Tag Archives: Fear

Dog Emotions

Signal at 8 weeks. Photo by J. Renzoni.

Emotion drives learning, it drives action, change, and behaviors. There are some emotions that are the same behavior from the canine … these are core emotions.

Anger or Rage = snarls, bites, escape physical restraint. The lower level of this is frustration, which is sparked by mental restraint.

Fear = freeze or run away, when survival is threatened in any way.

Social attachment/panic from abandonment = separation calls, basically “come back, don’t leave me” in barking, whining and howling.

Seeking or Anticipation = animal moves forward, sniffing and exploring to make sense of the world around us. Seeking is also wanting something good, and looking forward to getting something good, and curiosity.

There are three more positive emotion systems identified: Lust – description not needed, Care – maternal love and care-taking, and Play – the roughhousing all young animals do which is a sign of good welfare, because a dog that is depressed, frightened or angry doesn’t play.

Max and Signal seeking.
Max and Signal seeking – Max knows what he’s looking for, Signal, not so much.                         Photo: J. Renzoni
Signal has discovered the joys of horse apples. Photo: J. Renzoni

Rule of thumb: Don’t trigger anger/rage, fear and/or panic from abandonment if you can help it; do trigger – seeking and play.

Exception to the rule of thumb: Do trigger frustration as a way to train impulse control … ie., stay, wait at doors, gates, crates; and as a way to build resilience and tolerance to failures (willingness to keep trying when not understanding a training goal). So we do want dogs to understand that they need to wait to get something they like (freedom, toys, food, fun), and we also want them to keep trying to figure out what we want from them and not just give up and go find something else to do.

The risk is that frustration if too much becomes anger and rage.


Signal at 10 weeks. Many things are fun.
Signal at 10 weeks. Many things, including grass, are fun.      Photo: J. Renzoni
Smokey at 10 years.
Smokey at 10 years. Puppies might not be considered so fun.      Photo: J. Renzoni

I have a new puppy named Signal. He is ten weeks old, has wavy black hair, black nose and essentially black eyes. He would like to run after our cat, Smokey (10 years old, brown tabby, dog-wise). I have been preventing him, Smokey has been preventing him and sometimes his X-pen fence is preventing him.

This frustration has built up some bouncing and some barking and even a little dodging and weaving. Picture tail high, play bow with intermittent sideways puppy leaps. I am offering food when he’s quiet and looking, I’ve removed him from the scene, and I’ve distracted him, all to make sure the mental frustration doesn’t get too high. I want a pleasant relationship between the two of them.

The cat, has meowed, in an irritated way at him. No hissing or batting and I want to keep it that way, this pup seems like he’d escalate if that were to happen.

This morning when Smokey was doing his jumping routine for treats next to the X-pen. Signal got rewards timed to keep him occupied while Smokey did his thing and got rewarded for it. Soon the two will not think of each other as so novel.

Frustrating, yes. Leads to learning. Anger, no.


(To learn more about puppy training join the Puppy Kindergarten class, next one scheduled Oct 15th. See fb for more information).




Harm or Help

In this era of finding dog abusers everywhere. The era of making unsubstantiated or poorly researched claims on social media. The era of ‘not’ doing the right thing?

I saw this post on a northern Wisconsin city Craig’s List .

Here’s the photo from the post. Kind of ironic, don’t you think?

image 1

The Header said, “Dog left in car!!!!!!!!” And went on , “R… (location removed) at around 1pm dog left in car for over an hour. Its not hot out today but inside of a car with the windows up, no air conditioning or water seen anywhere. Its hot and humid. This person should have their animal taken away from them. I dont know who the the owner was but judging by the rhinestone collar on the dog I will assume its a (swear removed) .. and I dont mean the dog….”

Wait a minute …It was partly cloudy that day, breezy, with a high temperature of 50 at 4pm. Look at the dog.  She’s wondering why this person is staring at her, she’s not panting or looking overly hot in any way, and I suggest if she had gotten territorial over this stranger … then what? Look at the front dash, do you see where the sunshine stops? The car is parked so sun isn’t shining into the front tan seat, not far from trees (although leafless as yet). And this side door seems to have dappled sunlight on it.

Estimated Vehicle Interior Air Temperature v. Elapsed Time
Elapsed time Outside Air Temperature (F)
70 75 80 85 90 95
0 minutes 70 75 80 85 90 95
10 minutes 89 94 99 104 109 114
20 minutes 99 104 109 114 119 124
30 minutes 104 109 114 119 124 129
40 minutes 108 113 118 123 128 133
50 minutes 111 116 121 126 131 136
60 minutes 113 118 123 128 133 138
> 1 hour 115 120 125 130 135 140
Source: Jan Null, CCM; Department of Geosciences, San Francisco State University
This table is the results of a study that is cited over and over, but what re-posters don’t usually say is, this data was gathered on clear sunny days in a dark sedan. So worst case scenario, in a dark sedan, on a clear sunny 70 degree day, the car could get as hot as 113 degrees in an hour. Which, even though hot, is not a death sentence for most dogs, and neither is 45 minutes at around 100. But it wasn’t 70, it wasn’t a clear sunny day.

An upper 40s partially sunny day is not an over-heated car at risk dog, but this observer believes there is animal abuse going on because the dog was? what? sitting comfortably in a car for an hour without a water dish? And name calls the owner? I don’t know if there was something more going on here, something about being at a resale shop, having this type dog or/and having a rhinestone collar on the dog – an extra level of nastiness. Of course, sarcasm alert, this well fed (OK McD’s in evidence), healthy looking dog ‘ought’ to be taken away, to join the excessive number of bull terrier-type dogs at risk in shelters.

This is a threat. This is bullying. This isn’t whistle blowing to help someone. This isn’t reasonable. So I flagged the post and then thought about whether reposting any part of it promoted the threatening aspect of it.

