While the box game is fantastic mental enrichment for any dog, it is particularly good for helping fearful dogs gain confidence as they explore new and novel objects, textures and surfaces.
Set up the game to accommodate your dog’s current ability and comfort level. Use several boxes of different sizes and shapes. Start out with different boxes set up at different levels of difficulty – see the levels below. Let your dog try the course. Take note of where he is confident and where he struggles, then adjust the course accordingly to set him up for success.
Each time you set up the course, keep some boxes at easy levels, some where your dog is confident or gaining confidence and one or two more challenging set ups. If the dog is not comfortable with any of your set ups, take a moment to change things up to back off a bit on the difficulty level. Use his body language as your guide to his level of comfort.
The box game can also be played with a single box – adjusting the difficulty as your dog gains confidence.
Always scatter some treats on the floor between and away from the boxes so that the dog has the choice to opt out of exploring boxes and still has the opportunity to receive rewards. Requiring the dog to put his head into a box in order to gain a reward when he is scared to do so (or simply doesn’t want to) is coercive. Coercion has no place in dog training. Rather than speeding up the process, it will actually hamper your efforts to help your dog gain confidence.
Level 1 Upsidedown
Lay a medium-size box upside down on the floor. Put a couple of treats on the box and scatter treats around on the floor.
Move back and let your dog investigate at his own pace. If he is hesitant to take treats off the box, move them to the floor near the box. If the flaps are scaring him, fold them into the box.
Once he is able to take treats off of the top of the box, he is ready for Level 2.
Level 2 Box Game on its Side
Turn a box on its side and place a treat on top of the box and on the edge of the bottom lip of the box. If the dog is nervous about the flaps of the box, you can fold those inside until a later step. If the dog is able to take a treat from the lower lip of the box, try moving the treat farther and farther into the interior of the box.
This level may be easier with a larger box to begin with – especially if the flaps are sticking out. If the box is small, the dog will have to brush his head along the top flap as he reaches in to pick up the treat.
As the dog gains confidence, you can decrease the size of the box. You can even fold the top flap down a bit so that it partially obstructs the interior of the box. We are working toward your dog being comfortable reaching into the box and brushing the flaps with confidence.
Level 3 Reaching Inside
At this stage, we are asking the dog to reach into a box to get his reward. Start with a box that is low enough that your dog can reach in and touch the bottom of the box without needing to touch the sides of the box or lean into the box. The flaps are folded in at this point. If the dog is worried about reaching into a box with solid sides, you can use a basket or hamper.
As the dog gains confidence, you can start using larger, taller boxes that require the dog to lean into the box to reach the bottom.
When your dog is reaching into the box with confidence and pushing it across the floor to get all of the treats, he is ready to move to the next level.
Level 4 Flaps Out
One by one, fold the flaps out. Eventually all the flaps are sticking out and the dog will need to touch a flap in order to reach into the box.
Level 5 Adding Elements
The next level of difficulty for the box game is adding items to the box. Start with a single familiar item that you dog will not be afraid to move around with his nose in order to reach the treats. As your dog gains confidence, add more items – even novel items..
Level 6 Flaps In
Start folding the flaps inward so that they brush the dog’s head and face as he reaches into the box and as he pulls his head back out.
The Ultimate Box Game
Lock the flaps and let your dog work at getting into the box.
Some dogs will stick their head into the box and pull his head out to open the flaps. Other dogs will use their paws to open the box. Still others will dive right in and start ripping up the box to get inside. Any and all methods are acceptable.
Caution: If your dog is a box shredder, keep an eye on him to make sure he is not eating large pieces of the box. Avoid sticky and wet treat items to prevent scent and moisture from seeping into the cardboard – this can encourage the dog to ingest cardboard.
The Exploratory Box Game
Use a box, basket or hamper that your dog is comfortable with. Fill it with new and novel objects, textures and surfaces. Different types of balls (soft, fuzzy, rubber, textured, prickly, squeaky, etc.), stuffies, squeaky toys, rope toys, frisbee, crinkly items like water bottles or packing paper, etc. Chew toys like antlers, synthetic bones, bully stick, etc.
Let the dog explore as he chooses. If he pulls out a toy, take the time to play with him and his new treasure.
The 4th of July is almost upon us. Did you know that more dogs go missing on the 4th of July than any other day of the year?! The busiest day of the year at animal shelters across the country is July 5th. Studies show that upwards of 50% of dogs express fearful behaviors in the face of loud noises.
So, what can you do to help your dog navigate the 4th of July holiday?
Is my dog scared?
The first question we need to ask ourselves is this . . . Is my dog scared? Dogs who are afraid or stressed will exhibit some, or all, of the following body language cues:
Pinned back ears
Crouching or hiding
Trembling or shaking
Whale eye (whites of the eyes are showing)
Whining or barking
Lip or nose licking
Urinating or defecating
Why is my dog afraid of loud noises?
The first thing to consider is that so many more individuals than just your scared pup are sensitive to loud noises such as fireworks and thunder . . . combat veterans, babies, autistic children, dogs, cats, guinea pigs, rabbits, horses, sheep, zoo animals, birds and other wildlife . . .
We all have a startle reflex that is activated by loud noises. Some of us have nervous systems that are more sensitive to these types of stimuli. If we know what is making that noise or it is expected, we can often regulate our reaction. But, dogs don’t have a gmail calendar or a weather app, so these phenomenon can take them by surprise and trigger their “fight or flight’ response.
Any type of past trauma associated with loud noises (e.g., your puppy was scared by his first fireworks experience, a veteran who experienced combat, etc.) will add to the severity of the reaction. In some cases, something as simple as an oven timer, a smoke alarm, a single firecracker bang or a dropped pan can send an individual into a panic attack – so imagine how a full 4th of July fireworks display is going to affect them.
Some breeds, like the herding and gun dog breeds, are predisposed to noise phobias.
Moreover, dogs and other animals find loud noises to not only be aversive, but painful as well.
For example, while humans are not able to detect sounds above 20,000Hz, dogs can hear up to 60,000Hz. Some fireworks emit sounds above the level of human hearing, but dogs are able to detect those sounds.
In addition, we must consider the effect of trigger stacking on our dogs during the week leading up to the 4th of July. Trigger stacking is a phenomenon where a combination of multiple stressors, some might be quiet minor, occur over a short period of time and culminate in an extreme reaction. If your dog is hearing a firework or two a couple of times each day for the week leading up to the 4th of July, he may already be trigger stacked before a single firecracker is lit on July 4th. By the time that the main fireworks display begins, your dog is way beyond his threshold.
Microchips and Identification
Be sure that your dog is never without some form of identification. Check that his name tag has your current contact information. Double check your microchip provider website to be sure that 1) you are listed as your dog’s owner and 2) your contact information is up to date. If your dog (or other pet) is not microchipped, I strongly recommend having that done as soon as possible. Dogs can slip out of their collar/harness if they panic and try to run away. If you dog’s collar is caught on something, the tags can be torn away. Simply put, microchips work!
Other collar options are the GPS collars and attachments that allow you to track your dog’s whereabouts. Beware, however, that the cheaper models often do not live up to the range that is advertised. I have seen lost dogs with trackers that were supposed to work within 100 yards that didn’t actually ping the owner’s phone until the dog was less than 20 feet away.
Just in case you need to post lost dog flyers, always have current photos of your dog on hand. Take good shots from multiple angles to include any identifying markings, scars, etc. . . . close-ups and/or full body shots. If you have your dog clipped, have photos with both long coat and short coat – dogs often look very different before and after grooming!
Double check gates to be sure that they are securely latched BEFORE letting your dog out of the house.
Add a second layer of safety and take your dog out in the yard on a leash or long line. Dogs can be unbelievably agile and athletic fence jumpers when they are in a blind panic.
Be sure that your doors and windows are secured latched. A window screen is not going to hold a dog who is panicking and trying to escape.
Don’t leave your dog unattended in your yard – scared dogs may run through invisible fences, break tethers, climb or jump fences or dig their way out of yards.
Don’t take your pup to a fireworks display – leave him safe at home.
If you are hosting a party at your home, put your pup in his crate, in a locked room for the evening. There is no reason to chance someone leaving a door open or, worse yet, someone spooking your already frightened dog and getting bit or having your dog run away.
Your dog may already have a safe space – a spot in the basement, his crate, a particular bed or dog bed, under furniture, in a closet, etc. If not, you can create a safe space. The following are tips on how to create a safe space or enhance your dog’s current space.
Find a quiet location where outside noises will be muffled. A location where you can block the flashes and lights from fireworks explosions is best – e.g., basement, a room/closet with no windows, a room with room darkening curtains, etc. can all be good options. If your dog likes his crate, you can cover it with a blanket that will help dampen sound as well as darken the space.
Be sure that your dog has access to plenty of clean water in his safe space. Panting or drooling will cause a dog to dehydrate quickly.
Adding some kind of white noise and/or soothing noise will add to the peaceful atmosphere that you are trying to create for your dog.
White or brown noise machine or app
Radio turned to classical, country or reggae music
Youtube has several tracks with calming music playing in a 8-15 hour loop
Adding a box fan during a recent fireworks show has made a huge difference for my Australian shepherd.
There is a difference between sound proofing and sound masking. The concept of sound proofing may not be possible, so think about concentrating your efforts in masking those scary sounds.
Enrichment and/or Comfort Items
Licking . . .
Chewing . . .
Sniffing . . .
. . . 3 things that help calm a dog.
Give your dog her favorite type of chew, a stuffed Kong or Topple type of toy or some type of licki mat activity.
Once you have your dog’s safe space set up, fill it with items that your dog finds comforting. Does your dog have a favorite stuffy or blanket? Add an old t-shirt or sweatshirt that you have been wearing. Your dog will find your scent comforting.
There are a lot of options on the market for calming products:
Thundershirts® work on the same principle as swaddling a baby or giving a hug. The pressure causes the release of oxytocin and/or endorphins that have a calming effect.
