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- Do dogs feel guilt?
Does your dog “know they did something bad” and yet continue to steal shoes, get into the garbage, have accidents, or jump on the counter? What does your dog do that tells you that they are feeling guilt or shame? Do they avoid you, or lower their gaze, pin their ears back, while thumping their tail between their legs? These are just a few fearful-submissive behaviors that are commonly confused with guilt. But how do we know that dogs are most likely feeling fear in these moments, and not guilt or shame? Body language does not lie, but it can be misunderstood, especially across species. These misunderstood guilty expressions fall under the umbrella of fearful and appeasement/submissive gestures. The “guilty look” is a fearful-submissive behavior from a history of ineffective harsh or poorly-timed punishment. How can we know if dogs feel guilt when we cannot ask them how they feel? To find out, Horowitz (2009) set up an experiment where dogs were left alone with a piece of food that they were instructed not to eat. The dogs were either given the opportunity to eat the food, or the researchers took the food so the owners were given the impression that the food was eaten. They found that dogs still looked guilty when scolded even if they didn’t eat the food. Hetcht (2012) did a similar study where dogs were left with food that they were told to leave alone. When the owners returned to the room, the food was either eaten by the dog or taken by the researcher so the owner was given the impression that the food was eaten. They were asked to stand still while their dogs greeted them and assess if the dogs were guilty or not. Just like in the last study, the dogs displayed a guilty look regardless of if they ate the food or not. This suggests that these dogs were reacting to their owner’s behavior, not their own behavior. If dogs can feel guilt, they shouldn’t express guilt if they weren’t the ones that broke the rules. It makes sense for both groups of dogs to display fearful or appeasing behaviors if their humans were upset with them. Guilt has no place in dog training I once worked with a dog who was written off as “untrainable” because the dog didn’t express any “guilt” or “shame” when punished for bad behavior. This is based on the false belief that if the dog knows they did something bad, they will express guilt, making guilt desirable in training because that’s how you know the dog has been properly disciplined. When this tactic fails to address behaviors that occurred while the owner was gone or in another part of the house, the blame is placed on the dog for not feeling guilty/bad enough for breaking the rules. This will oftentimes encourage the handler to deliver a stronger punishment so the dog “feels bad enough.” For a dog to understand why they are being punished or rewarded, the consequence must happen within a moment of the target behavior. Noncontingent punishment, such as punishing a dog for something that happened even 5 seconds after the undesirable behavior occurred, will usually result in more “guilty” expressions without decreasing the target behavior. Instead of learning what they can do to avoid punishment in the future, they learn that you are unpredictable, and you might become scary and intimidating at any moment. This gives them all the more reason to become fearful or overly submissive. In contrast, a dog that understands why they are being punished will not behave fearfully because they are confident in what they can do to avoid the consequence in the future. Proper training does not require harsh forms of punishment, and should not create fear in the dog. Punishment in psychology is defined as something that decreases a behavior. A target behavior can be punished through something called positive punishment (adding something to decrease a behavior) or negative punishment (taking something away to decrease a behavior). Training isn't about teaching the dog that they did something right or wrong, but it is about teaching the dog that their actions have consequences. Pseudo-Guilt Dogs can develop pseudo-guilt when they have been punished around destroyed items or soiled areas. These dogs might even display fearful-submissive behaviors even before the damage has been discovered, or if another dog committed the act. They might understand the connection between the environment and your behavior, but this doesn’t impact their future behavior. This is because the punishment had poor timing, or there weren’t any interventions that impacted the underlying cause of the behavior. This phenomenon is especially detrimental for dogs that experience separation distress. The dog experiences distress while their humans are away, triggering an accident or destructive chewing. If the dog has been punished for such behavior when the owner gets home, the dog is learning that the mess AND its distress are precursors to punishment. Sadly, their behavior will likely continue because the underlying cause of their behavior has not been addressed. Dogs don’t have a moral compass like us. They are opportunistic creatures that make decisions based on what has worked for them in the past. Many dogs have learned that they cannot get away with certain behaviors if you’re nearby, but they can if you’re preoccupied with something else or if you aren’t home. That’s why many dogs will sneak into the kitchen