Drop It!

Note: this is an article in a recent series of puppy training articles – see the bottom of this page for links!
We know many people during Covid may lack a lot of options when it comes to puppy classes. They do exist in Portland, but these days they are often filled up too quickly, as there are SO MANY  new puppies right now.  Even if you can find open classes, maybe you don’t feel that comfortable about leaving the house right now. Whatever the reason, I’m hoping to help you along with some specific handy behavior basics. Stay tuned for more!

Drop It!

A recent customer brought home his 8 week old puppy, and was shocked the second day when he went to take something from her and his tiny little angel growled at him. He came straight into the store very worried that he had adopted a Cujo puppy with a vicious streak. I want to reassure you: protecting resources is a very natural behavior for dogs, and actually for all animals including people. Lions aren’t keen on hyenas stealing their hard-won meal. Think about how much you have to actively teach and remind your toddlers to share – it doesn’t exactly come naturally. Even though our mommas might have taught us well, think about how you might react if a stranger walked by your table in a restaurant and took a handful of your french fries! However, don’t despair, there’s absolutely no reason you can’t teach your new puppy to happily surrender what’s in their possession to their humans!

First I’d like you to consider what normally happens: The puppy (who naturally puts absolutely everything in her mouth that she encounters) chews on something like your shoe. You gasp and run over, yank the shoe away and leave her with nothing. Then she’s chewing on an absolutely delicious bully stick but you notice it’s getting floppy and short enough to swallow, so you approach her hastily and take it away.  Hmmm. Not so fun. Maybe next time she finds a sock and as you rush over to take it away from her, she runs away with it. She’s starting to understand that if she has something and you rush over saying “no”, you’re going to take it away for sure, and maybe she doesn’t want to lose that fun thing.  As she runs away with it, you chase her around (perhaps pretty fun, actually) and when you get the sock in your hand she tugs against it (really fun!) And then she loses it. (Boo. Game over. No fun at all.) 
You are in fact actively teaching her not to let you get something she wants to keep, or perhaps that if she’s bored, grabbing something that elicits a chase and tug game is a pretty great idea. If you’re ripping away her most delicious chew, she’s very much NOT going to be motivated to give that up next time, and may even start to get defensive about you “stealing” it away from her. She’s no dummy. She can see patterns in your behavior and learn from them, but unfortunately you might be inadvertently teaching her behaviors that might infuriate you.

Here’s the recipe for success:

Instead of teaching her that “drop it” means she always loses things she likes, make it a neat opportunity for a reward. The strategy is to start frequently removing easy things that she ultimately doesn’t lose. You’ll just be borrowing them for a moment and giving them back. You’ll want to do many of these tiny exercises a day.

Tip: During this time you’ll want to manage her environment tightly, keeping things like shoes and socks, etc very well put away.

Step One, choose your command and your reward marker. Your command can be anything that you choose such as, “Can I have it?” “Can I borrow this?” “Drop It”. Your reward marker could be “Yes” or “thank you” or “good”. Whichever words you choose should be something that easily springs to your mouth, and it should stay consistent.
Then for this first exercise, lets say she’s laying on her bed and a ratty stuffed toy that she’s not playing with is laying next to her. (You want to start with low value items in calm situations). Get a yummy treat, calmly approach her and put it right to her nose, asking her, “can you Drop It?” or whatever your command is. (With your other hand, casually take the item from the bed, say “yes!!” Or “thank You” (whatever reward marker you have chosen) and give her the treat while you’re holding the toy. When she finishes the treat, praise her and give her the toy right back. 
Try to find excuses to practice this very easy exercise a lot, as  you’re just establishing a pattern. You can also do random exercises where you present her with some toy that’s hers (that’s not that exciting) and ask her if you can have it right back with the command you’ve chosen, showing her a treat if she leaves the toy laying next to her or perhaps putting it right at her nose if the toy’s in her mouth, calmly removing the item you just gave her, rewarding her with that treat, returning the toy and walking away. If she tries to make a tug game with it, just say “Oops”, drop the toy and walk away with your treat. (If you want to play tug in a different circumstance, present the tug and invite her to get it. You don’t want her to try turn other situations into tug games like when you’re folding laundry).

Tip: You want to show her that 99 times out of 100, when you approach calmly and ask her if you can have what she has, she gets a reward and she also gets the thing right back. Starting with easy things first lays down a valuable precedent. This exercise takes all of 30 seconds, so try to sprinkle it in throughout the day.

Step Two: You can start to try this same exercise with a lower value toy that she’s actively enjoying, whether it’s in her mouth at the moment or not. Work it in a lot of times a day.

Step Three: When she has something of medium value in her mouth, get two really good treats, calmly approach her and press one treat right up against her nose, while you’re calmly reaching for the toy that’s in her mouth with your other hand, asking her with your command to give it up. When she drops it to get the treat, say your reward marker, give the treat to her, and then give her the second treat, praise her, and give her her toy right back into her mouth and walk away. Practicing this a lot with low and medium value toys will likely start to turn your dog into someone that when she has a toy in her mouth and you approach, she’s going to spit it out in anticipation of a treat. If she does release it before you’ve even asked, praise her heartily, ask her with your regular command if you can have it and go through the regular motions, treating and returning her toy to her. You’re almost there!

Step Four: Next, you’re going to present her with something really exciting and ask for it back for just a moment. Get a higher value chew like a bully stick (something that’s easy for you to hang on to for a minute and that you plan to let her have at the end). Be ready with a high value treat. Present her with the bully stick and invite her to “Take It”, but continue to hold it while she chews it a little. Then put your high value treat right up to her nose and ask with your command for the drop it. Ideally she’ll release it to get her treat, and you should also praise her well and give her the bully stick right back, leaving her alone to chew it. You’re showing her that it’s safe to give up even a really good thing for a moment. For a little while, this is how you might present all things to her that she loves – hand it to her, ask her for a quick drop it for a treat and then give it back to her and leave her with it. You’re really showing her that it’s safe to let someone take things, even good things, and that it doesn’t mean she’ll undoubtedly lose it forever.
Step Five: Taking away a high value item that she’s been working on for a while: This exercise gets harder when they’re really “dug in” to a high value chew. Before you ever progress to step Five, you should feel confident about her being happy with the steps so far (especially step 4) and they have become easy. You’ll want to escalate to a crazy good treat that she never gets (a real piece of meat, or biggish cube of cheese, a piece of deli ham, or whatever would blow her mind) to reward her with for the first time you try, and do return the chew to her right away and leave her be. Getting her solid on this exercise will help you with real life situations.

Real Life : Sometimes she’ll get an object that you have to take away. Hopefully you’ve used management to prevent these incidents with household items, but life happens, like the stringy floppy thing she might choke on, or whatever she’s found in the world that might be dangerous to her if she ate it. Do NOT get worked up and run towards her to take it. Remember that you’ve created a great precedent of calmly approaching her and removing something, so keep a cool head and recreate this exercise. Keep a Tupperware container handy in common areas containing really good special treats and something delicious to trade for the item that you can leave her with handy in common areas for just such an occasion (it’s an excellent bully stick opportunity).  Remember: don’t make a fuss, no matter whether she’s decimating something you love (just whack your own nose with a rolled up newspaper for letting her have access to that valued item). Just calmly approach, put the good treat right up her nose (Of course I’m not suggesting you put anything actually up her nose, but by pressing it a bit against her nose, sometimes it distracts her from the fact that she’s letting something go to be able to take that treat), ask for and take the item as you praise her and instead of returning the item to her, this one time out of a hundred she’s going to get something else instead. Give her that bully stick and I doubt she’ll be too affected by the loss.

Tip: Remember, 99 times out of 100 when you approach and ask her to drop it, she gets a reward and gets the thing right back. Why wouldn’t she want you to borrow things from her? It’s a cool deal. If you’re doing these exercises several or more times a day, she’s going to feel incredibly secure about you taking stuff from her.

Tip: Remember, that one time out of a hundred where she has something she shouldn’t have is a valuable moment that shouldn’t be squandered. Be prepared for it, be calm and reward it well, and trade the item for something else (hopefully something good).

Tip: Be practicing this outdoors too. On a walk, bring your treats and one good trade just in case. if she picks up a stick, calmly ask if you can have it, with a treat at her nose, give her the treat and return the stick right back to her to carry. Or if she loves to fetch it, throw it for her after the drop it. This is a good way to phase out the lure (the treat at the nose thing), as the start of a game is great reinforcement for a good drop it. If it’s something she shouldn’t have and is exciting (ie: dead squirrel) make sure your good treat and good trade is handy. Getting her to be good about drop it can be a lifesaver for her in the future if she gets something dangerous. Rewarding it well is a good way to solidify the behavior. Eventually of course she’ll be so secure with the drop it that you won’t always need the lure or the reward, though it’s always a good idea to randomly reinforce behaviors you like to keep them strong.

