Dog Training Blog
Your dog growls at your son when he walks by his food bowl and then snaps at him. He barely misses sinking his teeth into his 6-year-old leg.
Should you yell at your dog? Put him in another room? Something more physical such as use a choke chain or shock collar to "show him who is boss" and put him in his place?
What should you do?
The important thing to keep in mind is that unless an animal is hunting, aggression is fear-based. If you punish a dog for acting out of fear, you can train him to reduce or stop any signals of aggression for fear of punishment. You can then end up with a dog that is afraid, but afraid to show it. Your dog can then attack without warning.
If you use desensitization, my recommended treatment strategy, you will observe subtle anxiety signals before they turn into aggression and slowly get your dog accustomed to the triggers that caused the anxiety. Over time, your dog can be calm because he truly does not feel like reacting to the events before him....
Crates should not be such a tough sell. Puppies have sharp teeth, develop strong jaws, are curious, get bored easily, like to chew, are not housetrained, and can develop separation anxiety . . . . for starters.
An easy, humane, and time-tested strategy for preventing (hopefully) problems with this little furball is to use a crate. Why is it so hard for some people to buy in to?
I write for multiple websites and have dog training videos on YouTube discussing crate training among other things. I am a firm believer in using crates for puppies.
Some of the scathing comments I have received for using this widely used, humane tool:
"First Thing you need to do its take him out of that cage i hate when people put dogs in Cages i hope they put you."
The puppy class is loud with barking puppies jumping and bouncing happily over the padded floor. All the puppies are about the same age, but you can already tell that some are bound to be much bigger when they reach their full size. The Bernese Mountain dog puppy rolls on his back while a Beagle mix chews on his ears. A Yorkie, the smallest of the group, is right there with the rest of the group running back and forth with a small brown dog and a bigger Visla pup.
Your puppy doesn't engage the other dogs and mostly stays under your chair watching the action. The trainer comes over and tries to coax her out with a treat, but she won't come out or take the treat.
Is this normal? Should you be concerned?
No, it is not normal and yes, you should be concerned.
As a private dog trainer I have many responsibilities. Often I show my clients how to work with their dog to train her to be more obedient such as not jumping on guests, stopping puppy biting, or walking nicely on leash. (See my free dog training videos for samples on these topics and more.)
I also work with fear, anxiety and aggression if those issues are present.
But, I think my most important jobs are to help prevent problems before they start or prevent the beginning signs of a problem from turning into a major problem later on.
The scenario above is based on many conversations over the years with clients. Often people will hire me because their dog barks at people and/or dogs, has bitten someone, is "skittish" or unpredictable. I always get a history of a dog before I work with them and ask about their early experiences.
Often someone will say that their puppy was a "little shy" and then describe a story similar to the one above. They might say that they "were fine with other dogs" or got socialized properly but then also hid under their chairs at puppy class.
Their puppy might have been great with dogs, but after a couple questions I learn that "dogs" means great with the neighbor's dog but a little shy with all the other dogs in the neighborhood.
If you have questions about socialization, read this post about how to socialize your puppy or sign up for my free dog training forum on my video site.
As a shy puppy gets older, if they are not socialized properly, their shyness can later turn into aggression. They live a daily life of fear and uncertainty. It may look harmless, or even cute to see such a shy puppy but at some point they are probably going to perceive something that seems particularly threatening. Maybe it is just another dog being a bit over-exhuberant and jumping on them playfully. Maybe it is an adult that comes towards them a bit too quickly to say, "hello" and pet them. Maybe it is a toddler that falls on them.
They might at that point growl for the first time at this threat or show their teeth, or even bite.
What happens next? Unless it is a small child or puppy that doesn't pay attention to signals (and is at a greater risk of a bite) a person will probably back off. Your dog has now learned to growl, bark or show teeth when threatened. Even though this wasn't an actual threat, your dog has lived a life of fear and low confidence and reached her breaking point.
If dogs growl, bark or show teeth and it works for them, (the threat backs off) they can now think that showing aggression is the way to protect themselves. Then you can start to see aggression happen more frequently and escalate if the lower-level displays are not taken seriously. A bite might occur if the threats are not respected or multiple triggers are present.
For instance, a dog might not like her collar being touched, and might not like small children. If a small child approaches that dog and touches her collar, a bite might occur. If it was an adult, maybe the dog would have just growled instead.