to grab food off the counter when we are watching TV in another room, or chew on the rug when we aren’t home. I recently worked with a dog who became fearful of one of her caretakers every time he came home from work. It all started when he came home to find that she chewed on a rug while he was away. He scolded her and thought that would be the end of it. Since the punishment occurred long after the behavior, the dog had no idea that she was being scolded for chewing on the rug. Instead, she learned that she might be scolded after he came home, which made her fearful of him every time he came home. Before they started training with me, she would oftentimes urinate when he would come home because she was so worried. Thankfully, it is possible to teach your dog boundaries and manners without making your dog fearful For counter surfing, problematic chewing, and potty training issues, you have to prevent the problem if you hope to improve it. This might mean that you have to use gates to block your dog from the counter or your shoes when you can’t supervise your dog and crate them when you aren’t home. When you are home, supervise your dog closely so you can reward them for good behavior and prevent them from making poor choices. Does your dog display fear-submissive behaviors when you are telling them to do something? If you find that you are yelling at your dog to gain compliance, your dog is likely responding to your tone of voice rather than your instructions. If your dog cannot respond to you in a calm tone of voice, there is a good chance that your dog doesn’t clearly understand what is being asked, and you should seek the help of a professional trainer so you can learn how to effectively communicate to your dog. References Hetch, J., Miklosi, A., & Gacsi, M. (2012). Behavioral assessment and owner perceptions of behaviors associated with guilt in dogs. Applied Animal Behavior Science, 139(1-2) 134-142. Horowitz, A. (2009). Disambiguating the “guilty look”: Salient prompts to a familiar dog behaviour. Behavioral Processes, 81(3) 447-452. Lindsay, S. (2005). Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, Vol. 3: Procedures and Protocols. Wiley-Blackwell.
- Training Goals - Redefined
So you have a dog with a behavioral problem that you want to STOP. What If I told you that reframing your goals can give you BETTER results? No, I’m not going to tell you to simply ignore, prevent, or punish your dog’s bad behavior. You’ve probably already tried these things and you’re ready to move on to something that will actually help change your dog’s behavior for the better. Yes, those techniques CAN work, but I find that they can make things worse if used alone or when used incorrectly. That is because those techniques are not designed change the underlying cause of the behavior and in some cases can even make the behavior worse! I see this happen the most when I am training reactive dogs that feel frustration and/or fear towards people and dogs to the point of barking, lunging, growling, and so on. People come to me after they attempted to correct their dog’s reactive behavior with leash corrections or bonking (hitting with a rolled-up towel or paper) and wonder why it seems to work in the moment, but it doesn’t give them the long-lasting results that they are looking for. That is largely because you aren’t teaching the dog to feel differently around the trigger that is causing the reactivity. Do you feel calm and focused when you’re hit by someone? If anything, you might shut down in the moment (or punch them in the face!), but that is definitely not the same things as being calm. Instead of punishing the dog for overreacting, we can build the dog’s ability to focus on you and use counter conditioning techniques to help your dog feel GREAT in the presence of people and dogs. This might include developing a playful mindset in the dog and training helpful commands such as coming when called, heel, and stay. All great things for a dog to learn, right? Reframing your goals and focusing on what you WANT your dog to do, will help you create a path to success. This is how we follow something called the “dead-dog rule” (lovingly coined from the “dead man test”). The “dead man test” is a practical way to identify target behaviors for a behavior modification plan. It states that something that a dead man can do is not a behavior in an analytical sense. In other words, it is not as helpful to track the absence of a behavior, compared to tracking the presence of a behavior. I’m not saying it is bad to have goals that ignore the dead-dog rule, but framing your goals in that way can be counterproductive. Following the dead-dog rule will help us create the right training plan for you so you can get even BETTER results. Once we redefine your goals, you will have a newfound sense of direction so you can train your dog with CONFIDENCE. Each training activity has a specific purpose that will build the behaviors you like, address the unwanted behaviors, and strengthen your relationship with your dog all at the same time! If you need help with your dog's behavior, let me know and I would be more than happy to help. I train in Chicago IL and the surrounding areas. To get started you can email me at email@example.com, or you can fill out my contact form. References: Lindsay, S. (2005). Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, Vol. 3: Procedures and Protocols. Wiley-Blackwell.
