Why We Refuse to Board and Train

Just this month I was asked by two people (a fellow Karen Pryor Academy trainer, and a Toronto veterinarian) whether I do board and train or whether I had referrals for trainers that did.

My response to them was this:

“Most board and train facilities are terrible and rely on very harsh, physical punishment as their primary training tools. This includes choke chains, prong collars, and definitely shock collar training. This includes a number of popular board and trainers that operate in Toronto out of their homes.”

There are dozens of “dog trainers” operating in the GTA that train owner’s dogs without the owner present. And often enough, cases of abuse come to light. Two examples from recent history include:

Samantha Brown of Lead The Way Sam in Mississauga – Fined $2000 for causing distress to an animal

http://www.torontosun.com/news/torontoandgta/2010/03/03/13099826.html

Craig Wright of FACW K9 of Oshawa – Convincted of Animal Cruelty

http://www.durhamregion.com/news-story/4323863-oshawa-dog-trainer-convicted-of-animal-cruelty/

And the latest to emerge is the alleged cruelty inflicted upon a Toronto dog, White Socks:

justiceforwhitesocks

White Socks’ full story can be read here:

https://www.gofundme.com/uptqes

But in brief, in a mere 8 days of a board and train stay, there is clear visible evidence of:

  • Wounds to the neck area caused by either prong collar or shock collar (both tools were confirmed to be used)
  • Stress-induced colitis – White Socks did not eat for 7 days and was pooping blood
  • Starvation – In a mere 8 days he lost 4 lbs.

 

The owners pulled White Socks out on Day 8 of a 30 day stay and immediately sought veterinary care. Imagine what would have happened if he had remained for the entire 30 days…

For some reason, despite stories from 2010 and 2014 of cases such as those highlighted earlier, people continue to sign up their dogs for lengthy and costly board and train services. My intention in this blog post is to clearly argue why we do not support board and train services, nor offer them.

Board and Trainers Usually Rely on Harsh Physical Aversives

Board and Train services are popular amongst trainers that rely on shock collars and prong collars, because normal human beings that care about the welfare of animals would intervene and stop someone from using these tools on their beloved pet if they were there to bear witness. In a board and train facility, the training is done out of sight, so these trainers can inflict whatever level of aversive they feel necessary to get the job done. In the cases above, dogs suffer severe psychological and physical trauma. Dogs have even died in board and train facilities. Would you send your dog to a place like this where injury or death could occur?

Dog’s Do Not Generalize Well

If the training occurs on a barn or a house somewhere far away, the training done will not automatically translate back into your home, your property, and your neighbourhood. Therefore, the majority of the training should occur in the dog’s home and neighbourhood, which means the majority of the training needs to be done by the owner.

Behaviour Modification is a Lifestyle Change, Not a Procedure

Don’t like the fact your dog pulls on leash? If you walk your dog three times a day, it would only take a week or two of not reinforcing Loose-Leash Walking for all the board and train work to unravel. Your dog barks at strangers? Unless you continue to intervene and follow training protocols, any headway made in a few weeks of board and train will quickly dissipate.

This is why our focus as a dog training school is to teach owners how to train their dogs. It must become second nature to the owners how to reinforce desirable behaviour and become a lifestyle change for long-term behaviour change to occur. A couple of hours of “handover” training done at the end of a board and train is not enough to time for behaviour change in the owner to stick.

In Board and Train, The Dog’s Best Interest Comes Last

If I were taking $3000 from an owner and board and training a dog, I would feel immense pressure to “get the job done” and return a fixed dog. Unfortunately, dogs are not cars, and I cannot accurately predict how much time and effort is required to make improvement. If towards the end of a board and train session, I’ve failed to make good progress, I would feel pressured to rush and push the dog beyond what is appropriate, safe, or humane.

How long does it take to improve behaviour in a dog? The answer is, however long it takes. Board and train puts immense pressure on a trainer, sets expectations for the owner far too high, and the one who suffers for that is the dog.

When we help owners and their dogs, sometimes we see immense improvements in just a week or two (of the owner working daily on their own). In other cases, it’s a process that lasts the entire dog’s life. To impose timeframes and expectations is in conflict with our code of ethics to have the animal’s best interests at heart.

Working With Owners is Reinforcing for Us!

Instructors at When Hounds Fly are dog people for sure – but we’re also into people. Coaching people to become excellent dog trainers, seeing their progress, and hearing firsthand of the improvements they see in their relationships with their dogs – thanks to their own hard work – that’s what motivates us to keep on working.


In summary – board and train? Don’t do it! Most positive reinforcement trainers don’t offer it as a service, for the reasons above. Let us teach you how to train your dog, and you’ll see how it’s not a chore – it’s actually a lot of fun!

 

P.S. – One exception to our board and train rule is at Canine Country Kennels in Barrie, their board and train is done by Katherine Ferger, who is a very experienced Karen Pryor Academy trainer. However, as mentioned in the article, for the benefits to stick, the owners have to learn how to be excellent clicker trainers at home as well.

If Not You, Then Who?

Dear Dog Training Professional:

If I know you’re good, you’ve gotten referrals from me.

I don’t travel far to see clients, and neither do the other trainers here. My general rule of thumb is, if I can’t bike there in 20 minutes from one of our locations, then it’s too far. I have my reasons – carbon footprint (I bike to most of my appointments), spending time helping people and their dogs (not stuck in traffic), amongst others.

