Coping with Failures and Setbacks

Everyone has those times when things go wrong, and your training is set way, way back. If you can think through those moments, you can often mitigate some of the trouble. The rest of it, we just work through. This is my set back story, so you can see where I messed up, what choices I made and why (for good or ill; in most cases only time will tell!), and how I mitigated it as much as possible.

I have a new foster. He’s a year and a half old pittie that I boarded this past spring for five days to try and fix some major behavioral problems. Those problems improved greatly, but in the end his owner realized that a small apartment and a 12-hour-a-day job wasn’t right for a young dog, and it would be better for Champ to be re-homed. (His owner had inherited Champ after a death in the family.)

It had become apparent during the initial boarding phase that Champ had some congenital aggression issues. (Congenital aggression means the dog was born with it; there’s some funny hardwiring in the brain or body, much like people with personality and mood disorders. Much like people with disorders, what the dog goes through in life will partially determine in what way and how severely the disorder develops.) We’d implemented behavioral changes that helped quite a bit, but since I started fostering him (just two weeks ago) I thought blood work and medication might be a helpful route, as well.

Today, we needed to do blood work. As it happens Champ’s vet is the vet I use, and they already know many of his issues. (The vet, owner and I were all working together. I love having good working relationships with the vet!) I didn’t have to prep anyone, which was really nice. Champ and I were let into a room for a tech visit to draw blood, and I spent a few minutes practicing his handling skills; holding his head still, giving a treat. Holding his legs, giving a treat. I did as many of these types of things as I could think of.

When the tech, Amy, came in she had a muzzle with her. Champ is  muzzle trained due to vet issues in the past, and I was able to put it on him with not much fuss. Amy suggested we use a hind leg instead of a front leg, as it might be easier. I agreed.

Here’s where things went haywire. I held Champ in a big bear hug, head restrained and body snuggled up against mine. We needed two vials of blood, and the first one went pretty well. It was mostly full when he decided he was done, and kicked out.

In kicking out, the needle blew his vein. This isn’t anyone’s fault; this is animal medicine. When Amy tried to switch to his other back leg, things fell apart.

In most dogs with learned aggression, there are a few body-hold tricks you can usually do to make them submit and give up. I don’t like using these, although I will in a dire situation. This was a dire situation: it would take six months of training to MAYBE get Champ to let a stranger take blood from his back leg. We don’t have that kind of time; if we can figure out what’s wrong and treat it through supplements or pills, his whole life will get better and training will go much smoother immediately.

Back to Champ and our vet visit. He started thrashing, but wasn’t growling. I did a few restraining maneuvers while Amy tried to get blood, but each time he felt the needle Champ would thrash madly. He began growling. Knowing it might not work at all (but hoping), I decided one of those submissive-give-up holds might be kinder in the moment. If I could get him to give up, then we could get blood and be done. I could build back up trust later.

I tried a couple of different holds; Champ kept growling and fighting. One of the most common symptoms of congenital aggression is that dogs don’t give up. “Normal” dogs realize when they’re trapped and will not win, and go lax. They give up. Alternately, they realize when they’re out matched in a fight, and flee (or stop the behavior you’re trying to eliminate). This is where the idea of an “alpha roll” or pinning a dog down comes in. (For the record: I prefer to use many other methods.)

So, what did I say? Oh yeah. Common symptom: they never back down. Champ doesn’t have many of the common symptoms (and has many uncommon ones) of congenital aggression, so I was hoping a pin to make him give up would work. You can pin a dog in various ways, both to the floor and not. For a moment, I had him on the floor and I thought it was working. He took a breath, settled, and relaxed, belly-up. I cooed and rubbed with my fingers for a minute — and then he lost it again. When I couldn’t hold onto him, I knew that wasn’t going to work.

Eventually, I got his head restrained in such a way that he couldn’t toss us around anymore (me sitting on the floor, his shoulders against my chest, my arm wrapped around his head in a head lock — thank goodness pitty heads are so big!), but I didn’t have enough hands to keep his back leg still. Amy got another tech, and we finally got the blood.

The whole process took about 20 minutes. (Props to The Whole Pet Vet and their awesome techs, especially Amy, who didn’t give up on us and didn’t panic about the snarling, thrashing, 60-lbs pit bull in my arms!) Afterward, Amy and the tech (whose name I didn’t catch) left, giving me permission to use the room for as long as I needed.

To give you an idea of how much thrashing there was, my abdomen is scratched and was bleeding slightly through my shirt, I have bruises mottling one thigh despite jeans, more bruises across my arm, and I believe I either pulled or bruised my bicep and deltoid muscles. Because I was taking the battering rather than letting Champ hurt himself, he came out of it better than I did!

From a training perspective, what just happened? Well, I’m not ashamed to say it was a clusterfuck. While I know that getting blood to get him on meds was important for the long term, I also know that this is a major set back in the short term. For a dog who is already wary of strangers, he just had a horrible experience. Thanks to the staff, I was able to mitigate it as much as possible.

Still sitting on the floor, I held onto Champ until he was no longer rigid. I didn’t want to let go of him until he was willing to be with me, relaxed. While we have a relationship, I had broken his trust, pinning him still while strangers did scary, painful things to him. I needed to make sure that he and I separated with him remembering that I also provided love and cuddles.