  1. What should be done if you think a dog is actually in danger of overheating in a car? First observe instead of assuming  – dog panting heavily or tongue curled frantic and car in direct sun, windows shut, front window not shaded and outside temperature warm to hot?  Immediate and dire risk – call the police or animal control. Seems risky, but dog looks fine (please don’t go face up to the windows of a car and stress out the dog) – attempt to find the owner – go into the store or restaurant the car is parked outside of and start asking people. Yes temperature rises fast, but there’s no reason to think the dog will rapidly collapse from heat stroke if the temperature inside the car rises to 100.   You just don’t like it – well then you can blog about it or post your ideas on facebook, but don’t threaten people or call them names or think that taking their fur family member away is doing good. What about breaking into the car? well that would be illegal and the dog might bite you and then have to be quarantined and have behavioral training to get it over the experience. In that case you would not be helping anyone.

2. Can a car get too hot on a 40-50 degree partially sunny day?  No. We have data that says there is up to a 40 degree rise in temp on clear sunny days in dark sedans in full sun. That means that less sun, lighter colored cars, shade, windows open with breeze all mean less of a temperature increase. Dogs tolerate 80 and 90 degrees with no problems – so the answer on this would be no. And the 70 starting temp on the chart might be a clue as to where the usual temperature danger zone lies.

3. Do dogs have to have water available at all times?  Does any land life form have to have water access at all times? Do you?

4. And is bringing a dog along with you to wait in a car somehow mistreatment? There is the argument that leaving your dog home keeps him safe. That’s safe physically, but what about mentally. What about the desire dogs have to be with their person and their love of riding in the car to go someplace. One of the most common reasons for re-homing dogs is not having enough time for them … and this fear for safety takes away ‘car time’ with the dog. What about the people who have dogs along because it helps them feel safe and happy?

I took my dog for a car ride on the same day as this post, we went hiking. She and I got into my car  after it had been sitting in the sun for hours, it was nice in there, I didn’t feel the need to open any windows even though I had my jacket on. But lately I’ve felt I can’t safely take my dog along with me on errands because of the above type of ‘do-gooding.’ You see, my cattle dog wouldn’t take kindly to someone peering in or trying to get her out. Not kindly at all.

My hope remains that if police are called for this type of non-issue they will at least show common sense, or talk to their canine unit, who is also in a car, often with rolled up windows and a sign that tells people not to approach the car. My hope would be that more and more stores would invite dogs in to shop along with their person.

My fear is, with enough general pressure about possible safety hazards, dogs will have to stay home instead of being able to come along for car rides.  There will be laws passed banning leaving dogs in vehicles altogether or passed to let people, who want to intervene, break in to free your dog. And they will be lauded as saving a life, and you will have to try to prove that they didn’t, while paying for the shelter boarding and legal fees of your seized  best- friend dog.

How would you feel if you saw a picture of your dog, in your car on Craig’s list with a post saying you shouldn’t own a dog?


What kind of training to do for your pup?

Home schooled puppy, puppy preschool, doggy basic, one-on-one with a trainer, web-based learning, board and train, specialized classes. There are actually a few options. One I didn’t include, and which seems all too popular, but not effective, is let the dog be a dog. This last one may or may not have an initial bout of house training and has the highest chance of needing to “re-home” him. Mostly, the shelter dogs I’ve worked with came with the above mentioned non-training system.

I've been training dogs for 46 years ... this is back in the 80s with Dago Red, he had completed his CD title and we were celebrating.
I’ve been training dogs for 46 years … this is back in the 80s with Dago Red (Airedale Terrier), he had completed his CD Obedience title and we were celebrating. He was a sweet dog.

Home schooled puppy – is the least expensive and has reasonable outcomes if you are a seasoned dog trainer. Libraries have dog training books, magazines; 4-H offers free training sessions; Internet has dog blogs and videos. Of course most seasoned trainers take their pups to several classes to get the pup used to the experience of having many dogs and people working around them. Myself – I go to puppy preschool, if I can find one, or have another family member handle the pup, while I run the class. I like 4 -6 pups in a class, and I like my pup to go to at least one of these classes – more if possible.

Puppy Kindergarten (pre-school) – is for pups with first vaccinations (usually 10 weeks – 18 weeks old). Good socialization and basic puppy handling is the goal. Puppies can learn huge amounts, they are little sponges, and comparatively easy at this stage. This is the time to have them meeting (good experiences) people and meeting other vaccinated dogs and pups. Doing well in this class is one of the best indicators of positive future interactions.

Basic Obedience class – is for slightly older pups and dogs who need the ground level training (basic cues – sit, down, come, loose leash walking, stand, touch/target, wait/stay, mat training and some tricks). I would only go to a positive reward-type class, because the traditional jerk ’em, negative system is counter productive and not nearly as fun. Mostly I home school all these cues well before I go to this level class and just use the class as a dog distracting environment, and also a place where I can see the gaps in my training. It’s hard to train new things in such an active/noisy/distracting place. When I put on these classes I keep the numbers down, usually only 4 dogs.

STAR Puppy and Canine Good Citizen (CGC) – are AKC programs with a set of prescribed behaviors that must be achieved to pass the programs. Star puppy includes 6 weeks or more of class during which accomplishments are checked off, whereas the CGC can have a class, but doesn’t have to, because it is a test of behaviors considered to show a well-behaved dog. I do offer these as I am an AKC CGC evaluator and STAR puppy is a great follow-up to puppy kindergarten.

One-on-one with a trainer – more expensive, but also much more focused and very attentive to personal needs. This works for those dogs who can’t tolerate a class situation or for those people who need more coaching than a class situation will offer. I’ve been the dog trainer for this a lot, but I’ve never been the student except with my horses – and for that I’ve done years of one-on-one. I like the immediate feedback, but you miss out on learning from others who may have a problem that you’ll have in the near future.

Web-based – I currently, and have for several years taken (paid for), web-based dog training courses. I like being able to watch and listen to International level instructors doing training. Also there are lots of free tutorials on YouTube, but the possible problem is being able to discern proper training methods … that’s true in person too. At least on the web you can freely do fast research.

Board and Train – the concept of sending your dog to a trainer and having them train him and then give him back to you. I do offer this, although I suggest people do the classes or one-on-one along with it because the relationship with the dog is very important. I think this is good for specialized training (water retrieves, agility, etc) or for people who really can’t handle their dog for whatever reason – time, physical. However, the dog learns to work with the person he is working with and so the relationship changes and grows. Plus young dogs are very malleable so even when they know something well, it can be altered based on the situation they find themselves in. It takes time and repeated behaviors for them to become habitual.

