The most useless word in dog training!
Please check out my latest publication at 4Knines on the most useless word in dog training! Click below to read the full article.
It's a common problem when you get a new puppy. How do you stop them peeing & pooping everywhere?? It can seem like every five minutes your pup is having a little accident. This is where good management, cleaning & lots of praise can transform your toilet training.
1. Pre-empt the situation:
Once your puppy has had something to eat after about 20-30 minutes take them outside or to the puppy pad & wait for the inevitable to happen. Give lots of excited praise when your puppy toilets in the right place so that your puppy begins to learn where to do their business. Even if your puppy hasn't eaten recently take them to the toilet area regularly and remember praise praise praise when they get it right.
2. Don't Punish:
If your puppy has an accident don't punish them: This creates puppies who only learn not to toilet when you are watching them. The second you stop watching them they have to go! Punishing your puppy doesn't tell them where they should toilet so it is not very useful.
3. Have realistic expectations:
Young puppies only have small bladders so don't expect your puppy to be able to hold it for long periods particularly overnight to begin with. Puppies will often also have a little wee when excited but do eventually grow out of this.
4. Clean up well:
A dog's sense of smell is far superior to ours. Using a regular household cleaner does not break down the enzymes in dog urine and faeces. This can lead to some dogs returning to favoured areas within your home simply because they still smell like a toilet area. Use bleach or an enzymatic cleaner to help break this cycle.
5. Think about other factors:
Has your puppies toilet training suddenly gone backwards? Has there been a change in your household such as building work, a new addition to the family or a change in routine? Sometimes even a small change such as leaving your puppy in a room with the dishwasher/washing machine running can be enough to scare a young puppy. When your puppy gets anxious they will tend to toilet a lot more within the home. A sudden change in toileting behaviour could also indicate a medical problem such as a bladder infection so if you are at all concerned about the health of your puppy make sure you check in with the vet.
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How to avoid aggression in dogs
Aggression in dogs can occur in many different situations for many diiferent reasons. See BestBehaviour's previous blog posts for more information and safety advice. Below are some key rules that you can follow to help prevent aggression in dogs:
1. Follow Basic Dog Safety Rules
Avoid provoking aggression by interacting with dogs in ways that can make them uncomfortable such as hugging them tightly around the neck or approaching dogs when they are sleeping or eating.
2. Recognise the Signs
Practice looking for behaviours that suggest a dog is anxious such as lip licks and head turns (see bestbehaviours previous blog posts). Remove dogs from situations where they are uncomfortable before aggression can occur.
3. Avoid Punishment in Training
Punishment for unwanted or aggressive behaviour can lead to less predictable aggression in the future. Instead direct your dog to the behaviours you do want to in order to avoid this. For example, if your dog jumps up at visitors, teach your dog to sit before allowing visitors to give the dog attention.
4. Teach Frustration Tolerance
Start with simple exercises within the home such as performing a 'wait' or a 'leave' in order to teach your dog to be patient. Ask your local dog trainer for additional exercises and advice.
5. Seek Help for Fears and Phobias
If your dog has a specific fear or phobia such as a fear of children, other dogs or strangers seek professional help to resolve the issue. Do not punish the dog as this will increase the fear which could increase the aggression. Punishment can also reduce warning signs prior to aggression.
6. Get a Vet Check
If your dog develops aggressive behaviours suddenly or after veterinary treatment consult your veterinarian to ensure aggression is not a result of pain or any other medical condition.
7. Don’t Ignore the Problem
In many cases aggressive behaviour becomes worse over time and then becomes much more difficult to resolve. Seek professional help at the earliest opportunity.
The APBC – The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors www.apbc.org.uk.
For information on pet behaviour and pet behaviour counsellors in your area within the UK.
The Blue Dog Scheme www.thebluedog.org/en. For information on dog safety for children, and adults.
For additional information and useful images of behaviours that can be seen prior to a dog bite, see also: www.doggonesafe.com/Speak_Dog.
There are many varied circumstances and different motivations that lead to the development of aggression in dogs. Two of the most common motivations for aggressive behaviour are fear and frustration.
