Category Archives: Dog nerds

Behaviour serves a purpose…that’s why we do it!

Behaviour functions for the behaver. This means that the animal is doing the behaviour to get things that they like or to avoid things they don’t like – dogs do behaviour that works for them!

Culturally, we are pretty obsessed with stopping behaviour we view as bad but to modify behaviour, stopping unwanted behaviour might be short sighted but often appeals to the quick-fix addicts.

Attempting to stop behaviour after the fact by, for example, administering punishers is so often too little too late. The dog has already got his jollies.

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Instead we prevent the dog practicing behaviour we don’t like (practice makes perfect, after all!) so that we can clean the slate and establish new, alternative, more desired and ideally, incompatible behaviour.

To modify unwanted behaviour, we need to know the whens, whats and whys.

How does behaviour happen?

Dog training is generally thought to be about telling the dog to do something, using commands and making sure they’re followed through on.
While that satisfies a traditional attitude to our dogs, that’s not really what’s happening at all.

Dogs do behaviours that work. These behaviours work because things around the dog, in the environment, tell them to do a behaviour to access something or avoid something.

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The things in the environment that tell the dog it’s the right time to do that behaviour are called antecedents (A) and the things they access as a result of doing the behaviour are called consequences (C).

When the A’s happen, the dog is getting prepared to do the behaviour and expecting a specific outcome. The A’s tell the dog to anticipate the availability of something the dog likes or to anticipate a way to avoid something they don’t like.

A little mention of management here, before we go on

The conditions in which behaviour happens, the A and the C, have nothing to do with the dog – they are in the environment. That’s why we say that behaviour is in the environment and not in the dog!

To stop behaviour, we must prevent the dog’s exposure to A’s and their access to C’s. That’s what management is – we stop the dog rehearsing behaviour by rearranging their environment.

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Management clears the way for teaching and learning new and more desirable behaviour, providing a foundation upon which to build.

Consider the function of behaviour when teaching new behaviour

This is Ollie and one of his awesome humans. He’s a puppy and has been taught that tugging the mop is the BEST game ever. This commonly happens with puppy behaviours – they are cute and funny, providing endless entertainment for both species.

But the reality is that, in just a couple of short months, Ollie will be able to quickly destroy the mop as soon as it’s produced and that doesn’t make it so fun after all.

Over time, his mop-tugging behaviour has become very intense, more so than with toys.

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Have a think about the A’s and C’s for this behaviour.

The C’s are pretty clear – there is a big pay off in getting to tug the mop; it moves and it’s soft and squishy, which are textures dogs often like to bite; this behaviour causes a surge in arousal with all the component neurochemicals causing him to feel good about it all.

Don’t forget the A’s! In dog training there is an inordinate amount of time devoted to discussion of C’s and not nearly enough about A’s and related factors.
As soon as Ollie’s human walks toward the mop, he is following and watching. You can see his excitement building with jumping up, trying to grab it, even vocalising.
He responds this way when in another room and can only hear the mop too! Ollie might just be a proper mop-addict!

He anticipates a whole lot of excitement when the mop comes out (you’re on your own there, Ollie!). This arousal means it’s really tricky to redirect his attention on to something else and to get him to let go of the mop.

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Modifying mop chasing/tugging

As soon as the mop comes out, Ollie is geared up for some tugging – that behaviour functions for him, providing an outlet for his excitement. If we just take that away, in that context (ABC), where does that excitement go?

Our goal in modifying behaviour is to teach a suitable alternative behaviour – what would we prefer the dog to do?
But that behaviour needs to also plug the gap of the unwanted behaviour so that the dog still gets his jollies, just in a more appropriate manner. The new behaviour functions for the old, unwanted one.

Often times, in reward based training (or what ever label you care to use), we get hooked on throwing food rewards at new behaviour without considering that there was a real need there, on the part of our learner, and a real function being satisfied.

When we remove that outlet for that animal, we may be effectively suppressing behaviour but because we are reinforcing a more desired behaviour, often with food, we think that’s ok. And it might be.
But, our training plans must include consideration for the function of unwanted behaviour, ensuring that those functions are satisfied.

(Want to learn more about this? Check out this introduction to the A-B-Cs of Behaviour webinar for the tools to design training plans. )

For Ollie, we will tick lots of these boxes, with the help of his awesome family:

  • no mopping when Ollie is around – management
  • short one to two minute training sessions of ‘leave the mop’ exercise in the clip above – he learns that he gets his tugging jollies when he hears “leave it” and that the mop coming out makes his toy available for tugging…we are switching up those A’s and C’s
  • continued practice on play and tugging in other contexts too to really get some control and responsiveness built in
  • plenty of outlets for normal puppy behaviour in lots of different ways throughout the day (#100daysofenrichment is great for puppies too!)

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As we move forward, we can start to build other alternative behaviours into this context; for example, the mop coming out means crate time or garden time with a yummy stuffable or sniffing game.
And we might use some strategies that have been successful with less intense mop chasers too.
Ultimately, the presentation of the mop will mean chill out over there but first we gotta make sure he’s getting what he needs out of this mop business. Training is a journey, not a destination, and we’re in it for the long haul!

Not the be all and end all

It might be strange for a dog trainer to say this, but I’m just not that impressed by obedience, by trainers barking out “commands”, with compliance and with expectations that their dog should obey.

Don’t get me wrong, I love watching a trainer with slick mechanics work (and I especially LOVE the joy in their learner) or watching some really cool antecedent arrangement (management or setting the learner up for success); that definitely floats my boat.

Relationship and engagement produced through that is awesome, but superficial obedience and blind compliance; nope, not for me.

But, it’s easy to see why many will be enamoured by it.
I get it, pet owners want an easy life; we want dogs to slot into our busy lives and we certainly don’t want our dogs’ behaviour to embarrass us…after all, there are no such things as “bad” dogs, just “bad” owners, right?!

Maybe it’s the shame or dread of shaming.
Maybe we are still stuck in our cultural attitude toward our relationship with dogs; us in control and them being subservient.
Maybe we get our jollies by being in control, or certainly perceiving that we are in control.

Whatever’s behind it, understanding the time and place for obedience is important. Obedience isn’t the be all and end all, and sometimes it’s not what we have and it’s not what is needed.

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Is it really obedience? Or is it just suppression?

In general, pet owners want to be able to stop their dog doing unwanted behaviour. When we think of obedience, this is often what we are thinking of…how do I stop my dog jumping, lunging, pulling barking… or whatever.

If that’s how you’re approaching this, you might already be off on the wrong foot. Behaviour doesn’t really go away; learning means that neural pathways are established in the brain and that’s not really undone. Instead, we develop new neural pathways that produce alternative behaviours and we strengthen those, with repetition, so that new, alternative, and hopefully more desirable behaviour, is established.

Punishers suppress behaviours but teaching alternative behaviour is the real key to success. That means that stopping the dog practicing unwanted behaviour (to prevent further establishment) while reinforcing desired behaviour is the solution to training problems.

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Despite that, a whole range of products, equipment and ‘miracle cures’ are available designed to suppress behaviour. Indeed, that’s what most training tools do. Suppress rather than teach.