Other classes – Agility, scent training, trick/circus dog, hunting, intro to swimming … these I particularly like because they are purpose based. Dogs really get into them. They are exciting and fun. Currently I am taking an agility course with my daughter’s Doberman and he’s loving it, as am I. All you need is a reasonably well socialized dog who will pay attention to you and wants to work with you. The first class everyone expects some barking and posturing, no big deal.

FYI the scent/sniffer classes are almost non-training classes because the dog does all the work – these are excellent for those who don’t really like to train.

Problems: Anxiety, fear and over arousal make learning unlikely.

Recently I had some people with their pup want to come to a class, but when I was called outside to help them i saw a raging dog in the vehicle and I told them this venue of training wasn’t going to work. The dog was too aroused to learn anything and since no one else was even outside, what kind of level would he be at when he saw the other dogs and people?

Some dogs decide that the best defense is a good offense.

He was a bit better on his home ground, one-on-one, but he still was over-reactive, seemed to be overly concerned over minor separation and agitated upon jumping into the vehicle, even though it was just sitting in the driveway.

Each challenge needs to be achievable in order for the experience to be a benefit. Key to getting the humans understanding, I talked through and pointed out how to tell if he was calm enough to decide he was ready for a ride back and forth in the driveway – laying down, slower actions, relaxed ears and face, no whining or barking,… Perhaps the abnormal excitement, because it happened so often, became ‘normal’ to them.

The hardest part about this is getting people to slow down and see. Taking the dog over his threshold is way too easy and slows the process of improvement much.

Learned helplessness occurs when there doesn’t seem to be any right choice, so the ‘learner’ quits trying.

Fears: Some dogs run/escape, but if they can’t … Some dogs freeze.

I have a dog in class that tends to freeze as her answer to worry/fear. It’s easy for people to not notice how scared she actually is, because she’s not moving. For her to get beyond her fears she needs to know she can escape and get herself some space and that she won’t be forced into scarier and scarier situations.

Again observation is so important and when she acts bravely it’s important to reward her by giving her space (let her leave the scary zone). The competing want (from her handler) is the wish to get her over her fears, but too scary doesn’t get anyone over it. The risk of using food to lure her on, is the food will become a ‘poisoned’ cue (in that what comes next is too scary so we’re offering you food).

It’s important to find an observant trainer to help you evaluate what’s going on. If your dog isn’t an ‘easy’ dog. If as you are trying to train things aren’t getting better. If your dog isn’t wanting to work with you. If you are wanting to punish or get even or get rid of … it’s time, maybe past time. to get in someone who knows more about training dogs than you do.

Last eve I was at a house concert and a long time dog owner/handler/breeder said, “People don’t understand, you can’t get those early days back. Those first weeks and months are so important … what you do, what you train … you can’t ever get them back.” And she was right. Getting a great start is really important, it makes a difference throughout the life of your best friend, your dog.

What’s it all about

April13fence,dogs,road2013 010a It’s funny how some of us come into the world more likely to avoid the pitfalls and others seem to step into every sinkhole.  Maybe there is some initial awareness or some character preference or first choice that sets us on an easier or harder path in the culture we land in.

I was working with a troubled young dog, much more troubled than he should have been, and thought if only he had matched up with different circumstances all this would be as nothing.

Doesn’t it seem like the people least able to handle the most difficulties have the most difficulties? The same with dogs … but then which part is causal? Or is something else at work here.

Here’s some of the things I’ve noticed apparently go together:

  • frightened people get large, guard-type dogs … creating one more thing to fear
  • needy people are attracted to needy dogs, increasing their load
  • those who fear loss and abandonment, hang on and don’t trust, so that when their dog is finally free it goes exploring instead of sticking close or coming back, abandonment verified
  • overweight people have overweight dogs
  • careless people have (if the pup survives) self-capable dogs
  • careful people have worried, anxious,  fearful dogs
  • trainers have trained dogs

The dogs in our lives mirror our weaknesses and strengths. Sometimes showing us a path to improvement,  an epiphany of choices.

They do this.

Our burden or bliss is to do the same for them.

7 Things to do – Resident dog vs new dog or new baby or new…?

Snowdogs,StB,Max, Jazzie 002
Max meeting a puppy St. Bernard, out in open area after pup had exercise. Max is very good with new dogs/pups – notice the ‘don’t jump on me body posture.’

The excitement, the expectations, the changes can all be overwhelming and can all be turned into upset, disappointments and even all the way to real bad if not handled with finesse.

In this article I’ll list 7 things you can do to make it more likely dog vs pup and dog vs child will go well and have everybody liking each other.

There are certainly resident dogs who do fine no matter what is thrown at them, and if so lots of times they are lucky enough to have the situation that works – escape options, extra people who offer just the right amount of support, plenty of early socialization so they are not scared or worried and perhaps have laid-back temperaments so they really don’t care much. Hopefully you know if your resident dog isn’t one of these dogs and if you aren’t sure, act as if he isn’t. Taking more care with the introductions will not hurt anything and may save much grief.

When it’s a new dog or pup that the older dog won’t tolerate well often families sent the newbie on his way. This doesn’t have to happen if they’re willing to control the meetings/contacts better or for much longer. I’ve seen dogs who initially were quite upset by each others presence if given time and prevented from aggressive displays come to like and play with each other (I’ve got two such dogs, and a cat, living in my house right now – and it took about 7 or 8 months of being careful with the environment to get them more and more comfortable, and I still watch for bad situational set-ups).

Of course, if it’s the baby, then the dog is banished, either from the family totally or from the house or from certain areas. A family loss in any event.

1. Low key, non-confrontational introductions. (Don’t start with child or pup running or grabbing or crawling at dog or the child/baby screaming/crying upset or any version of bursting through a door). For babies, offer their scent on some clothing first and offer it non-excitedly. Just put the baby-scented item down and let the dog smell and then go on to other things. A sleeping baby’s foot is also a good thing to smell. We always want safety for the little one, so make sure of it.