If you think your puppy is shy and you are practicing sound socialization strategies and you are not seeing improvement, you should hire a good positive reinforcement trainer to assess the situation. Your puppy might benefit from a class, but often classes are too stressful. Before my full-time private practice, I taught classes for two years as well.
Don't lose sleep over this, but instead be proactive and take this very seriously. You will have your dog for a long time and a well-socialized, calm dog can more easily be an integrated part of your life. If you have to shelter your dog from normal stimuli that occur in your world, it will make more challenging for both you and your dog.
Sign up for my free dog training forum on my video site if you have questions.
This morning I was walking my dogs and saw a woman walking her dog. From the look of the dog's dry elbows and physical stature, I would guess he was about 5-6 years old. I have no way of knowing how long she has had the dog. He might have been newly adopted, or maybe she finally had time to work with him.
What I do know is that she seemed extremely frustrated, her dog was not paying attention to her at all, he was pulling on the leash and she was lifting the dog off the ground with each turn. Also the dog was wearing a choke chain.
I resisted the urge to go talk to her about positive reinforcement training, but I wanted to. I don't offer advice unless people ask, but it can be tough to keep my opinions to myself.
I hate to see dogs being mistreated. And, yes, I believe a dog getting lifted off the ground on a choke chain is being mistreated.
On the other hand, in ten years of professional dog training, I have worked with thousands of dogs and I can appreciate dog training challenges and the frustration that accompanies it. But, that never gives the excuse to use physical methods.
If you are frustrated with your dog when leash walking, go back to the fundamentals. Stop walking, and ask for eye contact from your dog. That is much easier for your dog then expecting him to walk nicely by your side when he is completely distracted.
Also, stay closer to home and warm your dog up before walking farther. Leash walking is not an easy obedience exercise, but if you focus on the fundamentals and build on them, you will make progress.
To help you learn how to do this, you should watch my free dog training videos on leash walking and other free dog training videos to learn more.
Keep an eye on the site for more videos on leash walking in the future.
One easy way to make leash walking easier is to buy a Sense-ible Harness. This is the best dog harness on the market.
You can also sign up for my free dog forums to ask me questions about leash walking or any other topics.
There are a few preventative measures you can do with your dog to lessen the likelihood of problems later on. Unfortunately, even if you have the best intentions and do all the exercises properly, there are no guarantees of eliminating the problem later on. Regular maintenance is also a good idea.
Retrieve and Frisbee are two great training exercises to work on with your dog. As always, focus on keeping your dog engaged and interested in each session instead of getting stressed out about finishing the final behavior in one session. Have fun with it and remember that the journey is just important as the final goal.
"Settle" is simply another name for an extended down cue. However, it is often used as an "off" switch for dogs that are a bit too exuberant, mouthy, or wild. There are many strategies to get a good Settle cue. I recommend that you first work in a calm manner at first and periodically ask your dog to "Settle" during training sessions. You should then continue practicing when your dog is more excited until you can eventually get the behavior reliably no matter how excited your dog is.
I read an amazing article many years ago about an experiment training sea bass to respond to a tone and swim back to a certain location for feeding. At some point the signal would entice them to come back for the last time when they would be caught and harvested for food.
I have tremendous success with my aggression cases and have been helping dogs overcome aggression since 2002. There are strategies that you can use that can make the situation worse.
I want you to avoid doing that and help your dog become more comfortable faster.
There are a lot of reasons puppies and older dogs have housetraining problems. Besides normal factors such as maturity and lack of motivation to go potty in the right location, there can be other issues that can cause a dog to have accidents.
One of the biggest challenges with caring for a dog is providing adequate daily physical and mental exercise. If a dog loves toys, it is often much easier to find games and training strategies to keep him entertained. For those of you out there that have a dog that doesn't like toys, this is for you.
I get this question quite often, and I always ask people to clarify why they are concerned that this might be a problem. They usually tell me that they heard from someone else or saw a television show that talks about "putting dogs in their place" or making sure dogs do not become the "alpha" in the house.
Wouldn't it be great if you could just sit a dog down and say, "Welcome to the house. Let's have an arrangement. I will walk you, play with you, feed you good food and give you medical care. The only requirements are that you don't destroy my house or urinate on my rug, ok?"