Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Compliance Versus Defiance

I had an interesting conversation with a client yesterday. She was frustrated with her adolescent dog's behavior.  He just keeps counter-surfing, jumping on people, and pulling on the leash when she walks him.  She indicated that he "knows what he's supposed to do," and that he's "just so defiant."  You know me, I'm not a big fan of labels like stubborn, defiant, willful, etc.  For some reason, folks always think of those things as negative.  Maybe I'm just sensitive to it because my lovely daughter was also described as "stubborn, defiant, and willful" as a child, and I know she turned out terrific!  But I digress. 

I asked this client what type of consequences she had established for her dog when he did these things. For example, did he get redirected when he jumped on people?  Or were people actually encouraging the behavior by repeatedly telling him "off!," grabbing his feet and shoving him away, or even letting him do it and rewarding him for it by petting him?  Well, turns out that her dog has been getting mixed signals. Her husband pats his chest for the dog to jump up on him and her teenage son likes to grab the dog's feet when he jumps up.  Hmm.  Sounds like that dog isn't defiant so much as he's smart!  He's learned that jumping up gets him attention in some fashion, so there is clearly no motivation to change his behavior as far as he's concerned.  And the counter surfing?  Well, yes, they'd been telling the dog to get down off the counter when they caught him up there, BUT they were still leaving food out on those counters unattended.  And they expected him not to try to get those goodies when they were out of the room?  That's crazy!  This dog has been able to reinforce himself with his counter surfing more times than you can imagine.  As far as the leash pulling situation goes, she'd basically been shortening her leash and attaching it to a prong collar as a means to keep him from pulling, but of course he still was, and gasping for air to boot.  So, where were the well-defined, easy-to-understand consequences for this dog to get him to WANT to stop jumping up, counter surfing, and pulling on the leash?  Or to use my client's word: How could she get him to be more compliant?

Dogs actually like rules and structure.  If you don't show them those boundaries and the consequences for pushing them, they have no reason to change their behavior.  Dogs who jump up should be on leash for all greetings.  That's a consequence.  Standing on the leash to prevent them from jumping up.  That's a consequence.  Putting them in another room if they can't stay in their place when guests arrive and get settled.  That time out is a consequence and all of these consequences are things dogs will understand and respond to.  Counter surfing dogs have no business in the kitchen unsupervised.  They should only be in there when you can have them practicing a sit or down in place away from food prep areas (and the added bonus consequence of getting moved further away if they don't stay in their place). When you can't supervise that stay in place because you need to leave the room, take the dog with you or shut them out of the kitchen. No more free access is a consequence they can understand.  Now, leash pulling.  We've talked about this many times.  Shortening the leash just triggers dogs to pull because they've got so much tension in the leash, they are trying to create breathing room.  And attaching a short leash to a pinch collar means your dog is just going to be triggered to pull and gasp and hate walking with you. Instead, try a head halter, no-pull harness, or martingale collar, attached to a 6-8 foot leash.  When your dog pulls, stop walking. That's a consequence they can understand; if they pull you, then the walk stops.  Bring them back to you, have them sit or stand at your side, and start walking again. Encourage them to sniff, look around, etc., basically behaviors that run counter to pulling. Give them enough leash to comfortably sniff.  If they try to pull you to the next sniffing area, JUST STOP WALKING. You can stand on the leash and ignore them.  Basically, a public time out until they notice you've stopped walking and talking to them.  When they make eye contact with you, bring them back to your side, ask for a sit, and try again.  Yes, this makes for a slow and tedious walk at first, but if you use treats to lure your dog along, it really isn't that bad, and it beats being dragged down the street.

So, now my client knows what consequences her dog will understand in order to be "compliant and not defiant."  I still don't think of him as defiant though; I see him as a pretty typical adolescent dog who has been given way too much freedom and inconsistent reinforcement to know what he should be doing.  As my grandmother used to say, you get more flies with honey than vinegar.  Break out the treats and the praise (and take those things away when needed!) as these are consequences dogs (and kids for that matter) understand. 

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

Henley would like me to throw Eeyore so he can play fetch. You can see him pleading with his eyes, but he's not jumping up on me, shoving me with the toy, or pawing at me. He's learned that doing any of those behaviors only results in me ignoring him.  If he stands quietly near my desk, however, I will notice him being very good and waiting, and then I will take a break and toss that toy.  Consequences my 7 month old puppy can easily understand!

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Join Me For a Dog Walking Tutorial!