- Wise Dogs Treat Recommendations
Food will likely be used at some point in your training program. Some dogs are willing to work for kibble, but most dogs are motivated by higher-value treats. Click here for some easy ways to improve your dog's food motivation. **This post contains affiliate links, and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.** Food is an amazing and versatile teaching tool All dogs are food motivated to some degree. Some just need a little help learning how to work for food. You can reinforce MANY behaviors in a short amount of time when you use food rewards. Food can be used to promote both calm behavior and playful behaviors depending on how you use it. You can take food anywhere with you. If your dog struggles to play with toys, food games can be used to help a dog get into a more playful mindset. Food does not reinforce fear and many types of aggression. If used correctly, it can be a great way to REDUCE these behaviors (I can go on and on about this very topic, but I will have to save that for another day!). How to choose the best treat for your dog Small dogs can usually have pea-sized treats, but larger dogs can have treats that are the size of dice. There are specific exercises that require larger-sized treats, which is one reason why I like to have a variety of treats on hand. Your dog determines what is a valuable reward! Experiment with different treats to see what your dog is motivated by. Soft and smelly treats are generally best for training, so cookie-like treats are not on this list. Cookie treats are of lower value for most dogs AND most dogs will stop to chew them, which is not ideal for a training session where you want to get in a lot of repetitions. These treats can be cut into whatever size treat you need. They are extremely high-value for most dogs and are healthier alternatives to hot dogs. Please note that they do need to be refrigerated or kept in the freezer between training sessions. Cheese, cooked meats Redbarn Food Rolls Want something high-value that doesn't need to be refrigerated? These treats are a huge hit! Ziwi Good Dog Rewards PLATO Training Treats 100% Pure Liver Treats Stella & Chewy's meal mixers and freeze-dried dog food Treat pouches and fanny packs are a MUST have. My personal favorite pouch is made by PetSafe because they are easy to wear and clean. The most important thing is to find something that you will WANT to wear and use. Click on the photo to be directed to chewy so you can get your own treat pouch. Happy training everyone! This post contains affiliate links, and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.
- Your dog needs you, not other dogs
The modern pet dog has it made. They have a comfortable place to sleep, food that they don’t have to hunt for, toys to play with, and people who massage and love them on a daily basis. What more could a dog want? I have been seeing a concerning trend where well-meaning people are replacing their presence in their dog’s life with other dogs by · Sending their dog to daycare · Going to dog parks · Getting a second dog for their dog to play with · Searching for dog playmates on social media · Having dog birthday parties If your dog is reactive or shy around dogs, these socialization activities can do more harm than good. It undermines the trust that you have developed with your dog by putting them in situations that they feel are threatening. It can be quite traumatic for an underconfident dog to be bombarded with other dogs, even if those other dogs have playful intentions. Click here to learn more about why I don’t recommend dog parks. Some dogs are social butterflies that enjoy social contact with other dogs, but many are not. This is largely to do with their age, socialization history, and genetic predispositions. This sociability chart highlights the fact that a large number of dogs are hardwired to NOT be friendly with other dogs. The good news is that this does not mean that you can’t help your dog learn to peacefully co-exist around another dog, calmly walk past other dogs on walks, and take them to pet-friendly establishments (pet-friendly stores, restaurant patios, etc.)! Teaching your dog to be calm around other dogs is an important life skill that will allow you to do more with your dog because what your dog really wants is a fulfilling relationship with YOU! Some dogs can safely enjoy interactions with other dogs, but most dogs are happiest when they have opportunities to connect with YOU. In fact, some dogs ONLY bond with one person or with those that live in their household (guardian breeds...I'm calling you out here!). All dogs benefit from learning how to be calm and co-exist around dogs in a controlled setting. This means that they should be able to walk past other dogs without barking, lunging, trying to play, or shying away. If you want to help your dog become more confident and happier around other dogs, sometimes the best solution is to set boundaries around other dogs and teach them to ignore other dogs. In fact, dogs will show other dogs that they want to avoid conflict by ignoring each other! If you are in a room or park full of dogs, the kindest thing that you can do for your dog is to help them ignore other dogs and to encourage others to do the same. If your dog doesn’t know how to be calm around other dogs yet, you can start by exposing your dog to other dogs at a distance. Each dog has their own tolerance threshold, meaning that some dogs will be calm when they are 10ft away from a dog, while others need to be a football field away in order to feel calm. When your dog is under threshold, they should be able to focus on you and respond to commands that they know, and they should barely notice the other dog. With time and practice, you will be able to get closer and closer to other dogs. If you are in a situation where your dog is about to overreact, try to walk your dog out of that situation BEFORE the behavior starts. This will keep your dog in a calmer state of mind, and it will prevent those outbursts from occurring in the first place. With the right training, I believe that every dog can learn to co-exist around other dogs so you can take your dog out of the house stress-free! If your dog struggles around other dogs, let me know and I would be more than happy to help! I train in Chicago IL and the surrounding areas. I love teaching people about dog body language, and the difference between appropriate/inappropriate play for their dog. I love it when a dog’s quality of life improves because they are no longer frustrated, fearful, or aggressive when they see other dogs on walks. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can fill out my contact form.