Note: Resource guarding between dogs is a bit more tricky. If you have multiple dogs, management is important. Perhaps separating the dogs is a good idea when there are valuable items they might squabble over (raw bones, etc). Make their crates a great spot to get high value chews. Practice rewarding the crabby dog for leniency when it comes to the puppy. If they’re both sitting in front of you for treats, give crabby dog the first one, then give the puppy a quick treat and immediately give crabby dog two treats, one at a time. If crabby dog gets paid for allowing puppy to get treats, you’re helping crabby dog to develop more patience and impulse control when it comes to the puppy getting things. If crabby dog blows it, he should be calmly but efficiently removed from the opportunity. “Too bad!”. You don’t want to be unfair to crabby dog for the way he feels, so separation before high value food stuffed toys or bones are presented might be kinder in these situations, so he isn’t made anxious about losing his stuff.

You Can Do It!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tips for New Puppy Owners
Congratulations on your new puppy! What a fun time you’ll have! We very much want your new baby to live a long, healthy, happy life, so we thought we’d compile some of the nitty-gritty dos-and-don’ts of puppy care. Socialization, nutrition, our favorite chews, tips on potty training, etc!

Raising a Puppy (Or Any New Dog) During Covid19
All of us feel frightened and unsure of how long we’ll be living in this strange, suspended, frightening reality. A new dog is not just a delightful distraction from boredom- that little soul can really be a life raft for your psyche. But, this new-puppy-during-quarantine situation does come with a few unique challenges. How to work on socialization and help to prevent separation anxiety once you go back to work.

What Do They Want? How Should They Get It? (Foundational Thinking For Creating Good Behavior in puppies and kittens! Part One) Often we hapless humans try our best to tell our puppies (and kittens) what we want them to do or especially not do, yet the bad behaviors increase and we struggle to get them to be what we wish they would be, especially when it comes to attention-getting behaviors. I’m here to offer a few rules of thumb for most any behavior you don’t like.

To Treat Or Not To Treat?  (Foundational Thinking For Creating Good Behavior In Dogs Part Two) This is the second article in the series that I call “foundational thinking”, as once you understand how dogs think and learn, and the concepts behind why you use certain methods, you can train just about any behavior you like! I think this article contains what I believe to be some of the most important information I can give you about why we use positive reinforcement, and the dangers of using dominance theory and aversive methods especially when dealing with situations that are uncomfortable for dogs.

Do I Always Have To Use Treats? (Foundational Thinking For Creating Good Behavior In Dogs Part Three) A lot of people worry about training with treats.
* Do I have to keep giving them treats for everything for the rest of their  lives?
* Aren’t I bribing them?
* I want them to do things because they want to please me.
* I want them to do things right away and I don’t want to have to show them a treat to get them to listen.
 These are all good questions. Here’s how to help your dog be able to do what you ask of them the first time you ask, while continuing to build a good relationship.

Study Finds No Link Between Grain-Free Diets and DCM in Dogs

This article is reprinted from Pets Plus Magazine because we think they worded it well:

A new study failed to find a definitive relationship between grain-free and legume-rich diets and dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs.

A group of veterinarians, veterinary cardiologists and animal nutritionists from BSM Partners, a pet care research and consulting firm, examined more than 150 studies for the analysis.

“Additionally, the FDA’s reported cases of DCM include incomplete information, making it impossible to draw any sound conclusions from this data,” according to a press release from BSM.

The peer-reviewed article, which appears in the Journal of Animal Science, is an exhaustive literature review regarding the causes of DCM, and the first research resulting from BSM Partners’ long-term DCM research effort.

“We wanted to gain the best understanding of this issue, so we examined the results of more than 150 studies, which taken together did not support a link between grain-free and legume-rich diets, and DCM,” said Dr. Sydney McCauley, an animal nutritionist and the article’s lead author. “What the science does make clear is that DCM is largely an inherited disease.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last year issued an update on its investigation into reports of DCM in pets eating certain commercial foods. The FDA included a list of “Dog Food Brands Named Most Frequently to DCM Cases Reported to FDA,” including many favorites of independent pet stores.

The new article details published research highlighting a number of other factors that could contribute to the presence of DCM. These include nutrient deficiencies, myocarditis, chronic tachycardia and hypothyroid disease.

“We believe that further research is needed in order to reach sound conclusions with respect to the relationship between diet and DCM,” said Dr. Eva Oxford, a veterinary cardiologist and an article coauthor. “This is why BSM Partners has initiated multiple original research projects that will shed additional light on this topic.”

BSM researchers also stated that while the FDA has referenced many reported cases of DCM in dogs eating grain-free or legume-rich diets, the majority of these cases contained incomplete information.

“For example, integral data such as the dog’s complete diet history, age, or the presence of concurrent conditions were often missing,” according to the press release. “Additionally, some of the reported cases were of dog breeds with a known genetic predisposition to DCM, which further confounds the claim of a dietary role.
Original link to the Pets Plus Magazine article here


Please see Green Dog’s previous posts on this matter, explaining the ins and outs of this issue, simple things you can do to support your dog’s health if you choose to feed any kibble diet:

Attention Kibble Feeders: New Health Problem Reported.
Note: This was the article we posted when the first news of the alleged link between grain free foods and heart disease. It has since been proven that there is no link between grain free foods and cardiomyopathy. That being said, we still feel this article has valuable and important information about processed foods such as kibble, and how they are in fact still compromised nutritionally when it comes to the fragile amino acids that dogs and cats rely on for a healthy body. Educate yourself about how some companies “cheat” when it comes to proteins, and easy and inexpensive ways to amend your pet’s diet to ensure they’re getting these amino acids and other nutrients that will support their health and longevity.

When Vets Tell you To Switch From Grain Free Kibble To Grains
You may have heard something online or from your vet about the issue of dogs eating grain free foods sometimes showing low levels of taurine in their bloodwork. Since then, we’ve had a number of customers that come saying their vet told them to switch to a food containing grains. One local vet in our area sent out an email about heart disease, urging their customers to use foods containing grain, and also advocating for the use of  “Meat By-Products” in pet foods, and we’d like to address both of these topics to help you learn more and make educated decisions. One thing that we feel is important to point out is that some of the diets with grain in them do contain harmful ingredients. Not all grain is bad, of course – we carry a few foods with grain that we like, but there are a few ingredients in other products that we’d never allow in the store. Read why.

July 4th Tips for Pet Owners!

By Green Dog Pet Supply

Photo Copyright Green Dog Pet Supply

The 4th of July is a bad time for many pets around the country, but in places like Portland where people seem to be very big fans of the larger illegal fireworks that are so easy to get, it’s often a complete nightmare for people whose pets are terrified of the noise. Some people choose to go camping in remote areas with their dogs, and one customer routinely gets in the car with her dog on the 4th and just drives and drives for hours, around and around the city’s highways to avoid the stress of the night. Here are a few tips that we hope can help if you’re staying at home this 4th of July.

(more…)

Fun Video of Canine Freestyle Dancing

Fun video of dog and handler dancing

Freestyle is a fun dog sport where human and dog perform complex routines together to music.
Although I can’t help thinking Freestyle is a tad goofy with its costumes and routines, I am also in awe of how much you can accomplish with positive training, and I think it’s a testament to how much fun we can have with dogs when you engage their minds and bodies in activities that challenge them and allow them to have fun at the same time. Not so goofy at all!

Do I Always Have To Use Treats?

Photo by Heather Ohmart

(Foundational Thinking For Creating Good Behavior In Dogs Part Three)

A lot of people worry about training with treats.

  • * Do I have to keep giving them treats for everything for the rest of their  lives?
  • * Aren’t I bribing them?
  • * I want them to do things because they want to please me.
  • * I want them to do things right away and I don’t want to have to show them a treat to get them to listen.

These are all good questions.

 

Tiny high value treats are a great way to teach new behaviors to any animal.
Learning something new can be challenging for all of us, and for dogs it can be both physically and mentally challenging. It can also be emotionally challenging for them when working on behaviors that will help them combat the discomfort or outright fears they might have about strangers or dogs or loud noises, etc. Yummy treats can make those more difficult things easier, and the fact that they’re sprinkled though the activity fairly regularly and appear when they do the best job can be very motivating to try harder to make that good thing happen. Please read more about the value and science behind positive reinforcement training and how dogs learn, and the dangers and outright misinformation surrounding dominance based training in our last blog post: To Treat or Not to Treat

The greatest benefit to using treats when teaching a new behavior is how quickly you can teach something new if you’re using them, as the dog is usually trying to figure out how to get those neat treats, and may stay in the game longer before she gets frustrated. By quickly rewarding small advances towards your end goal, she can get the picture of what you’re after and get there faster. This is helpful to you, the trainer, and also helpful to your relationship. If you’re asking her for a new behavior she’s never heard of before, don’t forget that you have to show her what you want her to do. It seems like an obvious statement, but they really don’t speak English right away.

