Pat Miller, CPDT, CDBC, APDT, has been training dogs for more than 35 years; she is also a writer and the founder of Peaceable Paws.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Take two and double the fun
August 7 2014
If you’re like most dog folks, sooner or later you may think, “As wonderful as one dog is, two would be even better!”
There are many great reasons to add another canine family member: more to love, more to be loved by, companionship for Dog One, saving a life, companionship for a child and more. There are also many reasons not to: more vet bills, more food and toys to buy, more poop to scoop, less individual attention for Dog One, more potential behavior problems…
Assuming you’ve carefully considered the pros and cons and made an educated decision to adopt another, here are some tips for a successful introduction of your new dog to your existing canine pal(s):
1. Make sure Dog One is dog-friendly. If you don’t already know that One is the life of the dog park, find a friend with a very dog-friendly dog and introduce One to Friendly in a safely fenced neutral territory. One may tell you in no uncertain terms that he’d rather be an only dog. If so, consider maintaining your one-dog status. Or, if you’re dead-set on another dog, find a good, positive trainer/behavior consultant to help you convince One of the benefits of having a canine pal. If the introduction goes well, take the next step.
2. Select the right dog. If your current dog is very assertive, adding another “top dog” could be the equivalent of holding a lit match to an open gasoline can. Look for a dog who defers to your “Boss Dog.” However, if your current dog is a Wilting Willie, an assertive new dog may take over. Willie will probably be fine with this, but you may have a hard time seeing him pushed around. If so, look for a non-assertive dog.
Size needs to be taken into account. If you have a three-pound mini-dog, there are inherent risks in adopting a large-breed dog. Even in play, big dogs can cause serious, sometimes fatal, injuries to toy-size canines. It’s not impossible to have very disparate sizes in a household, but it requires committed supervision and management.
Grooming and energy levels are still other considerations. If Woolly Bully requires daily grooming to stay mat-free, perhaps a shorthaired dog is in order. Or, if you finish brushing Woolly and are eager for more, a second Old English Sheepdog may be right up your alley.
If your current Border Collie mix is an Energizer™ bunny, another active dog might help wear her out—or you could end up with two bunnies.
3. Script your introductions. Set up your introductions in that safely fenced neutral territory. This is best done prior to your commitment to adopt Dog Two. Both of you armed with hot dogs, have a friend, hold one leashed dog at the far side of the area while you enter with the second. Watch body language; they may become alert and a little tense, or act all waggy and playful—both are acceptable responses. If one or both dogs exhibit serious aggression—lunging, frenzied barking, snarling or snapping—stop the introduction and seek professional assistance.
When the dogs notice each other, calmly feed hot dog bits, until each is focusing on the person providing the treats. Now slow the rate of hot dogs until the dogs glance at each other, then look back at you for hot dogs. If both dogs appear happy and/or reasonably relaxed in each other’s presence, drop the leashes while still at a distance and allow them to greet each other. Leash restraint can sometimes cause otherwise compatible dogs to behave aggressively. Leave the leashes on for a few moments so you can safely separate the dogs if necessary. When it is clear that they are getting along, call them back and unclip the leashes so they can play without becoming entangled (which can also cause a fight!).
At home, introduce them again in your fenced yard, and, to minimize indoor stress, don’t bring them into the house until they’ve tired themselves out playing.
4. Train and manage for success. Installation of baby gates and tethers in strategic places can help keep the peace. When dogs are still getting to know each other, separate them when you’re not home. If there are food-bowl or feeding-station issues, feed the dogs far apart, perhaps in separate rooms or crates, to avoid confrontations. Make sure there are enough toys to go around, and ample beds located in low-traffic areas.
The more dogs you care for, the more important training becomes. You can survive one ill-mannered canine, but two poorly behaved dogs—or several—will make your, and their, lives miserable. Your benevolent but firm leadership lends itself to peace in the pack. Something as simple as consistently requesting them to sit for a cookie before going out serves as a constant reminder that you’re in charge.