Those tools or techniques that cause the learner stress through fear, discomfort, pain, act to not just stop behaviour but to suppress it, convincing the dog that the world isn’t safe and that they better not step out of line. This looks like an animal who is quiet and tolerant, even calm. They stop offering behaviour. They effectively shut-down the weight of the stress being so great.

This clip, from Eileen And Dogs, shows some examples of dogs who appear biddable, well-behaved and even calm. But, look closely.
These dogs are still and frozen, moving or behaving very little. That’s what’s not right here – these dogs are not behaving as they would normally. Their normal responses are inhibited by the stress they are experiencing.

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I can see why this might appeal. Look how little these dogs are doing. Look how quick we got compliance.

But this isn’t real life. This is TV-training. And dogs are not robots. They are responsive, sentient, learning beings for whom it’s normal to react and interact. And when that’s not happening, something not’s right.

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Is it really obedience? How do we really get obedience?

What most people think of as training, or at least, as trained behaviours is probably not what they have at all. That’s because achieving a truly trained behaviour is not an easy thing. Simple, yes. Easy, no.

In dog training, we use the term ‘under stimulus control’ to describe a behaviour that is well established in response to a cue in a range of contexts (might be a word, body position or movement and so on).

A behaviour is under stimulus control when the learner responds to the cue quickly and efficiently, every time, the learner doesn’t offer that behaviour when not cued, the behaviour isn’t offering that behaviour when a different cue is presented, and other behaviours are not offered in response to that cue.

It’s also commonly presumed that the dog is responding to the verbal cue you use (“sit” or “down”), and even that’s in doubt with dogs being more likely to learn about contexts and your body movements than the words we use. (D’Aniello et al, 2016) (D’Aniello et al, 2017)

You might like to check out Dr Dunbar’s SIT TEST which asks, “does your dog really know sit?”.

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Of course, we probably don’t want or need rigid stimulus control in a lot of pet-dog contexts; we want to be able to say certain words in certain contexts and not have to contest with a responsive dog throwing behaviours at us.

Truth is, it’s vastly underestimated just how much repetition and consistent practice is required for dogs (and humans) to establish behaviour reliably. And then you add distractions into that and we need MORE work. The magic number of 10,000 reps is often used to help illustrate this challenge and while that can vary, to help your dog perform behaviour on cue in a range of circumstances is a big ask.

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Sometimes, obedience is just not the answer

Obedience can actually get in the way of what we want to achieve with our dogs, in some situations. And this is especially true if obedience is being held above all else.

Feelings first

Your dog is using his behaviour in an attempt to cope with the goings on and it’s a very honest account. It’s telling you how well your dog is coping, or not. Your dog’s behaviour is information.

If your dog is feeling distressed or worried in a particular context, his behaviour will let you know. When stressed, the brain is generally looking for a way out – how to get the body out of that stressful situation.

That means that behaviour will be related to getting away, escaping or delaying social interaction or to scare something away.

Attempts to distract, redirect or correct the dog’s behaviour will often rely on obedience – the dog is told to sit, the dog is verbally intimidated or is restrained in place.

For the most part, if the dog is trying to get distance, give it to him. Not being able to get away from something scary or overwhelming makes it more scary.
We are concerned with feelings right now – if the dog is stressed, not allowing him escape will increase that stress.

Better feelings bring better behaviour.

But the opposite can happen too – better behaviour will bring about better feelings. In this context, we might get the dog that distance they crave when they are showing only mildly concerned behaviour. Calmer, quieter, more polite social behaviour gets you distance – crazy dog behaviour not required.

The problem with sit

It’s good to review, to critique and we are doing that quite a bit in dog training right now.  One question we might ask is, why do we teach dogs to sit?

Sitting isn’t really a favoured position by dogs, in natural situations. They tend to sit mostly when they aren’t sure about something (we often call this information gathering) and they might tuck their bums in a sitting motion should they be uncomfortable with something around their back end, such as another dog sniffing them.

Associating sit with amazing rewards and being careful when we ask for sits will go a long way to keeping it positive and happy. But, when we don’t establish this, sitting, when asked, may not be a pleasant situation for your dog at all.

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Obedience classes in the face of fear

A training class will be full of people and other dogs, in a confined space, around lots of high value resources, with everyone on lead and a little tense.

Such is the understanding of the application of obedience, on a pretty regular basis, I will discuss this with a client who wants to bring their dog to an obedience class to help with behaviour related to fear, shyness, aggression, “reactivity”.

Putting those dogs in such an environment means that they will have difficulty moving away, achieving distance and gaining relief. And while their behaviour may be suppressed in this situation, so they appear tolerant, it’s probably not helping them feel better about being in close proximity with triggers.

What’s that dog really learning about triggers? How does that experience make that dog feel?

Obedience is not a priority for puppies

This by far one of my biggest bug bears – we have tons of time to teach puppies to come when called and walk nicely on lead, but such limited time to help them develop comfort and confidence.

Before puppy learns the rules of obedience, they need to learn the workings of their world. Obedience and even food rewards can mask puppy’s experience of their world around them at the most important time for them to experience that world.

Puppies must develop life skills, rather than obedience behaviours. Life skills build on behavioural tendencies partly inherited and affected by their first weeks of life, and by the time they go to their new homes we are rushing to make sure we make much progress as adolescence looms.

I wish puppy owners would spend time bringing their puppies every where, going for car trips, people and dog watching, helping puppy develop comfort with handling, grooming and husbandry, learning to play and engage with their humans, and being able to settle in confinement. If that was the priority, I would see far fewer dogs later on for behaviour work, that’s for sure.

Getting puppies out into the world and guiding their pet owners is the central focus of AniEd puppy programs.
Puppies learn to choose their humans, when they’re ready and they have finished taking in all the information they need to be comfortable; SNIFF, EXPLORE, OBSERVE.
Engaging with their people becomes a cue or signal from puppy that they are comfortable and confident with the situation.

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The beauty of this comfort-first-obedience-later approach is that you get really cool engagement and even obedience as a side effect, without much extra effort.

Think comfort first – if the dog is comfortable, their behaviour will follow and we can build obedience behaviours into that, if you like.

Make dog walks more dog

A simple way to reduce the pressure and add a little more dog to your dog’s life is to re-think your dog’s walks.

When it’s safe, let your dog be a dog. Let him sniff (and sniff and sniff and sniff and sniff…), let him wander and roam (safely), let them roll and dig.

Take the pressure off, loosen the lead, prioritise quality over quantity, don’t get hung up on walking in front. Obedience doesn’t need to be front and centre when you take your dog out.

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You’re dog’s not broken. You don’t need to fix him.

All behaviour functions for the animal. Generally, dogs are doing behaviour that gets them things they like and allows them to avoid things they don’t like.

Your dog’s behaviour isn’t and can’t be “bad”. It’s just behaviour.

Most of the unwanted behaviours that dogs do, are normal dog behaviours. Behaviours that dogs need to do. That are inbuilt and part of the package.

We have made arbitrary rules about the sorts of dog behaviours we like and don’t like. Dogs don’t know about that until we try to reshape their experience with human-imposed-obedience.

Dogs must get to be dogs. Meeting their needs will provide a better more solid foundation for appropriate behaviour than obedience alone.

Dogs are not robots. Sometimes they can’t obey.