When I felt that he’d relaxed, I let him go. He retreated, and I reached out to take the muzzle off, but didn’t otherwise try to pet him. I pulled out my phone and played Candy Crush, giving him the time he needed.

A “normal” dog is going to snap back to love pretty quickly, but Champ isn’t that. If I press love onto a normal dog while they’re stressed and anxious, they will probably respond with relief and love. If I press an abnormal dog in the same situation, they’re not going to be able to think clearly, and may even react aggressively. So my next step was give him time to relax and calm down, so that his maladapted brain could function a bit better.

I let Champ set the pace. He laid in various spots in the room, sniffed the edges, munched some fallen treats, did a lot of panting. I kept an eye on him, and when he started relaxing still more, started calling his name. If he didn’t come, I went back to my game and gave him more time. But eventually, he started coming over to take a treat. At first he would immediately leave. The temptation is to catch a dog at this point and force pets on them, but I’d already broken his trust. I wanted him to come to me of his own free will.

Bit by bit, he started coming to me and staying long enough to get petted. By the time he was lying on the floor within the reach of my arm, about fifteen minutes had passed.

My next goal was to make sure I could touch his back legs without him freaking out. I wanted to do this now, before the idea that people touching his back legs was horrible became set in his mind. I worked carefully, with lots of treats and quiet persistence, until he was all right with it. (Initially, he chewed lightly but with frustration on my hand. I would blow on his ear to catch his attention, give him a treat when he looked up, and let go. My goal here was to reward him for being calm while his leg was being held. Note: I knew that he wasn’t aggravated enough to bite me more than a pinch, maybe a bruise if it got out of hand.) If I wasn’t holding onto him and he walked away, I let him go. This wasn’t the time to bring him back by his leash; I want him learning that he can always walk away, that walking away is more effective than aggression.

Finally, when we could manage all that, we left the room and sat in the waiting area. We did more foot-games. When someone went into the room we’d been in to clean up, we walked to the door and watched her. I gave her some treats to TOSS to Champ — between his general wariness of strangers, his new extra wariness of techs in scrubs, and his general agitation, I didn’t want him jumping at her if she tried to hand it to him and, in his unstable state, he thought she was attacking.

We went BACK to the main waiting area. We did more foot-games, and calmed down even more. I wanted his surety of the vet as The Place of Evil to be shaken, though I knew that I wouldn’t be able to undo it in one session. I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t set in stone.

Goals: get him to be calm in the vet’s office, calm seeing the techs, and allow me to handle his feet again. Done.

As we were leaving, I messed up and had to adapt one more time. The vet’s office was actually closed and they were putting things away for the night, and they’d locked the doors and had to let me out. As we stood there, I asked the receptionist (in scrubs much like the tech’s) to give him a treat open palmed, without touching Champ. She said no problem! He took the treat, but then jumped at her, catching the edge of her sleeve in the process. She froze (appropriate) and I made him let go of the cloth.

I had thought he was calm enough to take a treat, but that’s the thing about congenital aggression: they don’t always signal when they’re in distress (he hadn’t), and it takes them hours to come out of distress, instead of the minutes it takes other dogs.

I baited him past her with a treat, then asked her to toss him some treats. Again, I wanted him to know that aggression wasn’t working (he had to go in and do it again, instead of leaving like he wanted, and he STILL had to walk past the receptionist again), but that vet people were awesome treat dispensers. I can always work on his trust with me, so I don’t mind being the “bad guy.” I want strangers to always be the awesome treat dispensers.

Let me tell you: that is a lot of set backs for one day. It’s a lot of set backs that are going to take time to overcome. I’m lucky: I have a fabulous vet and staff who are willing to work with me, and Champ is incredibly intelligent. We’ll get through these.

Some time in the next six months, he’s going to become an amazing dog. He’s already loyal and protective, happy to cuddle, pretty good at walking, great with other dogs, and allows all sorts of indignities such as being laid on and having his ears and tail tugged. (I did check!) The rest of this, it’s trauma and biology. That can be overcome.

As for me, I’m covered in bruises. But hey, given the responses from the vet staff (some of whom I hadn’t met yet) I think my reputation as a badass is firmly lodged. *laughs!*

Jenna

 

Advertisements

Dogs and food: feeding issues

Occasionally, someone will come to me concerned that their dog isn’t finishing their food. If your dog has suddenly stopped eating, that’s a major concern and a trip to the vet. But if your dog has never been much of an eater, there might be some things going on.

First off, check out your dog’s weight. Most dogs who aren’t eating do so because they’re self-regulating: if they’re chubby (even just a little chubby), they’ll often go off their food or eat listlessly because they simply don’t need it.

Of course, this means you have to tell if your dog is chubby! If you can see a dimple at the base of their tail (a large dimple), they’re probably at least a little chubby. It’s the fat deposits around that spot that create the dimple. Today, for instance, I saw a dog at a pretty good weight who was a smidgen chubby. Not enough that I felt the need to say, “Put this dog on a diet!” but just enough to see that dimple, and know that the fact that he wasn’t finishing his dinner probably had more to do with being a little overweight than a major problem.

So, how to tell your dog’s weight? First off, you should be able to see the shape of their ribcage. Second, if you pet firmly, you should be able to feel individual ribs. (Some breeds of dogs don’t really have waists — like corgis or bassets — but you should still be able to feel ribs.)

