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Training 911 – Know Your Dog

posted January 25th, 2014 by
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by Mary Green

As a professional dog trainer and dog behavioral counselor, every day I talk with folks who own dogs with aggressive behavior. They are at their wits’ end as to how to deal with the dogs. Questions like, “Is this normal?” or, “Will he grow out of it?” are followed by “If you can’t fix him, I have to get rid of him.”

When we opened K9 Manners & More in 2001, these calls came much less frequently. This leads me to wonder, is dog aggression reaching new heights, or are we following a “zero-tolerance” policy? According to Wikipedia, aggression is usually defined by canine behaviorists as “the intent to do harm.”

Dogs will use aggressive displays such as barking, growling, or air-snapping as distance-increasing signals, intended to get the person or dog to move away. Does this mean that the dog is showing intent to do harm (offense), or do we interpret this as his belief that he is going to be attacked (defense)? Should we be punishing dogs for acting in selfdefense?

When I was about 8 years old, I came home one day sporting a bite (barely a scratch) inflicted by a neighbor dog. I remember my mother’s words quite clearly. When I showed her my wound, mom asked what I had done to provoke the dog.

I’m sure that if this happened today, we would be having a serious conversation with the neighbors about their aggressive dog, and my behavior would not be called into question.

I’m not suggesting that pet owners should be cavalier about their dogs’ aggression. I am suggesting that they learn a bit more about dog behavior in general. For example: arousal and excitement are different from aggression; fight or flight is a biological response; and dogs that bite other dogs do not necessarily go on to bite people.

In a message I received recently, the owner believes her 23-week-old pup has fear aggression. “I can’t take her into public without her trying to bite someone if they try to touch her,” she says. “She is fine unless she is touched or walked toward but only with strangers.”

In our quest to “socialize” pet dogs, are we subjecting them to invasive handling or rude behavior (their perception) by children and adults, and not allowing them to communicate in their language? Or worse, are we punishing them for reacting in a normal dog way?

Good socialization means not overwhelming a pup and pushing her to the point of reacting by biting. At this point, a qualified trainer can help you implement a program of desensitization and counter-condi tioning before the behavior worsens.

When someone tells me that his or her dog is growling at children, my response is sometimes, “Yay! Good dog!” As I stated earlier, growling is a distance-increasing signal. The dog is telling you not to approach.

We don’t need to question their motives; we just need to believe the signal. Many times I have seen dogs that have been punished for growling simply stop growling and go directly to biting.

A recent email read, “My Husky/ German Shepherd mix is very aggressive toward children he doesn’t know. He is fine with adult strangers, but when my kids have friends over he growls and snaps at them, even if the kids aren’t doing anything to taunt him. He’s a sweet dog and I just wish I could break him of this habit.”

First of all, it’s not a habit that can be broken. It’s a clear signal of how he feels about stranger children being in his house. Age and history factor into the prognosis of behavior change. While he may learn to tolerate children being around, and not act aggressively, he likely will not ever be trustworthy with children.

People seem surprised when “out of the blue” their dog bites someone, even though he has given them his clearest communication to keep away.

A friend of mine was comparing her adolescent German Shepherd dog to the Golden Retriever she had in college. The Golden was the perfect dog, loved all people and all dogs. The Shepherd is reserved with strangers and somewhat aggressive toward other dogs.

“I have not raised them any differently,” she said. “I don’t understand it!” I reminded her that different breeds of dogs have different temperaments. We use these temperament traits to determine the dog best suited to the job: the herders, the guardians, the retrievers, etc.

In general terms, temperament refers to the aspects of personality that are innate rather than learned. Behavior, on the other hand, is an action or mannerism in response to the environment, or a result of input or stimuli.

Behavior is to temperament as weather is to climate. In other words, “You pick your vacation destination based on the climate but pack your suitcase based on the weather.”

If you have a dog with aggressive behavior, it’s not the end of the world. Listen to what the dog is saying. Open your eyes to the behavior. Enlist a qualified trainer to help you and be prepared to use a lot of management.

He may not behave like the dog you want, but he is the dog you have. Give him a chance. 

January / February 2014 TulsaPets Magazine

posted January 13th, 2014 by
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App helps you train your dog

posted May 17th, 2013 by
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Interested in training your dog to do some of the tricks you see at agility shows?

Purina Farms has made it easy with their free P5 app for iPhone and iPad.

The app collects the knowledge of trainers at Purina Pro Plan. The trainers teach rescue dogs a variety of skills related to agility, diving dog and flying disc.

The app starts with a foundation of running, strength training and obedience before getting into the more complex tricks.

Step-by-step video demonstrations and a dashboard to track your dog’s progress make this app easy to use and apply.

After watching several of the videos, my 8-year-old Bostons and I headed out to the back yard to dust off their frisbee.

The toss training video focuses on the proper technique for throwing the disc. Amazingly, my dogs were much better at catching their disc once I was throwing it correctly!