Picture this: If your boss (who maybe has a bit of a short fuse, so you’re already a little anxious about doing the wrong thing) says in a demanding voice, “Zowzy!” And points at the wall, you’re not going to know what the right answer is to that request. There are certainly a lot of wrong answers and likely only one right one, and if you tried one of the wrong ones (maybe you just looked at the wall, or went over to the wall and looked at a framed picture) and he seemed to be upset by that and he says “Zowzy!” even louder, your anxiety level might climb. It just wouldn’t be an efficient way for you to figure out what he wants, and you probably won’t enjoy figuring it out. Repeating a word they don’t know in a louder voice certainly won’t make them know what to do.

With treats, we can “lure” them towards the behavior we want, in order to establish what you’re after, and don’t worry – we can then phase out the lure. Small treats allow you to be able to get a lot of voluntary repetitions of the new behavior quickly, keeping the dog engaged and therefore learning what it is you want.
 So the scenario of teaching a dog to sit might go like this: the dog is standing and you put a treat right up to her nose (even touching her right under her nose with it, and move it up and back slowly so she’s following it. This makes her head point up towards the ceiling, and she might start to sit “by accident” because she’s following that treat. When her butt touches the floor, say “yes!” right at that moment and give her the treat and praise her. Do it a few more times the same way. Now it might be getting faster, as she’s starting to realize that when she gets into that position, she gets a treat. Now you can start saying the word “sit” right when you bring the treat to her nose. After a few repetitions, she’s going to start to build an association with the sound of the word sit, that it predicts that you’re going to be doing the thing where her butt touches the ground. End the session on a high note.

Next you’ll want to start the process of phasing out the lure, but we want her to have a solid sit before we eliminate it altogether. Here’s how: In the next session, repeat what you did before a few times. Your next step will be to hide the treat a little in your hand. Eventually you might like to have a hand signal to ask her to sit (many people might be surprised to find out that dogs generally respond even better to hand signals than to voice commands, maybe because we’re always talking at them). I like to use my flat hand, palm towards ceiling, and bending my elbow. It kind of mimics the up and back luring motion you just did. You can make this hand signal by putting the treat under your thumb on your flat hand. Let her sniff it there, say sit and then move that flat hand up and back just like you did before. When her butt touches floor, say “yes!” and give her the treat (and maybe a second one, for having accomplished something slightly new).  Once she’s doing that easily with the treat a little more hidden under your thumb, put the treat in your other hand and use your signal hand the same way you did last time. This time when she sits, you mark the behavior with “yes!” again but the treat comes in from your other hand. This changes the picture so she knows that she still gets a treat at this point even if she can’t see one. End on a high note.

Start to practice this new behavior in new places with the treat still in the other hand. Dogs don’t generalize very well at first, meaning that she might not know that the request for “Sit” will actually be the same behavior in another room, or outside. “But sit means touch my butt to the living room floor – how can I do that somewhere else?” Even if you have to lure the first time or two in a new place, it’s OK. She’ll soon realize that “Sit” means put your butt down, no matter where we are. And then perhaps she’s getting better at doing it when you say it, or maybe when she sees you follow the word sit with the hand signal. You can work on both.
OK – now she’s easily sitting when you ask for it. How do we phase out the treat?

Here’s the best training tip I can give you:

photo by Julie Murray

EARN EVERYTHING! Most dogs like a job. In fact, if you’ve adopted a working breed of dog, you should feel pretty much obliged to find activities that challenge their minds and exercise their bodies (think agility or other organized dog sports, freestyle, nose work, lure coursing, etc). Of course all dogs need stimulation and exercise, and any breed might enjoy these activities! Another way to always be sharpening their training skills (and yours) and to give them a job to do is to incorporate training throughout their day in a simple way that doesn’t take up a lot of time for you, but gives you great benefits.

The thing about positive reinforcement training is that it doesn’t mean you have to be permissive, or that they can have anything they want any time they want it, and it certainly doesn’t have to have anything to do with bribery, or that you have to have treats on you to get what you want from them. Here’s the way to get them to do what you want, the first time you ask:

Once your dog learns a new behavior like sit, and really knows it well, even in new areas and with a little bit of distraction around, you can ask them do this behavior to earn the things in life they want. Any time they’re excited to do something, or want to get to something or someone, or you want to give them something like a new toy or chew, this is your opportunity to get them to earn it.

Leadership is important to dogs. This does not mean “dominance” or having them do things you say to avoid punishment. What it means is that you, the leader, controls all of their resources. They have to go through you to gain access to these resources, and you have the power to give or withhold access to them. This kind of leadership is actually quite a bit more powerful than the threat of force. You are not the impediment to them getting these resources, you are the gateway. They can actually speed up their own access to these resources by doing what you want as soon as you ask them. They can also choose to not do what you ask and lose access to the thing they want (oooh – powerful stuff). Here are a few examples to illustrate what I mean:

Scenario #1:

Lets say your dog loves to go for a ride in the car. (Remember, you’re going to use this tactic only with things they want. If your dog is frightened of the car, you won’t want to make them work for access to something they fear). You’ve worked on “Sit” a lot, and the dog has a solid understanding and pretty much does it when you ask, no matter where. You’ve put the leash on and asked “Do you want to go for a ride?” and your dog is stoked! He can’t wait to get in the car. You go out to the car together, and you say “Sit”. You’re going to say it once, and not repeat it. (saying “Sit. Sit! Sit! Come on, Sit!” only dilutes your cue, making is less meaningful.) If the dog sits, super! Immediately give him access to the car and tell him he’s great. More likely what might happen is that he doesn’t. When something is exciting, it’s harder for them to do what you ask the first time you ask them. If he didn’t sit, say “Oops, Too Bad!” And turn right back around and take him back into the house. Wait a moment or so, and then ask again if he’d like to go for a ride. Repeat what you did before (go to the car and ask for a sit), and still be willing to put your money where your mouth is and go back to the house. What you’re after is a dog that knows he has this one window of opportunity to get what he wants, and as soon as he does it, he gets what he’s after. I’ll just bet you the next time you say sit to get into the car he does it! When he does, don’t give

Earning the right to come into Green Dog. Good Job Rita!

him a treat, just say “Yes!” and let him right into the car. He did what you asked, he got what he wanted. It’s likely that the next time you ask for a sit to get into the car, he’ll do it, the first time you ask. Keep your standards high (but of course allow for strange circumstances like a dog hanging out of a window barking at your dog in the parking space next to you) and you’ll get a dog that is on his way to doing what you ask the first time you ask him.

Scenario #2:

Your dog loves to meet other dogs. She’s straining at her leash when she sees a dog coming towards her on a walk. In this situation, you are usually just an impediment to her, keeping her away from what she wants. This isn’t great, as she’s not only building excitement and frustration, she might also be making the approaching dog uneasy or overly excited too. If she gets to meet the dog when she’s dragging you, this reinforces that straining at the leash behavior. You’ve basically just told her, “If you really want to get to that dog, all you have to do is drag me there”. She shouldn’t be blamed for this bad behavior, as she’s only doing what works. With any behavior you don’t like, ask yourself: What do you wish she would do? Wouldn’t you like it if she sat down and looked to you for permission to greet? This is possible!

Before you’re too close to the other dog, ask if their dog would like to say hi. If the answer is no, then ask your dog to turn away and come with you, using your treats to reward breaking away from the exciting dog and coming with you. (This is a really good treat moment).
If the owner says OK, then this is a good Earn Everything moment. Say “Great – just give me a minute because she has to sit first”. This gives you a moment to work on this. Step in front of your dog, facing her and essentially blocking access for a moment. Get her attention, and ask for a”sit”. She probably won’t, she’ll likely be trying to get around you. Don’t make a big deal, just say “Oops – too bad” and walk her a little bit back. (Space penalty). Not sitting got you a little farther away, not closer. Still blocking her, ask for a sit again. Repeat the “Oops too bad!” and the space penalty backup if you have to. Hopefully, your next “Sit” will get her to touch her butt down, even for a second. As soon as she does, you release her with “Yes! Go say Hi!” and let them say hi right away. You want to reinforce this amazing skill! The first time might be messy, but the next time might go a bit better. If you’re consistent with this, you will soon have a dog that when she first sees a dog, instead of just charging forward to get to the dog, you start to have a dog that sees another dog and whips her head around to look at you and puts her butt on the ground, as if saying, “Dog there! Oh Please can I say hi? Look! I’m sitting!” You will no longer be the impediment to her joy – you are the gateway through which she has to pass to get it, and you are very happy to let her have what she wants if she does what you ask right away. She’s finding her way to get what she wants even faster, so a faster response is what will be reinforced.