I have four dogs of my own; I stand squarely in the “more is better” camp. The thousands of dogs awaiting homes in shelters and rescue groups second this emotion. Think it through, make introductions carefully, train and manage well, and you’ll have another lifelong love.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
How to deal with dashing dogs
September 18 2012
There he goes again, (expletive deleted)!” Sounds like the unhappy human companion of a door-darter— a dog who slips through an open door every chance he gets. This is frustrating for the human and dangerous for the dog, who romps around having a marvelous time just beyond his owner’s reach, or worse, takes off at a dead run for parts unknown.
Why would a well-loved dog who has ample food, water, toys and human attention choose to escape? Because it’s fun. The outside world can be endlessly reinforcing for a dog. If you have an “investigate-and-sniff-everything-onwalks” kind of dog, you know that from experience. The door-darter has also learned that dashing outside is a great way to get his couch-potato human to play with him — which is also very reinforcing. Finally, if you’ve ever made the mistake of being angry at your dog when you finally got your hands on him, you’ve taught him that being captured makes good stuff go away (he doesn’t get to play anymore) and makes bad stuff happen (you yell at him).
Making good stuff go away is the definition of “negative punishment” and making bad stuff happen is “positive punishment.” Basically, he’s punished twice, and neither punishment is associated with the act of dashing out the door! Rather, both are connected with you catching him, which will make it even harder to retrieve him the next time he gets loose.
So, what do you do if you live with a door-darter?
First, get him back. Easier said than done, you may say. An accomplished door-darter is often an accomplished keep-away player as well. Don’t chase him; you’ll just be playing his game. Play a different game. Grab a squeaky toy, take it outside and squeak. It may be counterintuitive, but when he looks, run away from him, still squeaking. If he chases you, let him grab one end of the toy. Play tug, trade him for a treat, then squeak and play some more. Let him follow you, playing tug-thesqueaky, into your fenced yard, then close the gate (or into your garage or house, if you don’t have a fence). Play more squeaky with him.
If he loves car rides, run to your car and say, “Wanna go for a ride?” Open the door and when he jumps in, take him for a ride! Chasing tennis balls or flying discs? Fetching sticks? Walkies? Whatever he loves, offer it.
Once you’ve corralled your cavorting canine, the part about punishment bears repeating: no matter how upset you are, don’t yell at him! Don’t even reprimand him calmly. And don’t take him back inside immediately — that’s punishment, too. Stay outside and play a while. I promise, if you punish him or march him sternly back into the house, he’ll be harder to catch the next time. Instead, happily and genuinely reinforce him with whatever he loves best.
Don’t let it happen. Management is vital for dog-keeping generally and successful behavior modification specifically. It keeps your door-darter safe and you sane. If you can’t fence in your entire yard, perhaps you can fence a small area outside the door(s). If you can’t put up a physical fence, install a barrier outside the door(s) — a small area with a self-closing gate, so that if he dashes out, he’s still contained. Don’t even think “underground shock fence”— determined dogs will run through those as easily as through open doors.
Baby gates or exercise pens inside can block your dog’s access to escape. Insist that everyone — family and guests alike — makes sure he’s behind the barrier before they go out the door or greet a visitor.
Increasing your dog’s level of aerobic exercise is another way to reduce the darting. If you keep your canine pal busy and tired, he’ll be less inclined to look for opportunities to make a break for it.
Train, train, train. Teach your dog to wait at doors until he’s given the release cue. With your dog sitting beside you at a door that opens outward, tell him to “Wait.” Reach toward the doorknob. If he doesn’t move, click your clicker or use a verbal marker and give him a tasty treat. Repeat, moving your hand closer toward the doorknob in small increments, clicking and treating each time he remains seated.
If he gets up, say “Oops!” have him sit, then try again. If he gets up several times in a row, you’re asking too much of him; go back to moving your hand only a few inches toward the knob, and advance more slowly.
When he’ll stay sitting, touch the knob. Click/treat. Jiggle the knob. Click/treat. Repeat, clicking and treating each time, then open the door a crack. If your dog doesn’t move, click and treat. If he gets up, say “Oops!” and close the door. You’re teaching him that getting up closes the door; if he wants the opportunity to go out, he must wait.