I'm excited to announce that I will be doing a one hour, dog walking class with a select group of dog owners!  We are likely to do this more than once, so if you can't make it the first time around, I'll try to set up a second outing.  This tutorial will be held on the weekend, likely a Saturday or Sunday afternoon to accommodate the most people and pups.  Here are the details on who can join me and how to sign up:

1.  No aggressive dogs this time around, please.  We will have some impressionable puppies on these walks, recent graduates of my puppy class.  We want them to have a positive group walking experience!

2.  Any aged dog is welcome!  If you are coming with a puppy, please make sure your veterinarian is okay with you bringing him or her to a group event.

3.  Multiple humans welcome!  If more than one person in your family walks your dog, please feel free to have them join you.

4.  Yes, if you are a multi-dog household, all of your dogs can attend, you will just need to have one human for each canine and sign them up individually to participate.

5.  We will be meeting at a centrally located park in the East Bay, just a few minutes off of Hwy 680.  I've chosen this park because it has shade, grass, trees, walking trails, ample parking, and lots of activity for us to work around. Specific details and directions to the park will be sent out to the participants once they've signed up.

6.  All dogs will need to be on 6-8 foot leashes, non-retractable. Any collar or harness is fine, but if you haven't found the right one yet, bring everything you have and we will try to figure out what will work best!  

7. Definitely bring treats (high value and low value, as defined by your dog, of course).

8. We will start our meetup with introductions and a warm up exercise.  When you arrive, please stand on your dog's leash to keep them from pulling and give each other space to group together comfortably.

We will be together for an hour which will actually be a lot for your dogs, so bring water!  We will talk about expectations versus reality when it comes to walking dogs (they want to sniff, and you want to walk!).  We will practice maneuvering around obstacles and each other, how to pass other humans with and without dogs, and how to stand and have a conversation with someone without your dog getting antsy or losing their mind! We will practice polite behavior around bicycles, skateboards, etc. and learn how to keep our dogs from jumping on people they meet, tangling us in the leash, and pulling us down the street.  We will focus on lure training, that is luring our dogs into the behaviors we'd like them to demonstrate.

Finally, you don't have to be an existing client of mine to be able to participate in this experience.  If you know me, follow me on social media, or are a friend of someone I know, that's great!  The more the merrier and I love working with new people. 

To sign up, simply comment on this post or message me through Facebook, Instagram, or Threads. You can also just email my office directly, and I'll add you to my list. I think this will be a fun, productive, and entertaining way to kick off the holiday season.  My plan is to get this under your belts the beginning of November before you get really busy, and then do a second group walk after the New Year.  Hope to see you there!

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

Here's Henley, post-walk, taking some quiet time to chew on a bone, loose leash visible, while I visit with a friend and have a cup of coffee.  We've been working toward this moment for months and he's getting really good at chilling out and hanging out without constantly pestering me for attention.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Yes, there are only 75 days until Christmas, but that's not what I'm talking about today.  What I want to talk about is what dogs hear and how we can tap into our own abilities to truly hear what's going on around us.  We can learn a lot from dogs and being able to intentionally listen to the world around them is one of their greatest skills.

Dogs can hear sounds four times further away than we can, they can hear higher frequency sounds than us, and they are much better at differentiating sounds than we are.  They are also able to move their ears (unless we've altered those ears for them!) in such a way that they can better locate where sounds are coming from. What this means for us as their caretakers is that we need to respect and acknowledge that they know way more about what's going on around them than we do.

When your dog barks, they are barking for a reason; they heard something.  Now, what they heard may not be all that important to you, but letting you know they heard it, is important to them.  It's actually part of their job and one of those key reasons early humans invited canids into their campsites.  It's your job to let your dog know you appreciate the heads up and then let them know that was enough, no need to persist in barking.  One of the benefits of doing it this way every time your dog barks is that if something bad/distressing/dangerous is happening and your dog barks, you aren't going to tell them enough/quiet. In fact, you are going to hope that they bark so loud and so long that they scare away whatever it was that triggered the barking in the first place, and if not, that their sounding of the alarm will bring assistance your way.  

So, your dog is digging up your yard and you can't figure out what's the trigger? Consider that it might be burrowing animals!  Dogs can hear those pesky moles, gophers, etc. digging under your yards and gardens.  When they hear them, they want to catch them and often will dig several holes as the pests try to escape their intrepid canine hunters.  And if you see one of those telltale mounds of dirt in your yard, that's those pests pushing up the turf to get to your garden, not your dog digging.  Pick up some of that dog excrement your dog just made and put it in the holes dug by those pests.  They are repelled by it and maybe your dog will stop digging there as well!