You may have heard of Adaptil®. This is a pheromone product that mimics the pheromones produced by nursing mother dogs and have a calming effect on her puppies. Adaptil® comes in wall diffusers, sprays or collar form. It has been shown to have a calming effect on some dogs, so it is definitely something to try.
There are many types of nutraceutical products that purport to act as calming agents. A nutraceutical is a supplement or food additive. These products are not regulated by the FDA, so they are a “buyer beware” type of product. You must do your research to determine if the product you have purchased contains the ingredients on the label. They can also be extremely expensive. There is anecdotal evidence that products such as; July 3rd, Rescue Remedy, calming chews, cbd oil, etc., do calm dogs BUT there is little to no scientific evidence to back up these claims. I am not saying that they won’t work for your dog – just be aware.
The other option, and the one that I would highly recommend looking into TODAY, is some type of pharmaceutical prescribed by your veterinarian. Pharmaceuticals can be used as a situational calming medications that will enable your dog to cope with his noise phobia. There are many different types of situational medications and your vet will help you choose the one that is right for your pet. If you do go this route, be sure that you follow the directions for dosage and administration on the bottle. Some of these drugs need a 1- to 2-hour onboarding window before they will take effect – meaning that if the fireworks show starts at 9pm, you will need to give the medication at 7 or 8pm. Others, however, take effect much faster. The length of effectiveness also varies, so be aware of this so that you are re-dosing properly.
Comforting your dog
Contrary to what you may have heard or read, you cannot reinforce fear. So, by all means, go ahead and cuddle your dog if he is asking for comfort.
Never punish your dog for being afraid or try to force/flood them into just “getting used to it”.
Prepping for the 4th of July
Try to limit stress in the days leading up to the 4th of July. If your dog is already partially trigger stacked, it will be easier to send him over threshold on the 4th.
If you will be giving medication, be sure that you have your dog’s prescription(s) filled and ready to go.
Follow the directions to be sure that you are administering any medications or supplements correctly and in a timely fashion. You don’t want to realize 5 minutes before the big fireworks display is set to begin that you should have given your dog his medication 2 hours ago.
Fill and freeze your enrichment activities ahead of time.
Make sure that your dog’s safe space is set up and ready to use.
Take your dog out early in the day for some physical exercise.
Double leash your dog anytime you are outside your house or fenced yard. You can use two leashes (or a double-ended leash) and hook one leash to your dog’s harness and the other to his collar. That way, if a he hears an early firework and backs out of one, he is still attached to you by the other.
Make sure to take your pup out for a potty break before fireworks begin as he may not want to go out afterwards.
For highly fearful dogs who refuse to go outside during the day, you can create a doggie litter box that you can set up in your garage, mudroom or basement.
What about July 5th . . . and 6th . . . and 7th . . .
Where am I going with this? Remember trigger stacking? Well, If your dog was trigger stacked and stressed out in the days leading up to the 4th of July, how do you think he feels in the day or two that follow that big 4th of July fireworks display?!?
Remember, cortisol takes time to clear out of your dog’s system AND additional stressors will have an additive effect on your dog’s blood cortisol levels. Also keep in mind that your neighbors are going to continue to light off a firework or two in the days after the 4th. Each time a firework goes off, or a car backfires, or you drop a book, or there is a thunderstorm, your dog is going to continue to trigger stack. So what . . . well, if you have a reactive dog or a fearful dog, remember that trigger stacking can make all of their behavior issues worse . . . to the point of an increased incidence of aggressive behaviors and bite incidents during this time period. I recommend that you continue to follow the “day of” instructions for the first few days after the 4th. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Training for Next Year
What do you need to get started so you are ready to the NEXT 4th of July?
A recording of fireworks (or other scary sound like thunder, loud trucks, etc) with music and one without
Plenty of high value treats or high value toy
Time, Patience and plenty of Enthusiasm
You can purchase sound recordings created specifically for desensitizing dogs to noises. iCalmPet has CDs that combine classical music with thunderstorms, fireworks or city sounds. You can find similar tracks on YouTube as well – or you can simply record the sounds yourself.
The music and sound tracks are created to present the noises quietly at first, then progress to simulate noises that are closer and closer to you and with smaller and smaller intervals between. The idea is to play these tapes at the easiest level and at a volume low enough that it appears that your dog does not even notice. As you see your dog easily coping at the current level, you are ready to increase volume and/or move to a more difficult track.
This is all that some dogs will need. Many others, however, will need a bit more help making positive associations with loud noises. This is where your recording of just loud noises (no music) will come into play.
Start at a very low volume. We want to start where the dog is just noticing the sound. Play the sound and feed your dog a high value treat or reward with a game of tug, etc. Repeat this several times.
Let’s put a label on it. You can call the loud noise anything you choose, but I would recommend choosing a label that you will remember to use for every loud noise. For example, if you choose “Boom”, then any and every loud noise is now “Boom”. We are trying to generalize the label to mean that any loud noise is a “Boom” that predicts good stuff.
Now the steps become: Sound . . . Boom . . . Feed Treat and Celebrate. Repeat this several times.
Keep treats on you during training so that you are ready if the real deal happens unexpectedly!
Do several repetitions of Step 3 each day.
As your dog becomes more comfortable, you can begin to increase the volume of the sound.
You should also begin to vary the reward and location of the reward.
The Final Sequence: Noise . . . Boom . . . run to the treat cupboard/refrigerator . . . Feed Treat or Play & Celebrate Enthusiastically.
Now you are ready for the real thing.
NOTE: Order is important!
Be sure that your dog hears the noise BEFORE you label it and feed treats. If, for example, you see a flash of lightning and begin feeding before you hear the thunder, you risk reversing the association. Instead of seeing noises (thunder) as predicting good things (treats), your dog instead associates treats as predicting scary noises are about to follow.
Teaching positive associations with loud noises is pretty straight forward when it comes to noises like trucks, dropping pots/pans, etc. It is impossible, however, to simulate atmospheric changes and odors that accompany fireworks and thunder. Large fireworks are accompanied by sound, flashes of light and burning smells. Whereas thunder is preceded by changes in barometric pressure and humidity that dogs detect, as well as their keen ability to smell rain and hear thunder long before we are able to do so. This process can take a long time with these types of noises. So, the moral of the story is . . . start today so that you and your dog are ready for NEXT year!
But My Dog is Still Scared
There are times when regardless of how well prepared we think we are, our dog is simply not able to cope with the noise or the vibrations associated with fireworks (and thunderstorms). What can you do?
Well, the first thing you need to do is accept that your dog can’t help that he is fearful. Fear is an emotion and you can’t control emotions. Then you do the best that you can do. See your veterinarian about getting medication. If that medication is not working, don’t be afraid to tell your vet and ask about a different dosage or a different medication altogether. In some cases, consulting with a veterinary behaviorist may be a good option. VBs are veterinarians who have taken advanced work in canine behavior and have additional knowledge in the nuances of behavioral medications. Give yourself some leeway … there are a very limited number of VBs in the U.S. and wait times for an appointment can be months.
Relocate. I am not talking about moving house, but can you plan a dog-friendly vacation to a quiet spot over the 4th of July holiday. Would a simple drive out and away from the epicenter of the noise work for your dog?
No options? Hunker down with your dog, turn on the box fan, turn up the TV, music or white noise machine and wait it out. If you dog prefers to be left alone, that’s okay. If your dog does need comfort, don’t be afraid to comfort him. There is not truth to the myth that comforting your dog just reinforces his behavior. Fear is not a conscious behavior that your dog has chosen to perform. Fear is an emotion that he cannot control. If being comforted makes you feel better when you are afraid, then your dog probably feels the same.
Kerrie Hoar, CPDT-KA, IAABC-ADT, LFDM-T/L, FFCP
Kerrie Hoar has a master’s degree in Biology and is a certified professional dog trainer and licensed family dog mediator. She owns Crimson Hound, LLC dog training in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
One of the keywords on my website is “aggressive dog” . . . what do you really mean when you say that you have an “aggressive dog”? Are you saying that you truly have an aggressive dog? Or do you have a dog who is using aggressive behaviors in certain situations?
Aggression is “an act that is performed with intent to cause harm” (depending on which resource your consult). I would argue that the vast majority of people will never see an aggressive dog in their lifetime. However, I regularly encounter dogs who are performing aggressive behaviors in order to change their circumstances. In almost every case, the dog is trying to ask for space.
Are the dogs in this video performing aggressive behaviors? Yes!! Are they aggressive dogs? No!!
This video actually depicts ritualized aggression being performed by two Great Pyrenees dogs, a type of livestock guardian dog (LGD). LGD’s have been selectively bred for thousands of years (dating back to the early Romans) to guard territory and to guard their “flock”. Their Genetics have been heavily influenced by humans selecting for dogs who will guard their flock from predators by instinctively reacting to any unfamiliar beings who enter their territory.
Ritualized aggression is selected for over actual aggression in nature.
If a wolf is injured in a fight, there is no emergency vet clinic that he can go to for aid. In many cases, that wolf will die. In nature, if a coyote needs to defend his dinner from another animal, he will start with subtle body signals. E.g., whale eye, freezing, showing of teeth. If the challenger moves away, then the coyote simply goes back to his meal – no harm, no foul.
When fails to work, he will advance to growling, snarling, air snapping and even charging. If even that fails to work, the coyote will make a decision to either flee the situation or to stay and fight for his dinner. He will only make the decision to fight if he thinks he will be successful. If his avenues of escape are blocked or if he is really really hungry and his need for food outweighs the risk of injury.
In the case of the LGDs in the video, they started barking when the cyclist moved into the flock and started to scatter them. They advanced when he cyclist ignored the barks and continued doing what he was doing. When the cyclist back away, the dogs begin to retreat. But when the cyclist decides to hold his ground, notice that one dog remains with the flock while the second dog continues his attempts to warn off the intruder.