Obedience is a human made construct based on our arbitrary rules for how dogs should behave in the human world. The dog is often the last to find out about it.

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When a dog can’t or doesn’t comply, the first thing I look at is the environment. Remember, behaviour is in the environment, not in the dog.
The environment is causing the dog discomfort and for obedience, there first must be comfort.

Maybe the goings on are causing the dog to feel over excited, worried, cold or too hot,  maybe they are conflicted or distracted.

Maybe our training isn’t so hot, maybe we just are not close to sufficient stimulus control so your dog doesn’t know how to respond in these new or overwhelming conditions.

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Sometimes stress looks a lot like disobedience.

None of it is deliberate or willful. Behaviour is information. Listen.

If you want to really train, look at your dog’s environment and change it up so that the behaviour you like is going to happen.

What do we do instead?

I’m not suggesting that there is no place for obedience training, teaching behaviours and improving your dog’s manners. Training is happening all the time, regardless of what you call it or how much you consciously participate. Your dog is learning how to get the good things and avoid the bad things all day, every day.
Training just aims to make sure that the behaviours produced are ones we like.

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While it might seem like semantics, I suggest a mind shift might be considered. Instead of aiming for compliance and obedience, think about willing engagement, think about providing your dog with guidance in experiencing their world, think about letting your dog be a dog.

Sure, training is still happening but instead of it being obedience led, we can let it be a little more dog-led.

This doesn’t get you off the hook. I do think that most pet dogs need better guidance from their human partners. They need better and more outlets for their behaviour. They need more help learning to just be with their humans.

Your job is still to set your dog up for success, to arrange their environment so that they are safe, and to make sure they have outlets for their behaviour, constructing that foundation.

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We can provide all that, while getting joyful and willing engagement from our dogs, without ever mentioning the O-word.

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Moving to this mindset is what’s behind #100daysofenrichment – an entire ‘training’ manual without mentioning or prioritising obedience once.

Check it out here!

 

Where is my puppy? (Or, why adolescence is so tricky)

In what seems like only minutes, your butter-wouldn’t-melt puppy turns into a lanky, boisterous teenager; Decker at about 6 weeks and about 6 months.

Puppies are adorable and goofy, bringing joy and smiles to even the grumpiest faces. And while new puppy owners often lament at the difficulties of puppy rearing, those are nothing compared to the drama that comes with canine adolescence.

Teenage dogs are the most at risk of becoming unwanted; Irish pounds and rescue organisations are filled with adolescent dogs needing homes and help. Adolescence is hard for adolescents and their owners.  

I promise you that your teenage dog is not trying to give you a hard time, they are having a hard time. 

Your dog’s brain on adolescence

Teenagers have to progress from baby helplessness toward adult independence and to do that their brains and bodies need to go through a lot of change.

They have to become more independent, be able to make decisions and think about which information to apply to different situations – adults have to do things that are basically the opposite to puppies!

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During this stage the brain is gradually becoming a better thinking, decision-making organ but while this is happening it doesn’t function very well as a thinking, decision-making organ at all.

Parts of the brain that look after learning, concentration and impulsivity are busily being built rather than helping the teenager with coping with stress and self calming.

And just like when a motorway is being remodeled there are diversions; information and messages in the teenage brain are diverted, to more reactionary areas, while the brain is getting its make over. This often results in over-the-top reactions and emotional outbursts (we’ve all been through it so this should be no surprise).

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Along with this re-modelling of the brain, the teenager’s body is bathed in a chemical soup especially if entire (not neutered). Intact male teenagers have spikes of testosterone elevated several times greater than that present in adult entire males while females also play victims to hormones preparing them for mating, motherhood and maturity.

Not to mention that adolescents are getting their adult teeth and their adult bodies – this growth and development can be  painful encouraging the teenager to seek out comfort by chewing, vocalising, being restless and attention seeking.

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To add further complexity to canine adolescence, fearful and aggressive responding are likely to spike as dogs enter adolescence, and throughout. Teenagers are not necessarily any more fearful or aggressive than other dogs, but now, with their adult bodies and less-puppyish, but still immature responses, their expression of distance increasing signalling becomes more refined, and demonstrative.

This is stress related behaviour and canine adolescents don’t have the best recovery strategies.

Throughout behavioural development, dogs go through a number of periods during which they may be more sensitive to fear and less well able to recover; these are called fear impact stages or fear periods.
During puppyhood, these periods tend to be a little more predictable, happening at about 5 weeks, 8 weeks and 12 weeks (roughly) but from about 18-20 weeks, brief fear periods seem to become less predictable but no less impactful. Another adolescent challenge.

This means that adolescent dogs need really careful exposure and lots of appropriate support, just like during puppyhood.

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Wild & crazy is NOT what they need

The temptation is to try to tire the teenager, to run them, to have them engage in high-octane activities like group dog-dog play or repetitive fetch games.

Dog parks, daycares and play groups may not be the best place for adolescent dogs to develop appropriate social skills, and may cause teenagers to associate high arousal with other dogs and the related excitement.

Regular repetitive exerting activities are also likely to lead to increasing arousal, difficulty with calming and becoming harder to live with.

Appropriate social and environmental exposure, along with suitable mental and physical exercise, are the keys to helping you and your dog through adolescence. Get help, get committed and remember that your teenage dog is not trying to give you a hard time, they are having a hard time.

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Start preparing for adolescence in puppyhood

We can begin to help our dogs deal with adolescence when they are still puppies, just by having a little awareness of what’s about to happen in the coming months.

Puppies appear more tolerant than they often are. They don’t have complete and mature behaviour patterns so they might not show discomfort in ways that are easily recognisable for pet owners.

We tend to do a lot of handling of puppies and presume, and expect, that they like it. We allow every one and every thing greet them and get close to them. We carry them about, preventing them from choosing how they would like to proceed. We do lots of stuff to puppies that we just don’t do to adult dogs, probably because adult dogs wouldn’t tolerate it so well.

While puppies, they are more flexible in how they learn about the world around them. This means that the things that happen to them are more impactful.

You can imagine the associations puppies are making during this impressionable time. As they move into and through adolescence, they become better at saying NO! or WAIT! We think they have become more difficult, but they may just have had enough, and now they can let us know more obviously.

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Growing Pains

The perfect puppyhood honeymoon is over…adolescence has hit and some typical teenage traits rear their ugly heads.

Adolescence brings an increase in activity, strength, fitness, vocalisation, ‘reactive’ behaviour, destruction, spookiness, aggressive responding, distress, humping, distraction, toileting & marking, difficulty with calming and interest in the opposite sex.

Sounds like fun, right?

Training Through The Teenage Angst

Adolescence starts slowly from about the time adult teeth come down through to adulthood; from about 5 months to about two and a half years of age we can expect adolescent changes to slowly start and slowly come to an end. The peak is usually somewhere in the middle with nine-twelve months of age often considered the prime time for teenage trouble.

Having a good start with puppy training and appropriate social and environmental exposure certainly helps, but for the most part, adolescence brings challenge.

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Surviving Canine Adolescence – general guidelines

Manage to prevent adolescent behaviours sticking: although teenage behaviours are caused by transient changes, these teenage behaviours can become permanent fixtures if practiced.