As a result, over the last six years, I’ve maintained relationships with dog training professionals across the Toronto area, and this is why we refer people to dog trainers, behaviour consultants, and if appropriate, veterinary behaviourists in North York, Richmond Hill, Mississauga, and beyond.

I attend the same continuing education seminars they attend. They take many of the same online courses I have. They’ve read the same books. They have completed programs with the Pat Miller Academy, Karen Pryor Academy, or Jean Donaldson’s Academy For Dog Trainers.

By what they blog about, post on Facebook, and the education they have, I know they are good. That’s why I refer people to them.

Referrals Gone Wrong

Recently, I referred group class clients of ours to a dog trainer colleague who operates north of the 401 (beyond where we travel for in-home lessons). She provided private lessons in-home for a variety of things, including basic clicker training, and some help getting their dog to be less anxious in busy traffic using basic desensitization and counter-conditioning protocols. Our clients spoke highly of HER services.

I was, however, surprised to hear that when our mutual client’s dog had nipped a stranger entering the house, the colleague who I referred to them said it was beyond her level of expertise and comfort, and instead, referred to ANOTHER trainer with experience with “aggression” issues.

The OTHER trainer told the client that the reason why their dog nipped a stranger in the house is because he is coddled excessively.

… wait just a minute?

The Four Stages of Competence

Why did she (who I will call Dog Trainer Colleague Who Undersells Themselves), who actually HAS this knowledge, second-guess herself and question her own abilities?

Why did she pass off our client to such a Dog Trainer Charlatan? It takes only a small amount of knowledge around learning theory (specifically, associative learning in this case) to know that coddling does not contribute to a dog nipping a stranger in the house.

Why do these Dog Trainer Charlatans have such confidence to take on cases involving fear and aggression, when they are so ignorant of even undergraduate level psychology?

It’s because the more you know, the less you feel you know.

And the less you know, the more likely you are to feel like you know everything.

The Four Stages of Competence is a learning model developed in the 1970s that I frequently think about when learning any new skill. These are definitions both textbook but also with some of my own opinion added in. The stages are:

  1. Unconscious Incompetence – The individual does not understand or know of something, or recognize there is any knowledge deficit. They are blissfully unaware of their own incompetence and as a result are grossly overconfident.
  2. Conscious Incompetence – The individual does not understand something, but is conscious of the fact there is a knowledge and skill deficit. They are aware of their own incompetence and as a result, can self-assess what he or she is capable of doing, or not capable of doing.
  3. Conscious Competence – The individual has acquired the knowledge and skill to perform the tasks in question, but it’s new, so it requires a lot of concentration. It needs to be broken down into small steps as executed, and as a result, not a lot of deviation, experimentation occurs when performing the task.
  4. Unconscious Competence – Mastery achieved through thousands of hours of practice. Tasks can be done effortlessly and because of this, it’s possible for the individual to deviate, experiment, and innovate as they perform their craft.

 

Dog Trainer Charlatan – Has been stuck in Stage 1 for so long, they are blissfully unaware of the fact they are ignorant beyond belief, and BELIEVE they are qualified to help people with dogs with serious issues, and tell people so. They’re totally unaware they are unqualified and basically just making shit up and winging it.

Dog Trainer Colleague Who Undersells Themselves – Is really in Stage 3 or possibly Stage 4, but for whatever reason, is stuck on the self-doubt associated with Stage 2. They know their stuff, but is hesitant because of their mindset or perhaps lack of a support system.

This phenomenon (Underqualified people being overly confident in their ability / Qualified people being under-confident) is actually a *thing* – the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled persons mistakenly assess their ability to be much higher than it really is. The collary effect – highly skilled persons underestimate their relative competence.

What Does This Mean For Consumers?

If a dog owner has a serious issue on their hands (example: Dog has bitten neighbour, Level 3 bite, puncture) and they contact 5 dog trainers – I’d bet that 3 of these trainers will have sufficient qualifications and skills, and 2 of these trainers will be unskilled charlatans.

The odds of this dog owner ending up one of the unqualified 2 is very high.

The first 3 trainers are the most qualified, but because of their knowledge, they are thoughtful in their self-assessment and may be reluctant to take cases like this because they’ve yet to earn enough CEUs (Continuing Education Units) from seminars on people-directed aggression, or haven’t done their Level 3 workshop yet with Pat Miller, or would want to have an Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) supervising their consultation, but don’t have one in their network.

The last 2 charlatans are blissfully ignorant – they’ve watched all four seasons of The Dog Whisperer, had some feral dogs growing up and “tamed” them, and don’t know what they don’t even know.

The sad truth of the matter is, based on the cognitive biases of all 5 trainers, it’s likely this dog is going to end up with the least qualified person available to help it. Those that are good enough believe they aren’t good enough, and those that are unqualified think they are qualified.

Charlatans Take Any Dog, All Cases, No Challenge Too Great!

If you are that dog training professional that has invested the time and actually understands concepts like desensitization, associative learning, and abides by frameworks such as Dr. Susan Friedman’s Humane Hierarchy, I’m writing this for YOU.

I respect you may have limits to the types of cases you take on, but you need to understand what happens when you say no.

The consumer (and their dogs) end up with unqualified hacks that employ harsh aversives, flooding, and just downright crappy behaviour modification. In the most frightening cases, they believe they are qualified to help dogs with cognitive and neurological disorders. Here are some examples of their expertise in action:


Over-threshold exposures, many leash corrections (mild but ineffective aversives), flooding (dog forced to stay in area until it is physically exhausted)


Fearful dogs forced outside, any option to flee removed. Flooding and learned helplessness. Sensitization is likely to occur, including new stimulus (children walking on the street may now exhibit a fear response)


Aggressive dogs subjected to triggers at full intensity, then hit with very severe aversives. Aggressive displays suppressed, now strangers get to pet the dog (and get bit in the face since all warning signs have been punished). This trainer may know how to title a dog in Schutzhund, but he has a lot to learn about behaviour modification.