The dog is not advancing or attacking – just barking in an effort to get the man to move away. Even the person behind the camera suggests that the man simply back off. Unfortunately, the cyclist does not recognize that he is creating the standoff by refusing to back away from the dog. Note that the dog is not closing the gap. He is continually looking back to see where his flock is at.
This is an excellent video explaining the behavior of livestock guardian dogs and what to do when encountering a working dog and his flock.
What happens when we take a dog that has had hundreds of years of reinforcement history for guarding his flock and plop him into the middle of suburbia?
You guessed it – he will guard his home and his people flock from “intruders”. The “intruder” in his eyes may look like the UPS or FedEx delivery person, the cable repairman or a visiting friend or relative. Again, these dogs are not aggressive individuals. They are simply dogs who are doing what we specifically bred them to do. We may not like it, but we cultivated such behaviors in dog breeds. We need to accept it, expect it and find ways to work around it. Once we understand this, it is easier to approach the situation to come up with a plan.
Most of these dogs will be described as the perfect dog at the vet, at daycare and when visiting others. The unwanted behaviors are happening only in the home. We are never going to train these dogs to welcome intruders with open arms. But we can work to reduce his triggers and manage his world to prevent situations from occurring. Set your dog up for success. Create a greeting ritual with your LGD puppy and practice this over and over.
We can also manage his world
put the dog in another room with a wonderful chew toy when visitors are expected
set up a lock box at the end of your driveway for package delivery
condition a muzzle
install a second fence so that you have a buffer zone of fence, space, fence, “world”
keep doors locked to prevent an open door policy that puts “intruders” in danger.
It is a whole lot easier to simply change a few of our daily habits rather than expecting that our dog will simply change his instinctual behaviors.
TRIGGER WARNING!!! This video shows a dog bite at 0:10.
Is the dog in this video performing aggressive behaviors? Yes!! Is he an aggressive dog? No!!
The dog in this video has been trapped and forced to escalate to biting. No one is listening to the abundance of signals telling the humans that he is not comfortable. Is it okay that the dog is biting a child – obviously not. However, it is not malicious. But, given the number of signals that the dog is displaying in a desperate attempt to communicate his stress, the bite is not unexpected either.
This dog is actively Learning that nothing short of a bite is going to convince his owners to stop. His Environment is impacted by the fact that his small size (Genetics) allows for him to be easily wrapped in a towel and held in place on a person’s lap for forced petting. His internal environment (Self) is being overwhelmed by stress hormones as his fear increases.
What if we simply asked the dog if he would like to interact and then accept his answer.
As a Licensed Family Dog Mediator®, when I see clients whose dogs are performing aggressive behaviors, our first step is to discuss the dog’s L.E.G.S.®. In other words, how have the dog’s Learning, Environment, Genetics and Self played into the current situation. Next, we look the circumstances under which the dog is performing the behaviors, as well as warning signals.
Finally, we develop a plan for the family that involves:
safety and management protocols
reward-based training techniques aimed at addressing the root cause rather than simply suppressing or masking the behavior.
While I have yet to encounter a dog that I would label a truly aggressive dog, I have seen dogs that are not safe. These dogs may, therefore, be candidates for behavioral euthanasia due to an inability to provide balance between the dog’s L.E.G.S®.
What’s in a label?
Labels can be damaging when they affect how we view the individual to which we have affixed that label. When we use the label, “aggressive dog”, we tend to focus on his negative behaviors. We tell ourselves that the dog is doing this on purpose . . . to spite us . . . that he can stop any time . . . that he knows better . . . We are more easily frustrated or angered by our dog’s outbursts..
Instead, let’s remember that the dog is simply performing aggressive behaviors in response to some other factor. E.g., fear, stress, pain or frustration. This helps us feel empathy towards our dog. Helps us understand why he is acting this way. Gives us more patience. Enables us to listen when he is speaking through subtle signals. We begin to understand that “our dog is not giving us a hard time – he is having a hard time“. We are more likely to take a gentler, kinder approach . . and to advocate for our dog when the need arises.
When working with a dog who is reactive to certain triggers, we must understand that:
Aggressive behavior is just behavior – it doesn’t define you or your dog.
Behavior happens – so have a plan in place so you know what to do.
Your goal is not perfection – rather strive for less negative, more neutral.
Set your dog up for success by not continuing into situations you know he can’t deal with.
If you and your dog are struggling, locate a professional dog trainer or behavior consultant who will help you. Look for someone who uses humane training techniques and is grounded in positive reinforcement and follows theLeast Intrusive, Minimally Aversive philosophy. Aversive tools such as e-collars and prong collars suppress behavior. They may look like they have “fixed” the problem, but those feelings are still there. Too often, they will come out through some form of fallout.
I am afraid of snakes (ophidiophobia). The biologist in me finds snakes fascinating; however, when I encounter one, my emotions take over. I live close to a nice trail system looping through a marsh that is home to tons of wildlife – including a variety of snakes. Fortunately for me, I don’t see snakes very often, but ….
Imagine if you will . . .
One sunny afternoon, my husband and I decide to take the dogs for a long relaxing walk through the marsh. Just as we start up the trail, I see a snake. I jump and give a small shout . . . but, I haven’t seen a snake in the marsh in such a long time, so let’s soldier on and not let it ruin the walk.
Just a few hundred yards farther down the trail, I think I see another snake. No! However, as we get closer, I realize that it’s just a stick. Phew! We continue walking, but I find myself spending more and more time scanning for snakes and less and less time enjoying the scenery.
A little way beyond the halfway point of our loop, there is a rocky area that looks like a perfect spot for a snake to sun itself. I approach with my eyes riveted to the rocks and, sure enough, there is a snake – a little snake, but still a snake. Ugh! Now I am really feeling the stress. Not only do I have to walk past that snake, but I am sure there are others hiding amongst the rocks.
What now? While I could turn around, it will take longer to go back than it will to just keep going. So here I am – feeling panicky and stuck. Why didn’t I just turn around when I saw that first snake?!
With no other optional this point, I continue on, but what started as a nice relaxing walk has turned into a forced march. I am no longer enjoying myself. Instead, I am agitated and on high alert, scanning all around me and imagining the worst. As a consequence, I find myself walking faster and faster to just out of the marsh as quickly as possible.
When my husband innocently asks me to slow down a bit, I lose it. I mean, I really lose it. To everyone’s surprise, including my own, I have turned into a raving maniac, yelling at him for even suggesting that we take the walk in the first place. The tears are close to surfacing . . . there is still a couple hundred feet of trail and there are sure to be more snakes.
YIKES!! Where did the rational adult go? You know, the one who KNOWS that a little garter snake is not going to kill her . . . the one who finds snake anatomy absolutely fascinating . . . the one who has never even had a bad encounter with a snake to create such an irrational fear . . . the one who keeps saying that she just needs to get over this fear of snakes . . .
Reason and common sense clearly lost the battle to fear and panic . . . and the fight or flight response took over. Fear and anxiety function in a very similar fashion in the canine brain. So, if you will, take a moment to insert a dog afraid of other dogs into this story and I think you can imagine how what started out as a relaxing walk could quickly turn into a nightmare for your dog.
While you most surely understand this type of phobia, you may be wondering something … why was it the innocent comment that sent me over the edge – and NOT the sight of the first or the second snake?
The answer is TRIGGER STACKING.
What is trigger stacking?
Trigger stacking is a phenomenon where a combination of multiple stressors, some might be quiet minor, occur over a short period of time and culminate in an extreme reaction.
Every individual has a threshold beyond which they will have a reaction.
Each time an individual encounters a stressor, a certain amount of cortisol (a stress hormone) is released. Different stressors will create different amounts of cortisol in different individuals. If an individual event creates enough cortisol to cross the reactivity threshold, the individual will react.
Stressors can also have an additive effect. It takes 5 to 8 hours for cortisol to dissipate from the blood stream. If an additional stressor occurs within that 5-8 hour window, the cortisol that is released from the second event is added to the cortisol still in the system from the first event . . . bringing the total level closer to threshold. So, if we encounter multiple stressors within a short period of time, they will have an additive effect and can cause the individual to go over threshold and have a reaction.
How does trigger stacking affect fearful or reactive dogs?
We often talk about threshold when working with dogs who are overly sensitive and vigilant about their environment . . . specifically we talk about the importance of keeping them under threshold. Why? Because when these dogs go over threshold, they respond with explosive actions and lose all sense of reason, along with the ability to think. They cannot learn when they are in this kind of mindset.
Trigger stacking can be a major concern with these dogs. Let’s look at an example that will demonstrate how multiple stressors can affect a sensitive dog.
Scruffy and his owner are out for a walk and come upon a woman pushing a baby stroller – something that is completely new to Scruffy. As the stroller passes by, Scruffy’s owner notices that Scruffy is yawning and ducking his head away from the stroller. He can’t possibly be tired ….
A few blocks later, a loose dog runs out of his yard and starts barking at Scruffy. Scruffy cowers, moves behind his owner and starts licking his lips.The loose dog’s owner calls him away. Since Scruffy didn’t growl or bark at the loose dog, his owner assumes that it wasn’t a big deal, so they continue on their walk.
While Scruffy’s owner is at work, a pollster stops by the house, rings the bell and leaves a flyer on the door. Later, a delivery person rings the bell a couple of times and then leaves a package on the front step. Scruffy barks and growls each time the doorbell rings.
After work, the owner decides to take Scruffy out for another walk since he has been cooped in the house up all day. As they walk past the next door neighbor’s house, their dog walks up to the fence. Suddenly, Scruffy explodes – barking and lunging at the dog. The owner is very upset and yells at Scruffy as he drags him away. “What the heck is wrong with you?! You see that dog every day! You never act like that!”
Trigger Stacking and the Ladder of Aggression
The graphic below shows the way that canine body language advances from very subtle gestures to overly overt actions as a dog becomes more and more stressed and uncomfortable . . . often culminating in a bite if the stressor is not removed.
