Happy Early Birthday, Versailles

My heart dog turns 6 years old on Monday. It is amazing to think back on the years, to smile at the good times and laugh at the not so good, knowing in the big picture of things it is all just a bunch of seconds forming wonderful memories together.

When I was looking for my first working dog years ago, I had a deposit down on an East German/DDR litter. I was 19 years old and thought I wanted a mean, tough, huge dog for my first “protection prospect”. Fortunately, my mentor of the time talked me off the cliff and had me contact a wonderful breeder in Massachusetts instead, and my puppy arrived only a week later. I have never regretted my decision.

I didn’t know much then — sure, I thought I did, but let’s be real.. this poor dog has had to put up with some terrible training, horrendous handling, the wish-washy commitment of a young adult, and unrealistic expectations. She has taught me more about dogs and behavioral issues (lol) than I could have ever imagined, and every day over the past 6 years I have learned something new. Things about what I did wrong, what I did right, how to create issues and how to solve them. That not all dogs are going to be friendly with other dogs, that intelligence can be both a blessing and a curse, that sometimes when you do everything right things still go wrong, and when you do everything wrong sometimes things turn out right.

My bond with this crazy, over-the-top, pushy bitch shaped my career, my relationships, my priorities, and my work ethic. She has made me question my sanity, pushed me over the edge on numerous occasions, and has taken my lack of patience with a derp-tongue and a tail wag. She has never let me down and continues to excel at everything I throw her way, even if her body is slowing down and her age is starting to show physically. Mentally, I hope she always stays so patient with me, and so willing to try anything I ask of her.

Happy early birthday, you Ver-psycho, maniacal, rude bitch. I hope we have many more years together.

 

 

Life with Your Aggressive Dog

Experienced dog trainers commonly work with dogs who have shown aggressive tendencies — whether or not they have actually injured another dog or a person, it is critical that their owners understand the severity and the commitment it takes to own an aggressive dog. Many owners are desperate by the time they realize training is necessary, and unfortunately often with that desperation also comes unrealistic expectations on what future life could be with their dog.

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It is important to understand that aggression, whether stemmed from fear, territorial guarding, resource guarding, or outward aggression, is almost always managed and not totally cured. With dogs that have been practicing aggressive behavior for a long period of time, we have to understand that our dogs have learned the aggressive behaviors work and that we cannot undo that knowledge. What we can do is provide our dogs with structure, consistency, and management to help prevent aggressive outbursts in the future. Owning an aggressive dog is a serious responsibility and should not be dismissed until a serious incident occurs.

The first step to working through aggression is to admit there there is a problem. Making excuses for the dog or dismissing their behavior simply will not work. Once we accept that there is a problem, the whole family needs to be on board to managing the dog in the same way. Certain steps need to be taken in order to keep the public safe and any deviation from the agreed protocol cannot occur.

1. Always consult a veterinarian for a full examination to rule out any physical ailments. This visit should include a full blood panel and check up.

2. Work on conditioning your dog to a basket muzzle. Muzzles help keep the public safe, but are not fail-proof nor are they a stand-alone solution.

3. While searching for a trainer or waiting for your appointment, do not put your dog in situations where it is doomed to fail. Limit walks, but if you need to get your dog exercised or walked for potty breaks try to go in areas that are not as populated. Do not allow strangers or other dogs approach your dog.

4. Crate train your dog so they have a safe place to hang out in when you have guests over. If you are using any sort of baby gates or closed doors for confinement, make sure there is no way for your dog to get loose or for anyone to enter the room they are contained in.

5. Limit your dogs freedom of movement (no free reign of the house) and resources (toys, bones, food, etc) unless you are directly supervising them.

6. Keeping a leash on your dog when you are home allows you to quickly interrupt any aggressive, unexpected outbursts such as when a package is delivered.

7. No dog parks or public gatherings — before or after training. It is too difficult for us to have control of outside influences, so using common sense and having realistic expectations of where our dog can be out safely is critical.

Again, it cannot be stressed enough that aggression is not a disease that can be cured, but rather a state of mind in your dog that can only be interrupted and directed. Your dog needs to learn alternate, appropriate behaviors such as place/go to bed, come when called, and heel. A dog that is clear on the criteria expected of them in all situations is easier to direct and more responsive to obedience cues. Be your dogs’ advocate and do not put them in unfair or unsafe situations. The results from a bite can be devastating, not only for the victim but also for the dog and owner. Being proactive in management techniques can help your dog lead a more normal life, and a less stressful life for your family.

The Importance of Zen in Your High-Octane Dog

Although I am currently only on my second personal working dog, my professional training experience over the last 7 years along with my association with multiple dog clubs in Colorado and Arizona have brought to light one of the biggest mistakes repeated over and over again by green working dog enthusiasts. Unfortunately, there is a lot of crazy information out there. Because I wish I had been educated on this topic when I was first looking for a puppy, I felt it would be appropriate to share my thoughts in order to help newbies to high energy, working line dogs.