If Not You, Then Who?

If we do not step up and help dogs with fear, anxiety, and aggression issues, dogs with these issues end up with these people. The misguided belief that you need to use aversives to stop aggressive behavior will build momentum, since the only people that end up taking these cases only know how to use flooding and aversives.

Please take a moment to reflect on your own knowledge and skill. Even if you are less experienced, your advice is unlikely to cause harm, whereas the dogs suffering under the hand of these charlatans can end up much worse. Look for mentors, organizations, and your own alumni groups where you can get help when you are stuck, and don’t be afraid to be stuck and get help – it’s the only way you’ll grow.

If you are reading this because you own a dog with a serious problem and you’re looking for a professional to help, I hope this article was helpful as well. For you, I have some videos of what I consider good behaviour modification below.

 

 

Sincerely,

Andre Yeu, CPDT-KA, KPA CTP

 

Examples of Good Behaviour Modification:

Systematic Desensitization and Counter-Conditioning to change a dog’s emotional response to scooters.


Protocol for Relaxation for Fearful Dogs- Using classical conditioning to condition calm feelings on a mat, and bringing that mat to progressively difficult scenarios while remaining under threshold (desensitization/counter-conditioning)


Nail Trims – Using clicker training (operant conditioning, R+ quadrant) to shape a willing nail-trim from this dog that formerly had to be tackled and held wearing leather gauntlets because he bit people trying to cut his nails. All while under threshold.


Dog Reactivity – Engage-Disengage, using clicker training (operant conditioning, R+ quadrant) to train an incompatible behaviour to lunge, pull, and bite other dogs. All while under threshold.

 

My Dog Barks at Dogs and People Out The Window

dogs barking at people and dogs through window

Perhaps you know the house on your street where as soon as you walk by, you are greeted by a frantic and not-so-friendly sounding bark and bump on a glass window?

dogs barking at people and dogs through window

Oh look, there’s that dog – he always barks at us when we walk by this house.

Many owners think that letting their dog stare out the window is a way to let their dog “enjoy” the view while they are left home alone and that it’s a form of relaxation. After all, we love sitting on our porches in the summer and letting the world pass us by, right?

Unfortunately, allowing your dog to stare out windows when unsupervised is potentially a very harmful activity, and in a relatively short amount of time, can cause your dog to bark and lunge aggressively at dogs and people on the street. It also prevents them from resting – they are always hyper vigilant for very long durations, every day, and unable to truly relax and de-stress.

Typically, a well-socialized and friendly dog is given access to their new window ledge in his new home (or sometimes even access to a window in a lower-storey condo). He sees a dog being walked on the street, and gets excited because he want to go visit the dog to socialize. But, he can’t! He’s stuck behind glass. He feels disappointed and also frustrated.

Every single day, he sits at the window, and classical conditioning is occurring. The sight of people walking by causes excitement, and then frustration at the fact he is stuck behind a glass window. Soon, instead of being happy to see a dog and person on the street, he immediately feels frustrated and eventually angry. This is called barrier frustration.

A lot of times, this conditioned emotional response to people and dogs on the street generalizes to not just when inside, but also when outside on a leash walk. Now, the dog that barks and lunges at things behind the window also does this when outside on leash walks.

After months or even years of this conditioning – the frustration builds up to a point where some dogs, if allowed to rush out the front door left ajar, will run out and actually bite someone walking by. After tens of thousands of people and dogs walking by, the frustration has transformed into serious aggression. This is also called “chain rage”, where dogs on tie outs in suburban and rural property become highly aggressive due to years of barrier frustration.

To avoid this problem, never allow your dog to have unsupervised access to look out windows, or even in the yard through fences. Don’t leave your dog in the yard all day while you’re at work. Instead, restrict access when they’re unsupervised through window coverings, privacy film, crating/confinement, or simply preventing access to the room these windows are in. When you’re with your dog by the window or yard, and they notice people and dogs walking by your property, mark and reinforce them with food, play, and praise, for calmly noticing passerbys, so you help train behavior and condition positive associations with passerbys.

Well Socialized? No, Well Traumatized

Saturday Afternoon, 3:00PM, Trinity Bellwoods Dog Bowl

This weekend I caught up with a couple that had taken group classes in the summer. Their roughly two year old rescue lab mix had been doing great. Right after adoption, leash pulling was their major problem, and they were proud (and I was pleasantly surprised!) that just six months later, the dog walked on a loose leash, even on the way to the dog park, and all they did to create that was click then treat for walking on a loose leash (They were able to totally fade out food reinforcement for leash walking very quickly they remarked).

They hired me for a private lesson because they observed and their dog walker observed that their dog was being rude with other dogs at the dog park. First, lots of mounting and humping. Second, chasing down and harassing dogs that were nervous or had “given up”. Third, grappling other dogs by their collars during wrestling.

Our appointment was for 3pm on Saturday afternoon, and after meeting at the school, we walked towards Trinity Bellwoods to enter the dog bowl – the official off-leash area for dogs in the park, so I could observe their dog’s behaviour and offer suggestions on what to do to improve it.

We started off by having her to some basic exercises (sit, down, offering attention, etc.) and then we released her to go play.