Here is a pretty little chart to help you out:

dog weight chartIf your dog is chubby and not eating well, don’t worry about it. If the feeding guide on the food package tells you your dog should be eating more, keeping in mind they’re averaging most (if not all) breeds, and they don’t know your dog’s metabolism and exercise level! (They’re also trying to sell food.)

Also, keep in mind dog treats. If you’re in a training class, you’re giving a lot of extra treats. If you have a small dog, the “few” treats you give might be the size of their head! Take a look at what your dog is eating in relation to their body, and think about it in relative proportion to your body. I couldn’t eat a meal the size of my head!

If you aren’t giving treats and you think, “My dog is chubby, but they seem hungry!” then you should know that dogs are capable of eating pounds of food at once. They scavenge and gorge when they’re able to find food in the wild, then go for days without eating. A sense of feeling full would be a hindrance in that! They also don’t necessarily feel hunger like we do, but they can keep eating, and just like us, they eat for taste. Trust me: your dog isn’t hungry.

Now, what if your dog isn’t overweight and is still a picky eater? First, double check with the vet. This is sign one of worms, and a sign of other problems. But if the vet says, “Nope, everything is fine!” and your dog is still a picky eater, there’s some things you can do.

First, try mixing a little canned food or pumpkin with your dog’s food. (Pumpkin is an intestinal regulator: if your dog’s stool is loose it’ll firm it up, and if it’s too firm it’ll soften it. But better, it’s sweet!) You can also try adding some chicken broth or canned meat of any kind. Obviously, if you do this and your dog doesn’t eat it, throw it out!

Another trick, if you have access to other dogs, is to feed them around dogs. Seeing other dogs eat (or being threatened by having another dog steal their food) will often trigger an eating response. As well, feed your dog when you’re eating, and let them eat near you: dogs eat together, and sometimes that will trigger an eating response, too.

While you’re tempting your dog, there’s a behavioral trick you can use. Give your pup five minutes to eat, and then pick the food up. Don’t feed her again until the next meal, then do the same thing. Most dogs who are uninterested in food can go for about twenty-four hours just nibbling at their food; I’ve seen them go as long as forty-eight before they start actually eating the food when you put it down. (Don’t give them treats; they need to be hungry!)

What’s happening is that you’re creating a scarcity complex. People react to this, too: If someone tells you, “buy this, there are only five left!” your desire to buy it increases. The same thing happens with dogs: if you say, “You only get this for a limited time!” the dogs go, “Holy crap! Better eat it now!” You have to wait for the dogs to get hungry enough to care, but it’ll happen — and then your problem will be resolved. At that point, you can start cutting back on the extra treats in the food to tempt them to eat, and they should keep eating.

Finally, Lily was one of these types of dogs. Now, it didn’t bother me because she self-regulated, but then I switched her to raw food. She LOVED it, and ate rapidly for taste. When I switched her back to kibble after about a year (because she, unlike some, needed the grain and because kibble was easier), she continued to snarf her food. Now, after about five years, she’s slowing down again… but she’s still eating fast enough!

Try these, and I think things will start to improve!

Jenna

Traveling with pets

Hi, all!

Turns out moving is hard on spines. Mine went out, and I’ve spent about a month recovering! Hopefully, though, we’ll be going back to a semi-normal schedule. Starting with…

Travel!

I know a lot of people spend the summer months traveling, and some take their pets. If you travel with your pets often — even if it’s just a trip to downtown — they’ll have an easier time. (This means that if you don’t usually take them in the car, start now!)

I’m going to address road trips, as flying would be a whole other beast!

First: Prep. Hopefully you’ve taken your dog in the car often enough that they’re reasonably calm. If not, start now. You may need to crate them or seatbelt them in the car, and if driving causes them anxiety you might talk to your vet about calming medication. You can also use dramamine for dogs who get car sick (and if you get the drowsy type, you’ll have a quieter ride!).

I would suggest taking along  a collapsible wire crate or x-pen, as well as their bed, food, some bones to chew on (both in the car and when you arrive) and their favorite toy(s). Of these, the most important things are the crate and their food! Make sure your dog is crate trained, and if not check out these posts. Just before you leave, exhaust your dogs. My dogs are older, so exhausting them might mean taking them to the beach the day before and letting them wear themselves out, knowing they’ll be tired for another day or two. It might mean taking dogs for a long walk (an hour at least) before they get in the car. It might be fetch until they’re flopping over, tired. But wearing them out will help immensely.

The drive: Presumably you’ve done all the prep you can at this point. If it’s going to be a drive of more than an hour or two, give your dog some things to chew. My dogs love bison horns, antlers, and kongs stuffed with goodies. My mom, who has small dogs, uses bully sticks. I pick up these things inside the house a week beforehand, so that when they get them in the car it’s new and special again. If your dog won’t chew in the car, give them something good anyway. Maybe after a few hours they’ll change their mind. Maybe not. Either way, it can only help!

