Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Time Out!

In last week's blog, I covered how to go about getting control of a mouthy dog or puppy using redirection and time outs.  Someone new to my blog asked for clarification on the concept of time outs.  She told me she'd never had kids, so she wasn't sure what this was supposed to look like for her adolescent dog!  I laughed at this because I always use my kids as an example when talking about time outs, and for those who think time outs are punishment and therefore to be avoided if you are (as you should be!) focusing on positive reinforcement methods with your dogs. So, it seems like it's time to dive into what time outs are, how long your puppy or dog can be in one, where they should time out, etc.

Think of a time out as an opportunity. It's an opportunity for you to cool off if you're frustrated with your dog's behavior. It's an opportunity for your dog to calm down, get some self control, and move themselves to a state of being that's below threshold for reactivity or over-excitement. For puppies, a time out is often an opportunity to take a much needed nap. 

Time outs are not punishment.  The only way a time out would be punishing is if you make it that way!  If you swat your dog, grab him roughly, or shove him/drag him as part of the time out, then yes, that time out qualifies as punishment. If, however, you simply sigh, roll your eyes (maybe that's just me) and guide your dog to their crate with a matter of fact statement "Time out!" then no, that's not punishment. And, yes, it's fine to use their crate for a time out. I like to give an example from my kids' experience growing up in a home where their mom was an animal behaviorist.  The number of times my daughter reminded me that she's not a dog....well, I'll save that for another day.  Anyway, when my kids were little and in need of a time out, they had to sit in the dining room, in one of the chairs.  They were to remain there, quietly, until I told them the time out was over. If they fussed, the time out was extended.  Mostly, they needed to stay there until I no longer wanted to trade them in for another dog.  Those same children who did time outs in the dining room still rolled up for dinner in that same dining room, in those same chairs, and with joy.  You see, it wasn't the room or the chairs that was important, nor was that space negative or associated with punishment.  It was the act of the time out. It gave them a chance to get it together and think about what they had done that had me so worked up.  Not punishment, but a chance for the child to calm down, get below their threshold, and get some self control. Sound familiar? 

Once again, time outs can absolutely be in your dog's crate.  They can also be in an exercise pen, on a porch, in a bathroom, in your laundry room, or in your spare bedroom.  They can be anywhere you choose as long as that place is safe for them to be, doesn't have anything else for them to do while they are there, and you can get them to that spot for their time out in a reasonably quick fashion. If your dog's crate has toys in it (it shouldn't though as that's for sleeping, not playing) or you're confining to a bathroom where there are rugs to chew on and toilet paper to unfurl, then you will need to make those spaces more efficient for time outs. Be prepared in advance.  Have a dedicated crate or exercise pen in an easily accessed area of your home and have it contain nothing but something to sit or lay down on. That's it. You can rest easy knowing you can now walk away and your pet is safely doing the time out thing.

Time outs only need to be 2-3 minutes in length to be effective. Leave your dog there longer, however, if *you* need more time to cool off. If you need more time to clean up the mess that necessitated the time out.  If your dog falls asleep during the time out, don't wake them up, let them rest. Definitely leave them there longer if they are throwing a tantrum, bouncing off of the walls/crate door, barking, incessantly whining, or otherwise being dramatic. Just as you don't let a dog bark its way out of crate to greet you, you won't let your dog out of their time out if they are still in a state of heightened arousal.  Wait for them to calm down, then let them out, and let them out with zero fanfare, meaning you don't need to discuss the matter further with them or make them feel better when they exit. The time out is over, they've calmed down, and you are ready to move on with your lives.

Finally, don't worry if it seems like your dog spends more time in time out than she does having free time.  This is developmentally important.  While puppies earn a lot of time outs, adolescent dogs also get their share of time outs.  I've often said that if an adolescent dog isn't in time out at least a couple of times each day, minimum, then he's either perfect (ha ha ha) or you're letting him get away with too much.  Adolescent dogs are boundary testers by design. Boundary testing dogs (and kids!) need reminders that those boundaries are there for a reason.

I guess I should also mention that time outs are incredibly valuable for anxious dogs as well.  Anxious dogs need a place where they can go (either on their own or with your help and encouragement) to decompress, get below threshold, and feel safe.  Their time out area should be all of those things for them.

Circling back to my new blog follower:  I told her all of this and she realized she'd had the complete wrong idea about what a time out was.  She also asked if time outs would work on her husband.  This woman definitely gets my sense of humor!  But no, I don't profess to know how to get a husband's behavior under control.  Just dogs.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

As you may have guessed, Ozzie spent a great deal of time in time out as a puppy and adolescent. He was born to boundary test, both at home and at his babysitter's house.  Here he was at 6.5 months of age in yet another time out and one in which he fell asleep.  Yes, there were toys there, but only serving as pillows, as you can clearly see.  The babysitter felt bad with him in time out all the time with nothing to do. He was certainly lucky to have such an indulgent babysitter.
 His time outs at home were definitely toy-free.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Mouthy Dogs!