Scenario #3:

You can use other rewards he likes to reward a behavior you’re working on. Let’s say you’ve been working on “Come” recently. You’ve just gotten home from a trip to Green Dog and you’ve bought a new stuffed animal for your dog (Thanks!). Don’t just walk into the house and say here’s a new toy! Instead, hide that toy in the waistband of your pants, call the dog to “Come!”, and when he runs to you, say “Yes!” when he gets there and surprise him with the new toy! Don’t waste an exciting new bone by giving it to him for free. Ask him for a sit or a down or a spin and then surprise him with it. You’re not waving the bone in front of him as a bribe, you’re reinforcing him for doing what you ask. Even if you are holding something up you intend to give him like his food bowl, make him work for it by asking for a few different behaviors in a row, or work on “wait” when you put it down. You are the bearer of great things. You are the portal to fun and sustenance. This is a more effective form of power, and your relationship only gets better for it.

Just make sure that any behavior you’re asking for is fair – that it’s not something he hasn’t practiced or that it’s not in a stressful new situation. Once behaviors are solid, you don’t need big training sessions every day if you sprinkle these behaviors into your daytime to make him earn things he wants and make those behaviors more solid – “Lay down” to get dinner. “Sit” to go out of the house. “Spin” to get into the dog park gate.

Do use treats to help them trust strangers, to desensitize them to the sound of the scary dump truck, to reinforce important behaviors like “leave it”, (and use extra jackpot treats for leaving something amazing). Keeping a treat-filled training pouch on you for walks is an espcially good idea for a young dog, or a fearful dog. Do reinforce the things you want your dog to be better at, and they will be.

Of course dogs like to please their owners. That’s one of the many reasons we love them. Your praise and approval can be very reinforcing for most dogs. But the truth is that all animals and people tend to learn what gets them what they want or need faster, and abandon the tactics that don’t work as well. Working with this construct can get you the dog you always wanted. One who looks to you for permission. One who does what you want when you ask them to. A dog that you don’t have to bribe to get them to listen.  And above all a dog who trusts you and looks to you for guidance.

 

This article is part of a series about training puppies/adult dogs (and even tips for cats). Here are links to the others so far:

Tips for New Puppy Owners What a fun time you’ll have! We very much want your new baby to live a long, healthy, happy life, so we thought we’d compile some of the nitty-gritty dos-and-don’ts of puppy care. Socialization, nutrition, our favorite chews, tips on potty training, etc!

Raising a Puppy (Or Any New Dog) During Covid 19 This new-puppy-during-quarantine situation does come with a few unique challenges like socialization and avoiding separation anxiety when you go back to work.

What Do They Want? How Should They Get It? (Foundational Thinking For Creating Good Behavior in puppies and kittens! Part One) Often we hapless humans try our best to tell our puppies (and kittens) what we want them to do or especially not do, yet the bad behaviors increase and we struggle to get them to be what we wish they would be, especially when it comes to attention-getting behaviors. I’m here to offer a few rules of thumb for most any behavior you don’t like.

To Treat Or Not To Treat?  (Foundational Thinking for Creating Good Behavior, Part Two), as once you understand how dogs think and learn, and the concepts behind why you use certain methods, you can train just about any behavior you like! I think it contains what I believe to be some of the most important information I can give you about why we use positive reinforcement, and the dangers of using dominance theory and aversive methods especially when dealing with situations that are uncomfortable for dogs.

 

 

 

Raising a Puppy (or Any New Dog) in the world of Covid 19

Hello new dogs!
We’ve seen a surprising number of customers with brand new puppies in the store these past few weeks! There are also reports of shelters getting cleaned out of both cats and dogs around the country – yay! But Why? I was a little surprised at first, but I quickly realized there were two good reasons. What I heard from customers was that they thought that with all of the time they had on their hands, they could really concentrate on training a puppy. Later I also started to realize that this is a very scary time. All of us feel frightened and unsure of how long we’ll be living in this strange, suspended, frightening reality. A new dog is not just a delightful distraction from boredom- that little soul can really be a life raft for your psyche. When a puppy comes into the store right now, we’re incredibly grateful for the visit – it helps us have a moment of sweetness and laughter in our crazy upended lives of scurrying around putting together orders for curbside pickup, interacting with most people by phone and trying to get the people who are visiting in and out quickly (we allow two people in the store at a time right now). We stop for a moment and soak in the puppiness.  I can see both the logic and the emotional benefits of this decision for sure. But, this new-puppy-during-quarantine situation does come with a few unique challenges.

Chalenge #1: Separation Anxiety is a Risk For The Future

Being home all day every day with a new dog sets up a tricky precedent:  What will happen when you suddenly are allowed to go back to work? Adult dogs that are rescued are often prone to some degree of separation anxiety. If you think about it, it’s not an unfounded fear – they probably had another owner, and for whatever reason, lost that owner. They must worry constantly in the early days after being adopted that it could happen again. They’ll often hyper-bond to their new owner after the loss of the old one, sticking like glue to them in the house. When that new owner suddenly goes to the grocery store, the dog left behind might feel a great deal of stress.
A new puppy thinks that the routine you have in your home from the beginning is what is “normal”. Having that routine change suddenly could really throw them for a loop as well.

The most important way to prepare these dogs now for this eventuality is to show them that sometimes you leave, and yet you always come back. Showing them that you coming and going throughout the day is “normal” and doesn’t mean anything bad. First start with very short absences. Pick up your keys, step out the door, one Missisippi two Missisippi, step back in, put the keys down and go about your business indoors. Don’t make a big deal about leaving or coming back. Do that a lot until the dog doesn’t even really notice what you’re doing.
Then you can continue to build time by a little bit until you can stay outside for a few minutes. Each time, don’t mention you’re leaving, just take your keys (and whatever you’d leave with if you were going shopping). When you come back in, don’t make any sort of big deal. Jut say hi and go about your business.

At this point, you can start to work on confinement when you leave. First decide where the place is that they will stay when you’re gone. Crate training from the beginning can be helpful, or acclimating them to staying in a place like the kitchen (somewhere without rugs or lots of things to destroy). Using baby gates or an Ex-pen can be helpful. Link the confinement to a pleasurable activity like working on a treat-stuffed puzzle/slow feeder toy (Toppl, Kong, Kong Wobbler, or Lickimats are our favorites – fill the Toppl/Kong/Lickimats with moist foods and freeze them! Fill the wobbler with kibble sized dry treats or foods). You might even feed them most or all their meals in this way, so that they look forward to being confined briefly as part of their day. Remember that puppies often need to relieve themselves after a meal, so take them out of confinement and outside right after mealtime. Once they’re relaxed about your short comings and goings and also happily getting into confinement, combine them: Put them in confinement with a little puzzle toy or safe chewy before you go outside.
Eventually, take a walk around the block without the dog, or take the car around the block. Then come back (without fanfare) and perhaps take them out for another walk with you.

Is your dog a real velcro dog that can’t seem to be relaxed when you’re not right there? Some tips:
– increase the amount of exercise she gets, especially before you leave.
– consider agility training or other dog sports to increase her confidence and mental stimulation
– work on behaviors that involve a little distance, like stay, fetch, nose work, or hide and seek, to help her see that fun can happen when you’re a little ways away from her.
– install baby gates in multiple places in the house and leave good toys and treats/stuffed puzzles nearby, so that each time you leave her in a room as you walk around your house she gets something positive.
Work on your “go to your spot” behavior, creating a safe spot to rest and a good habit of being able to settle down there without being pressed up against you – read how here (scroll down to Strategy #4)
– Often velcro dogs are being reinforced by you for sticking by you without you realizing it. When you go somewhere, you might be talking to her, petting her a bit, dropping crumbs in the kitchen, etc. When you make a move to get up from the couch (like holding the remote to turn off the TV) the dog might jump up anticipating your next move. Working on go to your spot while you sit down and being released from the spot when you get up and walk to her would be a good thing to work on. You can also start picking up the remote and putting it down numerous times while you watch TV, and then start to include standing up and sitting back down, etc which can decrease her anticipation of your next move so she doesn’t see it as a predictor anymore.

Challenge #2: Socialization
This is a big one of course. Socializing a new puppy or helping a newly adopted nervous dog warm up to people and to new sights and sounds are some of the very most important things that you have to work on when you bring a new dog home. This is an obvious challenge when you’re not supposed to be taking excursions or spending time with people outside your household, but it’s not impossible.