Gradually open the door in one or two-inch increments. Any time he gets up, “Oops!”/close the door/try again. Do several repetitions at each step. When you can open the door all the way, take one step through, stop, turn around and face your dog. Wait a few seconds, click, then return and treat.
When he’s solid with you walking out the door, occasionally invite him to go out ahead of, with or after you, by using a release cue such as “free.” Other times, walk through the door and close it, leaving him inside. Once the door closes, he’s free to get up and move around. You can give your release cue through the closed door, or simply leave him to figure out it’s okay once you’re gone. He will figure it out.
Finally, teach everyone who interacts with him how to ask for the “Wait” at the door. The more consistent everyone is at reinforcing the sit-and-wait, the more reliable your dog will be at waiting, and the less likely he’ll be to dart out that door. Thus, the safer he’ll be and the more easily you’ll breathe. And that’s a winning combination.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Research validates positive reinforcement
June 11 2012
There was a time when behavioral research focused primarily on primates, wolves and rodents. Today, our domestic canine companions are increasingly being considered as valid subjects for studies intended to improve quality of life for dogs and their humans. Some of these studies were presented at the Sixth International Veterinary Behavior Meeting in Riccione, Italy, in June 2007, and reported in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior no. 2, issue 3. Of particular note are two that address the relationship between training methods and problem behaviors.
The first, “The Importance of Consistency in the Training of Dogs,” was conducted by scientists at the University of Southampton in the UK and the University of Life Sciences in Norway. This study evaluated punishment as a contributor to behavior problems, and the effects of reward, punishment and rule structure (permissiveness/strictness and consistency) on training and behavior problems. Information was collected via questionnaires from 217 dog guardians. Those who used strong and/or frequent punishment had a significantly higher level of training problems and lower obedience in their dogs. The study found that rule structure was important in achieving a well-behaved dog, but appears to be dependent on a low level of punishment in the training program.
A similar study, “The Relationship Between Training Methods and the Occurrence of Behavior Problems in a Population of Domestic Dogs,” was conducted at the University of Bristol in the UK. This study was designed to investigate the relationship between the occurrence of behavior problems and the type of training class attended and methods used. While the results suggested that attendance at any form of training class was likely to reduce the number of behavior problems in dogs, the study also found that dogs trained only with positive reinforcement exhibited fewer problem behaviors. Dogs whose owners used punishment in training were also significantly more likely to show a fear response to other dogs.
These findings are no surprise to positive trainers around the world, but it’s always good to have our personal and professional experiences and training philosophies confirmed by science.
July 7 2011
Well-educated dog owners and dog professionals worldwide continue to be dismayed by the ongoing presentation of Cesar Millan’s inappropriate, sometimes dangerous approach to dog behavior modification or, as Millan likes to call it, “dog psychology.” This new book may be an attempt to quell some of the ever-growing opposition to Millan’s less-than-scientifically supported dog-handling techniques.
Though Millan acknowledges that he disagrees with many highly regarded, experienced and educated professionals in the field of dog training and behavior, he includes some of their perspectives here. From the “positive” side of the trainer world, he invites comments from the notable Bob Bailey, guru to thousands of educated dog trainers, and Dr. Ian Dunbar, founder of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT), author and early advocate of rewardbased training. Among the professionals included are Bonnie Brown-Cali, Patrick Burns, Barbara DeGroodt, Mark Harden, Katenna Jones, Joel Silverman, K irk Turner a nd G ary Wilkes. If you think this creates a confusing end product, you’re right.
There is more actual substance in this book t han i n p rior M illan e fforts, thanks in large part to the contributions of his visiting trainers. Information on Millan’s own approach to modifying the behavior of the dogs he works with, while somewhat more fleshed-out than in prior books, is not a comprehensive description of his methods. Although— for the first time—he attempts to define some of his non-scientific terms such as “balanced,” the results are less than satisfying.