She found a Golden Retriever and proceeded to wrestle, and very quickly mounted and humped him. “Too bad!” I said, as I went to get her, moved her away by her harness, and leashed her up. Timeout time.

We tried again in a minute, and this time she ran into the mix of dogs at the park. Within a few seconds, a Doberman, German Shepherd, and Rottie mix started chasing her. It was starting to look ugly. She ran and ran, and eventually came to a halt, and offered appeasement signals (c-shaped spine, head low, whale eye, pinned ears) and the pack of three dogs wouldn’t let up. I ran into the group and physically shielded her from all three, and the owner of the Doberman saw me do this and proceeded to collect his dog. The remaining two dogs moved on by themselves. Their owners were absent.

THIS is what an unhappy dog looks like. The Ridgeback is being a jerk.
She looked just like the Beagle in this picture. Owner intervention required ASAP!(Photo courtesy of Paivi Reijonen)

 

I moved with my clients’ to the other side of the bowl and we let her go again. This time, she found a slightly smaller mixed breed dog and started giving chase. She was now chasing down a dog and making him feel uncomfortable! The same appeasement signals were being offered. We jumped in and quickly timed out our dog. What a hypocrite, we all thought!

Off in the distance, the three dogs that were bullying my clients’ dog were doing it to somebody else’s dog, but this time, no one was intervening. We had enough distance so I wasn’t concerned about my clients’ dog’s well being. But somebody’s dog was not very happy.

On the way out, our clients’ dog went to visit the German Shepherd. He told her off, hard, just because she entered his space. She got the hint and we moved on. Another dog went to visit the German Shepherd, and he got told off. I quickly realized that the Shepherd was resource guarding his owners. Yet they had brought their resource guarding dog and were just sitting around the dog bowl thinking nothing of it.

THIS is What Goes On?

I don’t go to these parks with my own dogs. I forget what goes on in places like this. Enclosed spaces devoid of anything interesting where too many dogs hang out – understimulated by the environment, but overaroused by other dogs. Too many people think that these dogs are playing and having fun. They were not. There was serious bullying and overarousal going on.

Today at lunch something connected. I get a lot of aggression cases where clients report that their dog was “well socialized” and spent a lot of time at the dog park. What I came to realize is all the owners with their dogs at the dog bowl that day were there because they really think that’s what the definition of dog socialization is, and that’s what dog play looks like.

If you took the average dog and had them stay in a poisoned environment like that for any length of time for weeks or months, I would be surprised if that dog did not develop an aggression problem. All that happens is dogs get bullied, these dogs learn that other dogs can be dangerous or threatening, my owners don’t help me at all, and the only way to get relief is to fight for it.

THIS is Normal


This is a video from a nearby park of two dogs meeting. One is trying a bit too hard. (OK, mine, the Beagle). The other dog offers some calming signals (head turn, look away, lay down) to communicate some discomfort. For the most part the Beagle backs off and the video ends with him reciprocating a head turn. After that the two just went off and did their own thing.

This is a video of Rachael taking a group of dogs out for a hike. This would be a great example of an alternative to being taken to a concrete, paved dog run.

THIS is NOT Healthy – But Sadly Normal at Dog Parks

In this above video by Sue Sternberg, you can see a small dog doing appeasement gestures and clearly asking for help.  Owner intervention is required immediately. If I owned the little dog I would body-block him and even just pick him up and immediately leave the park. If this dog is repeatedly taken to the dog park and experiences this, I have no doubt he will develop a serious dog aggression problem very quickly.

Excuses, Excuses

“Oh, but that’s how dogs play”

“My dog likes playing rough”

“Your dog needs to toughen up!”

“Let them work it out.”

Too commonly heard at places like the dog bowl. All wrong. That’s why I don’t go to places like that anymore, especially when it is busy.

Recognize Oncoming Disasters When You See Them

This is why I cringe a little when I hear of my clients’ taking their puppies to the dog park. I hope they have learned what we have taught them in puppy class, so they can identify what is good play and what is bullying. I also hope that they don’t unlearn due to the off-repeated mantras that well-intentioned but really uneducated owners parrot at dog parks. This Saturday afternoon at the dog bowl was a mess. Recognize a disaster in the making when you see it and keep your dog safe. Socialize, don’t traumatize your dog.

(Updated – Nov 19: A couple of commenters with a good eye did point out that the original video I used from puppy class wasn’t the best example. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WehLVdUPHpc – Things pointed out were tail tucked, trying to climb into person’s legs etc. for relief. So I am switching it out for another video that is a better example,  I hope. The Springer and Beagle were good friends by the end of class and in future socialization classes though, so don’t worry about her!)

Good Behaviour Depends on Good Health

Finnegan Beagle

If you’ve hired one of us from When Hounds Fly to discuss behaviour problems (fear, anxiety, reactivity, aggression), you’ll remember that before we even talk about the behaviour problems, we spend time talking about the overall lifestyle of the dog.

The House of Good Health

Sabine Contreras of Better Dog Care (her business is in dog nutrition counselling) has a framework on her web site called “The House of Good Health”:

House of Health

When the foundation and pillars falter, behaviour falters.