When a dog is highly motivated to do something but is stopped from doing it, this can cause aggression through frustration. Similarly to young children, dogs need to build up a tolerance to frustration. This includes learning to control their impulses. For example learning ‘I can’t always have what I want the second I want it’. This takes time to establish and is often something many dogs have never been taught before.
A common example of frustration is the normally calm dog that enjoys interacting with other dogs in the park when off lead. Yet when the dog is walked on lead they strain at the end of the lead and bark continuously at other dogs. The dog wants to meet up with other dogs rather than attack them but can not control their frustration at not being able to reach the other dog. Too often frustrated dogs are labelled as ‘aggressive’ or ‘disobedient’ and subsequently punished for their behaviour. In this case this could cause a conflict of emotion between the excitementof seeing other dogs and the fear of being punished. This type of emotional conflict can result in aggressive, unusual and undesirable behaviours. The use of punishment around other dogs may also cause the dog to become fearful of other dogs. This is because the sight of other dogs begins to predict punishment from the owner.
It is also not recommeded that a dog in a highly fustrated state on lead is allowed to approach other dogs as this can upset other dogs and lead to fighting. Instead working on impulse control and calm behaviours around other dogs is required. For this type of training see your local trainer or behaviourist.
Aggression initiated by fear is caused by the dog feeling the need to defend itself. Although dogs have adapted to live with humans some human-dog interactions remain unwelcome. This includes the way in which many of us initiate contact with dogs such as hugging dogs around the neck and patting them on the head (particularly around the eyes, nose and mouth). Think about how you would feel if upon meeting you someone began putting their fingers near your eyes or grabbed you around the neck, it would probably make you feel rather uneasy!
Although you may be thinking ‘I do that with my dog and it’s never been a problem’ very often the subtle signs of discomfort are there. Watch out for lip licking, blinking, yawning and turning their head away. As a rule dogs may also feel threatened if they are chased after, cornered or physically restrained particularly when trying to avoid something they are unsure of. It may be that your dog can tolerate many of these interactions however there is also an effect known as trigger stacking. This is when several triggers occur and eventually it all becomes too much for the dog to cope with. A human example of this would be 'reaching the end of your tether'. For example your dog may cope with the children chasing him, poking him and pulling his tail but when one of the children then goes to hug the dog it is all suddenly too much to cope with and a bite occurs. Think of it as the final straw during a stressful day! This build up of stressors is likely the cause of many bites within the home that to owners often appear out of the blue (the dog previously coped with the triggers when they occurred one at a time) and without warning (they didn’t know the warning signs). Ultimately the majority of bites are predictable and can be avoided through sesnsible managment and training.
Punishment can be a significant cause of fear and anxiety in a dog’s environment. the use of punishment is counterproductive doesn't actuall teach a dog what they need to do. The use of a stern ‘no’ is generally confusing for dogs because the word has no real meaning i.e. does it mean stand still? Sit? Move away? Or something else? and is used in such a wide variety of situations. Therefore the use of punishment often leads to confusion, increasing anxiety and makes an aggressive response all the more likely. For example, in a dog that is punished when they do not give up a toy the dog learns to avoid punishment by avoiding the owner when they have a toy. The dog then runs away from the owner with the toy. This avoidance leads to further punishment increasing the dog’s anxiety and eventually contributing to aggressive guarding behaviours around toys. This scenario can easily be avoided by teaching the dog to give up the toy to get a reward and by returning the toy afterwards. The dog learns that giving something up is beneficial and does not always mean they won’t get it back.
There are many potential causes of aggression only a few examples of which have been covered in this article. If you are struggling with dog aggression it is always best to consult a professional for the safety of yourself, your dog and others.
An Introduction to Canine Aggression
Due to extensive media coverage whenever there is a serious dog attack we are all aware of what can go wrong when dogs act aggressively. Yet many owners still believe that their own dogs would never behave in this way. It is a common assumption that dogs involved in human attacks must be untrained, abused or a “dangerous breed”. However, with dog attacks rising year upon year in the UK and more attacks appearing to occur within the home, it is becoming apparent that this is simply not the case.