Have some fun learning just how amazing your own dog's hearing really is.  Put your dog in a sit or down in the other room. Hide from them in a closet or a room behind a closed door.  Quietly say their name or call them.  How long does it take them to find you?  Do you think they used that amazing hearing, or did they sniff you out, or both?  Research shows that most dogs love this game and are delighted to play it with their owners, whose voices and requests are familiar and rewarding, and are less enthusiastic about playing it with unfamiliar people. 

Another fun game for you and your dog:  The next time you're on a walk and spot a park bench, go ahead and stop. Have your dog relax near you, close your eyes, and just listen.  Force yourself to hone in on just what you hear.  You have to focus on just the sounds and trust your dog to stay near you.  Now imagine how loud that truck must be for your dog; how annoying that human talking on their cell phone; how stimulating that buzzing bee; and how scary that motorized scooter that just whizzed by. What you will take away from this exercise is an appreciation for how hearing and experiencing these everyday sounds the way your dog does must be rather overwhelming at times. 

And finally, don't bother purchasing those ultrasonic rodent and insect repellents for your home.  Not only does research show that they don't work, but the high frequency sounds they emit are very annoying to your dog and hard to get away from if you've got those things plugged in all over your house.  Again, just because you can't hear it doesn't mean your canine companions can't.

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

With ears like this, I'm pretty sure Henley hears things happening on Mars!

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Knowing How to Listen

There's a famous quote by Orhan Pamuk I've always loved and that I've used as an intro slide for my seminars on dog body language and communication.  Here's the quote:  "Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen."  So, why am I bringing this up now? Glad you asked! You see, knowing how to listen to dogs is a skill we can all use and one we can hone, becoming better at it the more we lean in to what our dogs (and other people's dogs) are telling us.  Here are a few examples where listening to dogs aided me in guiding their owners to the appropriate solution.

The Problem:  My Dog Hates Putting On His Leash. I asked the owner to show me.  He reached for his dog's collar to hook on the leash, and as he did so, I saw the dog wince and turn away.  I asked the owner to stop and give the dog a moment.  The dog licked her lips, scratched at her collar, and then gave a full body shake before looking at me intently.  I took the collar off and put a simple harness on the dog.  She didn't resist the harness, instead showing interest as I offered her treats while I fitted it properly.  I attached the leash without issue to the front of the harness; the dog did not wince, look away, or show any other signs of distress.  We walked out the front door, and around the block without any issues, until I handed the leash to the owner.  Now the dog began looking back at her owner, licking her lips when he pulled on the leash.  I had him stop, hand me the leash, and watch me walk his dog.  I gave her enough leash to sniff, redirecting her with my voice and treats rather than pulling.  When we got back to their house, I removed the leash without issue.  Then, I asked the owner to observe closely as I removed the harness.  When I pulled the harness over the dog's neck, I applied a small amount of pressure.  She stiffened, winced, and looked away.  I stopped let her scratch and shake, and then I offered her treats while I widened the harness and lifted it away from her neck.  She was fine.  Have you figured out what this dog was saying?  She was saying her neck hurt; the leash attached to the collar made it worse.  Pulling on the leash on walks with her made it infinitely worse, to the point where she didn't want to go for walks.  I recommended a trip to the vet to see if there was more to her neck pain and lo and behold, she had early disc disease in her neck.  The solution?  Anti-inflammatory medication and walks on a loose leash with a soft harness, no collars.  Pain is often the reason a dog is behaving in a "stubborn," "confrontational," or "reactive" way.  Rule out pain first.

