Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Shaping Your Dogs Behavior: Stop, Look, Listen, and Maybe Change Your Own Behavior First

When it comes to getting our dogs to change their behavior, sometimes it's best to change our own behavior first. As a certified professional dog trainer, and loving dog mom to Poncho the dog, one element of communication that I've learned is more important than many others is the art of listening. And with our pet dogs, listening also means observing since body language is a dogs first language.

One of our latest Dear Inquisitive Canine advice questions came from a woman who mentioned her dog Colby developed behavior issues after a family vacation. To read the entire column, you can click on the Noozhawk Dog Behavior Advice Column link. In addition to the information in the advice column I'd also like to address two other topics of canine body language and what they might be communicating.

  • Dog Communication and Warning Signals: Our beloved canines have a wonderful way of communicating with body language. It’s their first language and one us humans need to pay better attention to. There’s an old joke: “What do you say to a growling dog?” Answer: “Thank you!” They’ve just told you they aren’t happy about something.
  • Growling Leading to Biting: The “I’m upset” escalation scale for dogs is: freeze-growl-snarl-snap-bite, bite harder, bite even harder - bite harder again… Dogs will continue to progress up this ladder if 1) they feel they are being ignored (“No one is listening to me! Next time I better speak up louder by biting!”), and 2) What they are “saying” is being punished out (“The last time I told my humans I was upset by snapping at them I got in trouble. I guess I’ll have to “‘speak up” louder the next time, which means I’ll need to bite! Maybe then they’ll listen.”)
Remember my dear human (and maybe canine) friends out there: the art of being a good communicator is not just talking - it's also about listening, or in the case of listening to our dogs, the art of good observational skills.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Controversy in Management Route For Dog Aggression

The July 24th 2009 L.A. Times story about a dog named Cotton whose guardian treated his aggression situation with a medical procedure called "Canine Disarming" (filing down of teeth to help prevent bite damage). She had initially tried some behavior modification, even went to the self-proclaimed Dog Whisperer. But it was the dental procedure that stirred up a lot of controversy, at least according to Craig Nakano, the journalist whose follow-up article in today's L.A. Times Home and Garden section has stated. 

When the article first came out, of course I had my two cents to add. This treatment is used as a "management tool", as opposed to behavior modification. (As a certified professional dog trainer I would have used a plastic basket muzzle and behavior mod that Cotton's guardians could easily follow). 

I wrote to the editor not expecting to hear anything back. But what do ya know, Craig contacted me yesterday. He said out of all of the emails they received, mine was one that stood out from the others because I remained more "neutral". I think "neutral" in the sense that I didn't completely berate Cotton's guardian. Hey folks, isn't this similar to castrating a rapist? Ruh-roh, now I'm gonna stir up my own controversy. 

Anyway, although I do not agree with this treatment, and I would have completely gone a different route had she contacted me for private dog training services, I think berating her would have been too punishing, and that is not in my nature. I also believe that:
  1. They still love Cotton.
  2. The family probably felt this was their last resort.
  3. They wanted to protect the public at all costs.
  4. They didn't want to unload Cotton's issues onto anyone else - which seems to be more the norm in our society, and I commend them for that. (I received three emails alone this week of people looking to get rid of their dogs because they didn't want to deal with them any longer...including one situation where one person in the household wanted for the dog to sleep outside, and the other said inside, so instead they're going to re-home the dog! UGH, but that's a whole different post...)
I'm hoping a situation like this will prompt the powers in charge to develop laws and protocols that protect our domestic pets, not only for situations if a dog end up like this, but in hopes of preventing these behavior issues from happening in the first place. Hmm, how about making it mandatory that:
  • Breeding dogs MUST be an actual professional legitimate business. Not breeding out of their backyard just because the dog is cute or they need the money.
  • Breeders pay a higher fee for breeding since they are contributing to the increased pet population. What, you don't think purebred dogs get dumped at shelters? HA! 
  • Breeder and dog guardians MUST BE required to socialize dogs properly to our human environment so they can adapt more easily and reduce the risk of developing aggressive tendencies in the first place!!!
  • Dog guardians MUST BE required to enroll their young dogs into dog training classes that adhere to humane methods of teaching. And, they must continue their dogs education (and their own, right?) with dog training classes, workshops, sports like agility or Rally-O so everyone can keep up their skills - especially their socialization skills. 
  • And finally, if I may so bold: mandatory spay/neuter... Ruh-roh, more controversy! 
It would also be nice to have more dog-friendly places to take our dogs. Instead of having to either take them to the same places over and over again, or resorting to leave them at home all of the time, and not allowing them to be exposed to people and situations that we all of a sudden want them to be used to. 

Okay, now that I've stirred up my own controversy I'm gonna take Poncho out for some socialization, then have him help me set up for our Canine Circuit Training class tomorrow, while you write in with your comments. 

Friday, August 7, 2009

Making Dog Walking Outings More Fun For Your Dog & You

As Poncho and I were on our evening stroll today here in Ventura, we played our "let's say hi to our neighbor dogs as we walk by" game, which made it a lot more fun - for the both of us!  

Every time we walked by a house where the dogs started barking, I'd say *Hi!*, mention their names (there's Mookie, Zorro, Nick, Guinness and Waylon, red house dog, blue and white house dog, and Heather), and give Poncho a little piece of leftover chicken.  

This is a fun game - Poncho loves it! And of course now, thanks to learning by association, he loves when other dogs bark too...

This is a really simple and fun activity - it's actually one of the activity cards found in my Out of the Box Dog Training Game.

What are you doing to make your dog walk outings more fun? For your dog and for yourself?