Even if you aren’t interested in teaching your dog show-stopping tricks, the obedience training tools are great. What dog (or owner) couldn’t use a refresher now and again?

Learn more at

-Lauren Cavagnolo, [email protected]


Dog Training 411

posted May 15th, 2012 by
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by Mary Green

Q My mother, who is 80 years old, wants a companion dog. She re­cently lost her elderly little dog and is really lonely without him. I am con­cerned about her being able to house train a new dog, and I worry about a dog knocking her down or scratching her skin. I’m not really excited about the prospect, but I want my mom to be happy. Suggestions?  — Karen

ASeniors and pets have so much to offer each other; I hope you are open to supporting your mother in bringing a new pet into her household. Besides the companionship a pet can provide for your mother, being respon­sible for feeding and watering the dog and toileting him can really give her a reason to get up and going in the morn­ings. Dogs always seem to wake up hap­py and ready to get on about the daily business. Their happy attitude works wonders toward getting their humans motivated, too! Petting and stroking an animal has been proven to lower blood pressure—so there are even health ben­efits to pet ownership.

My recommendation would be to bring in an older dog rather than a puppy. I would also recommend a dog not over about 15 lbs. Some groups only adopt senior dogs to senior citi­zens. Dogs that are 7 or 8 years old are often overlooked at a shelter, but have a lot of living yet to do! As you meet prospective pets for your mom, look for a dog that is friendly and wants to be petted, or wants to sit in your lap, but is not “clingy.” A dog that can settle down with a toy or chew bone, or is crate trained, will give your mother suf­ficient space and time to do what she needs to do without having him underfoot.

I understand your concerns about an octo­genarian being responsible for house training a new dog. A small dog can learn to eliminate on the wee wee pads or in a litter box. You also might consider installing a doggie door if that is possible. If you fashion a small yard (maybe an exercise pen) just out­side of the doggie door, the dog can’t go through the doggie door and get to the remotest point in the yard! If a dog is in a foster situation, you might know if you are adopting a house-trained dog.

Could a family member volunteer to take mother’s dog to a training class? She could be included in doing the homework, and she might enjoy the class outings without having to manage the dog at the same time. Someone else could teach the dog how to greet properly without jumping up and how not to be underfoot. At K9 Manners & More, we have a Day Training program where the professional trainers work with the dogs, and then teach the own­ers what to do.

Don’t just rush out and get your mother a dog. Do your homework to find the right fit for her. The shelters are full of previously owned and loved family pets looking for a new family. Sometimes people lose their jobs and/ or homes, and move where they cannot take their pets. Not all dogs at the shel­ter are from hoarding situations, puppy mills or from the rough streets.

Lastly, have a plan in place for caring for your mother’s dog’s needs: veteri­nary transportation and care, purchas­ing food and supplies, and see to his or her grooming needs. And have a plan of who will take care of your mother’s dog should she be hospitalized short term, or long term, and who will be respon­sible for the dog in the event of your mother’s passing away

Invisible Dogs

posted March 15th, 2012 by
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by Nancy Gallimore Werhane

It was an exciting day at my house— the day I got to pet my foster dogs. This may not sound like a momentous occasion to most people, but those who have rehabilitated a seriously shy or under-socialized dog realize it’s a pretty big step.

My foster dogs are a pair of 4-yearold Dalmatians that were rescued from a puppy mill in Missouri and have no concept of life as a companion animal. Dubbed Jack and Jill, the two actually climbed onto my bed today and let me reach over to pet them. I could not face them directly, and I could not stand up, but we actually had a moment where my touch wasn’t such a terrible thing.

Training sessions on my bed? Well, not what I had planned, but if it works, I’ll run with it. Every dog is different, making every training plan a puzzle to be solved.

There are a number of factors that can cause certain dogs to be shy. For some, it can be blamed on a lack of proper early socialization. Puppies are like little sponges during the first 16 weeks of life. Dogs not properly exposed to human handling as young puppies will have a much harder time assimilating into our world as companion animals.

Dogs that experience stress can also become shy. A stray dog may learn that humans can’t be trusted. A dog in a shelter environment may start to withdraw. And of course, dogs that have experienced abuse or neglect may also become quite timid.

Then, there are genetics. Just as some people have a natural tendency toward shyness, so do some dogs. You can have a litter in which each of the puppies has been raised with the same level of socialization and interaction, but some of the pups might be shy while others are quite outgoing. Whatever the root cause, our shrinking violet dogs are often misunderstood and can be a source of frustration and embarrassment to their owners.

Truth be told, humans tend to be a bit narrow-minded when it comes to communicating with dogs. Usually our intentions are good, but our dog communication skills are often quite clumsy. While most dogs take it all in stride, shy dogs can find the human approach to friendship very overwhelming and confusing.

When humans meet, direct eye contact is expected. We tend to stand squarely facing each other. We immediately grab each other’s hand for a firm shake. It’s all very direct and considered polite.