In addition to influencing how your dog reacts to stressors that he may encounter on a walk, trigger stacking is all too often the impetus behind a dog bite. Dogs do not bite “out of the blue”. Though the people involved may not recognize it, there is always a reason behind a bite. Dog bites are very often the result of someone not recognizing the body language that is indicative of the dog’s level of distress . . . until the dog advances to the level of using very overt signals such as barking, growing, snarling, snapping and biting.
Let’s take a look at another example.
Jane called a dog trainer, clearly in distress. Her Chihuahua, Joey had just bitten her. According to Jane, she was simply trying to wipe off Joey’s paw when he growled and snapped at her. The bite caught her forearm and left a red mark. Jane could not understand why this happened since she wipes off Joey’s paws all the time. The bite just came “out of the blue”. During their first session, the trainer asked Jane to tell her everything she could remember about what Joey’s day looked like leading up to the bite.
See if you can you recognize some of the signals that indicate that Joey was experiencing trigger stacking.
Joey had a veterinary appointment first thing in the morning. He doesn’t really like riding in the car, but since he is a little dog, Jane just lifts him up and pops him into the car. He sat still and pouted all the way to the vet – never giving Jane any eye contact.
At the veterinarian’s office, Joey was faced with all of the sites and strong medicinal scents of the receiving area and crouched down in a corner. When they got to the exam room, Joey hid under a chair. He had his ears back and wouldn’t look at Jane.
Joey’s vet was booked, so he saw a new vet and vet tech. He wouldn’t come out from under the chair, so Jane had to reach in and grab him. Since Joey wouldn’t sit still, the vet tech had to restrain him.
After a physical exam during which his teeth, ears and eyes were checked and his temperature was taken, Joey got a couple of vaccinations.
While they were in the office, it had started to rain. As Jane and Joey ran across the parking lot to their car, a big dog in another car barked and surprised them both.
Jane scooped Joey up and quickly popped him into the car before they both got soaked.
On the way home, Jane stopped off at a store. She had to leave Joey in the car – something he hates. But the weather was nice and cool and she just needed a couple of items, so he would be fine.
Joey started barking when Jane got out of the car and she could still hear him as she entered the store. When she came out, she could hear Joey barking as she approached the car. He was SO excited to see her. Silly boy, she was only gone for a few minutes.
On the way home, a car pulled out in front of Jane, she had to slam on the brakes. Joey slid off the seat, and then decided to just stay curled up on the floor.
When Jane and Joey arrived home, Joey walked through a couple of puddles on the way into the house. When they got inside, Jane set her bags down and grabbed a towel. She leaned over and took Joey’s leash off.
When she picked up his front paws to dry them off, Joey gave a bit of a growl and lifted his lip, but he does that sometimes so she kept going. When she grabbed his back leg to start drying his paw, Joey growled, spun around and nipped her arm.
Can you see all of these little triggers slowly adding up and how Joey was giving subtle signals throughout the morning in an attempt to tell Jane that he was feeling uncomfortable and stressed?
This is a perfect example of how we humans miss the subtle communications that tell us when our dog is becoming increasingly stressed . . . and, how these stressors can have an additive effect on the dog. None of these stressors in and of itself was enough to cause a bite, but as they continued to stack, they moved Joey up the ladder of aggression. Unfortunately, we too often see only the end result and view it as a gross overreaction to a tiny incident.
What can we do to help our dogs?
When Scruffy yawned as they passed the baby stroller and licked his lips when facing the loose dog, he was trying to tell his owner that he was uncomfortable with the situation. Be sure that you know how to recognize even the very subtle signs of stress in your dog. My blog, Dog Body Language: How to Speak Dog, is a great place to start. If you would like to take a deeper dive, check out my Canine Body Language for Pet Parents webinar. Norwegian dog trainer, Turid Rugaas, wrote a fantastic book on the subtleties of canine body language – On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals , Lili Chin has a very informative little book called Doggie Language that is filled with graphics and Tricia Hollingshead’sListen to Me is filled with color photos and fantastic information . . .
Mediate the intensity of the situation by controlling duration and distance with respect to your dog’s triggers. If you think that your dog might be getting trigger stacked, you can prevent outbursts by maximizing distance from triggers on your walk, go to a quiet place for a sniffari or even skip the walk and do some trick training, nosework or even a scatter feed in the yard instead.
Understanding Thresholds Diagram
Keep a journal of events that may be triggering to your dog and mediate the intensity of your dog’s encounters with his triggers in order to prevent over-threshold reactions and trigger stacking.
Possible triggering events to be aware of:
People ringing the doorbell
Grooming, nail clipping or other types of husbandry
A trip to the vet
A new object – a stroller, wheelchair, holiday decoration, etc.
A new location
A familiar location that has changed – an empty park may be full of people, a change in season or weather has changed a familiar landscape
A car ride
Other dogs or people when out on a walk
A new pet in the home
Visitors in the home
Losing a member of the household – moves/is out of town; a pet/person passed away
A pet sitter or boarding
Any change to his normal routine
Pain or illness
Time of day – light and shadows can effect visibility
Loud noises – construction; thunder; fireworks; car backfiring
Don’t push your dog’s boundaries until he is ready. If he is stressed by an event, take extra care with other possible triggers. Decrease intensity and duration as much as possible and increase distance as much as possible. There will be better days for reactivity training. Right now, your priority is self-care for your dog’s mental health.
If you and/or your dog are struggling, contact a certified professional dog trainer whose training philosophy is grounded in positive reinforcement to help.
Prior to the 1950’s, dogs were viewed from more of a utilitarian perspective – as a tool to make a job easier. No one had ever heard of the concept of a Family Dog Mediator ® and the L.E.G.S.® model. Beginning in the 1950’s and 60’s, the pet dog industry really started to take off. We saw the creation of dry kibble in 1956. The first national pet store franchise appeared in 1965. In 1964, a marketing campaign portraying kibble as the only option for our dogs was launched. How many of you remember the Kanine Krunchies jingle from the 1961 101 Dalmatians cartoon?
In the years since, the pet industry has grown at an insane pace. In 2017-18, we Americans spent over $72 billion dollars on our pets. This figure jumped to an unbelievable $103 billion in 2020! According to the 2021-2022 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 69 million households in the U.S. have at least one dog. Over 90 million homes have at least one pet. When the survey was first conducted in 1988, 56% of U.S. households owned a pet. This percent has grown to 70% according to the latest survey.
History of Dog Training
Around this same time, dog training for the general public began to emerge as well. Since many of the early trainers were former WWII military dog handlers, training methods were based on that early training style. Techniques such as leash jerks, punishment and forced submission were common. In the 1960’s and 70’s, we saw the further development of dominance training. “How to be the alpha dog” by trainers like William Koehler and the Monks of Skete rose to fame. It was not until Dr. Ian Dunbar entered the scene in the 1980’s that we really start to see reward-based, positive reinforcement training methods begin to rise in popularity.
In 1984, Karen Pryor’s book, Don’t Shoot the Dog, appeared on bookshelves. Karen Pryor, a marine biologist and marine mammal trainer, showed the world that if these massive animals could be trained using rewards. There is no reason that our pet dogs should be trained using other methods.
Current Dog Training Methods
In the past 20 years, the science around dogs and dog training has advanced in leaps and bounds. We now know those old myths about “alpha”, “dominance” and “pack leader” are just that … MYTHS. We know that our dogs learn best through reward-based training and that punishment has long-term fall outs. We know that our dogs’ personalities are unique. They are influenced by what they have learned in their lifetime, what their ancestors learned in their lifetime, what is mapped out in their DNA, how they feel, their health, etc.
In this video, world-renowned trainers talk about the misconceptions and myths surrounding the concept of dominance in dogs.
We are living at a moment when an exciting new approach is emerging – a total paradigm shift in the dog training world. This new philosophy is based in the science of Applied Ethology.
The idea that what creates the dog that is sitting in front of you is NOT Nature OR Nurture. It is, in fact, Nature AND Nurture.
“It is all in how you raise them”, only looks at a single chapter in the book of DOG. Puppies that were raised perfectly can still grew up to be fearful or reactive or dogs. AND puppies that had a horrible start in life can grow into extremely well-adjusted dogs.
At the forefront of this new take on “dog training” is applied ethologist Kim Brophey. She has coined the term Family Dog Mediator ® An FDM is a dog professional who analyzes the needs of the dog and the needs/wants of the owner. An FDM helps them come to a set of compromises that will allow that team to live in harmony. Her L.E.G.S. ® model takes into account everything that comprises a dog – Learning, Environment, Genetics and Self. Think of each of these forming one leg of a dog – each leg bearing equal weight in supporting the dog.
So, just what comprises each of your dog’s L.E.G.S. ®?
Your dog is LEARNING every second of every day throughout his entire life. He is learning what is safe and what is not safe; what produces a reward and what produces a punishment; what works and what does not work. His DNA is also chock full of information based on what his ancestors learned during their lifetimes! Your dog predicts and anticipates, and then adapts to, what will happen or what will or will not work in a new situation based on what he has learned AND on what has come hard-wired from ancestral learning.
LEARNING is NEVER static – it is always fluid.
We, as owners and handlers, have the opportunity to help shape that dog sitting in front of us. A fearful puppy can become more confident through positive socialization experiences. We can help a dog that was neglected or abused by a previous owner learn to trust people.
We can teach a dog who jumps all over everyone some alternative methods of greeting simply by rewarding preferred behaviors. Remember, a dog learns what works and what doesn’t work through trial and error. Teach your dog that keeping all four feet on the floor results in tons of yummy treats and attention. What do you think your dog’s default behavior will be in the future?
ENVIRONMENT is everything that your dog encounters and interacts with over the course of his day and his lifetime. A dog’s environment is continually creating questions and answers – Am I safe? What is happening? What do I do? I know what this means! Our job as the human in this relationship is to control the environment to keep our dog safe and to make sure that it provides the things that our dog needs.
