Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
I am a petsitter and recently met a new client and her dog, Sarge, a Boston Terrier. When I met them, the dog was a little shy, and very active. He seemed okay. As often is the case, however,when I arrived for the first day on the job, Sarge was a lot more nervous without his owner there to protect him. He would not get out of his owner's bed and he growled at me. I'm never one to push a dog beyond his boundaries, so I left and contacted the owner.
I returned to meet Sarge again, and this time both his owner and another trusted human were there. It took awhile for Sarge to warm up but he eventually took a treat from me and we even played a little tug and fetch. We walked together and I held the leash. Sarge was uneasy but I gave him lots of praise and food rewards. By the end of the evening, he appeared to be relaxed.
When I returned the following day, Sarge growled.
I spent another evening with Sarge and his owner. Each day, I return to see Sarge and offer him treats. He'll accept them if they are really good ones, but he won't take the ones his owner buys for him from me. He still growls and I have not put the leash on him yet.
I asked the owner to restrict him to a room other than the bedroom where he tends to hole up on the bed. When I go to see him, I greet him and then go about making myself available to him in a non-threatening way. I meditate. I yawn a lot. I ignore him. I give him plenty of space. We've put him on flower essences. So far he refuses to approach me, and continues to growl as a greeting.
The owner was surprised by his behavior, but after a recent divorce, she and the dog have been uprooted and separated from their other beloved canine companion. I know he's just insecure and probably upset by the changes going on.
Other sitters I know would just go put the leash on him. I don't think this is a good idea. Any advice?
First off I want to applaud you for your attention and concern for the emotional state of your client's pet. You are absolutely right not to push Sarge right now. Forcing him to be leashed and handled when he is acting fearful will likely only reinforce his fears and make him worse in the future.
Without seeing Sarge in person and knowing his exact relationship with his previous canine companion, I can't say for certain, but I would wager that he was probably somewhat reliant on the other dog for security, and without him has lost a lot of confidence.
I think Sarge would benefit from some confidence boosting training. Clicker training, and more specifically target training, would be a great place to start. With targeting, dogs are taught to touch a specific object in exchange for a food reward. Once the dog has learned the basic concept and enjoys performing the behavior, this can be used to help them overcome being around something they fear. Many dogs feel much more confident when asked to perform a specific behavior around a scary object. It takes their mind off of being afraid and it helps them feel like they are in control of the situation. There is a nice explanation of targeting for fearful dogs here. Once Sarge is doing well with these steps, you can try asking him for a "touch" when you come to check on him. This will give you a great way of moving him about without the use of force.
Teaching some other fun tricks to Sarge may help his confidence as well. Trick training is very low stress as there is no pressure on the dog that he must perform the behavior.
I know you are using flower essences to help in calming Sarge. Here are a couple of other products that may aid in reducing his anxiety.
DAP-DAP, or Dog Appeasing Pheromone, is a product developed by veterinarians that supposedly mimics the pheromones that are given off by a lactating female. Studies have shown that the product can help some dogs in relieving stress and feeling calmer. It can come as a plug-in diffuser, a spray bottle or a collar.
Anxiety Wrap- According to the website found here:
"The Anxiety Wrap is an effective, training aid for dogs that suffer from anxiety, insecurity, fear or other stress related behavior concerns. It is often used to help give confidence to dogs scared of thunder, travel or who hate to be left alone. Its effectiveness is in its use of the technique called "MAINTAINED PRESSURE" to aid in calming your animal thereby allowing him or her to redirect their focus. When used with gentle training methods, the Anxiety Wrap works with the animal's entire mind, body and spirit for successful resolution or reduction of the symptom."
I hope these suggestions may help some with Sarge. It sounds like you are doing everything right so far, and I think with enough patience he will come around and regain his confidence.
PS-I'm thinking of starting a weekly advice post. If you have a dog training question you would like answered, drop me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Inappropriate house soiling- This is one I see most frequently misunderstood in dogs. I always recommend that any dog with house soiling issues be checked by a veterinarian first, especially if the dog is an adult and has been reliable with house training in the past. There are several medical conditions that could cause house soiling; this site by the ASPCA has a very informative list.
Aggression- Aggression of any kind is a serious problem that needs to be addressed as quickly as possible. There are several medical conditions that should be ruled out first when dealing with aggression. Hypothyroidism is a leading medical cause of aggression and other behavioral changes in canines. Hypothyroidism can be diagnosed by a blood panel and is easy to control through medication. Other possible causes of aggression include hydrocephalus, encephalitis, head trauma, brain tumors, epilepsy and Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome.