In the end, while the book appears to be an attempt at an historical and current overview of a wide spectrum of training philosophies and methods, it falls short of being a usable guide to dog behavior and training.
Dogwise Publishing, 264 pp., 2008; $19.95
Hold onto your leashes, dog-training fans: Oh Behave! is another great ride from Jean Donaldson. This book is classic JD, with all of the solid science that wins her so many loyal fans in the dog training and behavior community, and it comes wrapped in the wry, dry wit we’ve come to expect from her. While it may be too technical for the casual reader, Donaldson’s latest effort is a jackpot for those who are fascinated by the question of why dogs do what they do. If you’re a behavior addict, as are so many of us who’ve become captivated by the intricacies and possibilities of working with the canine mind, you’ll find much fodder here to feed your fixation.
Behavior: Includes foundation information about canine behavior, including an excellent chapter on social organization. Discusses hierarchies and the urban-legend explanation for the popularity of the flawed canine dominance theory.
Training: Answers a variety of questions about training philosophies and specific training challenges, such as prompting and luring, shaping, and the application of classical conditioning to everyday life.
Behavior Problems: Addresses several concepts and behaviors that fall outside the scope of basic training, including barking, mounting and the use of time-outs in behavior modification programs.
Fear and Anxiety: Explains the evolutionary survival value of fear and anxiety, and describes how to modify or manage some anxiety-related behaviors, including compulsive disorders and separation anxiety.
Aggression: Discusses aspects of aggression, notably the so-called “dog-bite epidemic,” as well as resource guarding, predatory drift, and the touchy topics of fighting-dog rehabilitation and breedspecific legislation.
Genetics and Evolution: Offers thoughtprovoking information on the oftbroached question of whether behavior is a result of nature (genetics) or nurture (environment). The answer, to quote Donaldson, is “All behavior is the product of a complex interaction between genes and environment…The answer is always both.”
Whew! That’s a lot to cover in one relatively slender volume. As always, Donaldson covers it remarkably well, with a plethora of pithy, quotable sound bites. She excels at identifying points of dissension within dog-owning/training circles and setting the record straight, and is not averse to a well-aimed jab or two at those who perpetuate inaccuracies and myths about behavior and training.
Discussing the question of whether dogs are capable of deliberate deception, she says,“Dogs…while masterful at being conditioned to behave in ways that function to get them off the hook, cannot perform intentional deception the way you and I can…The most interesting question to me is why people persist in believing dogs can intentionally deceive …in spite of substantial evidence to the contrary.”
Another favorite: “The pure shaping versus lure-reward debate has been going on for years with neither side offering up much in the way of blind empirical research to support their position that their way is ‘better,’ ‘faster,’ ‘more efficient,’ ‘teaches dogs to think’ or ‘grows bigger brains.’This hasn’t shaken the most zealous in either camp from their biases, however.”
If you’re not already firing up your computer to go online and order your copy of Oh Behave!, then you’re not a true behavior addict. Go play with your dog.
BehaveTech Publishing, 100 pp., 2009; $20
Separation distress is one of the most disheartening canine behaviors an owner can face. Aggression may present a more serious risk to human safety, but aggressive behaviors are generally easier to manage than significant separation distress; few caretakers can avoid leaving their dogs alone, at least some of the time, during the protracted period required by an in-depth separation-behavior modification program.
Many dogs end up at animal shelters, are adopted and repeatedly returned, and eventually euthanized, due to the difficult constellation of behaviors manifested by dogs who suffer from this panic disorder. Behaviors include but are not limited to vocalizing (barking, yelping, howling, whining), inappropriate indoor elimination and destructive behavior, especially directed toward escape.
Enter James O’Heare, president of the Companion Animal Sciences Institute, director of the Association of Animal Behavior Professionals and author of nine books on animal behavior.