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You don’t need to supercharge your adrenaline junkie. If you have done your research and currently have or will have a puppy from a reputable working dog source, know that your puppy probably either has *it* or she doesn’t. If you set a solid foundation as a puppy and find your dog needs extra attention in certain areas as an adult dog, good trainers can help you tackle them. If your puppy grows up to be a dog that is nervy and not fit for a certain dog sport, I can almost promise you that it wasn’t because you didn’t focus on drive as a puppy.

I cannot tell you how many times I was told to crate my puppy any time she wasn’t working (and while I would love to elaborate more on this, the short of the long is that if your puppy/dog will only work if they have been isolated for hours on end beforehand, perhaps it is not a very good working dog), to back-tie her on a harness to encourage drive for the toy/dumbbell/whatever for months on end, to ignore obedience and focus on DRIVE DRIVE DRIVE. This was the single biggest mistake I made with my first working dog. She naturally had *it*, the glorious drive and energy and desire to work that everybody wants, and my lack of experience ultimately created an over-the-top, disengaged yet frantically-ready-to-work drive machine.  While drive building exercises are absolutely beneficial in certain circumstances, engagement and teaching your working line puppy an off-switch (how to settle when they are not actively working) should be at the top of your priority list.

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Additionally, your high-energy breed does not need copious amounts of exercise per day. SAY WHAT? Seriously. Those people that tell you your malinois is going to suffer and maybe eat a baby if you don’t run her at 30mph for 12 miles per day, every day? They are full of crap. This plays right into a previous comment — these dogs were bred for versatility, and they either have a good work ethic or they don’t. However, we can absolutely create a monster by over-exercising and over-stimulating our working dogs. While working dogs are supposed to be athletes, they do not necessarily need to be Olympians. Even dogs competing at the highest level of dog sports need to be able to travel well (often internationally), be out in public with Joe Average, and turn themselves off to recharge.

A dog that is over-the-top and always on wastes energy, has difficulty thinking, and can be frantic in the work. Not only are those dogs extremely difficult to live with, they are not commonly going to be achieving top scores in performance, either. So, despite what some of the working dog crowd will tell you, your dog does not need a 45 minute training session, a trip to the dog park, plus a half-marathon run every day. In fact, they don’t even need a quarter of that. Make them think daily, take them on a walk, and give them some sort of job that you do at least a few times a week (agility, IPO, mondioring, nosework, competition obedience, etc) and teach them to settle.

Teaching your puppy or dog that there will be days she will not get exercised — we are human after all — is a skill that should not be underestimated. The expectation that a dog should, or will be, “worked” or given a “job” 24 hours a day is completely unrealistic in the average home. There is a time for work, and there is a time to relax. Don’t get caught up in the hype that you cannot peacefully co-exist with your dog in the house. You can, so long as you put in the work. Just because some training veterans say your dog is not supposed to live as a pet does not mean that the dogs cannot live in the house, be friendly to your family and neighbors, and be a good dog to be around. Just because we want energetic, flashy obedience in the future doesn’t mean we should let our puppies walk all over us while we ignore obedience until they’re “mature”. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing — no matter what somebody else tells us.

Puppy Socialization Tips

The current fad is to take a puppy everywhere to meet everyone and everything in the world. Unfortunately, there is also an extreme increase in dog aggression and leash reactivity, and fear with new people and places. This is not a coincidence – socializing our puppies is important, but it is more important to do it CORRECTLY.

When socializing a puppy, it is important that the puppy finds the new interactions GOOD. Just throwing a puppy in an arena with 20 other puppies will not guarantee that they will be social as an adult, and, in fact, may inadvertently CAUSE aggression issues as they mature. Rather than blindly sticking a puppy in with a group of strange dogs, we should encourage our puppy to experience the world while still maintaining that we, the owners, are the greatest being of all time. If done correctly, socialization will assist in creating a confident dog.

Socialization Questions to Keep in Mind

  • Does the puppy/dog have an escape route if they are uncomfortable?
  • Are they using the escape route frequently? If so, we’re pushing them too far, too fast.
  • Does the puppy return to the situation on their own? Bounce back is a very good thing!
  • Will the puppy experience the new item without food present? Some puppies are so “foody” that they will work through their fear to eat, but are not actually getting over the issue.

Important Points

  • Puppies learn more from stable, adult dogs than they do other crazy puppies.
  • Waiting until a puppy is fully vaccinated to take them out causes owners to miss out on the prime socialization opening. See THIS POST (Why You Should Socialize Your Puppy Before It’s Safe) for more information.
  • Dog parks and doggy daycare can cause reactivity issues later on, so it is important to monitor dogs in social situations closely for behavioral cues that they are not having a good time.
  • Allowing dogs and puppies to greet other dogs while on leash increases likelihood of leash aggression later on.
  • It is important to introduce puppies to new environments — not just other dogs and people — such as loud noises, slick floors, uneven surfaces, elevators, wheelchairs, etc.
  • Any puppy or dog showing fear around humans and dogs should be referred to professional training.