Let dog see children from a distance, let dog walk by children that are going in the same direction, let calm child drop food. Let dog walk and pup walk and you walk (movement forward in a group is good). Let dog approach, don’t pursue dog or drag the dog closer. Let dog leave if they want to, have a way for them to escape if they need to. Observe how the dog is acting – where is their tail, ears, eyes and how does their mouth/muzzle look? Loose body posture or tight? Wary or relaxed? We want loose and relaxed.

2. Play-acting practice. Let dog see mom-to-be carting a bundle, rocking with doll and let him check this out. Practice low-key, practice without excitement, practice rewarding disinterest. Reward dog for going and lying down out-of-the-way. Practice with the stroller (with doll) going for walks. Have another family member pick up lots of mom-to-be’s dog duties so he won’t be so surprised that she isn’t paying much attention to him.

Meet and greet with other dogs (find dog friendly dogs) – how does your dog do with them? Which kinds of meet and greet worked best for your dog? Use this knowledge when adding a new dog to the family.

3. Use confinement – gates, crates, kennels, doors. Create safe zones. There is no reason to rush into having everybody free in the room/house at the same time. If the dog’s free in the area, pup or baby is elsewhere and vice versa. The longer they are in the same household with no negative, exciting incidents the more likely everything will continue to go well.

If your dog isn’t used to being confined in the house, start practicing before the baby arrives … no need for barking, whining, pawing when everyone needs quiet to sleep.

4. Practice control cues – sit, down, go, stay, come. This is for both pup and resident dog. The more things they know to do well the better they will be able to cope and easier they are to have around. Use positive training techniques as these will help create confidence instead of anxiety. Offering food is calming and can change emotions toward more positive. I usually have kids toss or drop food to prevent pull away hand motions that encourage pups to grab.

5. Practice respectful child/parent and actively supervise. For child – if they are old enough to understand, set up rules on how to interact with the dog, places where child doesn’t get to bother the dog. For parents – parents need to know what are reasonable child/dog interactions and not encourage the child to do things that are abusive to the dog, (no hugging neck or rear, no kissing nose, no riding or climbing on dog, no poking at eyes or ears or mouth, kicking, hitting, jumping on … etc.) See Doggone safe.com website.

Puppies need to be respectful of older dogs too. Older dogs will often vocally and physically prove this to a pup who is jumping on them or repeatedly bothering them. Usually this is a quick outburst after several warnings, and the pup may fall down and flip belly up or go yipping away. This is right action by the older dog. Intervening in this is not recommended because then the pup may well continue to be obnoxious and the older dog may suffer through it until they just can’t stand it anymore. If your older dog is continuing to tolerate bad puppy behavior, give them a safe area to go to get away and prevent your new dog from harassing them. Find some other older dog (often female) who will help your pup have better dog manners over several play dates.

6. Play games that encourage cooperation. Give the dog some tasks that he can do well and reward him for them. Avoid setting up competitions for resources (food, toys), instead have each do his part of the game or task (keep food bowls, bones, toys separate or put up). Note that if the dogs start playing, let them, but intervene if it is obviously too rough … and I have rules about wild play in the house – wild play belongs outside.

7. If there is aggression display intervene by distracting, intervene with water if there is a dogfight, if not intervene by getting them to move on … Then review what went wrong, what was the set up that made aggression likely, what do you need to do in the meantime to manage it and what needs to be trained to fix it? (note that aggression met with aggression on the owners/handlers part has a  significant likely hood of increasing the aggression/fear and the behavior that was unwanted). Having a scuffle or even several does not mean they can’t ever be friends, just don’t let it keep happening by knowing what precedes it.

Children and growling dogs? Children need to know that growls mean quit it or else. Adults need to know that a dog that growls and isn’t playing is giving a vocal warning that things aren’t OK with them. Reprimanding the dog harshly is a poorly thought out reaction, what you really want is a dog that can cope and has other  good strategies. Many dogs lick children in the face to get them to go away, many dogs leave and go to their safe place (if they can find one), some dogs know how to distract children and will steal something from them to change what they’re doing and some dogs with unsupervised children have taught them with controlled nips or pushy rowdiness (not something I’d recommend).

Too much looming on child's part. Side by side is better. Chest pet good.
Too much looming on child’s part. Side by side is better. Chest pet good, but pup doesn’t look engaged.

What I like for the above is a safe zone that the dog knows he can go to and get away from kids and also increasing the dog’s tolerance of children by reducing their fears (games with kids where the dog gets to approach or find them and the child stays still or moves away and rewards the dog). In the process the child gets taught better games to play with the dog and what not to do with the dog.

Setting up the introductions, practicing the parts of things the dog will need to know or do, managing the rest until it can be fixed or modified can make most household additions quite workable and pleasant without sacrificing any members of them.

Jazzie – the surprise

JazziandMaxNov2009 001Jazzie, the ACD is amazing, funny, smart, quick and very competitive. A dog I didn’t intend to obtain.

Jazzie started as Chas, shivering in the back corner of her kennel at the shelter. A 1.5-year-old blue heeler type female, full of timid reserve, surrendered by her family because they wanted to keep her sister, but not her. I was volunteering and there on a weekly basis giving recommendations for handling and key things that would benefit the dogs that came in. I was also trying to make sure people used positive reinforcement instead of the standard ol’ training.

I met her, we connected immediately, but I was resistant. I had made a pact with myself about these dogs being for other people. The next time (almost a week later) I met her again she was less happy than she had been the first time, I needed to get her out of there, so I did. I knew that the chance that she would find somebody who could build her confidence and get rid of the baggage was pretty small, she was so smart, I couldn’t let her remain, I couldn’t resist.

I knew her regaining of confidence would be a long process. She was beyond the best socialization period (8-16 weeks)  people shy, hand shy, afraid of riding in the car and lacking basic training, but she was very quick and she connected with me.

Now she’s almost 6 years old. She weighs 35 pounds, She is flexible and strong and fast, has medium brown eyes, freckles on her nose and eyelids and a speckled coat. She knows more things than any other dog I’ve ever had and shows no slowing of learning. She can go anywhere, but likes a job to do so she needn’t worry about encroaching unknown people.