Now look at things from the dog’s point of view. The average dog generally stands a couple of feet tall or less. Human strangers tower overhead. To greet a dog, well-meaning humans generally move straight toward the dog while bending forward at the waist, staring directly into the dog’s eyes and talking in a loud, high-pitched babble. Then toss in a hand immediately reaching out for a too-much-too-soonpat on the head.

So, when the shy dog backpedals and looks more than a little panicked, what do we do? Well, most people either scold the dog, drag it back toward the newcomer by the leash or collar, or a lovely combination of both. At the same time, the newcomer loudly proclaims that “dogs just love me” and proceeds to try even harder to make the dog submit to attention.

When you consider the dog’s perspective, it’s a giant recipe for disaster, isn’t it? A truly fearful dog who feels trapped and threatened might even resort to growling or barking at the stranger in an attempt to end the confrontation.

So, what to do? How can we help our shy dogs come out of their shells to learn to accept and, hopefully, enjoy socializing with our species?

First, be your shy dog’s champion. Understand your dog’s personality and work to help shift the perception from “new person equals scary” to “new person equals safe interactions and reward.”

Be prepared to explain to people interested in meeting your dog that he or she is a bit shy. Ask them to not acknowledge the dog for a few minutes, so your dog has a chance to smell the new person from a safe distance beside you. If possible, ask the new person to squat down or sit down at an angle to the dog. If the dog chooses to move forward to sniff the newcomer, let that happen without any attempt to interact with the dog. Just give the dog a little space and time to feel secure.

If you see signs that your dog is relaxing, you may want to just stop there. The dog has had a good experience and is starting to feel at ease around a new person. Resist the temptation to ruin that progress by moving forward with too much contact too quickly.

Let the dog move casually away from the new person and quietly praise the dog. By remaining calm yourself, you are setting the stage for your dog to remain calm and happy as well.

Another great tool in helping a shy dog gain confidence is to enlist the aid of another dog. In my experience, most people-shy dogs are good around other dogs. If your shy dog enjoys interacting with other dogs, enlist the aid of a friend with a confident, friendly dog to serve as a good role model. Take the two dogs out to socialize together. Ask people to pet and pay attention to the confident dog while pretending the shy dog is invisible. Just let the shy dog observe the interaction with no pressure to join in.

After a few outings, you may find that the shy dog will start approaching new people along with the confident dog. As this starts to happen, remember the “don’t overdo it” rule. Perhaps let the shy dog sniff the newcomer and maybe have the stranger offer both dogs a treat. End the interaction at this point, again walking away in a calm, matter-of-fact manner.

My shy dog duo is particularly fond of my personal dog, Howie. Howie is a very social, easy-going dog. By petting and playing with Howie, I’ve been able to start including Jack and Jill in the fun. Howie is the best teacher I have for these two dogs.

Formal training with your shy dog is another great way to boost confidence. A group class can provide a learning opportunity where no one dog is the center of attention, allowing a shy dog to blend into the class. If you do choose to take a group class with your dog, be sure to let your instructor know about your dog’s issues, so he or she can adjust lessons accordingly.

For some dogs, however, a busy training school might be too overwhelming. If your dog walks into a training facility and shuts down or panics, perhaps you should contact a trainer for a one-on-one private session. No matter where you train, make sure the methods employed focus on positive motivation training to help boost your dog’s confidence in a fun, engaging manner.

The more you can teach your dog, the more tools you have for helping your dog cope in uncomfortable situations. For example, if you are out for a walk and a neighbor comes to greet you, ask your dog to sit and stay by your side. You have now given your dog a “job” to focus on instead of allowing it to worry about the stranger standing nearby. When you release your dog from the stay, offer lots of calm praise and perhaps even have your visitor casually hand or toss a treat to your dog. This gives your dog a positive association with your neighbor and rewards appropriate behavior.

Another fun exercise I use in working with shy dogs is the touch game. Extend your flat palm to your dog. Most dogs will sniff your hand out of curiosity. When your dog sniffs your hand, or touches it, praise the dog and immediately offer a treat. Then, repeat. Pretty soon you will see that your dog quickly touches its nose to your extended palm when you give the verbal cue “touch.”

Once your dog catches on, you can move your hand from place to place in front of you, beside you and even behind. The dog will enjoy the fun interaction.

This game can then become a tool to use with a friendly stranger. Have a visitor sit and, without staring at the dog or trying to touch the dog, offer a palm in front of the dog and give the “touch” cue. The beauty of this game is that the dog gets to initiate the contact. Keep it simple, short and positive. Hopefully, you will soon see your dog feeling more comfortable around newcomers.

These ideas are just a few of a number of ways you can work to socialize your shy dog. Most importantly, vow to stay patient and, please, always obey the shy dog golden rule: Do not force your shy dog into the spotlight. As much as you want your dog to be social, and as much as people want to win your dog’s affection, trying to force your dog to like new people will almost always backfire.

As for my extremely shy foster dogs, training sessions on my bed with the help of mentor dog, Howie, continue. I look forward to helping them understand that people are a source of good things. In the meantime, I will celebrate every touch and every small step forward.