When your puppy is teething, he is going to look for items to chew on that will help alleviate his pain and discomfort. Ideal textures are wood and leather, which just happen to be the materials used to make furniture and shoes. A teething puppy is going to chew – that is a fact. So, rather than getting mad at your puppy for chewing up your stuff, manage his ENVIRONMENT. Don’t allow him to have access to these tempting items. Instead, provide him with a wealth of appropriate chew toys of different textures.
Does your dog spend the day staring out the window and barking at every squirrel, person and leaf that appears?
First, we have to acknowledge that a bark is just our dog’s way of saying, “Hey, there is a squirrel outside!”. Every dog must be allowed to use his voice. At the same time, we can work with him on only barking a couple of times out the window. Then we can allow him to bark at and chase those squirrels in other situations. While you are teaching him this new behavior, however, you need manage his environment. Close the curtains or blinds or cover the window with frosted film prevent practicing the old behavior. Unfortunately, this is where many training plans fail as management seems like too much work.
Setting your Dog Up for Success
In the next section, we will talk about that fact that some instinctual behaviors are so ingrained that we can’t just train them away. In these cases, it is vital that we manage the dog’s other L.E.G.S. ® so that we are setting him up for success. For example, a Border Collie from working stock has thousands of years of herding behavior in his G (and in his L). Even if your collie can sit and stay in your quiet basement, bringing him to an elementary school playground during recess and expecting him to sit quietly by your side and just watch the kids is simply not realistic. Instead, set him up for success. Put your dog on a leash. Find a place across the street. When the kids appear, give him a really yummy chew toy to occupy him as he watches the kids play.
GENETICS encompasses all of the information about life that is already encoded in our dogs’ DNA when they arrive on earth. These are the basics of what it is to be a dog (e.g., furry, four legs, barks, digs, chews, chases). G also includes all of the specializations that humans have selected for and against since we began breeding dogs more than 10,000 years ago. E.g., the basics of herding, guarding, companionship, retrieving, etc.
GENETICS are hard-wired. These are things that we can enhance or moderate through training, but we cannot diminish them completely. In fact, to do so, would remove those characteristics that make your dog a dog (or a breed of dog). Barking, chewing, and digging are all part of the essence of what makes a dog a dog. To ask a terrier to stop digging or border collie to stop wanting to control a crowd is asking him to stop being a dog. What we can do, however, is to give that terrier a designated space where he can dig. We can teach that border collie herding games that do not involve young children. Then we can put him in the house when we have a group of kids playing in the yard.
DNA and Breed Groups
Do you have a mixed breed dog and wondering just what a DNA test could tell you? Knowing which breeds are represented in your dog’s DNA will give you an idea of what types of behaviors you might see in your dog at some point. Genetics is not predictive. Just because your dog has herding traits in his DNA, it does not mean that he will be a herder. DNA can predict potential behaviors – it is not a guarantee.
Also keep in mind that many of these traits remain dormant until something turns them on. This could be the presence of a hormone, a certain stage of life, a scent or even an event. A dog can go through her entire life never having had the switch turned on. If you haven’t done a DNA test, you can still get a idea about his breed group. Kim Brophey has developed The Dog Key that will help you pigeonhole your dog into his genetic breed GROUP. Knowing even this information can give you general ideas about traits that you might expect to see.
SELF considers the dog sitting directly in front of us. The individual. It’s her personality, her age, her sex and reproductive status, her health, her nutrition, her disabilities or injuries. Did your dog get bullied at day care today? Is he feeling a bit sick to his stomach? Did he hurt himself when he caught that last ball? These circumstances are going to affect his response when the neighbor’s dog jumps in his face on the way home from the park.
SELF is all about how your dog’s interior affects her exterior, her behaviors and her responses? For example, the needs of a stray, skinny momma dog with 6 puppies are drastically different than the needs of the pampered, neutered Labrador who eats the most expensive dog food and has his own leather couch. We always need to start with the dog as the individual, not as dogs in general.
Are you interested in learning more about your dog’s original breed purpose or delve farther into one of the other L.E.G.S. ®? Pick up a copy of Meet Your Dog by Kim Brophey.
Family Dog Mediator ®versus Dog Trainer
Certified Family Dog Mediators ® are dog professionals who have taken a continuing education course in applied ethology. They understand its influence on each of a dog’s L.E.G.S. ®. We use that information to help our clients solve “problem dog behaviors” and live more harmonious lives with their pet dogs. FDM’s learn how to view dog behavior issues through a new lens – one that considers the whole dog rather than just seeing bad behavior that can be trained away.
A Family Dog Mediator ® evaluates these four L.E.G.S. ® and helps mediate the places where there are conflicts between the dog and the owner. The role of an FDM is to meet you and your dog where you are and to work with ALL of the L.E.G.S. ® that both you and your dog bring to the table. Rather than setting out to simply “fix bad behaviors” through obedience training, you will work together with the FDM to create meaningful solutions.
Family Dog Mediators ® determine which behaviors are bad habits for which we can develop a training plan and which behaviors are innate or are born out of a dog simply trying to meet his instinctual needs.
Expectations vs. Reality
A Family Dog Mediator ® will help you manage your expectations for your dog’s behavior. Help translate your dog needs. And, moreover, help you create way to meet those needs. In addition, a Family Dog Mediator® will help by giving you the tools to change bad habits. An FDM will help you and your pet can live in harmony! These tools, which include education, training plans and management protocols, will be based on honesty, compassion, understanding and compromise.
Are you interested in becoming a Family Dog Mediator ® ?
Regardless of the breed, the majority of pet dog live in an environment that is worlds away from the environment in which he was created to thrive.
Huskies were created to pull sleds across the arctic tundra. Today, we expect them to live happily in a condo in Florida.
Border collies were created to control chaos, to see a sheep ¼ of a mile away take one step away from the flock and act on impulse to bring him back. Today, we expect them to lie quietly while our young children run and scream through the house.
Great Pyrenees were created to live outside with the livestock. They were active at night and used their imposing presence and intimidating bark to scare away predators and thieves. Today, we expect them to lay quietly in the living room when visitors enter the home unannounced.
Are these new scenarios realistic? Are they fair to the dog? And, in some cases, are they even humane?
Rather than choosing a dog on impulse, by color or because a friend just got that breed, we must take a long, honest look at our own L.E.G.S. ®. This will determine which breed of dog they will actually support … or if they will even support a pet dog at all. Many breeds are simply not equipped to deal with the pet homes in which we are asking them to thrive.
Be proactive. A Family Dog Mediator® can also work with you to find a dog that can fit your life style.
The Functional Dog Collaborative® is a group whose members are thinking outside the box. The FDC supports the breeding of healthy, behaviorly sound purebred dogs. It also supports the creation of real Pet Dogs – mixed breed dogs that have been purpose bred to be more resilient and better suited for today’s pet dog homes.
The truth is … our dogs are speaking and they are begging us to listen to them. Unfortunately, too many of us do not understand the subtle signals that make up dog body language. When we don’t see, or if we choose to ignore, our dogs’ subtle signals, they have no choice but to speak louder through growls, barks, snarls … and even bites.
Growls are good!
In fact, growl is just your dog’s vocal way to tell you that he is uncomfortable and would like you to please stop doing what you are doing …
“I get anxious when you restrain me. Please stop hugging me.”
“It hurts when you pull on my matted fur. Please stop brushing me.”
“Cars are scary. Please stop forcing me to get in.”
“My joints hurt. Please stop petting my leg.”
“I just want to enjoy my dinner. Please stop sticking your hand in my bowl.”
In truth, we have to stop thinking of dogs as our own little furry puppets that must be happy no matter what we choose to do to them. Dogs are sentient beings that feel grumpy, scared, tired, etc. We need to respect those feelings and give our dogs the grace to choose to tell us “Not right now, please.”
A growl is not a personal attack on you …
… please don’t take it as such. How many times have you snapped at a family member who is pestering you when you have a headache or had a bad day at work or just want a bit of alone time? Your dog is simply trying to communicate in a way that you will understand.
Never punish your dog for growling.
The biggest mistake that we can make is to punish our dogs for growling. A dog that has learned that he will be punished will stop growling. As a result, rather than giving you this important warning signal, they will go from subtle signals, straight to a bite.
DOG BODY LANGUAGE
Dogs speak with their bodies. Sometimes our dogs’ emotions are written all over their faces, so it is easy to determine how they are feeling. For example, almost anyone can tell which of these two dogs is happy that you are approaching.
Most of the time, however, signs that a dog is uncomfortable are much more subtle. Does this dog want you to approach or move away? How can you tell? This blog post will teach you what subtle signals to look for and, what’s more, how to interpret dog body language.
We can tell a lot about how our dogs are feeling by observing their posture and body position. Happy, relaxed dogs have a loose, fluid posture.
Anxious or unsure dogs have a stiff posture.
If a dog’s posture stiffens when you approach, it is an indication that the dog is not comfortable. He is asking you to give him more distance. Similarly, crouching and/or leaning away are very clear indicators that you are too close.
Humans, dogs and other animals all have personal spacebubbles. The size of any individual’s personal space bubble is unique and dependent on many factors. Think about how you feel when someone invades your personal space.
Just like humans, dogs can get very uncomfortable when their personal space is invaded. Dogs will show their discomfort with subtle body language. If you don’t listen and give them space, they will do one of three things: freeze and hope you just go away, flee from you or, as a last resort, bark and lunge in order to make you move away. The inability to flee is why many leashed, crated and tethered dogs bark and lunge when people and dogs approach.
DOG BODY LANGUAGE: THE TAIL
Study your dog’s normal tail carriage or the normal carriage for his breed. A stressed dog will carry its tail high above its back or very low. – sometimes to the point of tucking it between the back legs. Docked tails not only impair a dog’s ability to express his feelings, but also make it difficult for other dogs (and people) to read his body language.
“His tail is wagging, he must be friendly.”