Management means we set our adolescent up for success by preventing them being put in situations where they may carry out unwanted behaviours.

Continue with appropriate social and environmental exposure: teenagers are probably more likely to appear to over-react when experiencing emotional swings, which are just more dramatic during adolescence.

Make sure teenagers get lots of space from triggers of over-reaction, get to choose how they engage in social interactions, and continue to pair good things with exposure to social and environmental stimuli.

Supervision and observation: although most associated with puppy training, supervising of the teenager is useful too to stop destruction, humping and leg lifting before it happens, by redirecting the teenager to other more appropriate outlets.

Close supervision of dog-dog interactions is especially important, particularly where a number of teenagers hang out together.

Teach them to be good human trainers: teenagers tend to have trouble with waiting their turn, calming themselves after getting wound up and engaging with their people in the midst of distractions.

Teach teenagers how to train humans to get the things they want to help them to choose their human over the goings-on.

Physical and Mental Exercise: teenagers are stronger and more active than puppies, all of a sudden. They will need increased physical and mental exercise, while carefully monitoring physical exertion.

Improve the value of rewards: puppies bask in their owner’s love but it’s not so cool to be seen with your parents when you’re a teenager.

Building motivation for interaction with you, choosing you, and for play and fun with their person certainly goes a long way to boosting engagement.

Remember, rewards are things the dog chooses – what is the dog already doing? That can often give you information about the things that your dog likes to do. Making sure they get to do these activities is important, just as participating with them, keeping it fun and helping them choose engagement.

Clarity and Consistency: more than at any life stage teenagers need to be able to predict what’s going to happen to them. This is largely about you being consistent and clear in all interactions with them.
While management to prevent unwanted behaviour is important, rewarding desirable behaviour is just as essential.

Take responsibility for your dog’s behaviour and set them up for success .

Accepting responsibility: the ‘Teenager’ label is used to get pet owners out of all sorts of trouble but the human end of the leash must take on the challenges of living with and supporting an adolescent.
Humans tend to hold the teenager more accountable for their behaviour; they are not so cute anymore and “should know better”.
The popular opinion that teenagers are stubborn and belligerent is flawed; teenagers can’t know or do better; some days their brains are not going to be working quite right and on most days, teenagers, as opposed to puppies, will not put up with mixed signals from their teachers.

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Surviving Canine Adolescence – some specifics

Just like humans, dogs can have a hard time during this teenage phase.

Your teenage dog is not trying to give you a hard time, they are having a hard time!

Early training and appropriate social interactions during the first few months of life can help the teenage phase run smoother, but continued work and careful guidance is required for teenagers, throughout adolescence.

Here’s a handy reference guide to training and support that might help you and your canine adolescent that we give to our teenager class attendees.

Boisterous behaviour: teenage dogs are often more active, more destructive and more interactive with their world. Their growing body means that they are stronger, and may be less in control of their movements.

Things that might help:

  • make sure your dog has appropriate physical AND mental exercise
  • your dog’s behavioural needs must be met – this may include needs related to breed or type of dog
  • teenage dogs need lots of down time – they know how to go crazy, they need help learning how to be calm
  • careful management and supervision around children or other vulnerable people may be needed
  • default behaviours such as polite greetings, matwork, and autofocus will help and need consistent and ongoing training

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Mouthing behaviour – just when you thought puppy nipping was long gone, then the teenager begins to mouth and bite…and it’s painful & bruising!

Things that might help:

  • carefully look at situations in which this behaviour occurs; it’s usually related to excitement
  • prevent your dog mouthing in these situations by using baby gates or your dog’s lead or give him something to hold or carry
  • your dog’s needs must be met so that he has all the things he needs and outlets for important behaviour
  • teenage dogs need lots of down time – they know how to go crazy, they need help learning how to be calm
  • careful management and supervision around children or other vulnerable people may be needed
  • default behaviours such as polite greetings and matwork will help and need consistent and ongoing training

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Destructive behaviour – as teenage dogs are more powerful, and as their teeth and jaws mature over their first year, they will often be capable of doing more damage when they chew. Adolescent dogs might seek out chewing and destruction, especially when they become excited or distressed and seek calming and comfort.

Things that might help:

  • get your teenager hooked on chewing dog-safe chews such as stuffed and frozen Kongs
  • make sure forbidden chewable items are out of your dog’s reach so chewing your valuables doesn’t become more established
  • if you can’t remove the chewable, confine the dog from the area, especially when unsupervised
  • give your dog lots of appropriate outlets for chewing and destruction
  • providing your dog with appropriate mental AND physical exercise also helps; #100daysofenrichment is pretty much essential viewing for teenagers!
  • always take care with chews and toys for your adolescent dog as they might ingest dangerously large or harmful pieces

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Excessive barking – dogs bark for different reasons and working out the cause of barking is important in helping the dog. Generally, excessive barking is most often due to there needing to be some improvement to their lifestyle and environment.

Things that might help:

  • carefully list the situations in which your dog barks – what happens just before, what happens just after
  • barking might happen because the dog is seeking attention and interaction, is spooked by a noise or something they can see outside, because they’re bored and under stimulated, and/or because they are frightened of something or someone and they want more space and distance
  • make sure your dog has appropriate physical AND mental exercise
  • your dog’s behavioural needs must be met – this may include needs related to breed or type of dog
  • teenage dogs need lots of down time – they know how to go crazy, they need help learning how to be calm
  • block visual access to triggers for barking, such as closing curtains or confining the dog from open fences
  • bring your dog away from things that he is barking at, and try to give him that space before he feels the need to bark
  • don’t shout or scold your dog for barking – instead try to distract their focus by moving away from them excitedly as if you are engaging in something fascinating
  • reward your dog when he’s quiet, rather than waiting for him to start barking and then making a big deal out of his behaviour.
    Reward the quiet teenager with attention, food rewards, treats, toys, play, and access to the things he wants.

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Separation related behaviours – it is to be expected that dogs may become a little upset when separated from their family, but some dogs may display more concerning behaviour when left alone. This is most likely to be seen at more intense levels during adolescence.

Things that might help:

  • help to prevent escalation of separation related behaviours by teaching your dog to settle and be calm when confined, adding in separation carefully and gradually
  • beginning alone training is especially important, on a preventative basis, with dogs recently brought into the home, regardless of their age
  • film your dog’s behaviour when left alone – that footage can give you information about the sort of behaviour the dog engages in when alone
  • note especially concerning behaviour such as attempts at escaping, chewing or destruction at doors or windows, pacing, distress vocalising, salivation, not eating or being able to settle, being very quiet and still when alone
  • teach your dog to settle while you are in the room with him but ignoring him; gradually add separation to that, a little at a time so that the dog doesn’t experience distress at any stage
  • make little separations of just a few seconds, a normal part of everyday life
  • as soon as you suspect that your dog may be distressed at being alone, get help as soon as possible
  • never rely on allowing your dog to ‘cry it out’ as this is likely to contribute to your dog feeling more distressed when alone

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“Reactivity” – this behaviour is usually seen on lead or behind a fence, with the dog barking and lunging toward a trigger, such as another dog, traffic or jogger. This behaviour may be seen due to frustration, at trying to get to the trigger or trying to get away from it.