As if her mouthy teenage kids weren't enough of a challenge, my client was incredibly frustrated with the behavior of her adolescent dog.  He's a great dog, most of the time, but he is incessantly mouthy. It's not that he barks, he grabs and nips, usually hands, but sometimes at ankles and clothing.  He seems to do it a lot more now that he's become an adolescent, but he was a mouthy and demanding puppy as well.  Her biggest concern is that this will turn into aggressive behavior and they'll have to remove him from their home. Her husband is already ready to give the dog away, so she's feeling sad, mad, and pressed for time.  Plus, she still has those teenage humans to contend with as well!

Learning how to use their mouths constructively is something puppies begin to learn from their mothers and through interactions with their siblings.  Once puppies leave their mothers, it is up to us (and the other dogs and cats in our household and those that they come in contact with daily) to teach our puppies when they've used their mouths inappropriately. I know I've talked about this before, so let's just summarize here.  When a puppy puts its mouth on you and you feel pressure, you'll loudly say "Ouch!" and wait for them to drop your limb looking saddened and perplexed. At this point, redirect them to a toy for appropriate mouth stimulation.  If they don't let go or give you a look that says, "That was fun!  Gonna bite you again!" it's off to a time out.  Time outs for puppies are 3 minutes in length and can run longer if they fuss, bark, etc.  You do this over and over, every single time you feel pressure from that mouth, until your puppy learns to inhibit his bite.  It isn't that a puppy/dog can't put its mouth on you, they actually can and it's okay (that's what's meant by bite inhibition), they just need to learn that they don't need to put pressure behind it when they do; mouthing your hand will suffice.  It is my experience that the puppies who mouth the most are the ones whose owners are inconsistent with the above outline AND their puppies are sleep deprived. Sleep deprived puppies are mouthy and over-threshold all the time.  They need their rest to have better self-control.  A minimum of four, 2-hour naps everyday is required, in addition to their night time sleep, for best results.

Circling back to my client's situation. Her dog is 10 months old now and she's been fairly good at the naps routine, though not perfect.  They've been pretty good with the ouch-redirect-time out routine as well, but admits to not being consistent on that either.  It seems her husband likes to smack the dog on the nose for the behavior and/or yell at him, "NO!"  Tongue firmly planted in cheek, I asked how that was working for him.  Not well at all, as you might imagine. In fact, the dog is worst with the mouthy behavior toward her husband, actually nipping at his hands. This dog has definitely figured out how to get a rise out of the humans.  Given that her husband is ready to get rid of the dog, I suggested a boot camp, of sorts, was in order.

For the next two weeks, they will enforce those naps.  They will walk this dog twice a day.  They will make sure he's getting mental stimulation in the form of puzzles, bones, etc.  And anytime he mouths, they will say "OUCH!" then redirect to a toy.  If not successful, it's off on to his crate or the laundry room, whichever is closer, for a time out.  Every. Single. Time.  No hitting the dog and no yelling, just matter of fact time outs.  If after two weeks, they are still having problems, then it's time to re-evaluate the situation and whether this dog is a good match for their busy home.

While not a popular fact, it is nonetheless true, that some dog breeds are mouthier than others.  Those of us who see a lot of Doodles in our practices have commented on the preponderance of Doodles in homes where their families are overwhelmed by mouthy/bitey behavior.  While I've certainly seen my share of mouthy Golden Retrievers, Labradors, German Shepherds, and Australian Shepherds, I seem to see more mouthy Goldendoodles, Labradoodles, Sheepadoodles, and Bernedoodles. Having said that, I have clients with Doodles who've followed my suggestions to the letter and are not experiencing mouthing issues with their dogs beyond what they experienced and dealt with in puppyhood.  And, of course, there are those clients whose dogs, regardless of breed, move on from mouthy behavior to actual nipping and biting to get their way and that's definitely not okay.  That qualifies as aggression and is a completely different topic.