If your dogs are experienced travelers, then use your best judgement on when they need to get out and stretch their legs. My dogs are excellent travelers, but if we’re going on a long ride we get out every four hours. I keep my eyes open and find a place where they can be off-leash, safe from cars, such as a large, empty field. If your dogs don’t have a strong recall, take a long rope to tie them to, or make sure you have enough time set aside for a good walk (30 minutes at least). I like to give my dogs five-ten minutes to roam and play, and then — especially if they aren’t playing — we play fetch for ten minutes or so. It’s not enough to exhaust them again, but it takes the edge off! If your dog is easily excited and has a hard time calming down, roaming and walking is a better bet than fetch. You don’t want them amped up when they get back in the car.

Getting there: whether “there” is a hotel for the night, a cabin for the weekend, or your best friend’s house, the actions are the same. In a perfect world, you would unpack without removing your dogs from the car, or leave the car packed so you can deal with the dogs first. Then you would take them for an hour walk and, if you need to unpack, put them in their crates in the house.

The world is never perfect! When I traveled with Cash when he was young, I would take him out of the car and put him directly into his crate in the house. This way, I could unpack and settle in without worrying that he might mark or do anything else he shouldn’t be doing. This is especially the case in someone else’s house! (If that someone else has a dog, this is also a good way to let them check each other out while you’re not able to supervise.) If your dog ever marks, chews, pulls out trash, or does anything else you wouldn’t want them to do, crate them while you’re unpacking.

Now, you’re unpacked. Hooray! Time to deal with dogs.

IF THERE ARE NO OTHER DOGS IN RESIDENCE:
If you’re somewhere dog-free, then you have choices. A young or high energy dog really needs a walk or some play time at this point. Which one you choose depends on how much energy you have! A walk is best. If you’re beat, then playing fetch up and down the hall or around the beds while you enjoy a cup of tea or glass of wine is perfectly fine. Not ideal, but okay. If they’d rather go sniff around and check things out, that’s fine too. Trail them — you don’t have to be in front of them — to see what they’re getting up to. If they’re too interested in something on the floor or the corner of furniture, it’s probably where another dog peed. Chase them off or use a squirt bottle so they know not to pee there, as well! In the future, keep a wary eye on whether or not your dog is headed over there.

If you want to establish new rules, now is the time. When I go somewhere and there’s a section of house or yard I want my dogs to stay out of, I walk into that section and when they try to follow me, I chase them out. They quickly learn the boundary line! Likewise, if I want them to stay off the furniture I sit on something, and when they try to come up I push them off. Praise for being where they should will counteract any negative feelings (and probably bait them to try again, so I can enforce the rule again!).

Show them where the food bowls are, and the door so they can go out and potty. If they’re bell trained, hang your bells so they still have their cue. If you have access to a yard, take them out there and walk the fence to be sure it’s secure while they sniff around. You can do all this with your tea or wine in one hand! If you were able to bring bones or toys, put them where your dog will easily find them (ie, the middle of the floor). If you weren’t, make a pet store (or dollar store) run and get some.

When you leave to tour the sights or when you’re ready for bed, put your dog in his crate. Dogs think that new places have new rules; you don’t want your perfectly behaved dog to decide the new rule is to chew if bored, get on furniture when they aren’t allowed, mark in the house, go through the trash, etc. (If your dog is well trained, you can close them in the bedroom with you at night instead of crating them.)

The next morning, start with a walk, some fetch, their breakfast, and you’re ready to go! If your dog is seeming nervous, keep giving them calming meds from the vet. Keep in mind that this is a new place: they will try to establish new rules, as well. Stay firm with your old rules (or the house rules), and your dog will figure it out quickly. If the house rules are different than your rules, then they’ll soon realize that this place has different rules — no big deal to a dog! When you can’t watch them, crate them. That way they won’t have a chance to break the rules!

IF YOU’RE SOMEWHERE WITH DOGS:
You’ve just finished unloading the car. Yay!

Presumably by now the dogs have had a chance to sniff through the crate. If not — if, for instance, your dog is protective of his crate and so you put him in a room and shut the door — then they need to meet each other. The very best way to do this, especially if they’ve never met, is to put both dogs on leashes and go for a no-sniffing walk. Note the no-sniffing part: they should not be tangling leashes trying to say hi. By the time you’ve walked for five minutes they’ve got each other’s scent without being in each other’s faces, and things will go much more smoothly. Walk until they can walk next to each other; sniffing each other’s cheeks and shoulders while they walk is perfect. Then head back into the house, letting the new dog go first. (This lets the resident dog know that we are allowing him, and we like him.) Take them straight back to the yard if there is one, and release the hounds! The new dog will probably check out the area, while the old dog checks out the new dog. They should start getting along pretty quickly!

When they’ve worked out their kinks and are either playing well or mostly ignoring each other, invite them in. If the old dog is possessive AT ALL over toys, water, or food, then pick up his toys, put down a second water bowl in a different area than the first, and feed them separately. Get some new toys from the pet store or dollar store, nothing of high value (what is high value is determined by what the dogs like best, but usually includes bones), and let them share those.

Typical problems you might encounter would be jealousy/possessiveness of owners, toys, food, beds, and furniture, marking problems, and house rules. It is okay for two dogs to have two separate sets of rules. Dogs are not humans, and won’t object to the unfairness! So, if the old dog is allowed on the couch but you don’t want your dog learning that, it’s okay. If the people you’re visiting don’t allow their dog on the couch but are fine with yours on the couch, that’s okay, too. Always default to the house rules if you want your dog allowed back. Don’t break them just because the owner of the house isn’t in the room! Remember: dog hair doesn’t lie.