Things that might help:

  • make sure your dog has appropriate physical AND mental exercise
  • your dog’s behavioural needs must be met – this may include needs related to breed or type of dog
  • teenage dogs need lots of down time – they know how to go crazy, they need help learning how to be calm
  • work on teaching nice loose leash walking and focus skills
  • teach your teenager that the approach of other dogs or triggers means that you will feed them three HIGH value food rewards, one after another, and then turn and move in the other direction
  • don’t put your dog in situations in which he is likely to demonstrate this behaviour – distance is your friend, so move away
  • walk your dog in places that allow him to sniff and roam on a loose lead, away from triggers

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“Spookiness” – teenage dogs can have greater emotional swings, and may have strong fear responses. This is sometimes unpredictable and seems inconsistent. This may be seen as avoidance behaviour, barking and even behaviour that appears aggressive.

Things that might help:

  • give your dog plenty of space from things that cause him to show ‘spooky’ behaviour – he might dart away, he might stiffen and stare, he might bark, or lunge.
  • learn to talk dog and listen to your dog
  • get your dog out of the situation as quickly as you can – adolescent dogs will quickly learn to use aggressive-looking behaviour to try to get distance from things they find scary or suspicious
  • comfort your dog when he is scared – talk softly to him, provide him with contact if that’s what he needs
  • teenage dogs may show sensitivity to sounds, such as thunder, alarms, traffic, fireworks – get help as soon as you notice this behaviour

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Resource Guarding – this is normal animal behaviour, even humans do it! Dogs may guard access to food and food related things, chews, toys, their bed, sofas, favourite sleeping positions, and even people, by stiffening, growling or even snapping and snarling.

  • provide your dog with his own space to eat, play, chew and relax
  • never just grab things from a dog or remove them from their bed or sleeping spot
  • make sure children understand never to disturb a chewing, eating or sleeping dog, and supervise all dog-child interactions directly
  • tidy away forbidden stealable items that your dog might take
  • if your dog gets something he shouldn’t, don’t make a big fuss and don’t pursue them; if the item isn’t harmful, or valuable or destructible, ignore your dog. Divert his attention by pretending to engage in something exciting in another room.
  • if you need to get the item back, create a diversion by tossing food rewards or a toy in the other direction, pretend to go to the fridge or get ready to go out for a walk
  • don’t recover the item until your dog has moved away from it
  • practice exchanges and “thank you” exercises with a range of items

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Handling discomfort – puppies are presumed to tolerate handling and manipulation, but this is not really the case. A lot of puppy biting behaviour is seen due to them being overwhelmed with handling, restraint, hugging and being picked up. It’s likely then, that teenage dogs will continue to express their discomfort, but in more serious ways.

  • pair touching, grooming and handling of body areas with high value rewards
  • learn to talk dog and listen to your dog
  • if your dog shows discomfort, immediately stop and work on handling exercises on a nearby body area until you can build his comfort in more sensitive areas
  • visit the vets and groomers for social visits – just go in, eat some treats and leave again
  • always bring high value food rewards to the vets and groomers so that your dog associates these places with yummies
  • practice handling exercises every day

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Setting ’em up for success

We often talk about it, setting the learner up for success…but what does it mean?

Traditionally, we think of ‘training’ as being about barking out “commands” and showing ’em who’s boss but now that we have a better understanding of animal behaviour and learning, that approach is redundant.

Behaviour is in the environment

That’s another one we say a lot: behaviour is in the environment, not in the dog. Behaviour doesn’t happen in isolation; your dog does behaviour in certain conditions. These are the Whens and Whys of behaviour.

When does your dog do a behaviour (any behaviour)?
Who’s present? What’s just happened? Where are you? What have you just done? Any and all of those things might cause or trigger behaviour.

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Why does your dog do a behaviour (any behaviour)?
What does your dog get after a behaviour? What does your dog get away from after a behaviour? Any and all of those things might be the reason he does it.

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Behaviour happens in certain conditions for certain outcomes. Dogs do behaviours that work!

Teaching our dogs involves us setting up the whens and whys so they are less likely to do unwanted behaviour and to make it easier for them to behaviours we like. That’s setting them up for success!

Your dog’s behaviour is information

Unwanted behaviour, for the most part, is normal dog behaviour. We’ve generally put our dog in a situation that makes inappropriate behaviour happen.
We haven’t set them up for success.

That means our dog’s behaviour, whether appropriate or not, is information about how well they are able for that situation. Training gives your dogs the coping skills (behaviours) needed to deal with the environmental situations we put them in.

Your dog’s behaviour in a situation, gives you information about how well you have prepared them, or not.

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Puppy Party

Follow the progress of Bonnie’s babies on our Facebook page. We have been working with these six puppies who were born while their mum was in the care of A Dog’s Life. Bonnie’s babies, and Bonnie their mum, have been in a wonderful foster home, learning about life in the human world and getting ready for going to their new families.

At about 6.5 weeks of age, they came for a puppy party with a community petcare course I was delivering. This was their first big outing, away from their home and away from their mum. A BIG challenge for such young puppies that meant a longer car journey, crate confinement, a new place, lots of new people and all new sensory overload.

No such thing as “bad” behaviour

Living with humans, for dogs, is tough. We have made arbitrary rules about what behaviour is acceptable or not. Dogs are born with a ton of in-built behaviours that humans, for the most part, don’t like. We humans have come up with all sorts of inventive and aversive means to suppress this unwanted dog behaviour under the guise of asserting that we are in charge and attempting to mould them to conform to our preferences.

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You would expect that bringing six young puppies to a school environment would cause all sorts of chaos and put them in situations that allow for lots of mischief that people find inappropriate, and we might not want them to practice.

This is where setting them up for success comes in…

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Knowing all this means it’s my responsibility to help them cope. At just over six weeks, we can’t really expect these puppies to have many skills, but we have been preparing them by bringing them on short car trips, spending some time in crate confinement, meeting lots of new people and spending time away from their mum.

Training and appropriate exposure helps to set the scene and set them up for success by adjusting the picture so each puppy is better able to choose appropriate behaviour.

Behaviours of concern: distress related behaviour while confined in their crate during the journey there such as vocalisation, attempts to escape, squabbling with siblings

Whens: in the car, longer duration of confinement, intermittent stopping and starting in rush-hour traffic

Whys: frustration at being confined, wanting to move about, wanting to move away from siblings, wanting comfort or contact with human, needing to toilet, hunger

Setting them up for success: 

  • puppies were brought to an area where they toilet before travelling
  • puppies were brought to an area where they play before travelling so they were just getting ready to sleep as we left
  • puppies were given their breakfast shortly before the opportunity to toilet
  • I set the crate up in the car before bringing them out – the crate was lined with puppy pads so it wasn’t too slippy and was absorbent
  • one of may favourite puppy hacks is to smear the walls of the inside of the crate with something really yummy and irresistible
  • then I turn on the heat in the car, play classical music and we all bask in the calm!