This slim volume purports to present an “easy-to-follow, yet comprehensive, behavior change program, including systematic desensitization and behavior shaping, as well as empowerment training and relationship rehabilitation.” There is a lot of information packed into its 100 pages. While none of the book can be described as an “easy read,” the third and last chapter, “Behavior Change Programming,” is reasonably accessible to the committed canine guardian. O’Heare’s “empowerment training” is particularly useful, guiding the reader skillfully away from the unfortunate focus on “dominance” offered in many of today’s training programs. He explains, instead, the useful constructs of shaping, desensitization, counterconditioning, differential reinforcement and general stress-reduction procedures.
Of the first two chapters, however, “easy-to-follow” is a stretch. I found myself having to reread many of O’Heare’s points—and not just the “pro fessional boxes” that are scattered throughout the pages. I fear his attempts to simplify are still too much for many dog owners who could benefit from an even more simplified presentation of this complex behavior.
O’Heare often writes for behavior professionals, on a level many dog owners would have some difficulty with. He aimed for a simpler level with this book, but has only partially succeeded. I suspect many of my own clients would find certain pages daunting. To reach the dog owner who desperately needs this information, I would have preferred less “professional box” information in the first two sections, and more simplification, hand-holding and graphic how-to examples in everyday terms as he urges owners to “conduct the functional assessment” of their dog’s behavior. He glosses over the huge challenge owners face in trying to create an environment that precludes allowing the dog to practice, and be reinforced for, separationrelated behaviors. This is usually the most difficult part for owners—and the part that ultimately sends the dog back to the shelter.
I had hoped for something that was aimed halfway between this volume and Patricia McConnell’s simple, useful and readable booklet I’ll Be Home Soon. Don’t misunderstand me. It’s an excellent book and program for those who can stick with it; but it’s not for the faint of heart.
Cattle Dog Publishing, 470 pp., 2009; $148.95 DVD included
In the veterinary profession, there’s a refreshing interest in learning about behavior—a subject that has long been overlooked in the vet-school curriculum. Many dog owners have been given inappropriate behavioral advice by their veterinarians, and many dogs have been subjected to manhandling by veterinary clinic staff, from receptionists to vet techs to the veterinarians themselves. Countless dogs have developed behavior problems as a result, and existing problems have been exacerbated by this inappropriate handling. Dog-behavior professionals worldwide have bemoaned this state of affairs as they’ve worked to repair damage done by vet-prescribed alpha rolls or other old-fashioned dominance-based handling and advice.
Thankfully, this is changing. In January 2010, the North American Veterinary Conference, host to more than 14,000 veterinarians from around the world, included a two-and-a-half day behavioral track for the first time ever. It was well attended and well received by veterinarians eager to learn.
In the forefront of this exciting trend is Dr. Sophia Yin, a veterinary behaviorist dedicated to helping members of her profession learn more appropriate and humane handling techniques. Yin’s latest offering, Low Stress Handling, is packed to the gills with excellent practical advice for veterinarians and crammed with marvelous color photos (1,600 of them) that clearly illustrate her points. If that wasn’t enough, the package includes a DVD with three and- a-half hours of live footage to support her text and photos. Wow! The book is divided into five sections, addressing early behavior problem recognition; the science of behavior and learning; modifying the clinic environment to reduce stress for canine and feline clients; humane and effective handling and restraint techniques; and problem behavior prevention and reversal.
“Wait!” you may say, “I’m not a veterinarian!” That matters not—you can still find incredibly useful information in this book, information that will help turn your next veterinary visit into an enjoyable outing rather than a stress-laden horror show.
For example, in chapter 18, “Counterconditioning Protocols for Dogs and Cats,” Yin discusses how to condition a dog to love a muzzle and enjoy having her teeth brushed and ears cleaned, as well as a multitude of other handling procedures. Chapter 19, “Preventive Behavioral Health for Puppies,” offers useful puppy-raising information on topics such as grooming, nail trimming and early socialization.
The book will also arm you with information to help you determine whether your vet and her staff are handling your dog appropriately, and will empower you to be a critical thinker about any training and handling advice your veterinarian offers. In fact, you can double the impact of this valuable resource by sharing it with your veterinarian after you’ve fully absorbed its contents.