Sensitivity or aggression when being handled or touched- These issues may indicate that your dog is in pain somewhere. For instance a dog that snaps when you reach towards his ear may be hiding a bad ear infection. Arthritis is a common cause for older dogs to become suddenly defensive to being touched and handled.
Reluctance to perform behaviors such as sit or down; refusal to jump- These could also be signs of pain or discomfort in your dog. Any dog who is reluctant or slow to sit should be checked for hip dysplasia, a common and debilitating condition, especially in larger breeds. Refusal to jump or perform other similar behaviors could also be a sign of hip problems, as well as back, spine, or leg injuries.
These are just a few of the health problems that can be mistaken for behavior issues. Please have your dog seen by a veterinarian first if you notice any abnormal or unusual behavior.
Friday, April 10, 2009
To find out what your dog's life rewards are, spend a day just observing your dog. Take notes of anything that your dog enjoys doing or getting. Some examples may include playing with a favorite toy, getting a belly rub, dinner, or sniffing a favorite spot on a walk. By the end of the day you should have a nice sized list of several different reinforcement options that you can use train your dog. Life rewards are best used to strengthen cues that have already been taught through clicking and treating. Doing so will teach your dog that responding to your cues pays off even when you don't have cookies in your pocket.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
When I am teaching dogs I often use what is referred to as clicker training. The benefits of clicker training your dog are immense and include accelerated learning, a willingness to perform tasks with speed and enthusiasm, and very precise communication between you and your dog. It is also one of the most humane forms of dog training and has no need for the use of force or punishments.
Clicker training uses a small device that when pressed makes a very distinct “click-click” noise. This noise is combined consistently with a food reward to teach the dog that the sound of the clicker means that a reward is coming. The process is often referred to as “charging the clicker”. It can then be used as an event marker to pinpoint the exact moment your dog does something you want to reinforce. Using the clicker is better than using your voice to mark correct behavior because it is faster, more distinct, and always neutral. Once your dog understands the meaning of the clicker, it can be used to teach a wide array of behaviors, from simple things like “sit” or “down”, to more complex behaviors like running an agility course or retrieving a dumbbell.
When teaching a new behavior clicker trainers wait for the dog to offer a behavior that can be reinforced. They do not force the dog into position or correct the dog for doing something different. Clicker trainers want their dogs to think and problem solve to figure out what will get them a click and a treat. The “cue” for a behavior (often called a “command” in traditional training) is not added until the dog is performing the behavior reliably. This avoids confusion on the dog’s part. Once the cue is added then the dog is only rewarded for doing the behavior when the trainer gives the cue. When training a behavior that a dog will not offer on its own trainers can use a process called shaping. Shaping involves clicking for small steps towards the finished behavior. For example to teach a dog to spin in a circle, you may start with clicking just a head turn, then a ¼ turn, then ½ turn, and so on until you eventually shape a full circle turn. This is an extremely useful skill for teaching complex behaviors.
When it comes to getting rid of unwanted behaviors clicker trainers have two very useful techniques, extinction and training an alternate behavior. Extinction works on the idea that behaviors that are not reinforced are less likely to be repeated in the future. Say you want your dog to stop begging from the table. If you completely stop feeding your dog from the table, then eventually the dog will realize that begging does not work, and will stop doing it. Be aware that this method can backfire, though. If you stop feeding your dog from the table almost all the time, but every so often give them a bit of food, then the dog will learn that persistent begging will eventually pay off. The other technique you can use is to teach a different behavior for the dog to do instead. This behavior must be incompatible with the behavior that you want to get rid of. For instance, your dog cannot beg at the table if he is lying quietly on a mat at the other end of the room.
Clicker training is a very powerful and effective training method. The best way to learn is to practice it yourself. So grab a clicker and some treats and get ready to have a ton of fun training your dog!
Here at National Academy for Dogs we believe dog training is more than just getting the behaviors you want, it's about forming a bond and understanding with your pet. We strive to teach pet owners using techniques that are humane, up to date, and effective. By combining the latest in scientific research on behavior with the experience of working with dogs in real life situations we create practical training plans for all sorts of pet owners and their dogs. The results mean not only a well trained dog, but an amazing understanding between dog and owner that creates a life long bond.