Fear Aggression versus Outward Aggression

Signs of Fear Aggression in Dogs

  • Head held low
  • Wrinkling of the nose
  • Curled lips, teeth exposed
  • Corners of the mouth pulled back
  • Ears pinned back
  • Raised hackles
  • Tail tucked/lowered
  • Panting

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Fearful dogs will typically choose fight over flight if given the option. In a kennel environment or on a leash, we have taken away their ability to run. If you must handle a dog exhibiting fear aggressive behavior, do so with caution. Ideally, take some time to sit on the ground with your body angled away from the dog. Avoid direct eye contact, and talk in a calm, kind voice. Toss treats at them if they will take them. Fearful dogs typically snap when you have them cornered, or as you are walking away. Never turn your back on a dog exhibiting aggressive behaviors.

Signs of Outward Aggression in Dogs

  • Head held high
  • Front teeth exposed when lips curled
  • “Puffy” lips/huffing
  • Ears up and forward
  • Tail stiff and held upright, slight stiff wagging motion
  • Stiff posture
  • Mouth usually closed when not barking/growlingpost-3404-0-98483000-1362360823

 

 

 

Knowing the difference between fear and outward/assertive aggression is critical. Approaching the wrong one incorrectly will likely end in a bite. If a dog is exhibiting outwardly aggressive behaviors, do not attempt to handle him unless absolutely necessary.

 

Helping Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is typically caused by the anticipation of an owner’s return and often anxious behaviors occur either soon after they leave or before the dog feels they will return. If owners make their arrivals and departures less exciting, they can prevent or decrease the anxious behaviors. If a dog is exhibiting mild separation anxiety, the following steps should be taken:

  1. Obedience training to set rules, boundaries, and for mental stimulation
  2. At LEAST 30 minutes of heavy exercise per day (preferably more)
  3. Crate training — a RuffTough or ZingerWinger kennel if the dog is a known escape risk
  4. Medications if deemed appropriate, either holistic or prescription
  5. Fake departures/arrivals 25-50x per day
  6. Food only from meal dispensers/treat toys (examples below)
  7. Consider other options including recorded audio left playing, thunder shirt, etc.

With a new dog, it is important the owner gets them straight into a routine of being alone. Taking two weeks off work and spending every day with a dog, then suddenly leaving for an 8 hour work day, will trigger anxiety.

Meal Dispensers

  • Kong Wobbler, Bob-a-Lot, Buster Cube, Planet Dog Snoop, Kyjan Slow Feeder, etc.

Treat Dispensers

  • Original Kong, Kong Genius line, West Paw Tux and Tizzie, JW Treat Dispensers, etc.

Enacting nothing in life is free and getting on a serious obedience training schedule can be helpful for confidence and anxiety. Teaching conditioned relaxation, settle, on your bed, as well as other obedience cues can help you through this process. It is HIGHLY recommended that you find a dog training professional asap to help you with your dog: http://www.humanesociety.org/…/training_nothing_in_life_is_…

Holistic supplements and aids: Composure (Composure Pro preferred), Rescue Remedy, Bach Walnut, CBD oil (Charlottes Web is a good option, cwbotanicals), Adaptil DAP pheromone collar, thundershirt — not recommended for dogs that shred fabric.

Common prescription options: Fluoxetine/prozac, xanax, trazodone, clomipramine/clomicalm.

 

Some dogs have CONTAINMENT PHOBIAS rather than separation anxiety, or the separation anxiety is so severe that they can seriously injure themselves in a crate. You have to make a determination of what the best route is for your individual dog. For my personal dog, it was best to start allowing him to free roam because he has containment phobia more so than separation anxiety. If your dog will injure themselves trying to escape from the house, a crate might be a better option.

Helpful books: Treating Separation Anxiety in Dogs by Malena Demartini-Price, Don’t Leave Me! Step-by-Step Help for Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety by Nicole Wilde.

I have found it beneficial to have a webcam hooked up to my mobile phone.. helpful in monitoring progress.

Do you have any tips for owners dealing with separation anxiety? Questions about your own dog? Leave a comment below!

Balanced Dog Training: What is it, and why do we care so much?

Balanced dog training. A phrase that seems so obviously desirable, that it is hard for the average dog owner to understand why there is so much fuss about it between dog trainers. Unfortunately, the philosophy of “balanced” training has been under attack heavily in our industry – so much so that a huge split has occurred in the field. Instead of working together for the bigger picture, many dog trainers internationally spend hours online spreading propaganda and even harassing other professionals who do not use the same methods they do.