Keep the dogs in sight for the first twenty-four hours. Crate your dog when you’re not around to supervise, and watch closely for any wariness or stiffening in either dog. These are signs of discomfort, and should be attended to immediately. You can typically break this up early on by simply calling either dog’s name and giving them a quick pet when they come over. You’ll see these happening if there’s any possessiveness of the above list going on!

Sometimes, formerly housebroken dogs will start marking. If they do so, keep them in sight or crated at all times and take them out to potty frequently. If you see one sniffing intently, chase them off, then take them outside to pee and praise them for pottying outside.

Do not leave the dogs unsupervised overnight; take your dog into your room or put him in his crate! By the time twenty-four hours is over, you’ll know if you need to worry or not. If there have been no mishaps, relax. If there has been some growling or snapping, then casually keep the dogs apart (calling names, for instance, when they get too close) or even put the nosier one (not always the aggressive one) on a leash so you can pull him away when he gets too close to the other dog. Most likely, though, the dogs will be getting along like gangbusters!

Have fun, and safe travels!

Jenna

Dogs and distraction (aka: my house-trained dog keeps peeing in my mom’s house!)

Hi, all!

Well, I packed up Cash, Lily, and Tango and we drove 8 hours to Southern California to visit with my family. We’re having a great time!

Every time we come to SoCal, though, I have this issue with Cash: he pees in my mom’s house. There are only two houses  he pees in — this one, and my friend K’s house. K’s dog had marked all over, and my mom’s dog was unspayed for several years and took some time to housebreak. In both cases, there are GREAT dog scents to replace with his own!

The hardest thing about your dog doing something that you know they know not to do is believing they did it. Did that make sense? Probably not. Let me give an example.

Mom: …I think Cash peed up here.
Me: What? No. He’s housebroken. Are you sure it wasn’t Sheba?
Mom: Sheba lives here and hasn’t peed in the house in a year.
Me: But she used to. Maybe the stress has brought it out?
Mom: That’s more pee than she has.
Me: But Cash is house trained.

Do you see what’s going on here? First, I’m having a hard time believing that Cash did something he knows he’s not supposed to. But even more importantly, what’s going on here is that whether or not it’s Cash, I’m not taking steps to find out or deal with the problem. So. I swallowed my dog-trainer pride several visits ago (it took several visits, I’m embarrassed to admit), and I realized I had a problem.

Now I had a bigger problem: since I hadn’t swallowed my pride earlier, this had become a habit. To fix it, I needed to first assess the situation.

1. He always pees upstairs, on the carpet.
2. He pees both when we’re home and when we’re gone, at night and during the day. There is no specific spot nor a specific time.

Now I can figure out what to do. Ready? Here we go:

First, I started sleeping downstairs. This gives him NO REASON WHATSOEVER to go upstairs. (I can’t sleep downstairs at Christmas, so we’ll have to change things then, but it’s a start.) Next, I chased him downstairs any time I caught him upstairs. I made a big production out of it, hissing my heart out and making him think he was going to die. As soon as his feet hit the downstairs, I stopped. That is his safe zone. I want him to stop going upstairs, because that’s the only common thread: it’s always upstairs. Therefore, he needs to stay downstairs.

The first few days I spend a lot of time either following Cash around (best, so I can catch him and scold him) or keeping him near me (worst, because he’s not learning; I’m just managing). Which I do depends on how much energy I have. Everyone needs breaks, and I know my own limits! Sometimes I even put him outside to play, so I don’t have to think about it.

At night, he stays in the bedroom with me so he can’t sneak off and pee somewhere. This means I don’t get much sleep, and I need some extra decaf coffee in the morning. (The sugar matters. *grins*)

I know after a few days of this, we’re probably in the clear. Regardless, I go check upstairs daily because I need to know if it’s working! If he sneaks off, I go follow him as quietly as possible.

When I’m tired and cranky and I want to throttle him, I take a deep breath and I remember: there will be setbacks. We are dealing with this. It’s not a personal shame that my dog has accidents. Now, take a look at the title of this blog post: Dogs and distractions. An unneutered, male dog in a new place, with new scents, and new dogs and new people, left to his own devices, might just get swept up in a really cool scent and want to tell the OTHER dogs, “Hey, I was here too!” In that moment, he might be too excited to remember what he’s supposed to do human-wise, and instead follow what his instincts say he’s supposed to do. Which is, leave his calling card — urine.

This is my job: remember that my dog is distracted. My dog, like all other dogs, is imperfect. If I can acknowledge that this is just him, being a dog and managing a human world as best he can — with occasional slip-ups — then I remember that I just need to guide him through it when he forgets. I also need to remember that he’s most likely to forget when he’s distracted. Doesn’t that sound compassionate and happy? It involves a lot of deep breaths and grinding of teeth!

So, next time your dog does the unexpected… remember that it’s not a reflection on you. Take a deep breath. Stop grinding your teeth. Accept that it happened, and take steps to solve it! It, or something like it, will happen again when your dog is distracted. Life is better when I’m not a perfectionist. *grins*

Jenna

Fear behavior and training

More videos today! A picture says a thousand words, and a video… well, it says a lot more.