At this time, the CDC, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) say there is no evidence that companion animals, including pets, spread COVID-19. Here’s some good info about that one weird thing we heard about the dog in China.
Can your pet infect you? To quote National Geographic’s Rachel Bale, “Yes, a tiger at the Bronx Zoo tested positive for the novel coronavirus. And yes, a cat in Belgium had traces of the virus’s genome in its stool and vomit.
But to be perfectly clear: There is no evidence that pets can spread COVID-19 to people. One study, from a veterinary diagnostic lab, tested thousands of samples from dogs and cats, and found no cases of the disease. And an early version of a report on a small experiment testing whether the virus could spread between cats found that it can—but it does not suggest that cats are an important vector in spreading disease among humans. With more than 1.4 million cases of COVID-19 globally, experts say that if pets were a significant vector, we’d know by now.
“This is almost exclusively a human-to-human transmitted disease,” Michael San Filippo, a spokesman for the American Veterinary Medicine Association, told NBC affiliates. “The risk to pets is very low, with only a handful of cases of the virus appearing in companion animals, and no cases of people getting sick from their pets.” We at Green Dog believe that if someone has the virus, it is quite conceivable considering this news from Bronx zoo that a cat could get it and show symptoms. The British veterinary Association is suggesting that cats be kept indoors to protect their health. We hesitate to recommend that you limit your puppy’s socialization with people and dogs, as we believe the risks that come along with a poorly socialized dog outweigh the very low risk of transmission of the virus from a dog to a human or another dog. If you are sick with Covid 19, it makes sense to protect your animals from you the same way you would protect other people, restricting your contact with them.

Bring treats with you on your walks. If the dog is startled by any weird sights or sounds, be upbeat, offer treats, and jolly them out of that bad feeling. “Wooo! That was a big funny dump truck wasn’t it!” is better than consoling them in a way that makes them think you also find that dump truck big and scary. Use your happy voice and manage their space if your dog is very nervous. Bring a treat pouch with you on your walks. Pairing yummy treats with the presence of something/someone that makes them uncomfortable is called Classical Conditioning, and it works! Please see this important article on working with fear-based behaviors.

Other parts of exposing them to the world is to find new surfaces to walk on, different levels of traffic flow, different sights and sounds. Find stairways to go up and down (some at apartment buildings or motels have those open see-through steps, as does the Fremont Commons building on NE Fremont, and if you’re lucky, elevators, etc.) Some stores still might be open (like ours) where they could meet a few people or just experience going inside somewhere that’s not the vet. Home Depot? A Plant nursery? Maybe call places and see if you can come. Be cautious about social distancing and be sensitive to the fact that many stores will want you to keep your visits short.

Speaking of the vet, these days many vets are taking dogs from you at your car and seeing them without you being allowed to accompany them. This is of course smart for their employees to remain safe, but tricky for the dog to be in a a place that might be scary without you. Look for a vet that advertises “Fear Free” handling techniques. Check here. for a directory. If you can’t find one, express your desire that this first visit is positive and as fun as it can be. Perhaps they’d use a jar of Gerber’s (or whatever brand) turkey baby food for the puppy to lick to distract them from a vaccination.

If you have a 6 or 8 foot leash, you could encourage your puppy/new dog to meet people in your neighborhood, if other people are comfortable with that. Praise and encourage them to go say hi, and reward them with a little treat when they return to you. If the dog is a little too nervous, just chat with the people at an appropriate distance, and praise and give treats for any signs of interest. If the dog is very nervous, keep the visit short and reward any check-ins to you by the dog.

If your puppy has had its second round of vaccines (or is meeting a dog you know is healthy and well vaccinated) you could also allow your dog to meet other dogs in this way. If both dogs are on a 6 foot leash, the humans will be at least 10 or 12 feet apart. Always ask if their dog really likes puppies (not all dogs are keen on them) and with your adult dogs, ask how they do when greeting other dogs on leash (some are great off leash but not on). It’s better they have an uneventful sighting of another dog nearby than a yucky interaction. For puppies, perhaps ask the other owner (especially if their dog seems boisterous) to keep their dog close to them, and allow your puppy to go in and out as you cheer-lead her for any little progress forward. This way there’s less of a chance of your puppy becoming overwhelmed and frightened by a bigger dog enthusiastically running up and over her, which could be scary. Your aim is always to have one of two things happen: an event that is positive for them, or one where nothing exciting happens. Some dogs don’t care at all about other dogs, and will ignore the puppy that sniffs at them. Awesome! They interacted with a dog and nothing bad happened! It’s a win. Then they might meet another dog and though the puppy didn’t feel brave enough to approach entirely, nothing bad happened and you praised and were a cheerleader to your puppy and he got a little closer and was rewarded for it by you. Maybe the next dog is pretty awesome and your puppy is interested, yo-yos in and out getting closer each time while you cheered them on. They met and it was pretty fun! Now you’re getting somewhere! If a dog ever is a little scary towards the puppy, use your happy encouraging silly voice and say OK let’s go! Try and jolly the puppy back up again and create some fun on that walk to help them shake it off. Reward the sight of any dog approaching and passing by with a treat or two, to create positive feelings about dogs approaching.

Challenge #3: Normally You’d Have Access to Puppy Classes

Here’s some amazing news if you’re in Portland:

Doggy Business, our absolute favorite training facility, is still doing puppy socialization classes and puppy kindergarten!! These classes are currently held without owners present. They’re taught by the owners of Doggy Business, Doug and Meredith. If there’s anyone I would gladly hand over any puppy of mine to, it would be these two people. They’re also doing some virtual training classes online, and can even do one-on-one virtual sessions. These are all really amazing options and I strongly encourage you to take advantage of them. Their puppy socialization classes are amazing and include exposure to things like skateboards and vacuum cleaners, etc.
They mention that “For Play Groups and Puppy Socials, we have added some extra steps to ensure getting into the building, handing off your dog to us, and picking up your dog is as safe as we can make it. Please drop us an email if you have any questions. And, if you have any symptoms of COVID-19 please keep your dog home with you”.
I’m certain that many other training facilities around the nation are adopting similar programs, using apps like Zoom or FaceTime to give you access to advice and training techniques, and I’m quite sure there’s a lot of good (and bad) training advice online. Look for virtual puppy kindergarten classes that emphasize the importance of Positive Reinforcement Training.

Other puppy priorities: 



Handling: Now’s the time to get them used to grooming and maintenance activities that will be necessary for a lifetime of care. Get your puppy used to you handling her feet (a good time is when she’s drowsy) Touch her toenails, spread her toes and look between them, and do a little massage. When this becomes normal and pleasurable to her, start holding a toe and touching something random to it, like a pencil eraser or a spoon or a bully stick. Reward this well with a treat or two sometimes (and give her that bully stick). Sometimes bring clippers to the couch and just have them lying around, and when you’ve had good success with other objects, touch them to her toenail. When you do nip the tippy tip off of one toenail, reward that really well with something amazing! (cheese? A piece of chicken?) and don’t clip any more that day. You never have to cut all nails in one sitting – it’s better to leave on a high note.
Get into her ears regularly. Massage her everywhere. Inspect her bootie. Get into her mouth frequently and count her teeth. Rub her gums with flavored dog toothpaste (yum!) (no need to brush before she gets her adult teeth, but it’s a very good idea to introduce this idea now.  You could even use a piece of gauze with toothpaste on it to rub along her gum line. Don’t mess with her gums when she’s teething.) Make these activities into something she finds normal for you to do. They could be very important in the future to being able to see changes, find lumps, and do cleaning and maintenance of her whole body. You never know when she might get a burr or a cut or a tick, etc on some part of her body/between her toes, etc and you want her to be amenable to all of these sorts of manipulations.

Developing a puppy’s soft mouth:
This is an important thing to work on right from the first days you have the puppy. A puppy’s bite can be significantly painful, so it’s no surprise that people would start a “no biting” policy from the beginning. However, we feel there are important reasons not to say no mouth at all.  Why? Because the early days are the only days that you can help a puppy begin to understand the difference between a gentle mouth and a hard mouth, and the only time that you can create a dog who automatically inhibits the force of his bite later in life. Developing “bite inhibition” means that if he does happen to bite, he is less likely to inflict as much damage as a dog without any automatic bite inhibition. It is critical to keeping people and other dogs safe if he were to ever bite someone. The truth is, any dog, no matter how sweet and trustworthy and gentle, might find themselves in an extraordinary situation. If he were in a dog fight, he might defend himself. Or if he were in a car accident and a stranger reaches into the car to get him out, he may be so stressed that he bites. If he is an old dog and in some sort of very bad pain you are unaware of like undiagnosed bone cancer and a child trips and falls on the dog, the startled dog might bite. When a dog grows up with a no bite inhibition, these bites could be much more injurious.
Adult dogs with no automatic bite inhibition often take a treat with what feels like a part of your finger along with it. They don’t mean to be a shark, but they never were able to learn how to use a soft mouth with human hands.