Recent Examples

Just in the last two weeks alone, here are three anecdotal stories that support this common belief:

  • My own Beagle, Duke, we discovered, was suffering from some sort of skin problem. We noticed this due to flaking and itchiness. At the same time, his reactivity towards dogs increased. Once diagnosed and addressed, the skin flaking and itchiness subsided, and his reactivity to dogs decreased again to very low levels.
  • Another client’s dog, who withdrew from group classes due to dog aggression, worked with us via private lessons. The dog had ongoing gastrointestinal issues. We referred to Christine Ford of Oh My Dog and she prescribed a new home prepared diet. Within a short period of time of starting to just transition to the new diet, we received this email:

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]Beau is doing much better, thanks for asking.  We increased his new food to 15% a few days ago, so we are going to keep him on that amount for a few more days.  His poops are still pretty good – he is pooping more often and each poop is pretty small, so we are making sure to take him out more often.

There was one question I wanted to run by you – has it been your experience that when dogs are eating a poor diet, that this can impact their behaviour?  This may sound crazy, but we have noticed that with the supplements and the small portion of new food, Beau’s dog aggression has decreased a bit.  We weren’t sure if this was due to all the training we have been doing, but we noticed the biggest difference when we started changing his diet.[/quote]

  • Another past student emailed saying that their dog had suddenly started growling and fighting with other dogs in his walking group. So much so, that the walkers had to crate and isolate this dog for safety. They were interested in training, but instead, I directed them to their vet. I didn’t hear back from them for a while and upon checking in, this is what they had to say:

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]

As you suggested we took him to the vet when he started acting grumpy to other dogs. The vet thought he might be having lower back pain. Finn was on painkillers for a few days and that seemed to do the trick. So all’s well that ends well.

 

[/quote]

Get Started Now

Is all undesired behaviour related to the foundations and pillars as Sabine calls them? No, of course not. However, before embarking on a journey of training and behaviour modification, it is irresponsible not to exhaust every avenue and leave no stone unturned on the foundations of diet, exercise, physical health, and environmental enrichment.

With health related issues, first consult your veterinarian. Tell them if your dog is having behaviour problems. They should be helpful and not hinder your attempts just to ensure your dog is in perfect health. Some veterinarians have out of date information regarding behaviour and will be resistant. If they are, that is a red flag, since any good behaviour modification program starts with an evaluation of health.

Diet can make a huge difference, so consider hiring someone like Sabine or Christine to help you formulate a home prepared diet. This is especially true if you have a dog with allergies or gastrointestinal issues.

Finally, hire a dog trainer/behaviour consultant who understands how to use humane, force-free methods to help with fear, anxiety, and aggression to get help with the training component of helping your dog out.

Finnegan Beagle
Finnegan the Beagle two years ago in puppy class. Suddenly growling and crusty just because his back hurt. Now he’s back to being the dog loving Beagle he always was.

Additional Resources

Sabine Contreras, Better Dog Care

Christine Ford, Oh My Dog

Emily Fisher has a longer post about this very same topic with her own dog, Elsie

Jean Dodds Hemopet – Blood Testing

Managing and Treating Separation Anxiety

Separation Anxiety

What is Separation Anxiety?

Separation anxiety is a condition in dogs where emotionally and physiologically, the dog becomes panic stricken when he’s apart from his owner or people in general. Typically it manifests itself when a dog is left home alone.

  • Behaviors that occur when a dog is suffering from separation anxiety:
  • Urination (a normally housebroken dog will soil within minutes of being left alone)
  • Vomiting
  • Self-mutilation (licking his/her own paws excessively till the fur is gone and the skin is raw)
  • Destroying objects (pillows, shoes, door trim, trying to eat the door)
  • Barking or howling

 

Some physiological signs include:

  • Sweaty paws
  • Glazed eyes
  • Panting
  • Excessive pacing

 

Why does it develop?

There are many reasons why a dog may develop separation anxiety. It has been observed that puppies that are transported by air cargo during puppyhood (specifically, around 8-11 weeks) have a higher likelihood of developing separation anxiety. It also develops when a dog never has the opportunity to practice being alone, especially when growing up as a puppy (for example, an owner who takes time off from work and is with the puppy 24/7 for weeks at a time). Major lifestyle changes such as a work-from-home person suddenly having to go to an office 9-5, or moving to a new home can also cause separation anxiety to appear later in life.

Regardless of the reason, it is a major reason why dogs end up in shelter (Dogs can bark and howl loudly – if they have separation anxiety, the owners get eviction notices).

 

Don’t confuse Separation Anxiety for Boredom

A dog that chews your shoes when you’re gone may just be bored and wanted to chew your shoe. Similarly, a dog that soils in the house when left alone may just not be housebroken – or you left them at home for longer than their bladder could handle. Look for sweaty paw prints, drool puddles, glazed eyes, etc. as signs that it is separation anxiety and not a general training issue. Recording your dog with a camera when you’re gone is a good way to tell.

 

Managing Separation Anxiety

Solving separation anxiety, after its developed, may take months or years. So you’ll need management strategies while you implement treatment strategies. Here are a few:

  • Confine the dog to a small room, leaving only chew toys and dog items in the room (kongs stuffed with food, hard, safe chew toys, etc.) This way he can’t eat your shoes or destuff a pillow. He may ignore the kongs when you’re gone (too panicked to touch them) but that will change over time.
  • Crate train your dog and create him when left alone – leave toys/chews inside. Again, this is about minimizing damage to the house and the dog when you’re gone.
  • Leave the dog with a friend when you’re gone.
  • Leave the dog at dog daycare if you need to be away for long durations.
  • Have a dogwalker come mid-day to give him a break – have the dogwalker return the dog to the crate or room and resupply with new kongs.
  • Use “natural” anti-anxiety products like Rescue Remedy in his water
  • Try a product like a Thundershirt
  • Consider using a DAP Diffuser in the small room (pheromones for calming anxious dogs)
  • Consider prescription anxiety drugs from your vet as a short term solution (to lower the anxiety to a level that treatment strategies become effective) – discuss this with your vet. In the case of severe separation anxiety, this may be the only way to start making inroads in addressing the problem.

