them enough. Try having special treats at the door every time a man comes over to toss for the dog, but do not force the situation. At Dynamic Dogs Chicago, our male trainers work with the fearful dogs as well, as it’s important for that bond to develop. Once taught how to handle a situation, your dog will benefit from socialization to additional men.
  • People in uniform: Dogs develop fears to people in uniforms by generalizing. This means they initially see a “scary” person, let’s say the mail carrier, who comes “intruding” onto their property every day wearing a uniform, or the UPS delivery person carrying large boxes. They generalize that fear response to everyone wearing uniforms.
  • Elderly or disabled individuals: Remember, a fearful dog is afraid of novel things and situations. People who use a mobility device like a wheelchair or walker may not be something the dog is used to. Older people move differently, they may walk slower or limp, and that causes the dog to think there is something different (and therefore potentially scary) about them.

PRECAUTIONS: Safety is a top priority when working with a fearful or aggressive dog. Do not try to force or lure your dog into an uncomfortable situation. If you are passing children on the sidewalk, for example, you may want to make a u-turn or have your dog walk on the other side. It is not worth the risk of potentially putting anyone in danger.  Do not act nervous or anxious, or your dog will pick up on that. Saying “its ok, its ok” may make your dog even more nervous, because he is picking up on your insecurity.   Be calm and confident at all times, and be up-beat while you are turning away to walk in another direction, do not jerk your dog away. Behavior triggers should be addressed with the supervision of a dog training professional.

Canine Aggression Series: Types of Aggression in Dogs

Aggression is a serious matter and very stressful for everyone involved.  Dog owners want to know why their dog is being aggressive.  It’s often complex, with some dogs having multiple types of aggression as well as unique triggers.  It helps to first understand that there are many types of dog aggression.  In this series, we will explain the types of aggression and the various behavior modifications that may be utilized.  For any type of aggressive behavior, professional help from a Chicago trainer behaviorist is required.  The definition of aggression in dogs can include barking, growling, biting, or any attempt to injure or harm.  There are many signs a dog may give that precede aggression.

Types of aggression we will cover in this series:

  • Fear Aggression
  • Territorial Aggression
  • Predatory Aggression
  • Dominance Aggression
  • Possessive Aggression (resource guarding)
  • Food related Aggression
  • Pain-induced Aggression
  • Redirected Aggression
  • Intra-sexual Aggression (male/male or female/female)
  • Punishment-induced Aggression
  • Idiopathic Aggression

We will discuss the various types of aggressive behavior, triggers, precautions, as well as treatments.  Treatments can very depending on the dog.  It does not mean the dog is bad, or even “dangerous,” but it is a natural part of animal behavior.  All dogs need to be taught acceptable ways to behave.

Our expert opinion on pit bulls

At Dynamic Dogs, we help a lot of pitties! Pit bulls are a versatile breed with a bad rap.  “Pit bull” is a broad term for a type of dog, such as a “terrier,” “hound,” or “bird dog.” They are an American breed with a long history, and versatile purpose. Pit bulls vary a lot, or at least what is called a pit bull. In fact, many people cannot correctly identify the breed type, and may lump other similar breeds (Mastiff, Boxer, Dogo, etc) in the “pit bull” category.

So what’s with the bad rap? Pits are banned in some areas, but they are popular in Chicago. Any breed can gain a bad reputation if they become overbred and are too-often popular among irresponsible people.  A good pit is a loving and highly trainable companion.  Here we will go over your key points to owning a Pit, then dispel myths regarding pit bulls and training your pit bull.

KEY POINTS TO TRAINING YOUR PIT BULL

  • Understand your dog as an individual
    • Classify: Dogs are all dogs, then they are breeds, then they are individuals
  • Train for real-life obedience around many distractions
  • Teach impulse control
  • Take ultimate responsibility for your dogs behavior
  • Set your dog up for success by working with a professional trainer
  • Complete the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen program or equivalent

MYTH:  ALL pit bulls are all dog-aggressive due to a dogfighting background and breeding

FACT:  Not every dog will hold up to generalizations of the breed. This depends on their breeding (genetics), how they are raised and socialized early in life, and how they are handled as an adult.  Not every pit bull has animal aggression, in fact many live in homes with other dogs and cats or attend daycare plays.  There is a large population of pit type dogs, and the majority are not bred for dog fighting, in fact, very few are. Most are bred for other reasons: companion pets, for money, for their looks, etc. But not all for actual dogfighters. Because of some of the genetics and history in certain bloodlines, animal aggression and high prey drive can be an issue in the breed. The right training can go a long way, but it comes down to this- Not all dogs are going to get along with every other dog. Do you get along with every human you meet? Even in your own family, are there relatives you just can’t stand? If this is the case, you must accept this and learn to manage it properly. Not every pit bull will be totally accepting of other animals. Even if your dog is non-social, you should still have full control over your dog through obedience, and he should be a safe dog in public and around other dogs under your supervision.  You cannot control what other people do with their dogs, but you can make sure your dog is safe and under your control.

What is “prey drive”?
You will hear this term a lot in relation to dog training. Prey drive is the instinctive motivation to find, pursue, and capture prey. All dogs are carnivores who retain these instincts. Imagine playing with a dog with a toy squirrel… they get excited when it moves, when it squeaks, and they chase after it when you throw it. They might shake it around or want you to throw it again. That is prey drive. Now imagine a dog who halfheartedly chases a ball when you throw it, not very interested. That dog is lower in prey drive than the one who sees the ball and gets very excited. When dogs are “in prey drive” they can still listen and be obedient, but it takes practice. 

MYTH:  Pit bulls require very firm or harsh training because they are a dominant breed

FACT:  Although being physically strong and powerful and even willful is a breed type trait, most Pit Bulls are in tune with their handler and respond to fair and consistent training.  Some dogs require more firmness from by their owner, just as some children require stricter parenting.  If you have a strong and high drive breed you do need to step up and be firm when required, but it doesn’t mean you have to be harsh.  When people get frustrated or think their dog is stubborn, they are no longer teaching the dog, the are only punishing it.  Dominance is a situational relationship issue between a dog and owner, and is not a breed trait of pit bulls.

MYTH:  Pit Bulls are difficult to train

FACT:  They are, on average, no more or less difficult to train than other breeds.  They are generally willing to please if they are given proper direction and clear rules to abide by.

MYTH:  Pit Bulls snap on their owners, attack out of nowhere, or have unpredictable aggression

FACT:  Pure myth.  A dog attacking their owner can be caused by many many things, such as neurological issues, pain, or poor training.  It is not a breed trait of the American Pit Bull Terrier.  According to Karen Delise, founder of the National Canine Research Council, and author of the book “Pit Bull Placebo,”
“The classification of an attack as unprovoked is usually based on the declarations of a negligent owner who does not care to understand canine behavior, an owner who is unable to read (understand) canine behavior, a busy owner who is too preoccupied with the tasks of daily living to see the signs and signals dogs usually display, or persons who deliberately misrepresent the facts to limit their culpability.” Take this to mean that no dogs attacks “out of nowhere,” there is always something precipitating it.