Here’s how to do it with your puppies:
You know that soft gentle gnawing that puppies do sometimes? If it’s soft, the adults in the house should allow it for now. When the puppy bears down harder you can give a high pitched yelp if you can do that, but the most important thing to do would be to get up immediately and walk away. Abandon that dog. Eew. Yucky dog. You don’t want to say “no bite”, or hold his mouth, or make him bite his own lip, etc. When you aggress against him, he’s likely to escalate, and then you might escalate, and now everyone’s feelings are hurt and he hasn’t even learned what you needed him to learn.  Saying no and keeping the game going is also is a mistake, as the puppy just thinks you’re roughhousing. Instant abandonment is feedback that there’s one thing he can do that ends your desire to play with him. Even other puppies do this to a degree. Someone in a litter bites too hard and the bitten puppy yelps and stops playing to lick his wounds. If there is one thing (biting too hard) that reliably, consistently ends his playtime, he’s going to start to avoid that. If, when you get up to walk away he follows you nipping at you, just pick him up without much comment (maybe an “Oops – too bad!”) and plop him on the other side of a baby gate for a few minutes. When he’s calm, let him out. You could even try another play session, but if he bites down again, you could have a 2- strikes-and-you’re-out policy. If you have smaller children at home, it’s important that an adult be involved with all play sessions. Teach kids that if the dog is getting rough or just too excited to just stand up and “be a tree”, crossing their arms, turning away. If he persists in jumping at the kids to get their attention back, you may then want to put the dog in a short timeout, but If he calms down, they can return to gentle play. Keep an eye out for a puppy that’s had enough and end the playtime on a good note before he gets too wound up. Start a different activity like a walk outside or chewing on something in a quiet spot.  
If you’re out in public and the puppy puts his mouth on a stranger you should also calmly end the interaction. “Oops – Time to go.” It’s important that a dog doesn’t think it’s acceptable to goof around with strangers by getting mouthy with them. Playing with a stranger might be fun for that stranger, but a dog putting their mouth on them might not be. A lot of people out there are nervous around dogs, and they might just be litigious, accusing your goofball of maliciously biting them.
Final Stage: When the puppy is getting better at using a mostly soft mouth, you can start to become a bit more fragile, pretending that even his soft mouth now hurts as well. You’ll be able to get rid of that gentle puppy gnawing mouth and now be tightening your standards – now even a soft mouth on a human hand ends their fun. This way you will be on your way to having a dog that is always soft and gentle with his mouth with all human hands.

The good news:

Despite these Corona virus challenges, you are correct in thinking that you really can get a lot of training work done with any dog in your household with this time on your hands. 
Teaching new tricks and skills is fun and mentally challenging for both the people and the dogs.
Some ideas:  Try Target Training! (this link brings you to an article about what target training is and how we used it as zookeepers to introduce the concept of training to various species in the zoo setting). Maybe target training will enable your dog to learn something useful like retrieving the remote for you or turning off a light switch!. Build an agility course and use targeting to teach them how to move around the obstacles.
Other ideas for fun training: Teach silly tricks like “sit pretty”, being able to go around a tree or other object clockwise or counterclockwise on command, to hop up on something on command, to go under a broomstick or hop over it.
We look forward to seeing all the great new tricks you’ve taught your dogs while you were at home!

 This article is part of a series about training puppies/adult dogs (and even tips for cats). Here are links to the others so far:

Tips for New Puppy Owners What a fun time you’ll have! We very much want your new baby to live a long, healthy, happy life, so we thought we’d compile some of the nitty-gritty dos-and-don’ts of puppy care. Socialization, nutrition, our favorite chews, tips on potty training, etc!

What Do They Want? How Should They Get It? (Foundational Thinking For Creating Good Behavior in puppies and kittens! Part One) Often we hapless humans try our best to tell our puppies (and kittens) what we want them to do or especially not do, yet the bad behaviors increase and we struggle to get them to be what we wish they would be, especially when it comes to attention-getting behaviors. I’m here to offer a few rules of thumb for most any behavior you don’t like.

To Treat Or Not To Treat?  This is the second article in the series that I call “foundational thinking”, as once you understand how dogs think and learn, and the concepts behind why you use certain methods, you can train just about any behavior you like! I think it contains what I believe to be some of the most important information I can give you about why we use positive reinforcement, and the dangers of using dominance theory and aversive methods especially when dealing with situations that are uncomfortable for dogs.

Do I Always Have To Use Treats? (Foundational Thinking For Creating Good Behavior In Dogs Part Three) A lot of people worry about training with treats.
* Do I have to keep giving them treats for everything for the rest of their  lives?
* Aren’t I bribing them?
* I want them to do things because they want to please me.
* I want them to do things right away and I don’t want to have to show them a treat to get them to listen.
 These are all good questions. Here’s how to help your dog be able to do what you ask of them the first time you ask, while continuing to build a good relationship.

To Treat Or Not To Treat?

Foundational Thinking For Creating Good Behavior In Dogs Part 2

There is still a big disconnect in the world of training – there are two camps: some trainers that use positive reinforcement training (“Causing desire of a thing, situation or behavior by using a pleasant or motivating stimulus”), and some that use aversives (“Causing avoidance of a thing, situation, or behavior by using an unpleasant or punishing stimulus”).
Humans and dogs are definitely different species with different perspectives in many ways (check out the book in the photo below). However, both dogs and humans have similar sorts of things that motivate us – things that might make us drag ourselves out of the comfort of our cozy beds to do something that we might not exactly choose to do for pleasure, but that are motivating for other reasons.

Check out Patricia McConnell’s book, “The Other End of the Leash” It’s a really interesting read on the differences between humans and dogs that often cause miscommunications.

1) Love – We might do tasks or favors for people or creatures that we love that then serve to strengthen our bonds and often cause them to show us affection or approval, which feels good.

2) Money – lets call it “currency”. Some of us are lucky enough to have jobs that mean something to us and reinforce our desire to be there, but let’s face it: When it comes to dragging ourselves out of that cozy cave and applying ourselves to tasks we might not choose to work hard on just for the fun of it, we’re all working because we get paid. For dogs, one of the most effective currencies is yummy treats. Learning is challenging for all of us – and for dogs it can be both physically and mentally challenging. It can also be emotionally challenging when we’re working on behaviors that will help them combat the discomfort or outright fears they might have about strangers or dogs or loud noises, etc. Yummy treats can make those more difficult things easier, and the fact that they’re sprinkled though the activity fairly regularly and appear when they do the best job can be very motivating indeed to try harder to make that good thing happen. If only our salary could magically appear a dollar or two at a time, right when we do a good job with something or complete a task, or especially when we do something we don’t want to do. We might get more done and have more fun doing it! There’s science to this: Wikipedia says, “In popular culture and media, dopamine is usually seen as the main chemical of pleasure, but the current opinion in pharmacology is that dopamine instead confers motivational salience; in other words, dopamine signals the perceived motivational prominence (i.e., the desirability or aversiveness) of an outcome, which in turn propels the organism’s behavior toward or away from achieving that outcome.

3) Fear – Fear can be a pretty effective motivator for both humans and animals, but as we know, it comes with baggage. Anyone that’s had a relationship with a family member or supervisor that is someone who is overbearing, judgmental, explosive with their emotions or who is quick to punish or belittle you, knows that that kind of motivation can create a lot of anxiety. It can make you feel jumpy or withdrawn when they’re around and can make you desperately seek approval that you don’t generally get, which doesn’t feel good. That person might actually be pretty pleased with this result, not perceiving that it’s tearing you up inside, or that the relationship could be much more satisfying if it was based on mutual trust and admiration.
My opinion is that just because something might occasionally be effective, it doesn’t mean that it’s the best method. In fact, the biggest trouble with using aversives (besides the byproduct of eroding the relationship and the development of mutual trust) is that it’s a method that can have serious consequences when used to address behaviors that are a result of discomfort or especially fear-based behaviors.

A good example of this is the use of choke collar “corrections” and shock collars for reactive dog behavior. Reactivity is a common problem we see in our store, when a dog lunges and barks at the sight of another dog. When a small dog does it, you’ll often hear the owner say that he thinks they’re bigger than they are or that the dog is  always thinking that they’re the “alpha”. When reactive behavior happens with a big dog, they’re worried that they have a “dominant” dog or that their dog is being aggressive. There are of course many reasons dogs might have developed that reactive behavior. That little dog may have been carried for most of its puppyhood by a protective owner. I understand the urge to keep a tiny baby out of the jaws of a big dog that might think it’s something to chase and catch. But when that tiny dog gets to be a bit bigger and its owners then decide it should suddenly have to walk on a leash, that dog may be completely overwhelmed by the new situation, suddenly feeling very vulnerable and scared. A leash also keeps a dog from being able to run away, which means their only remaining tool to protect themselves and to tell the other dog to keep it’s distance is to bark at them. “Stay Back! Stay Back!” Sometimes owners will even push that dog closer to the bigger dog and tell it to “say hi”, which could completely overwhelm it, sending into defense mode and biting. This is not being “too big for his britches”, he’s terrified and may think he’s defending his life. The owners move to another part of the store and the little dog feels like his barking worked to end the situation.