She remains suspicious of strangers (which is typical of Australian Cattle Dogs). People like the way she looks, but she doesn’t like them staring at her and will bark at them if she notices prolonged looks. If you wanted to meet her the best thing would be to invite a game of fetch, no snuggles from unknowns for her. She likes riding in cars when she thinks she knows the destination will be fun, loves fast games and complains occassionally when she thinks ‘reward time’ and wasn’t, but is ever so pleased when she figures it out. She has changed my rule about no dogs on furniture and asks to be on my lap for TV movie watching. She’s a great cuddler – very comfortable.

She likes toys and games better than food, but she likes food especially chicken and beef. She works for kibble. Frisbee is her favorite game, but tugging is way up there. The snow is so deep this winter that disc fetching has been difficult (see photos of snow swimming). She also likes hikes in the woods and  water swimming. She’s very competitive so whatever some other dog is doing she would like to do better.

She’s very good around horses, doesn’t trust the cat (with reason) and is good around other dogs – but won’t take any guff. She holds grudges if another dog injures her in play. She’s not the dog I could take to Aggressive Dog class and expect no reaction, she doesn’t believe in turning the other cheek, but she’s unlikely to start anything.

Jazzie has the young soul, acquisitive, impulsive, problem solving, liking attention and admiration. Very much about movement and speed. She’s disappointed if she’s not the fastest or doesn’t figure out something the quickest.

Dogs that attack! Getting bitten by a biter.

I’m sitting here with a very bruised calf and thigh, three punctures, one slice, one scrape and a ripped shirt all from a large, neutered young adult, about 90 pound male guard-dog type and yes I knew he had bitten another person(s), but I’ve worked with threatening dogs before – carefully.

The trigger was the handler reprimanding his dog for growling – which launched the attack and the second, harder bite was because the guy proceeded to yell at the dog. Me, I just stood there as still as possible, thinking that if this guy doesn’t quit yelling I might get bitten harder and higher a third time (the dog was working his way up my leg). Stillness, quiet and non-reaction is one of the best ways to defuse an attack – usually dogs won’t bite if you’re not moving, not talking and not looking at them. This strategy has worked for me many, many times.

The bite history I knew about: One when a woman came in the house door from outside (the resultant laceration was thought to be a bad claw scratch making a need for multiple stitches [nine] to her face, but facial stitching is often smaller) – now, I don’t think it was a claw. One when a woman kicked at him when he charged at her (in the road), which didn’t sound great, but not that unreasonable. What I didn’t know about were the other three they knew about, and who knows how many close calls or attempts.

I set up the situation in a way that should have worked. The dog was confined, I entered the house without knocking or ringing the bell (to avoid that trigger). I talked to the people about calm, easy movements, no reprimanding and lots of food rewards (classical conditioning to change the dog’s emotional state from fearful to pleased or at least less worried with company). I sat down in a chair that faced away from the room entry zone. The man let his dog in, in an easy un-rushed way. The dog came up and sniffed the back of my arm, as he moved on I carefully tossed several pieces of chicken in front of him – he ate them and seemed warily interested in me.

The woman talked to him, he became obviously more worried and he retreated to his bed in the corner. They tried to call him out and he refused. (Right there I missed my cue to end this scenario, since I had observed that his people talking to him increased his worry level, oops. Dog trainer stupidity).

I used the time to do a  people lesson on  dog socialization and fear, and talked to them about dogs who lacked confidence and socialization being likely to misunderstand, become frightened and aggressive.  We went on this way for 6 minutes or so, nothing happening, but the dog on his bed in the corner, not really interacting in any way.

I had them do some moving around, get his favorite toy, play a little (he interacted just a bit), offer him his favorite treats. He ate one and went back to the corner bed. I stayed quiet, seated, non-threatening. Nothing happening. OK.

So I told them I was going to get up. I stood up, took two steps into the room diagonally away from the dog and just stood there, looking away from the dog. Tossed some more chicken onto the floor, he ate it and came and sniffed my shoe, my leg and took two pieces of chicken from my fingers very gently. (the woman offered some worried mumbling – maybe calling on a higher power). So far, so good with the dog. I had already hushed the woman before, so I didn’t do it again. (But really, if the client is mumbling in fear, what am I doing? Foolish dog trainer.)

Then he left to go back to his corner (likely because of her worried tone), the woman tried to encourage him to stay around, I glanced slightly back over my shoulder to get a peripheral view and he growled, so I dropped my eyes (calming behavior on my part).

Then the guy started reprimanding him for growling; crap, crap crap. Out came the dog, a fast rush, going for my calf and then because of the increased reprimanding, my thigh. Big, hard grabs, getting more intense. I remained solidly still, silently hoping the guy would shut up before I was really chewed up. The dog went back to  his corner.

The wife, “Are you bleeding? Are you hurt?”

“Well, he bit hard, so I would say, yes. And it did and does hurt.”

(Do I always stay calm? Mostly, yes. Sarcastic? fairly likely. I save the upset for later. Anyway who wants to trigger another attack.)

Then I did the verbal recap of why that just happened (I’m still standing in the exact same spot, the dog is back in his corner), I’m talking in a quiet easy voice about not reprimanding – identifying the shaming as the trigger that launched him, about rewarding even if he growls because growling wasn’t attacking. You told him he was bad and he decided I was the reason for it.  I needed to check the bite areas to see how bad they really were. Since I was going to move I wanted to make sure their dog didn’t come after me. So go make sure your dog doesn’t come after me. At this point I’m thinking they need lots more coaching, that they have poisoned their own relationship with the dog and that this dog is way over their capabilities.

Bites and bruises (two days after and the swelling is gone down). The space between the bottom teeth and top is about 5 - 6 inches, not a nip. The upper bite shows much more intensity - the man was yelling at his dog and increasing the biting.
Bites and bruises (two days after and the swelling is gone down). The space between the bottom teeth and top is about 5 – 6 inches, not a nip. The upper bite shows much more intensity – the man was yelling at his dog and increasing the biting.

Multiple layers of pants (jeans and heavy wind pants) really work as protection – against the cold, against dog bite. I was bruised and bleeding some, but considering the effort and intention, not bad. I’m impressed by my pants, wow, they worked pretty well and showed no damage, sheesh. And I do mean none, well there was blood on the inside.