Yes. A happy dog will wag its tail; however, an anxious or stressed dog will also wag its tail. Do not assume that a wagging tail is a signal that the dog wants to be petted. A relaxed dog will wag its tail in a wide, slow arc. A dog that is highly aroused will hold its tail high and wag its tail rapidly in a very small arch. Do not judge a dog by its tail wag alone. Instead, always assess the entire dog.
DOG BODY LANGUAGE: THE EARS
Ear carriage changes with a dog’s emotions. Look at your dog’s normal ear carriage. When his ears move up and/or forward or if they drop down and/or back, he is feeling stress of some sort … anxious, unsure, concerned, etc..
As with tail docking, cropping a dog’s ears make reading dog body language difficult for people and other dogs.
DOG BODY LANGUAGE: THE FACE
A dog’s face displays a wealth of communication signals. The eyes, brows, mouth, tongue and even the whiskers will change with your dog’s emotional state. The signs of stress noted below can indicate that your dog is anxious, confused, concerned, frightened, etc. Regardless of the reason, when you see signs of stress in your dog, stop what you are doing and give him space.
Dogs will wrinkle their brow or raise their eyebrows when they are feeling stressed or unsure. This can lead to the classic “guilty look“. What this look really means is that your dog is feeling uncomfortable and unsure of a particular situation.
A relaxed dog’s eyes are generally more of an almond shape and have a soft look. An stressed dog may exhibit any of the following:
wide and round eyes
dilated pupils (the black circle in the middle of the eye is enlarged)
whale eye (an arc of white showing around the edges of the eyes)
“hard” eyes (more of a hard stare).
squinting – used to avoid eye contact
A relaxed dog has a relaxed mouth – either open, often with tongue hanging out, or closed with loose, relaxed lips. A stressed dog will have a closed, stiff mouth. In these dogs, the lips will be tense as well – often forming a long straight line than may create wrinkles at the corner of the mouth. If pressed, the dog may lift their lips to expose their teeth. This may or may not be accompanied by a growl.
The whiskers of a stressed dog will stick out prominently and be directed forward. The whisker bed will be raised (the area around each whisker will be very pronounced).
DOG BODY LANGUAGE: CALMING SIGNALS
When dogs feel anxious or are presented with stressful situations, they will perform behaviors meant to calm themselves or diffuse the situation. These behaviors are called calming signals or appeasement gestures. Calming signals include things like paw lifts, lip licking and yawns. When a dog is unsure, you will often see her avoiding eye contact either by turning her head to the side or by averting her eyes. Consequently, we often see calming signals when taking photos as pointing a camera/phone at a dog can make them uncomfortable.
STUDY THE ENTIRE DOG – NOT JUST ONE BODY PART
Some dogs will present multiple signals. On the other hand, some dogs will present only one or two signals. Remember – always judge the entire dog – not just one body part. A dog may be wagging its tail, but … How is he holding his tail? How fast is it wagging? What about his eyes and ears? Is his mouth closed and tense or open and relaxed?
It is important to realize that even puppies are speaking to us through their body language.
A. Open relaxed mouth, neutral ears, soft eyes, whiskers directed forward; This dog is exhibiting relaxed body language.
B. Stiff posture, body directed forward, closed mouth with lips set in a straight line, whiskers directed forward, ears set back and down, hard eyes, high tail carriage; This dog is exhibiting stressed body language.
Dog Body Language: Quiz 2:
Which of these dogs look happy to be the recipient of human attention?
A. Relaxed posture, open relaxed mouth, neutral ears, soft eyes; This dog is exhibiting relaxed body language.
B. Stiff posture with body directed backward, wide round eyes with whale eye (difficult to see with the blue eyes), furrowed brow, ears pinned down and back, closed mouth with straight lips, whiskers directed forward; This dog is exhibiting stressed body language.
C. Loose, relaxed posture, relaxed mouth, neutral ears; This dog is exhibiting relaxed body language.
D. Stiff posture, closed mouth with straight lips, airplane ears, head turned away, whiskers directed forward; This dog is exhibiting stressed body language.
E. Crouched posture, body directed away from the person, wide round eyes with whale eye, prominent whisker bed, closed mouth with straight lips, furrowed brow, ears pinned back; This puppy is exhibiting stressed body language.
F. Stiff posture with body directed away from person, yawning, squinting eyes; This dog is exhibiting stressed body language.
The dogs in photos A and C are the only ones in this group with relaxed body language. Note that in both of these photos, the human is not constraining the dog and is respecting its personal space.
Dog Body Language: Quiz 3
Using your new knowledge of body language, how do you interpret this photo? Does the dog want you to come closer or move away? What body language signals are telling you this?
This dog is saying: Move away.
Signals: Tense posture directed backward, ears are pinned back and down, head is turned away, whale eye, tense closed mouth; paw lift.
Dog Body Language: Quiz 4
Go back through the rest of the photos in this blog. What other stress signals do you see each dog exhibiting?
77% of dog bites happen with a family or friend's dog. Now that you know better, do better. "Stop the 77"
What makes for a great dog walk? Is it a power walk through your neighborhood with your Fitbit tracking your every step? Nope. That is YOUR walk. What your dog wants is an opportunity to just go where he wants to go and do what he wants to do. The ideal ‘walk’ for your dog is a time to just run free … time to just “dog” … to roll in the grass, to sniff, to dig, to chase critters …. The term decompression walk was defined by Sarah Stremming as “a walk where the dog is allowed freedom of movement in nature”. Decompression time for your dog has the same benefits as it does for us humans. Studies have shown that sniffing actually lowers your dog’s pulse rate and reduces their stress.
The best experience for any dog is time spent off-leash. If you plan to allow your dog to run off leash, there are some very important things to consider before you head out the door:
Are there ordinances in your area about off leash dogs? If so, make sure that you are going to off-leash friendly areas. Don’t be the dog owner that lets your dog off leash in on-leash only locations.
Make sure that your dog has a bomb-proof recall before letting your dog off leash in an un-enclosed space. Nothing good is going to come from this.
Be aware and respectful of others. Keep this in mind and prevent your dog from harassing others (remember that bomb-proof recall in #2). Not every dog wants to be your dog’s friend and not every person is comfortable around dogs … and they have the right to enjoy that space without being harassed by an off-leash dog.
But, what if you don’t have off-leash zones in your area, your dog doesn’t have a solid recall yet or she isn’t good with strange dogs or people?
Sniffspot is an online service that lists private “dog parks” that can be rented for solo use. These spaces may be as simple as someone’s backyard or they could be acres and acres of fenced land. Sniffspot is growing, but you won’t find spaces in every location.
No Sniffspots available in your area? No worries.
Even if you can’t find a safe space for a true off-leash experience, you can still get many of the benefits of off leash time through a more controlled Sniff Walk, or Sniffari. A sniff walk is a walk during which your dog is allowed the freedom to be a dog while still safely controlled with a harness and long line.
Sniff Walk How-To’s:
Long line. A long line is just a extra long leash that comes in lengths anywhere from 10 to 100 feet. They are great for training recalls, but make the perfect sniff walk leash. You can purchase a long line or simply make your own. Tie a clip to one end of a length of rope to hook to your dog’s harness. Then tie a loop at the other end for a handle.
Harness. A harness is much safer than a collar for any walk. Look for a harness that allows full range of motion. For example, harnesses with a band across the chest restrict shoulder movement.
Hands free leash system (optional). A hands-free belt to attach your long line to works great to free up your hands. Now you can dispense treats or handle the line to keep it from getting tangled.
Treat pouch with treats or kibble. If your dog has never been on a sniff walk, you may need to toss a few treats into the grass/bushes to encourage him and let him know that it is okay to sniff. Instead of treats, toss the food bowl and take your dog’s meal along to scatter feed in the grass.
Poop bags. Clean up after your dog.
Do not allow your dog to damage/destroy private or public property – including digging, crushing plants, etc.
I do not recommend using a retractable leash for several reasons:
First, they are dangerous. Many a dog owner or bystander can attest to retractable leash injuries such as rope burns, cuts, and even amputations. If you drop the leash, many dogs are terrified by the handle “chasing” them – making them harder to catch or, worse, causing them into run into traffic in an effort to escape. Finally, our goal is a relaxing walk and retractable leashes maintain a constant tension on the line which is not relaxing for the dog.
How do you find a safe space for a Sniff Walk?
If you live in a rural area, you probably don’t need to look too far to find a wonderful enclosed space for you dog to explore. But what if you live in a more urban area? Here is how you can locate a safe place for a sniffari.
First, set Google Maps or Mapquest to ‘satellite’ mode and type your home address into the search box.
Next, look for green spaces within easy walking or driving distance. Yes, you may need to drive a bit to find a good location.
Once you have located some potential spaces, check each one to determine if it will fit your needs. On the map below, I have marked potential green spaces in my area.
Check land ownership and local ordinances.
The red zones on the map are great spaces, but, sadly, off limits to dogs. Check your local ordinances for parks and cemeteries. If dog friendly, these make great sniff zones.
The purple and blue zones are all dog-friendly possibilities. The two largest purple zones are filled with fantastic nature trails. However, I have reactive dogs and these trails are often narrow with few opportunities to allow enough space for other dogs to pass by without triggering reactions. Since point of a sniff walk is to allow your dog to decompress, these areas are not good options for reactive dogs. Be sure to keep these kind of things in mind when searching for sniff walk spaces.
The little rectangle towards the top of the map is a tiny dog park. On occasion, I have been able to get this space all to myself, but it not always open and is quite small.
So, that leaves the blue zone.
This is a university campus and just happens to tick all th boxes.
Dog friendly (allow dogs and safe)
Easy walk from home (or easily accessible by car)
Plenty of green space and interesting textures, surfaces and smells to explore
Plenty of space to allow my dogs to get the distance they need from triggers
Tons of great places to sniff
Throughout COVID many college campuses and other public spaces have been relatively quiet zones – a definite perk for those of us with reactive dogs. When students and faculty are on campus, however, I simply time my walks for less active times of the day. In general, however, you won’t find owners out on sniff walks spending much time on the sidewalks. We are generally following our dogs across the lawns and checking out the bushes. So it is not too hard to avoid the human crowds.