In the case of the bigger dog, perhaps he didn’t meet tons of dogs when he was young and his owners thought the best way to “socialize him” was to bring him to the fenced dog park, where he met another dog with poor social skills, had a very scary scuffle and came out with some small wounds. He starts to bark at other dogs on walks, trying to keep dogs out of his space. It seems to work as the owner gets him out of the situation, but the owner is starting to feel very self conscious about her dog’s behavior. When she sees another dog coming, she says “Uh Oh” and her worry and agitation that it’s about to happen again is conveyed to her dog. She transmits all sorts of warning signals to her dog, gathering his leash tighter, feeling worried, inadvertently signaling to him that other dogs are indeed very bad. The dog starts to sound the alarm, the owner yanks him away and scolds him for his outburst, feeling embarrassed in front of the other owner.
When the other dog is gone, the owner might feel and act relieved, and perhaps pet and comfort the stressed dog, feeling bad for having to punish his bad behavior.  All of which tells the dog “We sure don’t like dogs. It’s so good and we’re so happy when dogs leave!” The other thing that’s happening here is that the sight of other dogs approaching starts to predict to the reactive dog that not only are we going to have to deal with a dog that I don’t feel comfortable around, but dogs make my owner upset too, and I’m likely to catch hell from her when dogs get close. “I MUST keep that dog away!” His discomfort around dogs starts to escalate, making the behavior worse.
Now consider adding pain to the equation. Prong collars and shock collars use a painful stimulus with the premise that the dog will make the association between the barking and the pain and stop barking. The trouble is, the real association for the dog that is made by the presence of the other dog is, “Dog approaches, I feel pain. Dog leaves, pain stops”. This can make a dog’s fear of other dogs spiral upward. This process can make dog reactivity escalate. The owner then has to keep escalating the punishment, which if it does make the dog lessen his barking, it certainly will also continue to increase a dog’s hatred and fear of other dogs.
As an owner, you have to think, “What do I wish would happen when a dog approaches?” Don’t you wish that your dog would be happy and relaxed when he sees another dog, or that he would at least pay attention to you instead of the other dog? A dog that has learned that pain and disapproval and anxiety are the only things that happen when other dogs are near will never be relaxed around other dogs.

However, a dog that has an owner that proactively avoids confrontations and creates safe space between her dog and others is a good first step. Then she might start to try and create positive  associations for her dog about the sight of other dogs at a distance. She can start to pretend she feels happy when we see another dog at a distance far enough away that it doesn’t illicit that barking, and rewards that view of another dog with yummy treats. “Look! There’s a dog! Aren’t you lucky!” When the dog is out of view, the bar is closed. “Aw too bad! Dog’s gone. We’ll have to find another one!” She’s always looking out for opportunities to reward each time a dog is sighted (no matter what his behavior is like), managing his space to make sure he’s not too close, and stopping treats when the other dog is gone.

Why would she still “reward” when her dog isn’t acting perfect when he sees other dogs? Because she’s using “classical conditioning”. Classical conditioning is about creating an association. It’s a learning process that occurs when two stimuli are repeatedly paired – you all remember Pavlov. After he rang that bell, he then brought the food bowls. Very quickly the dogs started to drool when they heard the bell, before they ever saw the bowls coming. Bells would have never made a dog drool before that association was made. If you were to give a little boy a shock every time he saw a white bunny, it wouldn’t take long at all before the sight of a white bunny made him cry. He very likely would have a lifelong aversion  even to a photo of a white bunny, even if as an adult his rational mind could understand that a white bunny probably wouldn’t hurt him.
Classical conditioning is a simple, very powerful method that can be used to change an animal’s (or a person’s) emotional response. This is what reactive behavior is all about – an involuntary emotional response that’s been developed because of the associations the dog has made between the sight of a strange dog and what it predicts will happen due to previous experience. This is how all living creatures learn, and it’s the reason that positive reinforcement training is entirely rooted in science and why it can be so powerfully effective in changing behavior in dogs.
We not only experience classical conditioning every single day, but we have all had experiences that show us that associations can be changed. Example: lets say every time my phone rings it’s terrible news. Someone breaks the news that my friend died. My boss is calling because I forgot I said I’d work today and she’s pissed. My doctor calls to say that lump needs a biopsy. My judgmental relative calls to “say hi” but spends the whole time complaining that I never call, and then criticizes my mother the way she always does. My vet calls and gives me bad news about Otis’ blood work, etc. When that phone rings, my heart sinks. “What is it now?” That heart-sinking feeling is not voluntary. It’s an emotional response to the sound of the ringing phone. Then, what if suddenly each phone call I get is great news. A long lost friend calls me and we reconnect and chat and laugh together. My vet called and said it was a mistake and Otis is actually fine. I get a call that my biopsy is benign. Someone calls saying they’ll buy the thing I posted for sale and I suddenly will have some cash in my pocket. The dream job I interviewed for is mine! Now each time the phone rings, I’ve started to have a little emotional lift in my chest, and a little intake of breath. “Ooh! Who can it be?” says my subconscious. I couldn’t have felt that happy little lift in my heart because someone told me to. So, creating a positive association, over and over, with something that I used to feel uncomfortable with can truly change the way I feel about that thing. Now I don’t feel I have to swear when the phone rings, which brings us to the barking analogy: “If I feel that the presence of a dog predicts bad things, I will bark at it to keep it away. If I then feel (as a result of lots of repetition) that the sight of a dog at a distance predicts only good things will happen and I feel no threat to my safety, I will not feel the need to bark at it.” This clever owner will also use operant conditioning (rewarding a good choice making it likely I’ll try to make that choice again and again) and reward that quiet dog when he could have barked and didn’t. She might also start to ask for behaviors that help him deal with the situation like “Watch Me” and reward those behaviors frequently. So, creating the simple association between “dog in view” and “cheese” can have powerful effects, and eventually that dog can be asked to be closer to other dogs and still be able to hold it together, gaining confidence around other dogs, becoming more relaxed in their relative presence, and also gaining confidence in his owner to manage his space. It works.

So this is why positive trainers get so upset when they see someone like Cesar Milan or other dominance based trainers “training” a reactive dog: They almost exclusively use punishment with reactive dogs and they see every undesirable dog behavior through the lens of “dominance” or “alpha” behavior. Not only do positive reinforcement trainers know there are other methods that aside from being kinder, can also help to change their dog’s perception of the stimulus, but they realize that punishment can create a greater negative association with the stimulus than they even had before. Remember, someone’s fear of spiders isn’t a voluntary reaction, and no amount of shoving spiders into their face, or slapping them when they see a spider will help at all to make that fear of spiders go away, even if they can learn to suppress their screams to avoid a slap. It will only work to deepen their agitation about a spider’s presence. (And there will always be a distinct possibility that the sudden sight of a spider will make them scream anyway if they’re unprepared).

Cesar Milan and the skateboard
My favorite illustration of how his method is faulty: I watched a show of his where an English Bulldog was very reactive when he saw a skateboard, barking and lunging and biting at it. He put on a choke chain and had a kid roll by on a skateboard while his owners looked on. When the dog started to bark, he kicked the bulldog. He said he wasn’t kicking him, he was just distracting him using his foot. It was enough force to move an English bulldog sideways which makes me feel like you’d call it kicking, but maybe that’s just me. Anyway, he continued to distract him with his foot and then give a hard yank on the choke chain each time the kid rolled by. His timing was excellent, so the bulldog quickly learned that barking predicted kicking and choking, and he suppressed his barking, even when Cesar made the kid roll very closely by. The bulldog still looked distressed, and if a bark slipped out, he got a harsh correction. The owners were so impressed and praised Cesar’s amazing skills – the skateboard was right there and he wasn’t barking, in just a few minutes time! Then the owners had a try, and predictably their corrections weren’t as strong, and the dog barked. He was predictably flipping out at the skateboard’s presence. Cesar chastised them and said they had to show more dominance.

Every person and dog has a threshold at which they can contain themselves in the face of something horrible, but there will always be a level at which you cannot keep it together.  A dog that is staying quiet because they’ve learned there’s a risk of punishment and pain is doing the equivalent of pressing his hands over his mouth, keeping himself from barking, but his opinions have certainly not changed about skateboards. The trouble is, the level of punishment has to escalate to regain the silence if the animal’s threshold is crossed. His feelings when he sees a skateboard have likely spiked into even greater levels of bad. The most important thing to point out is that this is a dog who will never ever be reliable in the

What if he learned to love skateboards like Tillman?

face of a skateboard that zooms by in real life. When that family’s 4 year old insists on holding the leash (as they do) and a skateboarding teenager appears from nowhere, that strong dog will likely react and inadvertently drag that child causing injury. No attempt has been made to make that dog feel comfortable around skateboards. If that family bought a skateboard and slowly associated it with all good things, teaching the dog that not only are skateboards safe to be near, but they actually predict that awesome things happen for bulldogs, that dog could become safe and reliable around skateboards, and that 4 year old could be holding the leash when he sees one. Positive reinforcement wins in this scenario. It may not create a sudden appearance of fixing a problem in 5 minutes like on the TV show, but it is far more likely to truly fix that skateboard problem for a lifetime, no matter who’s holding the leash.
 