 

Treating Separation Anxiety

  • Exercise the dog before departure (30-40 minutes, offleash, running – playing fetch, etc.) and then give them some time to rest and recover.
  • Leave home from different doors, wear different coats and shoes, don’t always get your wallet and keys in the same order – mix it up – sometimes put your coat on and go sit in the living room. You’re trying to randomize the predictors of departure so that anxiety doesn’t build up as you get ready to leave.
  • Feed your dog when you leave (i.e. give breakfast in a food dispensing toy such as a Kong Wobbler when you leave for work, and dinner when you go out for the night)
  • Leave stuffed kongs and other food toys in the crate or room your dog is left in.
  • Most importantly – practice PLANNED DEPARTURES

 

What is a Planned Departure?

A planned departure is leaving your home for a set amount of time strictly for the purposes of desensitizing your dog to being left alone. If you pack up and leave, you may find your dog is silent for 1 minute at first, then the barking or urination starts at 1:01. If that’s his threshold, you leave for 55 seconds, and then return. Repeat at 56 seconds, then 57, and slowly move your way up. Doing as many as you can sporadically through the day is the best way to do this.

Over days and weeks you’ll move from increments of seconds to minutes – over time your dog will be able to tolerate being alone and loose for longer and longer periods. Once you get up to about the 10 minute mark, it’s easy to integrate this practice to your daily life – 10 minutes is enough time to go to the corner store to pick up milk, or walk to the video store to return a movie, go to the bank ATM, etc. The more reasons to leave and come back the better.

After weeks and months of work, you’ll break the 60 minute mark – at that point you’ll be able to leave your dog alone to go to the gym, eat at a neighbourhood restaurant, etc. By that time your dog should be OK to be alone for 3+ hours at a time.

Just make sure the dog is well exercised, has been opportunities to relieve himself, and you’ve left lots of chew toys and stuffed kongs (and hidden your prized pair of shoes or other at risk objects) to set your dog up for success.

Use webcams and audio recording software to help you collect useful data about whether your dog’s anxiety is getting better over time.

It is important as you work up on your departure durations to avoid leaving the dog home alone for longer than they can handle. This may mean heavy reliance on dog daycares, friends, family, and a severe impact on your social life in the short-term.

Here’s a video of a beagle that suffers from Separation Anxiety. Notice that the dog ignores food that is left behind – he is too stressed to eat – a sign that he suffers from moderate to severe separation anxiety (mildly anxious dogs will still eat when left alone).

Further resources to help:

Treating Separation Anxiety in Dogs by Malena Demartini-Price

Don’t Leave Me by Nicole Wilde

I’ll Be Home Soon by Patricia McConnell

Resource Guarding – Dog growls to protect his bone

How do you safely take a toy or bone away from a dog?

Does your dog exhibit aggressive behavior when he has a bone or toy? This issue is called Resource Guarding and if not addressed, can escalate into dangerous behaviors like biting.

From an evolutionary standpoint, dogs developed this behavior for obvious reasons. If a dog didn’t protect high value objects like meaty bones from theft, it would starve, pure and simple!

In practical terms, that toy, bone, or high valued object is rewarding to the dog, and having it taken away is an undesired outcome.

Forcing the dog physically to give up the toy will cause this problem to escalate, up to and including severe biting. So how can we address it safely?

As a positive reinforcement dog trainer, you must make the behavior of giving up the toy or bone a rewarding behavior. This is commonly done by trading objects with the dog with food – after all, the dog can’t guard a toy while simultaneously taking food from your hand.

Furthermore, if every time a toy or bone is given up and it’s put away, there’s no incentive for the dog to ever give up the toy, so its important to trade for food, and then return the toy to the dog. This creates a win-win situation where there’s no downside at all to giving up the highly valued object.

If you trade for food, and return the toy enough times, you’ll find your dog actually looks forward to releasing the toy as you approach. Its at this time we can put the behavior on cue with “Out” or “Drop It”.

If your dog has developed a serious case of resource guarding, where he starts growling and even biting as you approach, it is absolutely critical that you get professional help with this work as the risk of eliciting a dog bite is very high.

Whatever you do, don’t force the dog to release the object. This only teaches the dog that he was right to guard the item in the first place, and will increase the severity of the guarding and increase the severity of his aggression response. He’ll progress from guarding looks and body language to growling, and ultimately may resort to biting to protect the object.

Start early with your puppy to practice trading. If your adult dog is growling or biting, get help right away with a trainer or behaviourist that uses positive reinforcement to teach the dog that giving up toys is a fun and rewarding game.

Why has my dog started getting into fights at the dog park?

Is he dominant? NO…

Why has my dog, who used to love other dogs, started to get into fights at the dog park? Is he dominant?

Dominant? Usually not. Few dogs are born wanting to get into fights. Fighting behaviour is evolutionary suicide. So why has my dog started barking, lunging, and biting other dogs at the park?

There could be many reasons –

He’s not feeling well. Dogs are very stoic and hide discomfort very well. Make sure he’s been recently vetted and isn’t suffering from pain ordominant aggressive dog illness. If he is ill, dealing with the medical condition can often make the behavioral issue go away.