Let’s stop right here. Before you get a headache and exit the screen at the thought of another article slamming the +R/Force Free dog training movement, know that this one will be different.

So – what IS balanced training? Why does it ruffle so many feathers? The term separates us from the “old school”/”traditional” dog trainers and the force free/positive reinforcement only trainers, finding a happy balance somewhere in between. The idea is not to say that we use 50% treats and 50% corrections, nor is it a way to sneak a fast one by the industry or our clients. It is simply describing our work as harmonious, in the sense that we will use various tools and methods to create a happy, behaved dog. We are not in the industry to create fearful, shut down dogs. We want to help, and we do it in the way we find most successful for us.

Is there one right way to train a dog? Of course not. Saying there can only be one correct philosophy is like saying there is only one acceptable sport or type of music. Like human beings, dogs are individual creatures with different personalities, drives, and confidence levels. Some like food, some like a good game of tug, and some can’t be bothered with either. My German Shepherd, as sweet as she is on her own terms, mocks me when I try to reward her with a pat on the head. “Really, lady? A head pat? Throw the damn ball!”, I imagine her saying as she glares at me with those big brown eyes. I must oblige.

If dogs are individuals, then it makes sense to assume that each dog requires a different variation of training in order to succeed. Or, if not a custom training style, perhaps a particular teacher will get through to them. This is what many trainers from both sides don’t seem to understand. Not only are dogs unique, but so are our abilities as dog trainers. Just as a hip hop dancer might struggle to teach a ballet class, a talented force free trainer has a different developed skill than an equally talented balanced trainer. This doesn’t mean either one is wrong – just that each has developed different skills through their own experience and education. The ability to know which style of training a dog will excel under is a necessary skill for a successful dog trainer. In my own career, I never stick to one path when training. I assess each dog and each situation every second of every lesson, adjusting my style based on the feedback from the dog. Those who claim they have solved every dogs issues using one style only is either incredibly lucky to have such a biddable pool of dogs in their care, abnormally talented, or completely dishonest with themselves and our dog training community.

The problem with labels, of course, is that we set ourselves up for attacks from our peers and on social media. See, the other common misconception is that using corrections has to be harsh, inhumane, and unfair to the dog, while positive methods are permissive and destined to fail. These are not true. While there are certainly trainers (as was commonly the case in the past before many of us knew better) out there who jump straight to unfair corrections, the majority of balanced trainers work hard to ensure that dogs are set up for success using a heavy foundation of reward based training before ever correcting the dog (aside from behaviors that are outright dangerous for any party involved). On the other side, most force free trainers are dedicated to the upkeep required to keep the dog successful in distracting situations. See – our industry, while divided, has the same goal. We want the dog to succeed long-term.

Unfortunately, many balanced trainers are contacted by owners who have been through the ringer with other inexperienced trainers in the past and have reached the end of their rope, or have experienced a recent trauma involving their dog that has caused them to give up hope completely. You will see many force free trainers call prong collars and electric collars “lazy” dog training because the results come faster than counter-conditioning and desensitizing. . . because at some point, fast results became a bad thing in this industry to everyone except the dog owner and the dog. Fast results does not equal laziness or lack of trying from either dog trainer or dog owner; rather, they mean more time to enjoy life with the dog and move forward from the bad behaviors that have caused so much stress and distress to both human and dog.

With this, the tools many balanced trainers use have been under heavy attack for years. Prong collars and electronic collars (e-collars) in particular have been the driving force for the anti-correction movement. Misunderstanding and misuse of the proper techniques these tools are used with have caused most of the issue. When mentioning an e-collar, for example, many have the vision of a dog being shocked at a very high level at the first sign of disobedience, causing the dog pain and fear based compliance. While this was true when they first came out with these devices, times have changed and so have the methods. They have become multidimensional tools with often over 100 levels of stimulation, most dogs working at under a quarter of that. When I introduce an e-collar to a new dog, I ask that the dog owner feels the level I am introducing to their dog; after placing the collar against their wrist, I am most commonly asked if the collar is even on. It is not pain or fear that trains the dog – it is the technique used by the trainer, in addition to the unique sensation of the tools, paired with motivation (be it food, toys, love, or otherwise) and consistent communication that creates results.

What is the solution? I wish any of us knew the answer. My goal is to have a harmonious relationship with other dog lovers in this industry, and to constantly attempt to better myself. Not only so I can continue to grow as a dog trainer, but also so that I can continue to help even the toughest cases. Dog training is evolving every day, and new information is constantly being put out. It is our job as dog trainers, whether force free, balanced, or something else, to look objectively at the information out there and determine what works best for our needs and the needs of our clients. If we could stop all of the bickering and shaming, maybe, just maybe, we could learn a lot from one another.