I was very careful coming out of the bathroom (doorways and sudden appearance of people is often a trigger). They were still by the corner in the living room. The dog began growling after I took about four or five calm strolling steps and the woman started reprimanding him, I held still, crap. She continued.

I, friendly toned, “Please stop that, lady. I don’t want him launching himself…”

She did, and he quit too. I moved into the kitchen by the bar stools which I could use for cover. I asked if they were offering him any food rewards, they weren’t. So I started tossing them (with as little movement as possible standing sidewise to him and on the far side of the woman) – he was eating them well, seemingly fairly relaxed. Then he came, flew at me again, belt high, grabbing my shirt and waistband of my several layers of pants. This time pulling and shaking his head to rip, or maybe it was just that the man had grabbed him and was adding to the pulling. Only a scrape and shirt tear and small bruise this time, but higher up…not a good sign and no growl, really not a good sign.

Why that time? Hmm, since he came right through where the women had been standing I think there must have been some change of position on her part and/or more worried words from the family. All I know is that I had been in a safe spot and then I wasn’t.

Why? well there was shock collar use history and the relationship was poisoned. So family member’s tone, posture, movements became triggers for speedy, intent aggression – not good. And no growl in attack training means the dog is in full prey drive.

Oddly enough they made no move to remove him. I asked them to please take him out, I didn’t want any more episodes, he’s too wound up now. The calm, easy atmosphere I had tried to put (and keep) in place was blown to bits. Plus I obviously couldn’t trust them to not reprimand or do things that triggered him because they were too upset, too afraid, and didn’t understand or remember what they were supposed to be doing, they didn’t trust him enough to block him and I was paying for their errors.

The wife, “I told him when I was taking that last girl to the hospital that I want that dog dead when I get back. Do you need to go to the hospital? Do we need to put him down?”

“Well, the only way for me to safely work with him would be from the other side of a fence or with a muzzle on him. I’m very concerned because he attacked after he sniffed me, after accepting food gently from me, without me doing anything – no movement, no voice and bit more than once, big bites and if I’d been normally dressed there would be blood and punctures that would need the clinic, but no I don’t.”

“We do have a muzzle, but we can’t have a dog around like that. I’m still shaking.”

“Well, I’m not shaking, I’m OK, but I do need an icepack. Should you put him down? I hate to say it, but he’s not reasonable and he’s triggering over minimal stuff, your voices, your moves. Anybody else comes, reacts well or poorly, you do the same kinds of things and he’s really going to do some damage.  It’s one thing if a dog is badly surprised or threatened, but he attacked and I was completely still and in the same spot he had already sniffed me, already accepted food from me. He doesn’t have the confidence to make good judgements.”

The wife, “She says we need to put him down.”

The husband in a defeated voice, “That’s what I expected.”

The wife, “Do you have to tell many people that they need to put their dog down?”

“Almost none. I’m so sorry.” Tears started to fall, because I really don’t like to say euthanasia might be the most reasonable answer.


So was it really a no win? Could this dog have been rehabilitated, maybe. It likely was very possible five bites/attacks ago. He was under socialized, under trained and had the trauma of a shock collar, which means a faster, harder aggression and a lot of rehab work needed and he had learned the thrill of the attack and how much power it gave him. He was a scary combination of things – not for the standard dog owners.

If I had understood that they couldn’t be silent about trying to shame him and that he had absolutely no hesitation in biting (there was no pause even with a solidly still target) would I have done it this way then? Nope, I would have wanted him behind a tall, strong fence or muzzled and held by an adept handler (neither of which could I get here). Would it have worked better if the husband was holding a leash? Considering how poorly most people handle leashes, especially people with dog trouble, likely not and I likely wouldn’t have been safer either.

Could it have worked if I did it differently? Maybe. Maybe I should have met the dog with neither of them there. On the other hand they didn’t have the facilities to manage him in the meantime and having another significant bite could cause financial ruin and permanent damage to some person. The damage that had been done in whatever attempts they made to stop the biting had increased the problem.

The biggest issue for me was this very short fuse in a big, strong dog and the fact the typical non-threat postures were not effective. So whatever someone did he would attack with multiple hard bites.

It’s been several weeks now since the bites. I still have hard sore knots where his teeth hit, but they’re healing. Will I still work with dogs who have bitten someone? Sure. He was an exception in his reactions caused by a perfect storm of failures and lack of understanding. He certainly taught me some things about paying attention of owner’s reactions, dog/owner byplay and not counting on the dog to be normal especially after electronic collar use.

Reactive dog? – just another label

So, reactive dog? It seems to mean over-reacting to something many other dogs can calmly handle, like other dogs walking by or being in a yard or being left somewhere and either becoming very worried or destroying things because of being scared or anxious, or not being willing to greet people and barking and/or lunging towards them or away from them. A kind of higher than average aggressiveness or spookiness that ratchets up very quickly and upsets the owner.

We want reactivity, but only on our terms; their quickness at discovering things, their warning systems, their ability to find game, find the scent, find the victim, find the sheep/cow/rabbit/squirrel/birds/rats, go over, through, under obstacles … they are supposed to be quicker than we are athletically and in awareness level. Their senses outstrip ours for scent (X1000 or more), hearing (75 percent better and more range) and seeing in dim light or for movement at a distance (especially longer-nosed dogs).

Pretty much every dog has something that arouses him/her, something that they really want or really are upset about. In order for this to not be the things like other dogs or people or cars or being alone, early socialization and practice with good experiences is the easiest, but even easiest takes effort – months of effort, as they grow and their awareness changes. Some pups end up in the perfect place to grow up because it matches their needs and their people’s plans for them includes appropriate things for them to be reactive about. But sometimes no-one notices until it’s real obvious the reactivity is for the wrong things or this is a second hand dog we’re talking about.

However if you started with a puppy, just because a puppy was fine in puppy kindergarten doesn’t mean they’ll stay that way without practice. And the ones that weren’t quite comfortable in puppy kindergarten, well it’s good they got better, but they probably need the good socialization experiences even more as they grow. And get these started right away.