The bottom line for my clients is the sobering realization that they have work to do and it won't be an easy, quick fix.  Responding to this behavior with punishment will only make it worse for them as their dog will escalate making him more unpredictable. They will be contacting me after two weeks and we'll assess where we are at that point. I've crossed my fingers that this works out for them as they are a lovely family and I do like this dog.  I just don't like his behavior.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

We somewhat affectionately referred to Ozzie as "shark puppy" when he was little.  He was feisty, pushy, and opinionated, using his mouth to try to change our behavior. We were diligent and consistent with him and it worked.  Ozzie has beautiful bite inhibition, even if you are doing something with him that hurts.  This picture so perfectly captures his puppyhood; redirected to a bone, but still giving me a little side-eye over that redirection :)

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

The Problem with Submissive Dogs & Puppies

I had three clients this week with the same problem.  Their adolescent dogs do not get along with puppies and they can't understand what the problem is.  These are just bouncy puppies, submissively trying to engage their dogs in play. Or, so the humans thought.  But lo and behold, play didn't happen and left all parties stumped as to what actually occurred.  Why was this happening to these adolescent dogs who got along with every other canine they've met so far?  The answer is in how we define submission.

Submissive behavior, by definition, implies that one dog is behaving in a deferential or appeasing manner with another dog, presenting themselves in a way that makes them perceived as non-threatening.  It is behavior designed to keep dogs under threshold and out of harm's way. Most people associate submissive behavior with what is referred to as passive submission.  Passive submission in dogs looks like that definition I gave above:  the dog makes himself smaller, may roll over and present his belly, he may even urinate a bit.  The passively submissive dog will avert her gaze, and likely has her ears back, maybe even licking her lips to show appeasement.  Was this what you pictured when I said submissive as well?  The problem for my clients' dogs was not interactions with puppies displaying passive submission. No, indeed.  Their problem was these puppies were engaging in active submission.

Active submission is downright obnoxious. It is pushy, in your face, jumping, licking, pawing, and barking or whining.  These puppies were actively throwing themselves onto my clients' adolescent dogs, pawing them, frantically licking, and grabbing at fur, faces, and feet.  Rather than turning off aggressive responses as we see with passive submission, puppies and dogs engaging in active submission often invite an aggressive response from other dogs. And even if the other dog doesn't respond aggressively to the active submission, they are likely "turned off" by it and will try to walk away or ignore the offensive, obsequious nonsense.

Dog owners whose dogs regularly display active submission need to get a handle on this behavior as it puts their dogs at risk for aggression which can result in more fear and more submission. These dogs need to be taught to take no for an answer. They should not be indulged or encouraged, but corrected and redirected. They must learn that pushiness doesn't pay off. If you know you have a dog who actively submits to other dogs, leading to occasional aggression, you need to step in.  If they are off leash, put them on leash and give them a time out.  If they are on leash, stand on their leash and don't allow a greeting of another dog unless they are calm.  Reinforce calm behaviors like sitting, looking to you for permission to greet the other dog, and all four feet being on the ground.  If your dog starts to bark or whine, keep your foot on the leash, get them to quiet and focus FIRST, and then reward with allowing the greeting. If they can't keep four feet on the ground and not whine/bark, then they don't get to greet the other dog. It's simply not worth risking an aggressive encounter, nor reinforcing behavior you want to extinguish.

For dog owners who know their dogs are intolerant of actively submissive dogs, don't let your dog interact with them! Don't force your dog into a situation where they feel overwhelmed and irritated enough to behave aggressively.  It simply isn't fair to get mad or frustrated with a dog who corrects an actively submissive dog; that actively submissive dog was actually asking for it.  If he truly wanted to diffuse tension or appear friendly, then he would have approached in a calm, deferential manner, that is as a passively submissive dog would.

While many dog owners associate submissive behavior with puppies, the truth of the matter is that submissive behavior, both active and passive, can be displayed by dogs of any age, particularly if they've not been trained in the art of socializing well with others. Puppies learn from their mothers and other adult dogs how to socialize.  Puppies go to puppy classes to continue that learning experience with other, unfamiliar puppies their own age. Even in puppy classes, it is important to get a handle on any puppy displaying active submission before that becomes a learned behavior that gets her in trouble.

For now, my clients will be actively avoiding encounters with these puppies who engage in active submission.  They will also be talking about why they are doing so in order to help their friends and neighbors with those puppies understand why they are doing this. It is for the peace of mind of their dogs, as well as the safety of those puppies.  My hope is that the puppy owners will take a hard look at how they've been reinforcing this behavior and make the moves outlined above to get it under control before their puppies get hurt.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Here is Westley with a neighbor's Labrador puppy.  You will notice that the puppy is approaching him calmly, head low and sniffing, but with a wagging tail (that blur in the photo!). Right after this picture was taken, Westley bowed at the puppy and they played together for about a minute before Westley was done and the puppy's owner encouraged her to sit for attention from the humans instead.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

In the Service of Service Dogs

I am currently working with a handful of clients who have service dogs.  For one dog, we are working toward her being able to fly with her owner in the cabin of a plane on work trips between the Bay Area and New York. For another, we are working on her dog being able to handle long periods of down time while the owner works in a busy office setting, after two years of working from home.  For a third, we are working on what to say when people want to pet her service dog and clearly don't understand that not all disabilities are visible. This last situation really upsets me the most. Just the fact that there are a plethora of forms necessary to complete for my client who travels for business with her service dog, when clearly this is the case because there are so many people out there trying to fly with their dogs on planes, misrepresenting those dogs as service animals.  Honestly, sometimes I grit my teeth so hard my jaws hurt. 