He’s been punished by or around dogs – One of the dangers of using punishment training (leash corrections) is that the punishment is often paired near or around other dogs (leash corrections for looking at dogs, “training” classes where leash corrections are done around other dogs in class). This can also happen at dog daycares/dog walking services that use punishment (spray bottles, physical corrections, bark collars, etc.). Pulling while on leash can also cause this (the dog sees a dog on the street, gets excited, pulls towards it, and experiences neck pain and frustration – in a dog’s mind, the other dog is causing the pain).

He’s been harassed by other dogs at the park – Look closely at the picture of the Beagle. Does he look happy? He’s doing everything he can to get away from the pushy Ridgeback. If the Ridgeback doesn’t stop, the owner of the Ridgeback doesn’t recall his dog, or the Beagle owner doesn’t leave, how long would it take before the Beagle decides to bark and lunge to send the Ridgeback away? How long would it take before the Beagle decides he hates the dog park, hates Ridgebacks, and hates all dogs? If the Beagle fights back, the Beagle owner collects his dog and leaves – reinforcing the very behavior of fighting back.

Photo courtesy of Päivi Reijonen – view the entire set on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30096200@N08/sets/72157623555143141/

 

But I heard socializing your dog is very important! It absolutely is… BUT…

Socializing your dog at the park is a good idea, but it requires careful monitoring of his body language and selection of play partners. Our puppy socialization class teaches owners how to watch for these warning signs and ensures your puppy associates nothing but good things with other dogs. Overly rough play and bullying can just teach your dog to dislike other dogs. Young puppies also tend to be picked on and bullied by other dogs, which can teach them to be fearful of dogs – exactly the opposite of what you’re trying to accomplish.

If your dog has already started exhibiting aggressive behaviours towards dogs, don’t delay and ask us for help. The longer you allow your dog to practice these behaviours  the stronger they become, and the harder it is to undo.

On-leash aggression towards dogs

A fear aggressive / reactive German Shepherd lunges at another dog

Why does my dog bark and lunge at other dogs on leash?

First, rest assured, you are not alone. This behavioral issue is so common that there are volumes of books specifically written about the subject. Dog trainers and behaviorists refer to this issue as “on-leash aggression” or “on-leash reactivity”. That being said, this is a serious issue that needs addressing as soon as possible – the longer you wait, and the more it happens, the harder it is to address. A reactive dog can bite other dogs and even bite dog owners nearby.

What is it?

A dog with on-leash reactivity often gets along marvelously with other dogs when off-leash at the park, or in the yard, or even in home. But the minute you put on a leash and go for a walk, he becomes interested, then agitated at the sight of a dog at a distance. As you get closer, he expresses the frustration by barking, howling, lunging, and even biting. He’s so fired up that calling his name, luring him with food, or even applying leash corrections does nothing.

A fear aggressive / reactive German Shepherd lunges at another dog
A fear aggressive / reactive German Shepherd lunges at another dog

Photo courtesy of Päivi Reijonen (dog trainer and behaviorist) – view the entire set on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30096200@N08/sets/72157623555143141/

 

What causes it?

Every dog is different, and it is difficult to figure out exactly why a specific dog develops this issue. Here are a few common reasons:

The dog never learned to walk loosely on leash, or focus on the handler when called. As a result, the dog is used to pulling around everywhere to investigate everything. The sight of a dog on the sidewalk is a novel distraction at first, so a puller struggles to go meet and sniff that other dog. Naturally, on-leash, and on the sidewalk, your dog doesn’t have the freedom to wander up and sniff every dog. The frustration of being unable to get to that interesting thing, compounded by the physical pain of the collar tension that occurs when pulling towards another dog is highly unpleasant. Soon, the dog associates the sight of another dog with feelings of frustration and pain, and very soon, through simple classical conditioning, the dog sees other dogs on the street as the reason for that feeling and pain. As it happens each and every time they see a dog on leash, the conditioning occurs very quickly.

The dog had learned to be fearful or dislike other dogs. This can occur if a dog has been harassed or attacked by another dog – sometimes it just takes one bad experience to make a dog fearful. This can also occur if a dog was not exposed to a wide variety of other friendly dogs while it was a puppy. In an off-leash setting, the dog has the option to flee. When a dog is on leash, we’ve taken away that option, so all that’s left is freeze, or fight. The on-leash reactive dog is barking and lunging to send the other dog away proactively.

The dog may be ill or injured. Dogs hide injury well, and perfectly well socialized dogs that suddenly start acting aggressively (in any context) may be hurt and vulnerable, and instinctively become more defensive. Make sure your dog is fully vetted to check for illness or injury.

 

What does not cause it:

Unfortunately, many “experts” are extremely misinformed about this and most other behavioral issues. Here are the most common and incorrect explanations they provide:

  • The dog is “dominant” and wants to fight every other dog.
  • Dogs have been selectively bred over many generations to avoid conflict – a species that is genetically predisposed to fighting tends to make itself extinct. Also, if the dog was a natural born fighter, he wouldn’t be an angel at the off leash dog park.
  • The dog doesn’t respect you as the “leader” or “alpha” or whatever and therefore is protecting you.
  • There is a behavioral issue called “resource guarding” where dogs guard their owners, but it is far more rare and typically occurs on or off-leash.
  • On-leash reactive dogs can be extremely well trained in obedience, and do everything their handler asks, and still lunge and bark.
  • You are not calm and assertive.
  • You could be totally oblivious to the fact there’s a dog approaching (and therefore relaxed) and the leash-reactive dog would still bark and lunge if they see the other dog first.

 

What training techniques should we avoid?