Riley is a lab mix with a lot of fear behaviors. She’s a little timid in the first place, so her owner (Doris) and I do a lot to make sure her confidence stays high, and she meets new (scary) things in positive situations. I first introduced Riley to her new backpack a couple of days before this video was taken. It took about 20 minutes to get her calm around it, to see that it was no big deal. I did all of the same things you’ll see in the video, just at tinier increments. (So instead of flopping it on her shoulder, I started flopping it on the floor, then her leg, then up her body to her shoulder.)

This is the second time Riley has had her backpack on, and I videoed it for Doris so she could see what I’d done. Doris is kind enough to let me show the video to everyone!

A few things to note: in the first video, her body language is anxious. She’s willing to try, but she’s very nervous. You can see this in the way her tail and lower back are pinched (spine is stiff = negative emotional state). I move forward anyway. If she’s willing to try, then I know that it’s just a matter of time before she’s comfortable. I move forward, because if I introduce a slightly harder thing, then that anxiety-provoking thing of a moment before becomes easy. If a dog starts retreating, you know you pushed too fast, and you just back off to where they’re comfortable again and give them more time. Dogs are excellent communicators: they’ll tell you when it’s too much!

Around the 2:30 mark, I say, “I’m pulling it off in the most obnoxious way possible.” This goes back to the idea that I don’t want to be careful about anything, because the backpack isn’t going to be careful about not catching on stuff or, if a strap breaks, falling off. So I want the most obnoxious thing possible to happen in a controlled setting so she sees it’s not scary.

At the 2:44 mark she puts herself in her crate, and I talk about this a little bit. I wait for her to come to me again because she’s been willing to try. If she were to say she’s going to put herself in her crate and not try at all, I would bring her (i.e., drag her if I had to) slightly closer, and then praise her for it. If she’s willing to try, I’m willing to give her space. If she’s not willing to try, I’m going to tell her she has to try just one step, and then praise. That way, she’ll figure out that bravery is rewarded.

At the 3:50 mark you’ll notice I can’t get the backpack hooked before she walks away. I stop trying, because restraining her is more stressful than the backpack falling. Why? Well, we’ve worked on the backpack falling! That’s not scary anymore, and I want her to know she can retreat if she needs to.

Got all that? Great! Onto the video!

Now, when we came back from our walk we did a minor version, for reasons I explain in this second video. I also did it in a different way: I stood up. Note that her tail and lower back are no longer pinched: after a 50 minute walk, all that worry about new stuff was gone. She’d had time to get accustomed to it!

(As an aside: I do not recommend prong collars for most dogs with fear and anxiety issues. Riley has one because she learned to walk perfectly without it so we don’t need to use it often, and it therefore doesn’t increase her anxiety. Believe me, we’ve kept a very close eye on how she’s reacting in general, and how she’s reacting to that! The prong collar is used specifically to help her petite mother keep her from jumping on people, which is the current issue we’re working on.)

There you go! Riley’s mom says: “Every time I go touch her backpack, she gets all excited.” Hooray!

Jenna

 

 

FAQ: Help! The office dog is fear-aggressive toward men!

I recently got this email from a friend, and am re-printing it and my response with permission! (If you would like to email in for advice, you can reach me at jenna.b.mcdonald [at] gmail [dot] com. Including a video will get a much more specific response!)

Hey Jenna,

Here’s the breakdown on the office dog of incredible noisiness. He’s about 5/6 years old, debatable breed (picture attached), abused by men in his puppyhood, and adopted by Headbossman at around the age of 1 – 2 (ish). 

 

His major issue is fear, especially of men. He’ll bark uncontrollably at any man who comes into the office or walks by the office, even coworkers he’s known for months and years. The only men he’s comfortable with are Headbossman (who he’s super attached to and really clingy about), and me.

 

Some women he’ll freak out over, and some he’ll ignore. 

 

When he freaks out, he’ll do these little aborted lunges, sort of mock-charging the person who’s scaring him. If the person walks toward him, he’ll back up fast but keep barking the whole time. To my knowledge, he’s never snapped at or bitten anyone; I’ve never seen him snarl or be overtly aggressive, just noisy.

 

He’ll shut up when I yell at him, and he’ll kind of quasi shut up if Headbossman or Ladyboss (who he adores) yell at him. He spends a lot of his time in the office hiding under Ladyboss’s desk or headbossman’s desk. Sometimes he’ll just bark from under the desk. 

 

If we shut him up in a back office, he’ll bark and bark for hours. So that’s not at all effective. 

 

I can definitely get a squirt bottle, bully sticks, and walk him in the middle of the day. I’d really appreciate if you could give me a battle strategy, or he’s going to end up a casualty of war. >.>

 

R

Hopefully he hasn’t ended up a casualty of war yet! 😉

Okay, what you’re describing is fear aggression. I’m going to give you several scenarios at once.

First of all, everything we do with him we do as gently as possible. Very firm, very, VERY gentle. Dogs who are so fearful that they stop thinking and just start attacking everything (ie, are fear aggressive) have no confidence in themselves and no confidence or trust in the humans around them. It would be like living with grizzly bears. We want to convince him that you’re not a grizzly bear; you’re a dog in human skin. This means lots of encouragement and as gentle as possible corrections until he learns that you’re not going to attack and hurt him.

