Tag: Behavior Modification

Why it’s Absolutely Okay to Avoid the Dog Park!

Why it’s Absolutely Okay to Avoid the Dog Park!

Do you stare longingly at your pup wondering if he’s happy laying at your feet chewing on his bone?

Do you wonder if he needs more socializing in his life?

Every dog wants to play with other dogs, right?

I work with quite a few dogs who just lose it at the sight of another dog. I’m talking jumping, barking, pulling on the leash, and otherwise doing the exact opposite of what you would like them to do when this scenario comes up. (If this embarrassing scene is happening to you, contact me, or a local force free trainer in your area. We can help!)
Many of these dogs act this way because they are, in fact, afraid of the other dogs approaching them. For your dog, acting this way gets the other dog to go away, because there is absolutely no way you are going to walk over to that person to explain why your dog is loosing his $@**.

Most pet parents also have the idea in their head that dogs should have doggy friends. They should be able to be social at the dog park or doggy daycare in large groups of dogs and still keep a cool head. If you have one of those dogs, consider yourself lucky!

Here is an example I like to use when explaining this to people:
Some people like to go to the bar every weekend. Some people like to sit at home with their dogs on the weekends, and some people like to have a few close friends over to play a game or watch a movie.

Is one option better than the other? It depends on who you ask. If you ask me, I’ll be at home on Saturday night with my dogs every single time! Now, I go to the club once a year because I like my friends and I want to hang out with them, but asking me to go every weekend is going to just wear me out!

Now let’s look at your dog. If he is freaking out at one new dog from 100 yards away, I don’t think he’s going to like going to the “bar” where there are 30 dogs on top of him all at once. Your dog may learn to enjoy one or two doggy friends in his lifetime, or he might be a dog who doesn’t want friends. Both of those options are okay!

Society puts a lot of pressure on dogs to be super friendly and A-Okay 100% of the time. No one can hold up to those expectations. Take an honest look at your dog, and decide if your dog as an individual is okay with doggy friends. If your honest answer is “no” or “not right now,” that’s okay! Your dog just heaved a sigh of relief that you are not going to ask him to do something he’s not ready to do!

This concept is the root of my training philosophy. Is your dog ready and capable of making good choices in this situation? If not, then we need to train some more to get him ready, or we need to decide if this position is one that your dog needs to encounter. Then determine the best way to help your dog cope with this decision.

Find things that truly do make your dog happy, and pursue those options. Does he enjoy swimming, or playing ball with you? Make sure he gets the opportunity to have those social interactions with you, and having doggie friends becomes farther down the list of requirements for a happy life.
For more insight to my struggles with Pixie’s reactivity, check out my past blog posts!
Until next time, make good choices!

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Is frustration affecting your dog walking?

Is frustration affecting your dog walking?

I want to touch on the idea of giving your dog a choice. Is your dog ready to go for a walk? Are they actually capable of listening to you in the moment you are speaking? Sometimes the answer is no.

Most of the time your dog does not respond to the cue given because their brain is elsewhere. You know the look I am talking about, the one where their nose is twitching and their head is on a swivel. They have no idea you actually exist in that moment. They are looking off to the hills, and have forgotten about the leash and the walk that you are ready to go on. From a training point of view, that is a problem!

Many traditional trainers teach that the dog should obey what you say no matter what, and that level of sharp obedience is what you strive for. If you are not getting the result you want, then a sharp pop of the collar to remind the dog what he is supposed to be doing will help him get there. If this is how you were taught to train your dog then one of two things are happening. (I was also taught this way originally, so I know your frustration) One, you are now constantly popping the collar and giving cues that your dog is ignoring. Two, your dog is giving you a half-hearted sit when you collar pop but still no actual focus to do what you ask. A very frustrating problem.

A story: Pixie loves dock diving. Her favorite thing in the whole world is jumping from the dock into the pool and going for a swim. She loves it so much however, that she leaves her brain in the car when we get to the pool. All of last year I struggled with her staying on the dock. I could see in her face that there was no brain in her head. The more training I did on the dock the more frustrated I got because I could not get any thought processes while near the pool. So I stopped going to the pool to let her jump. The first time we went to the pool this year, she didn’t get anywhere near the dock. I just let her sniff. We sniffed in the parking lot, and the fence line. We sniffed the parked cars, and watched the dogs go into the vet clinic. Any time she offered me some eye contact, I would reward, and move her a little closer to the pool. Thoughtfulness, gets you closer to what you want.

What would happen if you just gave your dog a few minutes to sniff? Hang out on the porch, and let your pup get all the sniffing out of his system before you asked him to move forward. I’m not saying let your dog drag you all over the yard to sniff every blade of grass, you stay in one space, giving your dog as much room to sniff as the leash will allow and just wait. Let me know how this goes, and the difference you see in your walks with your pup!

The Secret Club of Dog Owners

The Secret Club of Dog Owners

Tragedy struck this week in our area. An elderly woman was killed by a dog who was recently adopted from a local rescue. My heart goes out to the family who is now dealing with this unbelievable heartbreak. For more information on the story, you can take a look at the Virginian Pilot, I will not post the story here, as that is not the point of my post.

There is a divide between the people who have only lost dogs due to medical issues or old age, and those people who have had to make that decision based on a behavior issue. The latter folks, do not talk about the heart wrenching decision they had to make because they know they will be judged for it. Someone somewhere will say, “you didn’t do enough” or, “what did you do to make that dog act that way.” Know that you are not alone, and plenty of people stand behind your decision.

Being one of the only positive reinforcement trainers who will see aggression cases in this area, I have spent many hours being a therapist for these owners. The conversation begins with history, and I have heard everything from this started at 7 weeks when I brought the puppy home, to we began seeing issues around 2 years old, to the aggressive behavior has gotten worse quickly. These dogs are from breeders, or rescues, they are large and small, young and old.  In each of these situations, there was nothing that the owners did except love their dog, and do the best for them that they knew how.

My heart breaks each time I think about the families who have to make the decision to euthanize their dog because of aggression issues. (If any of those families are reading this, know that I think about you and your dogs, all the time, even if we only met once) Working with dogs means you are not only in it for the dogs, but for the people first and foremost. I really do not look forward to the conversations about euthanasia that I have, but I am glad I get to be that shoulder for people who are truly looking to do what is right.

I want to thank the owners of these dogs for making that difficult decision. They were responsible enough to put the safety of their family, and the general public over that of a dog that they loved.  They were kind enough to recognize the demons that their dog was living with, and end their suffering. They were smart enough to realize their dog was not capable of living in our world, and by our rules.

I also want to thank the responsible rescues who refuse to put any owner through this heart wrenching process. There are thousands of healthy stable dogs in shelters and rescues, waiting to be that fantastic family pet that you envision living your life with. Responsible organizations, have no problem understanding the liability behind a dangerous dog, and the thought of “rehabilitation” never crosses their minds.

So to the owners of the dogs who left us because they were truly broken, you are a stronger person than the people who run this “rescue.” To Luke, Raj, Bella, Ranger, Fenton and the others, run free at the Rainbow Bridge where you are safe from your demons. We think of you often!