The Problem:  My Dog Gets Nervous Around Other Dogs. I asked the owner to meet with me at a local park at a time when the park would be little used.  I told her that I would bring one of my own dogs to use as a "trigger" so that I could observe her dog and make recommendations.  I figured that way, the owner would feel less stressed about meeting, knowing that the dog her dog would see would be one of my trusted collies. I brought Desi for this appointment since he is incredibly relaxed and refuses to engage other dogs who bark, whine, or pull toward him.  I saw the client standing with her dog as I pulled up in my car.  She looked really stressed out to me, with her leash so short the dog's front feet were practically off of the ground!  I unloaded Desi and asked him to sit next to me; we were about 30 feet away from the client and her dog at this point.  I waved and smiled and gave her a greeting, letting her know that Desi and I were going to approach. I also asked her to either loosen up on that leash or stand on it instead so I could better observe her dog.  She loosened it about 3 inches, but the leash was still taut and the dog was still straining. I stopped, had Desi sit again, and asked her to go ahead and just stand on the leash.  She began to panic and indicate that she didn't think that would be safe for her dog or for Desi.  I reiterated that we'd be fine and just give it a try.  I could see she wanted to resist, but she dropped her leash, standing on it, giving the dog about 2 feet of leash to work with.  I coached the owner to unfold her arms and either keep them at her sides or behind her back.  She fisted her hands at her sides, something her dog was clearly watching!  I reiterated that she needed to also be relaxed, so I had her take a couple of deep breaths, roll and square her shoulders, then tuck her arms behind her back. Desi and I started walking toward them again, passing within about 6 feet.  Lo and behold, her dog leaned toward us with curiosity, not reactivity, nor was he fearful; he was intrigued!  I pointed all this out to the owner and encouraged her to reach down and give her dog a treat. She had told me he won't take treats on walks, he's so nervous, but guess what? He ate that treat.  Desi and I moved past and around these two about a dozen times, until the point where I could clearly see that the client had relaxed; her dog had relaxed from almost the moment she'd dropped the leash and stood on it.  Now we were getting somewhere!  The rest of the appointment was spent walking past one another, coaching the client out of her own way, and eventually walking together with our dogs to the car.  Turns out that the client's previous dog was attacked by another dog while they were out on leash and she basically had PTSD from that incident.  This current dog had never had a negative encounter with another dog, let alone ANY encounter with another dog.  He had been nervous/fearful because his owner was; she cued the vigilant behavior by shortening the leash, keeping it taut, and being tense herself. Once she learned to relax and stop cuing the anxious behaviors, her dog relaxed too.  Her homework?  Invite her friends with nice, friendly dogs to walk with her so she could continue to boost her own confidence on walks.  Listening to dogs often means watching their owners to see what the dog has been experiencing.

The Problem: My Dog Hates Our New Baby. The clients had reached out because their dog had growled and snapped at their 3 month old baby.  Turns out this dog had never liked children and the owners had been good about keeping him away from kids on walks and crated when their friends and family came to visit with children before their baby was born.  I asked them what made them think that the dog would be okay with them having a baby in their home 24/7.  Their response?  They just figured that if it was THEIR baby, the dog would be fine.  As you might have guessed, that's not how it works.  Dogs either like kids or they don't.  They aren't ambivalent about it and you most certainly must use past behavior as a predictor of future behavior. If your dog is afraid, avoidant, reactive, or aggressive toward other people's children, there is no reason not to hear them and believe what they are telling you.  They are telling you that they don't like kids.  And if they've snarled, growled, snapped, lunged, nipped, or bitten your child, that's all the information you need to know that the dog and your child are not safe together in the same home.  Since you can't rehome your kids, you need to rehome the dog to a home without children/grandchildren.  There is nothing I can do to make your dog love your kids other than listen to your dog and guide you to find them a more suitable, less anxiety-provoking living arrangement.

Dogs really do tell us a lot with their body language and behavior, we just have to stop and watch them. More importantly, we must be as impartial as possible; any good scientist will tell you that you have to be impartial to get good data.  If you see your dog gaze averting, licking its lips, yawning, etc. when one of your friends comes to visit, listen to your dog.  They are telling you that they aren't comfortable with that person.  Don't force them to interact with that person; don't give your friend treats to give your dog as that will only reinforce their anxiety and belief that you don't hear what they are saying. Instead, have your dog stay in another room or their crate with something fun to do when your friend comes to visit. Ask your friend to ignore the dog.  Your dog will thank you.  And bottom line, if your dog is usually quite friendly and solicitous with new people, but suddenly takes a dislike to someone you know, LISTEN TO THEM.  Dogs are very good at reading people; it's what they do all day, everyday.  I've said it many times:  If Desi doesn't like someone, I'm pretty sure they must be suspicious in some way as Desi truly does love everyone.  There's a neighbor he avoided interacting with and I heeded that information and I watched that neighbor. And you know what? He was right.  That neighbor was not a nice person, nor were they nice to animals.  

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

Several years ago, Desi worked with a young man who felt out of place at a party without a prom date.  Desi was his date for the pre-prom party and ended up being the "hottest date there!" As you can see, Desi wore a collar and bow tie and worked the room, drawing other young people over to engage his "date."  The young man was so appreciative and felt quite popular with his peers.  I watched and listened to Desi the whole evening. He never once "said" he was tired, overwhelmed, or bored. He was in his element and I was grateful that he could help this young man and charm the young ladies.