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Behaviours of concern: toileting every where, hiding or escaping, chewing stuff, getting in the way, being distressed in a new place and without mum

Whens: in a new place, without their mum, access to lots of space, after a period of confinement

Whys: exploration, having fun, reunite with mum, to toilet

Setting them up for success:

  • get set up before they come in
  • cordon off an area of the room securely and safely, away from the door, so people can come in and out easily without disturbing the puppies
  • set up a blanket and toys from home that will smell like mum and familiarity
  • have newspaper and puppy pads on the floor
  • lots of places to hide
  • plenty of novel objects too
  • high value chews and loaded snuffle mat to engage with as soon as they arrive, that will keep them busy while they take it all in and will help with calming
  • having more chews, food and toys available than there are puppies – this reduces competition

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Behaviours of concern: behaviour associated with feeling overwhelmed at the new place and new people

Whens: once they arrive and are brought in

Whys: it’s all new and lots of new experiences lumped one on top of another can be pretty stressful

Setting them up for success: 

  • getting everything ready before bringing the puppies in
  • allowing them plenty of time to settle and find their feet before all the new people arrive
  • giving them time to choose how and when they interact with the environment and the people
  • no luring or looming from the class attendees
  • allowing the puppies to choose

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By the time puppies had explored and chewed, toileted and played, they were ready for another nap so were pretty sleepy when everyone began to arrive, and soon nodded off.

Behaviours of concern: vocalising, biting, chewing, jumping up, making strange and hiding

Whens: all the people are present, new place and new people, just woken up

Whys: experiencing distress or startle, to escape social interaction, hungry and wanting food, to toilet or to sleep

Setting them up for success: 

  • allowing them to wake naturally
  • having food and space to toilet available immediately upon waking
  • more stuffed Kongs than puppies
  • having attendees sit back and allow puppies to choose to interact
  • no picking up the puppies
  • giving clear instruction
  • teaching attendees how to interact (rather than emphasising how not to) and providing them with new skills and awareness
  • allowing puppies to choose how and when they engage and interact

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The puppies had a great time with minimal stress for everyone. We had peaceful car journeys, they coped amazingly well with being in a new and weird environment, they were friendly and outgoing with everyone and then slept all the way home!

Bonnie’s babies are ten weeks next Thursday and will be getting their second vaccination. By the weekend they will be ready to go to their homes. If you would like to add a fantastic companion to your family, get in touch with A Dog’s Life.

 

How can you set your dog up for success?
What the behaviours you might be concerned about? What are the relevant whens and whys?
How can you prepare your dog with behaviours for coping and how can you adjust the picture so it’s easy for them to choose appropriate behaviour?

To the extreme

Reading my social media feeds this week, you would think that the only way to train a dog is NEVER with this tool or ONLY with this tool, to ONLY feed this diet because this diet KILLS dogs, to NEVER allow your dog carry out this behaviour, ONLY get dogs from this source…and so on and on.

I understand that social media, as a communication tool, facilitates this polarisation, but as professionals, surely we have responsibilities in recognising and understanding the nuances in human-dog interactions.

We espouse “science” and “evidence” bases but yet commit science- sins of absolutism and declarations of ‘fact’ and ‘proof’ based in anecdote and bias.

The bottom line is that dogs and humans have been together, in one way or another, for many tens of thousands of years (if not longer). Both humans and dogs are complex social creatures, who bring lots of variability and flexibility to the table. Dogs are super-dooper adaptable, which is a feature that has probably allowed them to develop such close and intense relationships with us.

My clients are, for the most part, regular pet owners. They have busy lives, to which their dog is an addition, and their pet must slot in. My job is to help them help their dog to do that.
In essence, what I am doing is helping them meet their pet dog’s needs, improving its welfare, so that their relationship blossoms.

Sharing extremes is likely not helpful. My responses to queries about trying or avoiding such recommendations tend to range from “maybe that’ll work” to “that might not work in this situation”.

Behaviour is such a loose and flexible phenomenon that binding it in absolutes is not helpful. Many, many factors contribute, some within our control and some without.
What works for this person, this dog, this context, on this day, may be very different for another person or dog, or another context or day.

I am not at all suggesting that rules and laws don’t apply to behaviour, but rather the application of same, in every day life, may be a greyer area altogether.

My clients need help fitting their dog and its needs into their lives. That requires compromise and discussion, rather than dictating and self-righteousness.
Social media is powerful, but can be a dangerous place for novices, who may be impressionable or naive.

Yes, lots of training-cultural norms need to be challenged and re-challenged, and I enjoy that and the accompanying learning curve, but not at the expense of discussion, preference and appreciation for variation in approach.

By opening up, rather than shutting down arguments for or against, we can debate and discuss, and learn and adapt. Absolutes and definites shut that down, scare away newbies and make dog training a dictatorship, rather than an applied science that can be molded and shaped to help pet owners and their pets.

Dying of Fright

Halloween is almost upon us, and with that, the accompanying terror experienced by so many dogs.

Because so many pet owners report that their dogs show fear to fireworks (and other sounds like thunder), it’s become somewhat normalised. That reduces proactivity , meaning that so many pets, and their people, suffer through fireworks season.

Fear is a significant stressor that affects dogs’ welfare, and may even cause the development of anxiety and phobic type responses having long lasting effects.
Where anxiety and phobia develops, the dog is exposed to intense, chronic stress which is damaging, physically and emotionally.

Although helping dogs who show fearful responses to sounds, whose fear generalises, who develop anxiety, and/or who develop phobic responses, is by no means easy or straight forward, we have lots of tools that we can put in place to increase their comfort and improve their welfare.

It’s too close to Halloween, and even New Year’s Eve now, for us to help your dog learn a more relaxed response to fireworks and other loud noises, but there are lots of effective strategies that we can put in place to help them, reduce their distress, and avoid this escalating further.
(That’s why we are not discussing counterconditioning and the use of sounds CDs etc.)

How does a fearful dog respond?

Dogs experiencing distress may show responses such as:

  • alerting to the sound, especially where the dog remains alert and on edge, even when it’s quiet
  • barking at the sound
  • wide eyes, panting, trembling, pacing
  • sitting close to you, attempting to snuggle in to you
  • looking to hide, or move away from the action in the house
  • checking doors, windows, boundaries
  • lying or sitting very still and quiet

Just as we are concerned for a dog who is showing less activity than normal, due to their normal responding being suppressed by fear, stress can also cause increases in activity.

This is often in the form of displacement behaviour including play and play related behaviour that’s often quite intense, so you might see play bows, bouncing and jumping. We might also see greeting behaviour, jumping up, humping, mouthing, overly affectionate behaviour and persistently seeking attention and interaction.

Which dogs are likely to be affected?

It’s pretty normal for a dog to be aware and possibly frightened of loud, booming noises and light flashes, just as a person may be. But, where this normal response is seen, the dog will recover immediately and be capable of going about their usual activities.