But what is Aggression? Before we can manage aggression we first need to understand what aggression is. Although aggression is difficult to define we know that aggressive behaviours are actually normal behaviours displayed by most animals throughout their lifetime. Aggression helps animals to survive by fending off threats and protecting valuable resources such as food, water and shelter. Aggression may also occur during periods of frustration or if an animal has learned acting aggressively gets them something that they want (i.e. it has been reinforced). Often the aggression we see in dogs is normal given the circumstances.
If a dog were to try and steal another dog’s food a normal response from the dog with the food would be to protect their food to avoid starving. Many dogs will allow other dogs and people to take their food, however, if you try to take a food bowl away from a dog mid-meal you should expect that they could react aggressively. This is a normal and predictable response to an obvious threat. Understanding situations like these and not automatically treating aggression as abnormal, disobedient or unpredictable allows the risk of aggression in dogs to be managed much more effectively. In addition it is worth remembering that animals tend only to use aggression involving physical contact as a last resort after first using many other warnings and signs of discomfort.
A useful model used to understand how aggression can escalate in dogs is the ‘ladder of aggression’. Although by no means applicable to every dog, this model describes a general sequence of behaviour that typically precedes a dog bite, particularly in situations where a dog is fearful. Most dogs will signal initial discomfort through subtle behaviours such as licking the lips and nose, yawning, blinking and turning their head away. These behaviours are used by dogs to signal to other dogs ‘I’m uncomfortable with this’ but as humans we tend to miss these signals. If a situation remains unresolved the dog may progress further up the ‘ladder’ until, as a last resort, an actual bite occurs.
There are cases where progression up the ladder can happen extremely quickly, particularly in situations where a dog is excessively fearful. Managing these situations involves careful behaviour training as well as avoidance of all similar situations until the issue has been fully resolved. In other cases steps on the ladder can become missed out completely. Often this can be due to previous punishment for these behaviours leading to the behaviour being suppressed. For example the dog that has been punished for growling subsequently will not growl before biting. In this way punishing dogs that growl can take away the last warning that a dog is about to bite. The use of punishment to try and reduce aggression is therefore potentially highly dangerous. In addition to taking away warning signals at times when the motivation behind the initial aggressive behaviour (e.g. fear, frustration or pain) subsequently outweighs the fear of the punishment the aggressive behaviour is likely to reoccur. Worse still the dog is likely to progress further up the ladder to try and resolve the situation. Instead to effectively resolve aggression issues the underlying motivation for the behaviour in the first place must be addressed.
Exciting news! BestBehaviour has been invited to create learning resources for the world veterinary association's new education portal (http://www.worldvet.org/). This is going to be a fantastic resource accessible those in the veterinary profession all over the world. I will keep you posted as to when we have materials up and running on the site.
We have moved! Finally! We are now in our new home but the delay has meant we are a bit behind schedule. At the moment we are just settling in & getting some work done on the property. Hopefully we will be up and running in the near future.
Obedience in Dogs
Although the majority of dogs are eager to learn many owners struggle with obedience issues. Training dogs to be obedient not only benefits dog owners but provides mental stimulation and a home life structure for dogs. There are a number of different reasons why dogs may not always be obedient. Often it is thought that the dog is being deliberately disobedient as ‘they know what to do’. However scientific research doesn’t support the theory than animals refuse to perform out of a deliberate attempt to undermine their owner. Instead our natural instinct to attribute human thoughts and reasoning to animals can be misleading. In most cases it is that the dog doesn’t really understand what is being asked or is not sufficiently motivated to respond. This often comes down to inconsistency in training, ineffective use of rewards or an over reliance on punishment to control behaviour.
Effective methods of training behaviours
It’s important to understand that dogs do not automatically know which behaviours are appropriate in every situation and therefore need to be trained in how we want them to behave. This is a process that takes time. Using quick fixes such as punishment based training programs can be effective but often lead to behaviour problems in the future. This is because of the negative effect such regimes have on the dogs overall emotional state, primarily increasing their overall level of anxiety. Also these regimes often don’t teach the dog the behaviours you actually want instead they simply focus on behaviours you don’t want. This method therefore is not very effective at producing desired behaviours.