Other great space options to check into:
Parks and playgrounds
Office parking lots or industrial parks
Beaches and waterfronts
Empty dog parks
Visitor center or rest area
Picnic area or campground
Paths and trails (beware of narrow trails)
*Be sure that you contact the property owner and/or check local laws and statutes before taking your dog onto private property.
So, now that we have the equipment and the space that we need, join us as we take our morning sniff walk!
I choose to take our sniff walks in the morning and bring breakfast along in my treat pouch. I use two-point attachment leashes – long leashes with clips at both ends and multiple rings to allow you to adjust the length of the lead. These give me the versatility of having 4-foot leashes when walking through the neighborhood, and the ability to allow the full 8 feet of line for sniffing.
Once on campus, I can let out the lines. My 8-foot leashes don’t allow for as much freedom as a 15- or 30-foot long line. That said, they do allow me to take everyone out together and maintain control if we encounter groups of people on campus. It is also convenient for me to not have to carry along four separate long lines every day.
Once I lengthen the leashes, the dogs are in charge.
We go wherever they take me and sniff whatever they want and for as long as they choose. One exception: They are allowed to sniff the flowers, but not trample through the beds.
Occasionally, I will toss out a handful of kibble in the grass for them to snuffle. The dogs are in charge here as well. They choose the scatter spots by slowing down and looking back at me. Once they have finished their snuffling, we are off again.
Do NOT try to scatter feed with multiple dogs in the same space without some prior training. Sign up for a consultation with me, or talk to your dog trainer about safety layers that can be used when working with multiple dogs. Never do this if any one of your dogs has even a hint of resource guarding tendencies. Instead, either take your dogs for solo sniff walks or do scatter feeds back at home in separate spaces.
Remember, this is your dog’s walk. You are on his clock and he gets to set the agenda. Go with the flow, enjoy the sights and sounds of nature, take the opportunity to catch up on podcasts or listen to an audiobook … and enjoy !
During 2020, the number of people bringing a new pet into their homes skyrocketed. So much so, that Rescue Animals became TIME magazine’s Pet of the Year for 2020. Now that the new shine has worn off, many owners are looking for training resources for their dogs and often turn to self-help dog training manuals. Unfortunately, there are SO many such manuals out there that too many owners end up purchasing books that give outdated and inaccurate advice … often leading to abuse rather than training. So, how do you choose the right dog training manual?
As a certified professional dog trainer (CPDT-KA), my first advice any new dog owner is to find a certified dog trainer in their area. Dog training manuals are good resources, but nothing beats working directly with a professional. How do you find a good trainer? That is a whole blog post in itself, so I will direct you to this article on “How to Choose a Dog Trainer.”
So, now you have hired a professional and you want to buy a good dog training manual. With so many on the market, dog owners are flooded with options. How do you choose a dog training manual that will give you reliable and accurate information?
First, look for a book written by an expert in the field. I recently reviewed a dog training manual, Enlightened Dog Training: Become the Peaceful Alpha your Dog Needs and Respects, that was written by Jesse Sternberg, a mindfulness teacher, meditation instructor, and master dog trainer who has been working with animals for more than 30 years.
Sounds great, right?
Unfortunately, the dog training industry is not regulated, so anyone can proclaim themselves a “master dog trainer” and anyone who has had any contact with animals can say that they have “worked with animals for more than 30 years”. There is no indication that the author of this book has any type of dog training certification. Don’t let buzz words like “master dog trainer”, “dog whisperer” or “celebrity dog trainer” fool you! Remember that anyone can get themselves a social media account and start posting so-called dog training videos.
Beware of secret methods and techniques. No training method is “fool proof” or “guaranteed”. “Balanced” trainers may use treats, but also rely on punishment to turn your “disobedient” dog into a “respectful” and “obedient” dog. Look for trainers who are certified and/or have a degree in the field and use “positive reinforcement”, “LIMA”, “force free” or “fear free” methods. Go to their website or social media accounts to learn about their training philosophy.
In this blog, I have used quotes from Enlightened Dog Training as examples to demonstrate what you do NOT want from a dog training manual. Each quote is dissected for inaccuracies and poor dog training advice and is followed up with examples of excellent dog training manuals for the topic at hand.
“By mimicking the body language of an alpha dog as they seize assets or guard territory, we can counter-condition our dog’s excitement to any power object both quickly and calmly by leveraging a very simple law in the animal kingdom: the top dog always eats first, claims the asset with ease, and chooses the best resting spot with grace.”
“When a wolf hunt comes to an end, no pack member dares to show excitement around the spoils, nor do they even think about eating before the alpha male and female of the pack.”
In 1970, wolf expert David Mech introduced the world to the concept of “alpha” and “dominance” in his book, The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species. In fact, he recanted this theory in 1999. He even states on his website that this book is “currently still in print, despite my numerous pleas to the publisher to stop publishing it.”
So, you can rest assured that your dog is not trying to exert his “dominance” over you or trying to be the “alpha.” And he certainly does not need you to be his “pack leader” – since the current science on dog behavior tells us that dogs are not even pack animals! Further, to continue to perpetuate this ideology, which has resulted in the abuse of countless dogs at the hands of owners who unknowingly think that they are doing the right thing, is absolutely unethical.
“From the moment we bring a dog into our home, they expect us to behave like an alpha.”
TRANSLATION: Don’t allow your dog to feel safe in your home.
DOG TRAINING MANUALS TO CHOOSE INSTEAD
How to Teach a New Dog Old Tricks by Dr. Ian Dunbar
Dr. Dunbar is a veterinarian and animal behaviorist who founded the Association of Pet Dog Trainers
“When I’m training a dog, I develop a relationship with that dog. He’s my buddy, and I want to make training fun.” – Ian Dunbar
Plenty in Life is Free – Reflections on Dogs, Training and Finding Grace by Kathy Sdao
Kathy Sdao is an applied animal behaviorist (ACAAB) and professional dog trainer.
“We humans repeatedly fall into the trap of thinking that power and control are what successful relationships are about. On deeper reflection, we can see that in our best relationships we communicate clearly and easily … In the long run, communication trumps control.” – Kathy Sdao
“Take 10 conscious breaths. Slowly leash your dog, and tether them to something in front of them. Form a lasso with the second leash, placing it around your dog’s hindquarters, and fasten it to another fixture behind them. This gentle restraint will keep your furry guru standing still and safe. Now it’s time to begin the working meditation of grooming your dog with love.”
TRANSLATION: Securely restrain your dog so that she cannot move away when you advance on her with scary tools.
A BETTER WAY: Teach your dog that grooming is fun.
DOG TRAINING MANUAL TO CHOOSE INSTEAD
Cooperative Care: Seven Steps toStress-Free Husbandry by Deborah A Jones, Ph.D.
Deb Jones has a PhD in Psychology and is a legend in the dog training world. In fact, she also runs a fantastic Facebook group on the topic called “Cooperative Care with Deb Jones”.
“Be the turtle.” – Deb Jones.
(… meaning slow and steady wins the race)
“The suddenness of my assertive touch sobered her. Instinctively, she knew it was time to surrender, because making contact on the nape of a dog’s neck is a familiar connection point communicating status and authority.”
“Instinctively, I placed what I call my “Kung Fu Finger” gently on the scruff of his neck. When we touch our dogs on the nape of the neck, we remind them that we are the authority. This is where their mother picked them up when they were young and where aggressive dogs target their attacks.”
PLEASE NOTE: Under no circumstances are you a dog – nor are you your dog’s mother. This is not you communicating your status and authority. This is simply you using body language signals to communicate aggression and instill fear in your dog.
“After your dog retreats as a result of your intensified, fear-generating actions, place the bowl on the floor between your feet. This is known as the Asset Ownership position.”
TRANSLATION: This is you, behaving like a lunatic.
ANALOGY: You arrive at your favorite restaurant and order your favorite dish. The waiter brings your meal and proceeds to set it on the table and stand over you, arms crossed and staring menacingly down at you. He continues to hold this stance, never speaking until you back away from the table. Only then, does he step back and say “Enjoy your meal.” Does this sound like the behavior of a sane individual?? Would you ever go back to that restaurant?
“Trust the process. Be patient, and remain in the asset-guarding position because the fun part of the training session has only just begun. Now that you have established ownership over the object your dog desires, they will not attempt to snatch it unless you lose focus and become distracted. Observe your dog over the next 10 minutes or so as its attention becomes single pointed on the hot dog (the object of their meditation). Notice as your dog progresses through increasingly relaxed positions, organically searching for stillness in their body.”
TRANSLATION: Stand over your dog’s bowl and continue to intimidate and bully your dog with your aggressive stance and delight in his efforts to use appeasement gestures to beg you to stop aggressing towards him. Can you imagine how a dog must feel after 10 minutes of this treatment?!?
NOTE: If your dog is looking away, panting, lifting a paw, laying down or rolling over, it can generally be translated to a dog that is worried, confused or scared.
Doggie Language: A Dog Lover’s Guide to Understanding your Best Friend by Lily Chin
Lili Chin creates educational artwork for veterinarians and dog trainers. This little book is an excellent reference on how to interpret your dog’s body language
On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas
Turid Rugaas is a dog trainer and behaviorist in Norway. She is world-renowned for her work with calming signals in dogs – body language that dogs use to help calm themselves and others in stressful situations.
“We need to learn to understand the language of dogs so that we can understand what our dogs are telling us. That is the secret of having a good life together.” – Turid Rugaas
A Kids’ Comprehensive Guide to Speaking Dog!: A fun, interactive, educational resource to help the whole family understand canine communication. by Niki Tudge
Niki Tudge is a certified dog trainer and behavior consultant and the founder of The Pet Professional Guild – the Association for Force Free Pet Professionals.