Dominance and wolves
Trainers that use punishment often insist that just about every undesirable dog behavior can be attributed to their yearning for status, and that dominance is the underlying motivator for their actions. They have been led to believe that because they descended from wolves, that they must be in constant competition with members of their pack. The big trouble with this is that wild wolves don’t behave this way. There was a study in the 1930s that was reproduced a number of times by others that put unrelated adult wolves together in an artificial captive situation and discovered that they did indeed fight violently. Wild wolves are found in smaller family groups consisting of mated pairs and their offspring who stay in the group for several years. Sometimes families that know each other will come together for a time when resources are plentiful, and perhaps split up again when prey is scarce. When adolescents mature, they’ll leave the family to make their own. The only constant members of the group are the mated pair. It’s very unnatural to confine adult, unrelated strangers in a small captive setting, and this is a recipe for constant fighting and competition for resources.

As David Mech stated in the introduction to his study of wild wolves (Mech, 2000), “Attempting to apply information about the behavior of assemblages of unrelated captive wolves to the familial structure of natural packs has resulted in considerable confusion. Such an approach is analogous to trying to draw inferences about human family dynamics by studying humans in refugee camps. The concept of the alpha wolf as a ‘top dog’ ruling a group of similar-aged compatriots (Schenkel 1947; Rabb et al. 1967; Fox 1971a; Zimen 1975, 1982; Lockwood 1979; van Hooff et al. 1987) is particularly misleading.”

As a zookeeper and conservation worker I’ve worked with and observed many species in captivity and in the wild who live in what you might call dominance hierarchies, and I can assure you that outside of the military, dominance doesn’t take the form that many trainers envision, with small infractions constantly punished aggressively, and lower ranking individuals constantly picking fights to rise in rank. Dominance theory is so poorly misunderstood by humans (who are all too often not skilled in reading dog communication). They might completely misinterpret things like appeasement behaviors (like jumping up to lick) as being an example of a dog misbehaving because it hasn’t been shown who’s boss. What is almost certainly happening is that they have no idea that anything else is being asked of them but to greet enthusiastically, and they’re actually showing deference (defined as humble submission and respect). They just haven’t been taught that you’d rather they sit to greet, and that doing the new behavior can be very rewarding and result in the affection they crave.

I love this passage from Jean Donaldson’s book, Culture Clash, “My favorite myth is going through doorways first. What silly person came up with the notion that a dog would understand, let alone exert dominance, by preceding his owner out the front door? When dogs are rushing through doors, mustn’t we first rule out that they are trying to close distance between themselves and whatever is out there, as quickly as possible, because they are excited, because they are dogs, and because they have never been presented with a reason not to?”

 

In my next installment, I’ll address the concern that some people have that if you use treats that you’ll always have to use treats, every day, for every behavior. I assure you, though treats can still come in handy in some instances, there are many ways to control a dog’s valuable resources, making him earn what he wants in life by doing what you ask, right away.

Resources

One of the best little books ever about how to work with dogs who are reactive on leash is called “Feisty Fido” by Patricia McConnell PhD and Karen London, PhD. It’s a silly name but a fantastic book that walks you through the process and gives you good “What if” scenarios. It’s a very short read, but thorough enough to really help you. https://www.dogwise.com/feisty-fido-help-for-the-leash-reactive-dog-2nd-edition/

Locally, we’re lucky to have one of the best trainers around (and the first Certified Behavior Consultant (CBCC-KA) in Oregon) right near the store. Call on Doug Duncan  at Doggy Business – you’ll see a link for Private Training for Aggression on the front page at https://www.doggybusiness.net/

 

 

This article is part of a series of articles designed to help you train your new dog:

Congratulations On Your New Puppy! (or adult dog)
What a fun time you’ll have! We very much want your new baby to live a long, healthy, happy life, so we thought we’d compile some of the nitty-gritty dos-and-don’ts of puppy care. Socialization, nutrition, our favorite chews, tips on potty training, etc!

Raising a Puppy (Or Any New Dog) During Covid 19
All of us feel frightened and unsure of how long we’ll be living in this strange, suspended, frightening reality. A new dog is not just a delightful distraction from boredom- that little soul can really be a life raft for your psyche. But, this new-puppy-during-quarantine situation does come with a few unique challenges. How to work on socialization and help to prevent separation anxiety once you go back to work.

What Do They Want? How Should They Get It? (Foundational Thinking For Creating Good Behavior in puppies and kittens! Part One) Often we hapless humans try our best to tell our puppies (and kittens) what we want them to do or especially not do, yet the bad behaviors increase and we struggle to get them to be what we wish they would be, especially when it comes to attention-getting behaviors. I’m here to offer a few rules of thumb for most any behavior you don’t like.

Do I Always Have To Use Treats? (Foundational Thinking For Creating Good Behavior In Dogs Part Three) A lot of people worry about training with treats.
* Do I have to keep giving them treats for everything for the rest of their  lives?
* Aren’t I bribing them?
* I want them to do things because they want to please me.
* I want them to do things right away and I don’t want to have to show them a treat to get them to listen.
 These are all good questions. Here’s how to help your dog be able to do what you ask of them the first time you ask, while continuing to build a good relationship.

 

 

 

 

What do they Want? How should they get it?

Foundational Thinking For Creating Good Behavior in puppies (and kittens!) Part One
Often we hapless humans try our best to tell our puppies (and kittens) what we want them to do or especially not do, yet the bad behaviors increase and we struggle to get them to be what we wish they would be, especially when it comes to attention-getting behaviors. I’m here to offer a few rules of thumb for most any behavior you don’t like. First, I’ll say that punishment doesn’t need to be part of the picture. Punishing him for wanting your attention can erode your relationship. It’s sweet that he wants your attention, but he’s asking for it in the wrong way.

A universal truth: Animals do what works for them.

Here’s a little attention getting scenario: You’re talking on the phone, and the puppy starts to whimper and bark at you. You ignore it for a time, and he gets louder. You tell your friend to hang on, and you turn and shout at the puppy, “Stop it! I’m on the phone!”. You go back to your conversation and he goes back to his barking. The trick is to think (in any similar situation) “What does he want?” In this example, he wants you to break away from what you’re doing, look at him, and pay attention to him. Have you just done all of these things? Hmm, he in fact got exactly what he wanted, and he thinks “Oh good. That’s how I get her attention”. You can’t really fault him for trying that again. You have unwittingly rewarded his bad behavior, and it will probably increase. Hurrying and getting a dog’s dinner to him faster just to shut him up really teaches him something you’re not going to enjoy.
Strategy #1: Ignoring behaviors you don’t like can be a useful tactic, though you really really have to be a rock. If he barks and barks and barks and you eventually break and tell him to cut it out, you have taught him endurance. “Bark long enough and they finally listen” is what you’ve taught him. We are no different: when we push the elevator button and the lights don’t light up, we jab at it again, and again, and maybe bang on it a few times before we give up and take the stairs. If we ignore the dog at first and then respond when the behavior escalates, we’ve only taught him, “If barking and whining’s not working, bark louder!” They’re not being turds on purpose, they’re doing what we’ve taught them works. If that elevator button never ever brings the elevator, you’d quickly learn to go straight to the stairs. If they’ve had a lot of practice barking to get attention, count on it getting a little worse before it gets better. Remember how you might have jabbed at that stupid broken elevator button in exasperation before you gave up? That’s called an extinction burst – they try and try and then really try, saying “Why isn’t this working???” Rewarding him when he finally gives up and becomes quiet for a few moments is useful in this moment. Being a rock in the future may help to extinguish this behavior but it can be easier combined with other strategies (read on).

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July 4th Tips!!

By Green Dog Pet Supply

Photo Copyright Green Dog Pet Supply

The 4th of July is a bad time for many pets around the country, but in places like Portland where people seem to be very big fans of the larger illegal fireworks that are so easy to get, it’s often a complete nightmare for people whose pets are terrified of the noise. Some people choose to go camping in remote areas with their dogs, and one customer routinely gets in the car with her dog on the 4th and just drives and drives for hours, around and around the city’s highways to avoid the stress of the night. Here are a few tips that we hope can help if you’re staying at home this 4th of July.

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Congratulations On Your New Kitty!

Whether you’ve gotten a kitten or an adult cat, we hope that these tips will come in handy for you:

Nothing’s more fun than a new kitten, and we know you’ll have a blast. However, there are some things that we feel are sometimes not well communicated to new cat owners about the long term care of cats that could help you make your kitty’s life as long and healthy as it could be, as well as helping you to avoid behavioral issues in the future.
We might be called Green Dog, but the owners and staff of Green Dog are actually made up of some pretty serious cat people. We know there’s a lot of info in here, especially in the diet section, but after serving the cat community of Portland since 2004, our hearts are often heavy from the overwhelming numbers of cats with chronic illness, much of which we feel could have been prevented with better nutrition. Also, a greater understanding of the behavioral needs of cats could help to prevent or resolve behavioral issues that are very difficult for the humans in the household to live with and often result in cats being given up to shelters.

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