Look. I understand you love your dog and want to take him/her everywhere with you. I love my dogs too and love taking them everywhere I *can* with me.  I will not, however, EVER misrepresent one of my dogs as a service animal.  I am fortunate; I do not have a disability that warrants the service of a trained support animal.  I recognize that there are people who do and whose disabilities may not be readily visible to those around them. Just because their disabilities aren't visible to you doesn't mean that they don't exist.  And, if their dog is wearing a service vest/harness, you need to accept that the animal is providing the service they've been trained to provide AND give them the space they need to comfortably do so.  The number of times my client and I were approached by people wanting to pet her dog while we were training her dog on the extended settle/down in her workplace was off the hook.  The dog was wearing her service dog harness.  I was sitting 6 feet away coaching my client on what to do if her dog got up or got distracted from the task.  And yet, we were approached by five people during the hour who wanted to pet the dog because they felt they needed support too; they had the right to pet the dog because the dog was in their office space; they were a dog person; and one pat on the head wouldn't be a problem, right? So frustrating.

Then there's the situation where my client and I were walking with her dog in a public space, wearing his service dog vest.  There were many pet owners walking their dogs in the same area, which was fine; we've worked hard with her dog and he notes other dogs in the area, but he's not distracted from his job.  Suddenly, a man walked right up to us with his dog and said, "Can my dog say hi?  Your dog is so well behaved!"  At this point, his dog LUNGED AT MY CLIENT'S SERVICE ANIMAL.  I jumped between his dog and my client and her dog and had a heated conversation with the man.  It is not my client's responsibility to help socialize his dog. Nor is a service dog to be approached in that way or for that purpose.  When he tried to argue with me that he didn't see the dog was a service dog as my client "wasn't in a wheelchair or anything," I just about lost my mind.  I explained that it wasn't my client's job to advertise her disability, she IS clearly designating her dog as a service animal, however, with the easy-to-see vest and harness with tags explaining what he does and who to contact in case of a medical emergency. He could see the vest, he just wanted to do what he wanted to do with his pet dog.  I've said it before and I'll say it again. People like this give dog owners in general a bad name.  Every other dog owner we passed that day smiled and moved their dog to a safe distance from my client and her service dog.  When we were in tight spaces, they picked up small dogs or moved their dogs to the side and told them to "leave it" so my client and her service dog could pass.  This is common courtesy in my mind, but some folks clearly need a refresher.

Yes, I'm happy that more and more people are teaching their children to ask before petting a dog.  They do, however, need to add to this training that someone with a service animal is not to be approached and asked that question. Service animals are not to be petted, distracted, or otherwise engaged. They are a living, breathing, thinking piece of medical equipment whose care and training is incredibly expensive and time-consuming.  Coach your children to smile and acknowledge the person with a service animal, exchange pleasantries, and move on.

I'll continue to work with these clients to achieve their goals.  We're almost to the point where we can complete the DOT (Department of Transportation) paperwork for my client to fly with her dog; we have built her dog up to 6 daytime hours without relieving himself. The airline would like a dog to be able to hold it and/or only relieve itself in-flight in a sanitary manner, for those on flights that exceed 8 hours. Given the size of her service dog, in-flight relief would be difficult, so we're working toward that goal of not needing to relieve himself.  Her flights to New York are just under 7 hours, most of the time, but things can happen that make it prudent to try and get this dog to be able to comfortably hold his urine for more time.  I truly would hate to see this client put in all this time and work only to have some pet owner with an ill-mannered dog set her dog back, or worse, make it so her dog could not perform his duties safely for her in the airport/airplane environment.

Comfort dogs, therapy dogs, and even emotional support animals are NOT the same as service dogs.  The rights and access afforded to those pets performing those tasks is limited.  Access is unlimited for service animals and we all need to keep that in mind and make sure that we aren't infringing on their ability to do their jobs. And if you observe someone misrepresenting their animal, or who indicates that they intend to just "order a vest on Amazon," so that they can take their dog everywhere with them, do say something.  You know better.  We really all should know better.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me. 

This dog is clearly designated as a service animal and not to be confused with a pet.