  • Some types of dogs are most associated with developing noise sensitivities, so there may be some heritable component.
    Many types of dogs were developed to be extra sensitive to their environment, and to be proactive if even the slightest threat is detected. We may have been selecting for the underlying components associated with various types of reactive behaviour when breeding dogs for particular functions.
  • Adolescent dogs go through fear periods during which they are more sensitive to scary situations and more likely to form long standing fear responses to these scary situations.
  • New dogs who might not be fully settled in their new home, so everything might be a bit overwhelming.
  • Sound sensitivity and separation related behaviour may be linked, so dogs who demonstrate behaviour associated with distress at separation may be more likely to show sound sensitivity. (Sherman & Mills, 2008)
  • Dogs who show fearful responses to other sounds such as the smoke alarm (particularly the beeping when the batteries are going), thunder and storm sounds, booming or low frequency sounds, household and machinery sounds such as blenders, lawn mowers etc.
  • Which paw your dog prefers may even be related to the development of sound sensitivities! (Branson & Rogers, 2006)

Trigger stacking is also worth noting here. A dog, who has been exposed to one loud noise in isolation, may have time to recover from it, but fireworks are generally repetitive and unpredictable.
The dog will not have had time to recover from one, before another goes off.
Because they are unpredictable, the dog can’t prepare himself so may be on edge in anticipation.

What can we do?

It’s not hopeless. Don’t just watch your pet suffer through Fright Night – we have some time to get planning and prepared so that you and your dog are more comfortable.

Planning

We know this is going to happen, indeed, in lots of areas it’s already happening. Let’s get a plan in place to reduce canine stress surrounding Halloween activities.

  • make sure your dog has a tag on his collar, and that his microchip details are up to date
  • stock up on HIGH value food rewards that your dog LOVES like hotdog, chicken, cheese, pate, peanut butter, roast beef, liver or whatever really gets your dog going
  • stock up on some of your dog’s favourite toys that he loves like squeakies, tugs and toys for dissection
  • check out our YouTube channel for tons and tons of ideas for puzzles to keep your dog’s brain busy and distracted.
  • start to plan toilet breaks – how often does your dog need to go outside? what time will it be dark? is there a quieter area that you can bring them to?
  • plan how you will exercise your dog at home or in quiet areas so that they are a little more settled
  • where will you and your dog be set-up on the night? This might require a bit of planning, especially if you have family or party plans.
    Set up in a room that is well insulated from sound (surrounded by other rooms, for example) and has at least one door between the dog and the entrance/exit to the house.
  • exercise your dog on lead at and around Halloween
  • Your dog will very likely be comforted by your presence so being with him or her is important.
  • Start to play the TV or music louder than usual now so that you can use it to drown out sound on the night, and your dog has some time to get used to it.

Set-up a safe bunker for your dog now! If you only use it when he’s likely to be scared, he will associate this change with feeling frightened. 

  • Make a comfortable, cosy refuge by laying some blankets over a bed, chair, table that your dog can go under, or a crate.
    There may already be a spot that your dog likes to take cover in – use that, if it’s safe!
  • Set up a bunker in places your dog chooses to hide, if safe
  • have your dog’s bed in there and his favourite toys there

Start to feed your dog a yummy stuffed Kong in their bunker every day in the run up to Halloween so that you are establishing this as a nice place for them to go.

Needless to say, it is not recommended that you bring your dog to bonfire or fireworks events, or to costume parties or trick-or-treating, or even greeting trick-or-treaters at the door. 

Most dogs are not comfortable wearing costumes, even though it can be super cute!

Preparation & Safety

Halloween isn’t just spooky for us!

Children and people in costumes, funny decorations, candles and reduced light, lots of forbidden and even dangerous food, excitement and doorbell activity will cause any dog to become stressed out – throw in fireworks on top of that…

If a dog is stressed out, his normal ability to cope with stress is reduced, so even though he may tolerate excitement and activity at other times, Halloween might be too much.

Special consideration needs to be given to child-dog safety at this time of year:

Other safety concerns include:

  • dangerous and inappropriate foods
  • routines out of whack so it can be difficult to keep track of everyone
  • candles
  • decorations
  • door opening and closing
  • children in costume, excited and possibly worrying to the dog

Halloween is a bit of a minefield when it comes to dog care!

The Set-Up

Fearful and spooked dogs can panic and attempt to flee, even injuring themselves in the process.

  • make sure your dog wears a collar with ID, and is chipped (make sure the chip is registered and the details are up to date)
  • check fencing, gates, boundaries etc. and it’s best to exercise and toilet your dog on lead, even in your own garden. A panicked or spooked dog will go through an “invisible” fence, over or through a boundary that they normally wouldn’t.
  • keep your dog on lead when walking, just in case he is spooked while out and about
  • have at least one closed door between your dog and the front or back doors
  • spend time with your dog in a quieter area of the house; it’s better to have children and other pets spend time elsewhere especially if they are active or noisy
  • close the windows and curtains in the house
  • play music or the TV louder to drown out some external sound.
    You can run the washing machine or dryer, or use a white noise machine or app.
  • while inside and supervised with you, have your dog drag his lead so that he can be easily restrained if needed

Your behaviour

You may act as a safe base for your dog, whom he uses as a reference point. This means that your presence and your behaviour may help your dog cope with distress.

  • be calm
  • don’t scold your dog – this will make fear worse
  • talk to your dog, use a jolly voice
  • sing happy songs or listen to upbeat music – this will help you and your dog be calmer!
  • stay close to your dog – try not to come in and out too much
  • listen to your dog: if they seek contact, pet them; if they just want to stay close to you, be there; if they want to hide, let them and make sure they have a safe space
  • YOU WILL NOT MAKE YOUR DOG’S FEAR WORSE BY COMFORTING THEM! 
  • it may be better that an adult is responsible for the dog, rather than children, for safety

Massage and touch may help your dog, and it can be relaxing for you too. But, remember, listen to your dog and it’s best to do this between booms and bangs, rather than when he’s stressed. We have more on this here.

Keep ’em busy

With all this planning and preparation in place, you will be doing an excellent job of managing your dog’s response to scary sounds.

If we can successfully reduce the impact of the noise, we might be able to further take the edge off, by providing your dog with lots of distraction, to keep their minds busy.

  • if they can eat, practice fun training exercises using high value rewards
  • if your dog can play, play fun and active fetch, sniffing and tug games
  • have lots of Kongs and food dispensing toys ready with the yummiest stuff – encourage lots of chewing and lapping behaviour, which can be calming

Start practicing now! Introduce sniffing and chewing activities now, at times when it’s quiet and your dog is calm. Establish these activities as safety signals.

Intersperse fun and active games, with a calming break for some chewing, and then bring the energy up again by engaging them in a game again.
Using noisy toys like squeakies might also help to drown out fireworks nose too.

Calmatives

Calmatives are generally over the counter remedies, that may or may not have a beneficial effect. I have some concerns about recommending these.

The first concern being that reliable evidence for their efficacy is lacking, and reported or anecdotal effects may be due to placebo and bias effects.

Because there is heightened awareness among professionals and pet owners, lots of these products have flooded the market, and made very attractive to concerned dog lovers.
Using these products may cause a person to believe that they are doing all that’s required, and possibly believing that their pet is benefiting, when that might not be the case.

Such products that might be helpful, in combination with other measures include:

There are countless others, for which I have not seen effective and beneficial results, despite seeing their use with a range of dogs.

If you are going to implement any of these, start using them now. Don’t wait until the fireworks have started or your dog’s fear has intensified; otherwise they become predictors of distress.

Medication

This should not be considered a last resort, or something that must be resorted to.