Regular practice isn’t one time per week (although that’s better than no times per week) and volume of good repeats is important. Just like in music or art or anything else, bad repeats aren’t helping. Ian Dunbar recommends 50/50/50 good meetings with new people women/children/men in the first year and socialization in a well run puppy kindergarten and puppy play dates weekly; Susan Garrett suggested the same number of exposures weekly. If a dog is more worried, more aggressive, more fearful then practice on things to resolve that during each interaction and use classical conditioning (i.e. Pavlov’s bell means food’s coming — so in this case whatever the issue is when it’s present in some way means good stuff/food… will happen.)

So instead of solitary confinement or ‘he doesn’t leave the place’ – For dogs who are easily frightened and tend to want to hide, lack of regular positive incremental exposure to new or different kinds of things will cause them to be more fearful, they seem to set stronger boundaries on their comfort zones and it becomes lesser if they don’t keep doing and trying stuff.

Or thinking about it differently; if you were anxious socially and so you quit going to any kinds of gatherings. it becomes harder and harder to convince yourself to go to parties where there will be a group, or to drive alone to a new place or join a new club. And if the experience of going somewhere or doing something is much too scary that would  inhibit you more – causing greater fear or agitation about the situation. So it’s an observation balancing act providing continued exposure, but not overwhelming exposure. A good gauge of ‘too much’ is if the dog won’t eat his favorite food treat, get him some space and try again.

Things that cut fear and fear-based aggression are: physical competence (strength and speed games), space to retreat or move, pressure clothes (swaddling-type like Thundershirt), body work relaxing, arousal games like tug, conditioned behaviors (having a behavior or series of them to do that are ingrained enough that it is easy and comforting), compensatory behaviors like looking away or chewing, soothing aromas, classical conditioning to alter emotions (person=food, dog=food, certain place=food), calm dog friend and  using positive reward based training so that your relationship and trust level is very high. Drugs – anti-anxiety medications. How many of these do you need to use? It depends on how fearful and which things connect best with the dog’s personality and the event/activity.

Things that stall/stop or even reverse the reduction of fear/aggression: adding punishment (yelling, jerking, electric shock, etc. Note: fairly often people are unaware of how they are reacting or don’t count things like the electronic underground fence), avoidance/limiting dogs exposure to anything that might be worrisome, or overwhelming them with exposure (too much stress is bad, but none isn’t good either), letting the dog rush at the thing he’s worried about (adrenalin rushes are rewarding especially when the target responds by retreating), repeated bad experiences (aggressive dog/person), not giving the dog space (feeling trapped or forced), lacking the high value rewards that would make person=food=good or dog=food=good, not having tools like head halter to help the dog in looking away from whatever he’s targeting to attack, inadequate exercise/physical conditioning as a healthy strong body increases feelings of competence, not training in low stress places enough to have certain cues so well learned that they are muscle memory, lacking strong game part like tug, traditional training model using corrections. What if I’m unprepared? Then I will get/give space, retreat calmly but steadily and find a less worrisome area to do some things with the dog so he earns rewards.

Then there are person mechanics of handling that make a huge difference and understanding your dog’s body language and other dogs’ or people’s ways of approaching. Both with people and approaching dogs, often you as the handler can change position to be a barrier or to get more space, loosen the leash to avoid tension or snug it up to prevent charging or request things from people to make the situation work better, or be silent instead of yelling no! or relax and laugh and offer food.

Most of the dogs I’ve raised, through a long series of terriers and herding dogs, and that I’ve trained for others have had certain times in their lives when they were ready to challenge other dogs, or were rushed by a pushy dog or were worried about certain people or situations. There are key times and incidents that can be tipping points.

Some of their owners thought their dog’s unruliness/aggression/fear/reactivity would be permanent … and often a degree of it is, but the level is often because their handlers continue to react the way they always had and didn’t or couldn’t do the practice and were never ready with the tools (didn’t have rewards on them the dog really liked, didn’t carry a tug toy, didn’t regularly go to visit places where they would see people and dogs, didn’t use a head halter in times when it would likely be needed, didn’t get a Thundershirt, continued to let their dog do bad action rehearsals – in the car, in the yard, at the front door).

Almost any dog can be primed (or re-primed after they learned new behaviors) for the reactive label. One bad experience can initiate altered emotions, but just because there’s been one or two or more bad experiences doesn’t mean growly, barking, upset, crazy freaking is the way it will have to be. But it does mean get ready, set up the environment to prevent the kinds of doggy reactions you don’t want and promote the ones you do want all the time. Each bad rehearsal makes it longer before it’s resolved, each good one builds a stronger and stronger bridge to the behavior you do want.

An excuse? Calling a dog reactive isn’t like a diagnosis which then can be billed for and the protocol for treatment then followed, it often just means “Oh well, he’s reactive, he’s a shelter dog,” an excuse for limitations and sympathy. I’m for empathy, not so much for sympathy.

Blaming it on another dog that’s always on the walking path? I’d call this an opportunity, because here there’s a pattern, not a surprise, and preparation is easy to plan. I’d actually search for these after I had some good initial training and tools (head halter, food rewards, games to play) in place.

If the labels meant that a training, handling and environmental protocol would then be followed I’d like labels. The current system of labeling I don’t like. I like clear explanations of what happens play by-play prior to, during and after whatever the problem activity was. Those I can use to compare to what I see. Labels become a burden for the dog, a way they are seen and how they are treated. They blur reality and the possible resolution of whatever the issues might be.

Before you label your dog, or let anyone else label them become aware of the assumptions the label carries, the fears, the disdain, the aggression of some people towards the dog, dismissal of resolving the problems, the sympathy for the owner… all the traps involved with the pattern of thinking that goes with it.

Have you unintentionally labeled your dog and had people react weirdly towards them?

Do you need help because you are afraid of what your dog might do if you try to go to public places? You can certainly contact me for help.

As far a places to use in our area to practice the local veterinarian clinic is quite welcoming, the library walking area is good for distance observations of people walking, traffic and occasional dogs and the ____mart stores both have nice large parking areas for practice at a distance from people. To upgrade the level of stress the Riverwalk has a good number of dog walkers depending on time of day and the shelter often has dogs outside in kennel runs available to bark at you and your pooch. You’ll have to head to Wausau to find a pet store that allows inside dog traffic.

Second-hand dogs vs puppies – training time

Does it take longer to train a puppy or an older dog?