I do have one concern about the Low Stress package. A good training and behavior program avoids eliciting or reinforcing inappropriate behavior; hence, it can be a challenge to get video appropriate for educational purposes. In her mission to document her points with relevant video, Yin, in my opinion, exposes some of her canine subjects to undue stress; I understand the trade-off and appreciate the educational value, yet still flinch at some of the footage, especially that of dogs in a panic over head halters.
That concern aside, this package is a priceless resource for serious dog lovers and their dogs’ (and cats’) veterinary professionals. My own veterinarian is well versed in the scientific principles of behavior and learning and consistently handles her four-footed clients humanely and effectively. I plan to share my copy with my local animal shelter, whose staff is faced daily with the challenge of handling difficult animals.
To preview (or order) this book, go to nerdbook.com.
The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding & Correcting Common Dog Problems
Almost every dog-training book has something to offer the discerning reader, and Cesar’s Way is no exception. The book’s strength is as an autobiography of National Geographic’s TV dog-trainer star, Cesar Millan. If you’re curious about how Millan got where he is today, this book will tell you. If you’re looking for significant help training your dog, however, look elsewhere.
Many in the behavioral science community view the tenets—and consequences—of Cesar’s “way” with trepidation. In an interview published in the New York Times in February of this year, Dr. Nicolas Dodman, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, observed, “My college thinks it is a travesty. We’ve written to National Geographic Channel and told them they have put dog training back 20 years.”
Millan provides little in terms of concrete training information, offering instead broad generalizations about projecting “calm-assertive energy”—a Millan catch phrase—and instilling “calm, submissive energy” in your dog. For example, in Chapter 8, he offers “Simple Tips for Living Happily with Your Dog.” His “Rules of the House” include:
Good advice, perhaps, but nowhere in the book does he explain how to accomplish these things, other than by using calm-assertive energy.
Millan is nothing if not confident. He admits to his “politically incorrect” reliance on old-fashioned dominance theory, stating, “To dogs, there are only two positions in a relationship: leader and follower. Dominant and submissive. It’s either black or white.” He even has the hubris to bemoan the unwillingness of authorities to allow him to rehabilitate Hera, one of the two notorious Presa Canario dogs who killed Diane Whipple in the hallway of her San Francisco apartment building.
In Millan’s world, every behavior problem is addressed in terms of dominance and submission. He even uses the alpha roll as part of his “dominance ritual”; this technique—forcibly rolling a dog on his side or back and holding him there—is considered by many to be a dangerous practice based on faulty interpretation of wolf behavior. It long ago fell into disfavor with trainers whose methods are based on the science of behavior and learning.
Where Millan talks about “energy,” science-based trainers talk about behavior, and generally agree that status in social groups is fluid and contextual, not black or white. Truly effective and long-term success in behavior modification requires a far more studied and complex approach than simply asserting dominance.
Interpretation of dog body language diverges just as widely. Millan refers in his book to Kane, a Great Dane who appeared on his TV show who was afraid of slick linoleum floors. Millan claims that with less than 30 minutes of his calm, assertive influence, Kane was striding confidently down the slick hallway. Every trainer I know who has watched that segment notes the dog’s post-Millan, obvious and ongoing stress signals: head and tail lowered, hugging the wall, panting.
Millan touts the benefits of exercise in modifying dog behavior, a concept I heartily endorse. However, his book starts with a description of the four-hour exercise session he engages in with his pack of dogs every morning in the Santa Monica Mountains of Southern California, followed by afternoons spent rollerblading with those same dogs, 10 at a time, on the streets around his training center.
One of the tenets of a successful training program is that it gives the dog owner tools he or she can apply. How many dog owners can spend six hours a day exercising their dogs? How many can project “calm-assertive energy”? The danger of Cesar’s Way is that it assures owners that quick fixes and easy answers lie in the hands of a smiling man with the elusive calm-assertive energy.
In fact, answers are better found in the beautiful complexity of life, where solutions are often not quick and easy, but are solidly built on a sturdy foundation and an understanding of how behavior really works.
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