Next, walk him. When you walk a dog they start to trust you, they learn some basic rules, and best of all, they’re too tired to argue! A twenty minute walk every other day is enough. If he never gets walked, a ten minute walk every day is even better. (Since he isn’t your dog, this would have the added benefit of encouraging him to trust you. Training will be easier if he comes out from under Ladyboss’s desk.) Give him lots of treats and encouragement on his walk, so he looks to you for food and some rules. This is setting him up later, so he’ll look to you when men come in the office! Also give gentle (gentle!) tugs when he walks ahead, tugging straight up, until he drops back beside you. Be persistent; we’re nagging into good behavior, rather than demanding it right off.

When things are calm and quiet in the office, start calling him over and giving him treats. (My dogs LOVE “Canine Carry-Outs.” You can get them at Target or most pet stores, and break off little pieces.) If he won’t come out from Ladyboss’s desk at first (which is highly likely), just say his name to get his attention, and toss the treat toward him. Continue doing so, with a shorter toss each time, until he’ll come out and get it. This might take several days, with backsliding at first.That’s normal! What we’re doing here is teaching him to come to you. When you’re sure he’ll come for a treat, then start saying, “[Name], come,” as he’s coming toward you. (Make sure he’s actually going to come: we want to trick him into thinking he has to when you tell him, because he does it every time!)

The other thing you’re going to start at the same time is no more yelling. When a dog starts barking, and you yell, they think you’re barking too. It actually encourages the barking and carrying on. By the time you’re being forceful enough to break through his barking haze and make him realize you’re “barking” at him, you’re so forceful that he’s going to be afraid you’ll hurt him. (I am using “you” as a general term here.)

So, this is all set up. You can do set up and training at the same time. The more you do set up, the faster training will go.

Training:

There are a couple of things that would be easiest to solve the barking problem. One would be to use a squirt bottle. When he starts barking, don’t say anything, just lean under the desk and start squirting him. Squirt bottles are great because they startle dogs out of bad behaviors without causing stress or anxiety. Something about being squirted doesn’t tend to scare them or increase aggression, it just makes them go, “What the heck–?!” I suppose it would do the same thing to me! This is telling him, “Don’t be aggressive.” Once you’re breaking through the barking with a few squirts, use a noise just for him. It can be a command (“No barking”) or a noise (“Hssst!”) or anything else, but it needs to be something you can say in a deep, calm voice that is only for him. You say the noise and squirt at the same time; he should start pairing the two pretty quick, so that he stops barking when he hears that noise. Again, this is stopping the aggression. If your boss doesn’t want you squirting her dog, skip to the next step below. It will take a LOT longer to stop the barking, but it will work slowly but surely.

The next step is stopping the fear, so he doesn’t snap at someone, or have an unexpected outburst some day. To do that, we want to teach him to come to you for protection, and to be calm enough to realize men aren’t that bad.

To teach him to come to you for protection (or to get him to stop barking without a squirt bottle) it’s easiest to put a leash on him and let him drag it around. When he starts barking use your squirt bottle until he stops. (If you aren’t using a squirt bottle, just grab his leash.) Then grab his leash, say “come,” pull him to you, get his attention with a treat (put it practically on his nose, and when he starts to notice it draw it toward your face until he looks at you), give him the treat, and praise him for coming to you. DO NOT let the stranger pet him. Your job is to protect him!

If your boss doesn’t want you doing either of these, you can wait until he’s calmed enough to be thinking, THEN catch his attention (finger snapping is usually good), show him a treat, call him over, and give it to him while praising him for being quiet. As he starts to realize that he’s going to get a treat shortly after he stops barking, he’ll stop barking faster and faster, and soon when you see a guy coming to the door you can call the dog and give him a treat while the stranger comes in.

Now, when he starts calming down overall, what you’ll find is that a stranger comes in, he gets his treat, and then he goes and barks. This just means you need to keep giving him treats. It will give him something else to focus on other than the stranger coming in. He’s addicted to barking: he needs a distraction, and that’s food! If you stop, he’ll probably start growling and head over to bark. Call him back, praise him for coming, give him a treat when he looks at you. (Always treat while he’s looking at you: if you give him a treat while he’s staring at the stranger, you’re rewarding aggression!) This treat business gives him a chance to calm down long enough to realize that the stranger isn’t hurting him, and that he gets food when he sees strangers — always a plus! You can also give him bully sticks that are “special stranger” bully sticks: take it away when the men leave, so he associates getting his special treat only when there are strangers in the office. (Kongs with peanut butter are also good. Do not do this if he’s treat aggressive, or be prepared to squirt him to get it back.)

The other reason to work with treats after he’s stopped barking is because if he’s fear-aggressive, it’ll just come out some other way unless you give him an alternate option. His alternate option is to run away and hide, which we reward. That way, he’s not cowering under Ladyboss’s desk waiting for the next terror to strike and letting that fear build until he snaps at the next man who sits down in front of Ladyboss’s desk: he can act (run away) and be praised for it instead.

So, in short:

Start walking him to build trust and wear him out.

Stop yelling at him when men come in: he thinks you’re barking, too.

Teach him “come” by calling him and giving him a treat.