Sound sensitivities cause dogs real distress and suffering, and impacts their welfare. If fireworks caused physical pain, I’m sure people and professionals would not hesitate to medicate, treat for pain and inflammation, ensure the dog’s comfort.
Sound sensitivities cause serious emotional and behavioural damage, which has a neurological basis. We can treat the brain, and help the dog.

First port of call: talk to your vet.
Share this article from Dr Overall on drug therapy for sound sensitivities.

Be clear about your dog’s behaviour:

  • What sounds cause the fearful response? Where is your dog when this happens?
  • What does your dog do? How does your dog respond?
  • How long does it take for your dog to recover, and go back to normal?

Further treatment may be indicated in different situations:

  1. a dog who alerts and barks at fireworks, and maybe shows some of those displacement behaviours (increases in activity etc.) is probably going to be OK by implementing the measures described here
  2. a dog who hides, and startles but can still interact, play and eat is also likely to be OK just by implementing the advice in this blog
  3. a dog who pants, paces, trembles, especially if they take a while to recover from this distress is likely to need more support
  4. a dog who panics and looks to escape is likely to need more support
  5. a dog who has a disproportionately strong response to sounds is going to need more support, especially where this response has generalised to other sounds
  6. a dog who is on edge, even at quiet times, and startles and shows distress to a growing array of sounds will need more support

Dog 3. and even dog 2. (and 1.) may benefit from a situational medication like Sileo, which is a relatively newer medication developed for dogs with sound sensitivities. It offers lots of benefits in that it can be administered at home, even once the dog is experiencing distress.
Sileo helps to reduce anxiety and distress, without sedation.

Dogs 3. – 6. may benefit from an anxiolytic medication such as Benzodiazepines, which help to reduce anxiety and panic, but may also be sedative.
These may include alprazolam and diazapam. The former is likely a better option, as it is less sedative. These can be given as situational medications so are ideal for Halloween night when there  are likely to be fireworks consistently sounding.

Dogs 4.-6. may benefit from maintenance medication too, so as to help reduce anxiety in their day to day lives, and help limit the generalisation of their sound sensitivities, for example, clomipramine, fluoxetine.
These anxiolytic medications will provide background relief, and then situational medication can be given when we expect the extra distress of fireworks. (We don’t have sufficient time to start this medical program at this stage, as it’s likely to take a couple of months.)

Please discuss this with your vet. This is only general advice based on medication protocols often applied to dogs with sound sensitivities. Medications don’t work the same for every dog, so your vet will know the best approach and support for you and your pet as you try to find the best protocol to help.

Some anxiolytic medications can cause paradoxical effects so talk to your vet today. This will give you some time to try the medication out, before you really need it, so that you can evaluate your pet’s response.

A note about ACP

ACP or Ace or Acepromazine is still commonly prescribed for sound sensitivities. This is not an appropriate medication for use for dogs with sound sensitivities.

This pre-med doesn’t have anxiolytic effects, but rather sedative effects. Indeed, it may even heighten the dog’s sensitivity to sound…so not a good choice at all.

Dr Karen Overall, again, discusses its use in this clip.

This fireworks season, get planning and preparing now because our dogs don’t have to suffer just because that’s the way it’s always been. Get proactive and start today!

Of course, please get in touch should you need any further advice.

Dog (Un)Friendly

My dog comes everywhere with me, pretty much. When I got him, that was the deal. I am lucky – my dog gets to come to work with me everyday, and for the most part, I am going to doggie places, in and out of my job. If I wasn’t this lucky, I might not have a dog.

With this on the cards, I do lots of work to prepare my dog for inclusion in these worlds. He can settle on cue, he can be with people and work with them, but also be confined from the action and be comfortable with that. He doesn’t care about other dogs, or getting to interact with them. He travels and waits quietly in the car, in a crate, in an office or conference room. He needs to be quiet and amuse himself, and also be ready to work and demo when called upon. That’s a tough job!

It is becoming trendier and trendier to include dogs in lots of human-environments, with restaurants and cafes, dog social events, expos and doggie-days, even outdoor movie events to which you bring your dog, encouraging pet owners to participate in these traditionally human activities, with their pets.

I can see why this appeals to pet owners. We love our pets, and want to spend time with them. As society, in general, becomes less tolerant of dogs and dog owners, we want to show ’em that our dogs are special, and loved family members.
I want this for pets and their people too.

But, are we stopping long enough to ask, what our dogs might want?

Dogs are living a life that is less and less like the life dogs would choose. They are living more and more like humans; that’s a pretty boring life for a dog.
We’ve just been talking about how it’s becoming harder and harder to provide for our dogs’ behavioural needs lately – In my day…

The expectations we have for dogs are becoming harder and harder for dogs to live up to; this continues to be fueled by our social media, Disney informed impression of dogs and dog behaviour.

Not only that, but we presume that our dogs are enjoying something, when actually their signaling and behaviour might be telling a very different story.

Now, THAT is truly a tough job for dogs.

Of course there are dogs who do well at such events, but we can’t expect all pets to enjoy or even tolerate such interactions and activities. And certainly not without preparation.

Just because something is enjoyable to the two-legged species, doesn’t mean the same for the four-leggers:

  • lots of people and other dogs in, usually, smaller and/or confined spaces with lots of activity, comings and goings, activity and noise can cause dogs to experience a higher level of arousal.
    Arousal refers to the levels of stress experienced by the dog, and their behavioural coping strategies.
    Being confined on lead and/or in smaller spaces, with little opportunity to escape social pressure is likely to cause increases in arousal, leading to decreased ability to inhibit behavioural responses.
    Dogs don’t enjoy this, it can be detrimental to their health, and even stressful for their humans too – this might even present safety concerns.
  • sitting around or hanging around may be frustrating and boring for dogs – this is different to them hanging around or snuggling up next to you at home
  • lots of strange dogs, often on lead or in confined spaces, together, is not usually a good social outlet, and may facilitate inappropriate social interaction – this is NOT how “socialisation” works, or what it is
  • because we want our dogs to love this, and presume that they are enjoying themselves, they might experience inappropriate social pressure – lots of encouraging and luring, using leads or body pressure to restrain them, being unable to escape or move away from well-meaning people and dogs, hugging and confinement can make for pretty uncomfortable dogs
  • lots of food and other resources, with other dogs and people near by, can cause dogs to become more aroused, frustrated and concerned
  • children, and even well-meaning adults, might find this exciting too, causing them to act in ways that can worry dogs
  • normal dog behaviour, the stuff that dogs really enjoy, is generally in conflict with what is acceptable in human society

Dogs granted legal access to different human-centric environments in service and assistance dog capacities are very carefully selected and then go through years of training to be able to maintain their comfort and behaviour in public.

We can teach many pet dogs how to cope well with such environments, and that can be an excellent way of spending time with your dog. But, the skills required are not basic and will require time and effort.

At the same time, there are some dogs who just won’t enjoy such environments and activities, and that’s ok too.

There are lots of ways to spend time with our beloved dogs. The more we bring them into the human world, the more preparation they will need. That’s our job.

At the same time, however, we must provide for their behavioural needs by providing them with appropriate outlets for DOG behaviour.

There needs to be give and take here, and we are the primates with the big brains , so it’s up to us to choose appropriate dogs, prepare them and support them, if we wish to immerse them more and more in the human world.