Using more positive training regimes creates dogs that are much more motivated to perform the behaviours you want. Think about when you were at school; did you feel more motivated when you were told off for not doing well enough or when you were praised for having a go? Many owners worry about the use of rewards in training (in particular feeding too many food treats), however most dogs will work for very small food rewards or alternatively toys and attention. There are a number of ways to avoid over feeding with food treats for example feeding the dog’s usual daily food intake during training and reducing food at dinner time. It also helps to keep training sessions short and to give your dog plenty of time off in between sessions.
1. Inconsistency in Rules and Guidance
One of the most common reasons for lack of obedience is a lack of consistency from owners in terms of rules. A lack of consistency and guidance means the dog is not sure of the rules and therefore may not always respond correctly when given a command. If a rule is set it must be enforced (without the use of punishment) without exception. Sometimes letting your dog ‘get away with it’ only creates confusion for the dog. Rules with caveats also come under this category for example if a dog is allowed on the sofa when they are clean but not when they are dirty this only leads to confusion. The dog does not understand this distinction and will keep trying to jump on the sofa whether clean or dirty.
2. Motivation Problems
Sometimes dogs will not respond to a command because there appears to be no benefit in them doing so i.e. there is nothing in it for them. Motivation can be created through fear of a reprimand (being told off), and is often utilised by owners when their dog doesn’t do something they want, but this has many pitfalls. One cause for apparent disobedience in dogs trained this way is that the punishment becomes associated with whatever the dog happens to be doing at the time, and so provides no specific guide towards the desired behaviour. For example a dog that is punished for barging in front of their owner at a doorway may associate the punishment with the doorway rather than the action, leading the dog to rush through doorways in a panic. The more the dog is told off, the worse this behaviour becomes. The owner that rewards their dog for performing a ‘stay’ or a ‘sit’ whilst they walk through the doorway first may have greater success during training.
Another issue with the use of punishment to control dog behaviour is that punishment reduces the performance of the undesired behaviour through fear of future punishment rather than addressing the initial motivation that caused the behaviour to occur in the first place. Because the underlying desire to perform the behaviour is never addressed it is likely the behaviour will still be performed on some occasions. In particular the use of punishment to stop aggressive behaviour can become dangerous. For example a dog that is punished for growling may cease to use this behaviour to give a warning that they may bite. In extreme cases this can create dogs that are explosively aggressive because all warning signals that precede a bite have been suppressed by inappropriate punishment.
Choosing effective rewards whilst training is important for success. If the reward is not sufficiently rewarding to the dog, the dog is less likely to try to perform the behaviour that is being asked. Finding out what your dog truly values allows you to really motivate your dog when you need to and builds upon the dog’s natural willingness to learn.
Those of you that follow BestBehaviour's facebook page may have seen a shorter version of this post before, however I thought it was worth repeating!
A note on punishment based training for dogs that came up in discussion today: punishment supresses undesired behaviour by creating a fear of punishment from the owner/trainer. This initially stops a dog from performing the undesired behaviour however this does not addresses the actual cause of the behaviour in the first place. For example, when presented with a dog that growls at a child (commonly because the dog is fearful of the child or uncomfortable with what the child is doing) some professionals would punish the dog for growling. The dog remains fearful in presence of the child but learns to supress the growling behaviour through fear of punishment. The dog may cease to use growling behaviours around children due to the fear of punishment. You may think 'great! problem solved' however instead of growling next time your dog sees the child they may go straight to biting, this is because THE MOTIVATION BEHIND THE BEHAVIOUR WAS NEVER ADDRESSED! In this case the dog is still fearful of children. Therefore by punishing growling behaviour your trainer has accidently taught your dog to bite when they feel frightened instead! (To understand this better check our the ladder of aggression diagram in staying safe: children & dogs part 2. You can punish any of the behaviours seen on the rungs on the ladder to stop these behaviours however this just means your dog may move up to the next rung on the ladder. A dog will give as many signals as possible to avoid aggression however if we ignore these behaviours or even punish these behaviours eventually we leave our dogs with no alternative but to bite.)