When men come in you can either:

1. Squirt him until he stops barking, then call him over — pulling on his leash if you need to — and reward his good bravery by protecting him and giving him a treat.

2. Just pull on his leash, protect him, give him a treat for coming.

3. Wait for him to calm enough to think again, call him over, give him a treat. Do so sooner as he starts to calm down faster.

I hope that helps! Figure it’ll take about two weeks to really be much better, down to a bark or two before he stops and runs to you (assuming you get a couple of guys in an average day). Let me know if anything needs clarification!Jenna

*Update: About a week later R emailed to let me know that though the Office Dog Of Incredible Noisiness hadn’t yet gotten brave, the barking was decreasing rapidly and he was starting to come to his name. Huzzah!

Bringing baby home

So, you’ve had a baby! Congratulations!

And you have a dog — congratulations there, too! We want to make sure everyone gets along.

There’s two main theories for dogs and babies: One is that if we create positive associations with the baby, the dog will like her. The other is that we want the dog to avoid the baby. Personally, I’m a proponent of the latter. If my dog likes a baby, they’re going to want to lick and sniff and take care of them. They’re going to be happy, maybe even excited, when they see the baby. That’s all well and good, but dogs can sniff babies hard enough to bruise, and excited dogs run around and trample little, unmoving babies. On top of that, most dogs like babies, and even if my dog doesn’t like my baby to start out with, the baby is here to stay: once the dog realizes that, they’ll start getting along. I don’t, therefore, feel the need to create positive associations: those will happen naturally.

So, I want my dog to be very, very gentle, respectful, and little cautious of my baby. But let’s back up.

Congratulations! You’re still recovering, while some other family member preps any last minute stuff. This includes your dog. Your baby is going to smell like you when they’re new, but we can prep your dog a little more than that. Take home a baby blanket that smells like your baby, and let your dog sniff it. Leave it in your dog’s bed or crate. This is their chance to realize that someone new is coming and this is what they smell like! (If you had a home birth, your dog should NOT have been in the room with you, so this doesn’t change.)

Once you come home and walk in the door, training starts. (If you don’t have the wherewithal for training, put your dog away until you do.) This will take two people: one to hold the baby, and the other to work with your dog.

Tell your dog that no, they can’t sniff what’s in your arms. They already got a whiff via the baby blanket: they don’t need to come close to realize this is the origin of that smell! Sit down on the couch, and again tell your dog that no, they don’t need to come close to examine.  (You can use a squirt bottle or a quick push to keep your dog away: this is up to you.) Your dog should get no closer than a foot within the baby.

We’re doing two things here: first, we’re establishing that your dog has to be so, so, SO careful and gentle around the baby. Second, we’re establishing that the dog isn’t allowed to come near the baby without being invited. We want this to be automatic, so that when your dog gets excited and runs around, they’re more likely to avoid running over the baby.

Once your dog is standing at a distance, stretching their nose out soooo faaaaar to try and get a whiff of that baby smell, then you can pet them and praise them and tell them they’re wonderful and loved. You can even, if you’re feeling all right about it, bring the baby closer. When your dog starts sniffing too hard, give them a nudge away and back off. (“Too hard” is touching the baby. We’re teaching more carefulness than we want, so that when our dog isn’t thinking, they’re as careful as we need them to be.)

Keep doing variations of this over the next several days. Also keep giving him baby blankets, so the smell is always fresh in his bed or crate. We want him to know this baby is part of the pack, and here to stay!

Now, when your dog gets to playing over the next week, the rule is this: No playing in the room with the baby. Stop any rough or running play right away with a squirt bottle or a time-out, and encourage play when the baby isn’t in the room. We’re trying to establish that, again, if your dog is running and charges somewhere, only to see the baby, he won’t run over the baby and hurt her. We want his first reaction to be, “Whoops! Careful!”

When the baby starts crawling or scooting, it will be verrry interesting to your dog. Squirt or nudge the dog away. We want them to learn not to “play” with the baby, even though it can finally move. They won’t realize that babies aren’t like puppies: they can’t do much! We also want your dog to internalize the idea that when the baby is doing weird things, running away is always the best option. Any time your dog leaves the baby, give them a treat. This is prep for when your baby starts standing, and is looking for a handhold to grab onto. We don’t want it to be your dog! Therefore, your dog needs to have distance from the baby, and also to know that running away is the smart thing to do.

After all this, you might be thinking, “But I want my dog to like my child! I want them to play together!” Don’t worry — they still will. As your baby becomes a toddler, and then a small child, you’ll become lax in these rules. The dog running nearby won’t be so dangerous, so you’ll stop correcting for it so much. (Behaviors like playing in the room with the baby will never fully go away: they’ll just lessen, and your dog will become more aware of where your baby is at any given time.) Your child will start baiting the dog into playing, and your dog will realize that it’s okay now. They’ll still be friends! They’ll just be safe friends.

Lastly, if you have a dog that has nipped or growled at people before, call a dog trainer. I can’t emphasize this enough. It’s not worth risking your baby’s face and your dog’s life to save a few hundred dollars. For all dogs everywhere, encourage them to run away when unsure about the baby or when the baby approaches, by giving praise and treats when your dog leaves. If he never leaves, then pull him away and give praise and treats. Again, this is worth your baby’s face and hands or your dog’s life.

Jenna