A client of mine asked this question and it made me stop and ponder and say well … it depends.

Puppies generally are pretty clean slates and so anything being taught can just be taught without having to un-train some habituated unwanted behavior, but they’re puppies and so are very creative and inquisitive and so can grow and try things and if you aren’t paying good attention or if you unintentionally reward behaviors you don’t really want they will come around to doing unwanted things.

That first couple of years is real important in the management and training department.  If you do your homework and know about stages in puppy development, training and management is intensive, but pretty cool and fruitful.

People who have started with puppies have that historical cute, cuddly and comparatively lovable picture to go back to when the going gets rough. They also expect the puppy to be puppy-ish. They know, if they have done their homework, what the pup’s parents are like, their pedigree and their accomplishments.

People who start with a second-hand dog may not have fond memories to draw from, but they have the idea of saving a life and the goal of getting a new friend and they know what the adult will look like because there he/she is.

Most of the dogs I see in the shelter are in the 6-months to 2-years zone and they are pretty rowdy and have little understanding of polite puppy manners, but many are house-trained. Someone started with them as puppies and wasn’t too successful or just let them do whatever, whenever without guidance, or just reprimanded when they saw them doing something ‘wrong’ and created an anxious, reactive, confused canine. There are also ones there that were just unlucky – find one of those and it may be easy-peasy.

Second-hand dogs – we’ve got three of them now. They all came with baggage that needed long-term management and concurrent training, but mostly they were already reasonably house-trained (not that they got free reign in the house when they arrived or for several months afterword). I picked dogs that were likely to do well with our lifestyle – we exercise and play with dogs multiple times daily and have things set up to work well with dogs, aren’t real worried about fur or dirt and have all the management pieces already in place and available.

If you’ve read some of my other posts you’ll notice that mostly the second-handers didn’t know how to be comfortable in crates, kennels or on leashes and so that training is a big part of the process of getting them to do well in this household. But it’s balanced by lots of play and activity and games that train the things I want and need them to know.

So some parts of the training lasted longer and were louder to get into place but maybe was less intensive than those first four weeks of puppy ownership when it’s like having a baby (they are a baby) and so the work with them is interfering with sleep.

Older dogs are quicker (very fast movement) and they have worries and habituated reactivity that many pups don’t. Many people who adopt like to have the sympathy factor, using whatever real or imaginary history to use to excuse the adopted dog’s behavior. And sure there is a very real possibility that they were abused. However, it doesn’t actually matter whether they inherited or environmentally got their fears or aggression. In order to have a good, happy life fears need to be minimized … it’s no good to be always afraid and excuses don’t minimize fears.

On fear (or fear-based aggression) it is easier to start earlier, which isn’t the option with an adopted dog, but confidence can still be built it just may not be as much as could have been. On the other hand, if I were presented with one or a litter of 7- or 8-week old pups who showed excessive fear of normal kinds of sound, people, objects I wouldn’t buy one as this would likely be an inherited and strong trait and unlikely to be grown/trained out.

I don’t want a stunted relationship with a dog, so choosing a dog that matches my lifestyle and expectations is really important, whether they are a pup or a second-hand pooch. And time to train is just that, there is no magic amount – it is what it is. If you want that canine companion of your (reality-based) dreams it takes as long as it takes.

The Clock – Dog Training Session Fear Cycles

I heard the car door slam and immediately looked at the clock. The dogs were surprisingly quiet, sleeping deeply on their cushioned beds after their frigid morning run and only burst into attention when the doorbell rang. I told them to go to their ‘place’ and they headed down the stairway and into the bedroom, I followed them and closed the bedroom door and then I went to greet my Saturday morning clients; Ellen and Zoe.

She was early, dressed for the cold with a serious hat, well insulated gloves, snow pants and 30-below boots, Zoe was still in the SUV. We greeted each other and Ellen asked if we were training outside or in. I had just been out there, her dog, Zoe, was a single thin-coated seven month old, so I voted for in. She agreed, but kept most of her gear on, the drive over must have been a chilly one. She looked upset and went on to tell me that their old dog was at the point of no return and being put down this morning. This news had been a long time coming, the vet had projected a faster failure due to heart disease, but now it was actually an old injury that seemed to have failed and made it so the dog could no longer stand or get up at all. So time had run out for the 13-year old senior and working with the new lively devil was life affirming and bittersweet. I didn’t know the old dog so all I could do was say ‘I’m so sorry’ and not think about it too much, as I’ve had many beloved old dogs over the years and their life clocks are way too short.

I had recently had Zoe as a board and train guest so I knew a lot more about her than just observing while Ellen worked with her. Zoe seemed to be going through a strong fear cycle, barking at flags and window reflections and various other non-amazing things. I had shared the concept of fear periods (a strong one during the pup’s second month of life that can seemingly have permanent fear ramifications) and this one, that wasn’t always so obvious, around the time they were getting all their adult teeth grown in that can be as silly as barking at the bathroom toilet as if they had never noticed it before. I suggested friendly laughter and a that’s OK pat to show her all was right with the world. Ellen said she was just ignoring some of it, I agreed.

We moved on to do short timed sessions on various pieces of training that I thought would be most helpful. Since Zoe was initially scatter-brained we went into the guest bedroom (which I often use for dog training – so it has a large crate, toys in the bureau, treat bowls, extra clickers), closed the door and played off-leash round-robin recall, then some crate games and Zoe became focused. So now it was time to leave the small-ish area and practice walking on a loose leash in the living room. She barked fairly persistently at the large south-facing window for no clear reason and Ellen was having trouble resolving the pattern (they’d do a circle, Zoe would bark, bark, bark, on and again). I asked for her leash and distracted her with doing other things she knew for much faster and abundant food reward. I also jollied her a bit and so she decided the barking wasn’t needed. Ellen took her back and tried again with a slightly adjusted strategy, yes, it worked for both.

I looked at the clock.clock2013

(Note: all names changed. This post was written in response to DP Challenge:The Clock and required the first sentence somewhere in post )

Have you had a dog who decided everything was scary and needed to be barked at or run from? Did you help them get over it or did you get irritated and think they were a coward even though they were supposed to be your guardian? Did you know about fear periods and the importance of avoiding trauma in that second month of their life?