“Keep future … generations safe by learning to “speak dog!””
“An eagle can swoop down and catch prey when it least expects it, so be like the eagle, and catch your dog in the moment it makes an indoor potty. In this moment, snap your fingers or make a gently conflict-seeking sound, followed by direct eye contact. This action is the “bad cop” moment, and the forbidden angle clearly communicates “no.” Don’t feel sad or think your puppy will get mad at you. Remember, fear is a normal emotion and animals don’t relate to it like we do.”
TRANSLATION: Take a puppy who has been on this earth for all of 8 to 10 weeks and set him up for failure. Wait for him to have an accident in your house and then swoop in to scare the living daylights out of him. Is this the stance that anyone would choose to use when potty training their child?!?
A BETTER WAY: Set your puppy up for success!! Take him out to potty every hour or two and reward him generously when he potties outside.
DOG TRAINING MANUALS TO CHOOSE INSTEAD
The Puppy Primer by Patricia McConnell, Ph.D.
Patricia McConnell has a Ph.D. in animal behavior and is a certified dog trainer and behavior consultant. Her blog, The Other End of the Leash, is filled with training advice and wonderful stories about her dogs.
“We dog lovers share a kind of Zen-like communion with our dogs, uncluttered by nouns and adverbs and dangling participles. This connections speak to a part of us that needs to be nurtured and listened to, but that is so often drowned out in the cacophony of speech. Dogs remind us that we are being heard, without the additional weight of words. What a gift. No wonder we love them so much” – Patricia McConnell
Perfect Puppy in 7 Days: How to Start Your Puppy Off Right by Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM
Sophia Yin was a veterinary behaviorist and dog trainer
“Instead of using coercion, we can learn to lead like a leader in a dance.” – Dr. Sophia Yin (1966-2014)
Before & After Getting Your Puppy: The Positive Approach to Raising a Happy, Healthy & Well-Behaved Dog by Dr. Ian Dunbar, DVM
Dr. Dunbar is a veterinarian and animal behaviorist who founded the Association of Pet Dog Trainers
“You can instill fear in your kids and get them to mind, but they won’t function better in the world and your relationship will suffer greatly.” – Ian Dunbar
Easy Peasy, Puppy Squeasy: Raising and Training a Happy Puppy by Steve Mann
Steve Mann is a professional trainer and behaviorist.
“If you have a dog that likes hanging out with you, 90% of your problems are gone.” – Steve Mann on developing the Rucksack Walk
“Puppies chew things to explore, learn, and soothe the pain of teething. How we act in these moments shapes their future behavior. Screaming or showing excitement, for example, quickly turn the act of teething into an interactive game.”
Absolutely true … but here is where the author gets it really wrong
“On the other hand, acting assertively and using Alpha tactics to guard the moccasin like a resource (a power object) would effectively stop Rambo from chewing them. Asserting yourself in this fashion to such a young pup, however, makes you come across as unnecessarily scary. It’s not age-appropriate until about six months of age.”
TRANSLATION: Screaming and yelling like a lunatic is inappropriate, but using fear and aggression stances is okay as soon as your puppy is 6 months old. Seriously, I can’t even …..
NOTE: Puppies and dogs chew, dig and bark – that, my friends, is the nature of a dog.
A BETTER WAY: Puppy-proof your home … just like you would baby-proof your home. Make sure your puppy has plenty of appropriate chew toys and encourage him to chew appropriately by using toys that can be filled with food or treats.
DOG TRAINING MANUALS TO CHOOSE INSTEAD
Meet Your Dog: The Game-Changing Guide to Understanding your Dog’s Behavior by Kim Brophey
This is THE most important book on the market right now.
Kim Brophey is an applied ethologist and certified dog trainer and behaviorist. She has developed an amazing framework called L.E.G.S. to help owners understand and know their dogs. Learning includes your dog’s training and experiences; Environment is your dog’s external world – his home, his family, etc. Genetics is your dog’s inherited characteristics; and Self encompasses your dog’s internal world – his nutrition, health, etc.
“Learning is not an event; it is a constant process, and it is your responsibility to foster experiences that will be beneficial to her perpetual learning.” – Kim Brophey
Canine Enrichment for the Real World: Making It a Part of your Dog’s Daily Life by Allie Bender and Emily Strong
Allie Bender and Emily Strong are certified dog trainers and behavior consultants.
Canine Enrichment: The Book your Dog Needs You to Read by Shay Kelly
Shay Kelly is a certified canine behavior consultant. His “Canine Enrichment” Facebook page is filled with excellent ideas.
“A recall should never signal the end of something interesting. It should signal the beginning of something fabulous” – Shay Kelly
“Alphas are conscientious commanders. We don’t ask our dogs to do things; we tell them to do things. They listen to us and serve us with joy, because our actions mean love in all forms.
TRANSLATION: Dogs are furry little minions who were created solely for our pleasure and amusement.
A BETTER WAY: Dogs are sentient beings who have emotion. They feel fear, anger and pain. They are not here to simply do our bidding.
DOG TRAINING MANUALS TO CHOOSE INSTEAD
Bones Would Rain from the Sky: Deepening Our Relationships With Dogs by Suzanne Clothier
Suzanne Clothier is a world class dog trainer, known for her ralationship-centered training methods.
One of the best books I have ever read about the bond between humans and dogs.
“One of the great pleasures of being with dogs is their spontaneous expression of what they are feeling” – Suzanne Clothier
The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs by Patricia McConnell, Ph.D.
Patricia McConnell has a Ph.D. in animal behavior and is a certified dog trainer and behavior consultant. Her blog, The Other End of the Leash, is filled with training advice and wonderful stories about her dogs.
“Positive reinforcement is always, by definition, decided by the receiver, not by the “giver’.” – Patricial McConnell
Human Canine Behavior Connections: A Better Self Through Dog Training by Marissa Martino
Marissa Martino is a certified dog trainer and behavior consultant. Her “Paws and Reward” podcast is great source of information about how to foster a bond with your dog.
Wag: The Science of Making your Dog Happy by Zazie Todd, Ph.D.
Zazie Todd has a Ph.D. in psychology and is a certified professional dog trainer. Check out Zazie Todd’s blog, Companion Animal Psychology.
“Don’t use punishment. It does not teach your dog what to do instead of the problem behavior and it interferes with the dog’s feelings of safety.” – Zazie Todd
“For example, when your dog snatches a dirty sock from your laundry for a game of tug, make your assertive noise, march toward them in a straight line, and watch as they drop the sock and offer you a Calming Signal.”
“Begin to imagine that you’re a lion, an animal no dog would dare challenge. Slowly stand up, and remain still; this is known as the Mountain Pose in yoga. Softly gaze at your dog, sending it the tiniest vibration of fear and inviting it for a challenge.”
TRANSLATION: The next time your dog grabs a sock and invites you to play, advance on him in aggressive posture to scare him into dropping the sock and cowering away from you.
A BETTER PLAN: Present a toy or treat to trade for the sock and then play with your dog.
NOTE: When your dog resists you taking something from him, he is simply engaging in what every other mammal (including humans) in the animal kingdom does – guarding a resource. While unwanted, it is perfectly natural behavior.
ANALOGY: Kerrie absolutely LOVES chocolate, but, alas, she is on a diet. After a week of eating only healthy stuff, she just sat down to enjoy a slice of chocolate cake. Her husband walks up, grabs her plate and starts eating her cake. What would Kerrie do? Well, I can tell you that she would not sit quietly while he eats the slice of cake that she has been looking forward to all week. BUT, what if, instead, her husband walks up and says “Hey, want to trade that chocolate cake for this slice of chocolate cheesecake?” Well, now we are talking!
LESSON: Trade your dog for something of equal or higher value.
DOG TRAINING MANUALS TO CHOOSE INSTEAD
Mine!: A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs by Jean Donaldson
Jean Donaldson is a certified dog trainer and behavior consultant and an instructor at the Academy for Dog Trainers.
“The sad objective of these trainers seems to be to reach the end of the dog’s life having dispensed as few rewards as possible. It’s difficult to explain why an animal trainer would strive to be as stingy as possible, give the evidence of how powerful and safe positive reinforcement is. Maybe it’s psychological.” – Jean Donaldson
You can find the book recommended and many other at Dogwise.
Other excellent dog training manuals to choose:
Barking: The Sound of a Language by Turid Rugaas
How Dogs Learn by Mary R. Burch and Bob Bailey
How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves by Sophia Yin
Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know by Alexandra Horowitz
My Dog Pulls. What Do I Do? by Turid Rugaas
The Power of Positive Dog Training by Pat Miller
The Cautious Canine: How to Help Dogs Conquer their Fears by Patricia McConnell
The Puppy Whisperer: A Compassionate, Nonviolent Guide to Early Training and Care by Paul Owens and Terence Cranendonk
Feeling Outnumbered?: How to Manage and Enjoy your Multi-Dog Household by Karen B. London, Ph.D.
Karen London is a certified dog trainer and applied animal behaviorist.
Feisty Fido: Help for the Leash Aggressive Dog by Patricia McConnell
Be Right Back!: How To Overcome Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety And Regain Your Freedom by Julie Naismith
Julie Naismith is a certified professional dog trainer and separation anxiety expert. She runs a SA support group on Facebook called Dog Separation Anxiety Training Support with Julie Naismith.
I’ll Be Right Back: How to Prevent and Treat Separation Anxiety by Patricia McConnell
The Midnight Dog Walkers: Positive Training and Practical Advice for Living with Reactive and Aggressive Dogs by Annie Phenix
Annie Phenix is a certified professional dog trainer. She has a reactive dog support group on Facebook called The Official Midnight Dog Walkers Group.
Control Unleashed books by Leslie McDevitt
Leslie McDevitt is a certified professional dog trainer and behavior consultant.
(Disclaimer:I received a complimentary advanced reader copy of “Enlightened Dog Training” through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.)