A behaviourist works with a client and their dog to stop the dog being afraid of children. By removing the fear of the child the behaviourist significantly reduces the likelihood the dog will bite the child. In fact behaviourists go further than this to help you build positive associations so your dog begins to see children as a positive. They also provide you with effective management techniques so you can always be safe with your dog around children.
In addition it is worth noting that 'pack theory' research has been retracted (some time ago I might add!!!) due to serious methodology flaws. This was discovered when the research was compared with wolves in the wild and found not to agree with behaviour observations. The 'pack theory' idea has been used to promote punishment based methods by many trainers however it is based on dud science and a reliance on punishment rather than training skills to create obedience. You can control anyone or anything if you are successfully able to punish them enough! The use of punishment does not support the idea of pack theory! Dominance and submission do exist in various contexts for dogs (and other animals) but not in the form of dog's constantly trying to become dominant over their owners or become a 'pack leader'. This would be detrimental to the dogs survival for a start due to the wasted energy and risk of injury through aggressive behaviours. This is a fact well established by animal behaviour research. Therefore BestBehaviour advises owners and trainers to avoid professionals advertising services that continue to purport this theory and rely on punishment based methods.
Dogs generally do not enjoy overly friendly attention such as hugging. Everywhere I go I see people, more often than not children, hugging dogs! Some dogs may seek out attention wishing to snuggle up with their owners on the sofa etc.. and this is absolutely fine, however many dogs do not enjoy hugging! (I am talking about the type of hugging where a person's arms are linked around the neck or body of the dog.) It may appear like a caring comforting gesture to us but it is not something dogs would normally experience within the dog world. If you look for the signs on the ladder of aggression (see staying safe part 2) you will see many dogs licking their lips, yawning, blinking and turning their heads away when they are being hugged. These are the first signals a dog performs in any given situation to communicate that they are feeling uncomfortable. The type of physical restraint caused by hugging a dog around their neck or body will cause some fearful dogs to react very quickly and aggressively in order to free themselves straight away. It is therefore particularly unwise to hug a dog that is not your own or to let a child hug a dog. In these situations the child’s head is often close to the mouth of the dog (particularly in the case of children of toddler age) putting them at risk of a serious bite to this vulnerable area should something go wrong.
You may well say "but my kids do this with my dog all the time and he is fine with it!". It may be that your dog tolerates the interaction however it is unlikely that they particularly enjoy it. Imagine you dog is having a bad day, perhaps your dog has had to cope with a lot of strangers in the house, has been bothered by the dog next door or been chased round the garden all afternoon by your noisy nephew. There may be a point at which your dog feels they have reached their limit with what they can cope with on that day, they have reached what you or I might call 'breaking point' or what we as behaviourists call the dog's 'threshold'. When your child then goes to hug the dog it is suddenly all to much and they snap. To owners the attack appears out of character and totally unpredictable however these type of attacks are avoidable. I always advise that hugging interactions are avoided between children and dogs 100% of the time. There are plenty of other fun ways your child can interact with their dog and it is simply just not worth the risk of a bite to your child. Putting dogs into a situation where we know they are uncomfortable is always ill advised. The dog is not misbehaving when they react with aggression in this way they are actually behaving normally, the same way as you or I might behave if we felt threatened. There are very very few truly aggressive dogs and it is time we started recognising that aggression is a normal behaviour in dogs and we should expect aggression to occur in any dog including our own if they feel threatened.
Risky Interactions with dogs. Note the proximity of the child's head to the dog's head in the image on the left and again the proximity of the woman's face to the dog's mouth in the image on the right.
Tamsin Peachey is a Clinical Animal Behaviourist living in Hurley, Atherstone. Tamsin is passionate about dog safety and debunking the current myths surrounding animal behaviour training.