If you are advised to do any of the following, run far, far away from that trainer:

  • Leash corrections
    • The dog already fears and dislikes other dogs. Causing additional pain and discomfort whenever he sees another dog only compounds the feelings of frustration, fear, and hatred. The correction may suppress the behaviour  but the emotional attitude the dog has continues to slide into deeper frustration and hatred of dogs on leash. The dog has also not learned any desirable behaviour in its place (such as look at the handler).
  • Spray bottles or citronella collars
    • Many dogs fear spray bottles or citronella collars, so these “softer” aversives should not be used for the same reason. Conversely, many dogs do not care about getting water in the face, rendering them useless. In both cases, the dog has learned nothing.
  • Physical violence (yelling, hitting, poking, tapping, kicking, alpha-rolling, etc.)
    • You may suppress the behaviour (probably not) but you have also put yourself at severe risk of being bitten.
    • A dog learns that humans are dangerous, and hands are dangerous – you are creating a fear-biting dog.

What should you do about it?

Any behaviour issue that puts dogs and people at risk of injury is serious and is not something you should address on your own. This work requires you to have both knowledge of classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and practical work to manage your dog and deliver food rewards all while walking your dog on leash. Get the help of a professional dog trainer or behaviourist that prescribes the following:

  • Manage the environment – do not allow your dog to rehearse the barking and lunging. This means maintaining distance from other dogs while on leash as you train.
  • Change the dog’s emotional attitude towards other dogs while on leash – This is best accomplished by feeding your dog high value food (cheese, hot dogs, steak, chicken) each and every time he sees a dog while on leash.
  • Focus on safety – a head halter, or in extreme cases, a basket muzzle, ensures that you, your dog, and other owners and dogs are safe while you do the work.
  • Train an incompatible behavior – If you train the dog to look at your face and lock on when a dog approaches, it now has something to do other than bark and lunge.

 

Compare and Contrast: Good Training vs Bad Training

The first video has Dr. Sophia Yin (www.askdryin.com) using a combination of operant conditioning and classical conditioning to teach a leash-reactive dog to tolerate and then eventually like other dogs. You know this dog is happy because of his body language.

The second video from a certain TV program shows the use of severe leash corrections as a punishment to suppress behavior. In this case, the aggressive dog looks at another dog – the person kicks the dog (2:56), triggering the dog to bite, and then proceeds to choke the dog till it nearly suffocates. The person is bitten and dogs subjected to this punishment will suffer neck, spinal, tracheal, and ocular damage. If the owners tried this they would likely require hundreds of stitches.

GOOD DOG TRAINING:

 

BAD DOG TRAINING:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qh9YOyM2TAk

Dog Bite Prevention and Safety

Keep Your Dog and Your Family Safe from Dog Bites

Did you know that in the US, 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs each year? And, of those incidents, 77% of them are bites from the family pet (or a friend’s pet), and 50% of bites occur on the owner’s property? This means that you are more likely to be bitten by your own family dog than someone elses!

The next important fact to know is that dog bites rarely happen “out of the blue, all of a sudden”. Most dogs exhibit a wide range of body language and signals to indicate they are uncomfortable with the situation. The problem is, humans either do not understand or choose to ignore those clear communication signals. The dog is forced to either tolerate, run away, or bite.

The first thing you should do is learn how to greet and interact with dogs appropriately. The first rule is you should always ask the owner of the other dog if is it OK to say hello to them. Not all dogs will tolerate a stranger giving them a rough head pet. This is especially important to teach children. Lili Chin. of www.doggiedrawings.net created this great illustration called “How Not To Greet A Dog”:

How Not To Greet A Dog

Needless to say – dogs do not like head pets, people leading over them, staring them in the face, scrunching their hears, hugging them chest to chest, or kisses to the head. You never see two dogs greeting each other this way. You DO see primates greeting this way though – and guess what, we’re primates.

The second thing you should do is learn how to read canine body language. Once you know what to look for, it becomes very obvious when a dog is upset or in a position where a bite is possible. Visit www.doggonesafe.com and view the “Learn to Speak Dog” section here: http://www.doggonesafe.com/Speak_Dog

A few examples of signs of anxiety in a dog include

  • Head turns away from you
  • Panting
  • Whale Eye / Half Moon Eye (whites of eyes showing, especially when normally you never see them)
  • Scratching
  • Shake-off (as if the dog was wet, but he’s dry) after the hugging/touching ends
  • Yawning
  • Lip-Licking
  • Standing up and walking away

If your dog does these things while being touched or greeted by other people, this is a sign that your dog is uncomfortable. If you don’t listen to them, they may feel like they have no choice but to start showing signs of aggression like. Many people fail to even notice these more obvious signs:

  • Body stiffens
  • Lip curls / showing teeth
  • Low growl
  • Nose-bumping (jumping up to bump his nose against yours)
  • Air biting (intentionally biting and missing as a warning shot)

The third thing you should do, especially if you are the owner of a new puppy, is ensure they are extremely well socialized by the time they turn 13 weeks of age! Ensure your new puppy has met over 100 different types of people, has been handled in a variety of ways (but always gently), and fed yummy treats. This early socialization helps increase the tolerance that your puppy will have for the types of greetings they don’t like.

Lastly… if you have a young one, or are inviting young ones over to your house where they will interact with a dog – teach them that dogs are not stuffed animals or playthings – basically do the opposite of what is in the following video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UsheRA3uP-Y

And here is a video of Gunner the Dalmation displaying every warning behaviour possible that precedes a bite. I have no idea what the mother of this toddler is thinking!!!