- The Importance of Playing with Your Dog
Did you know that play can be one of the keys to help you reach your dog’s fullest behavioral and emotional potential? Play can be a powerful reward when you use it correctly, and my hope is that I can encourage you to play with your dog in a way that will enhance your relationship and give your obedience training a boost. Even if you don’t want a highly trained dog, play still provides a plethora of benefits that should not be overlooked. Key Benefits: Increased confidence Increased tolerance for unexpected events (improved resiliency to stress) Can help treat social anxiety, irritability, and depression Increased trust in you Teaches them how to engage with you in sustained cooperative exchange (Golden Rule) Training Benefits: You might be using food in your training program to reinforce good behaviors, which is a tremendous thing to do in the beginning of your dog’s training journey. However, it is not the only thing that a dog needs and craves from us and limiting yourself to one type of reinforcement will restrict some of your training potential down the road. When a dog learns that they can earn a wide variety of rewards through offered behaviors, those behaviors become reorganized and generalized, resulting in a dog that has a clearer understanding of what is being asked in any situation. It also forces us as trainers to become more creative and playful alongside our canine companions. Health Benefits: A dog’s willingness to play can give us information on their emotional state and mental health. If your dog’s desire to play is on the decline, you should have them seen by your veterinarian as soon as possible because this can be a sign that your dog is feeling unwell. If your dog is healthy and they are not willing to play, they might be suffering from an emotional imbalance. Play is a good way to assess and improve your dog’s behavior. A dog that is under extreme stress will not eat. A dog that is somewhat stressed might eat but won’t play. A dog that is completely at ease will eat and play. Here are some of my favorite games and tips that I recommend Fetch and Tug are a dog and owner favorite. An important tip is to keep ALL your fetch and tug toys put away when you are not playing with them. This prevents your dog from "begging" for the game, and it also helps you maintain the toy's value. If the toys are freely available, they are not as exciting anymore! Hold your tug with both hands and encourage your dog to target the center of the toy. Hold the tug at their level so they don’t have to strain their necks. Do not throw your dog all over the place with the tug and whip them around! Instead, use smooth side to side motions and be mindful on how your movements might impact their neck and spine. Let your dog “win” many of the tug games. When you feel your dog tugging, let go of the tug and then immediately start tugging again and repeat. This is an incredibly fun game for many dogs, and it can encourage them to bring the toy back to you so you can continue the game. When you want to end the game, trade the toy for a treat. Chase games can help your dog learn to run back to you for a reward. To start, show them a treat or a toy and encourage them to chase you. Give them the toy or treat once they finally get to you. Once they learn the chase game, you can encourage them to grab a toy and then run away from them to come to you (hopefully with the toy in their mouth!). When the dog gets to you, you can use the Two-Toy Game (below), give them a treat, or play tug if they happen to have a tug toy. Once they are reliably bringing the toy back, you can start fading out the amount of time that you spend running away from them. Two Toy Game: Use TWO toys when you play fetch. Throw one toy while you hide a second toy in your pocket or behind your back. Present the second toy once your dog brings the first toy back to you. You can do the same thing with tug toys as well. Don’t worry about using a “drop it” command because this is all about teaching your dog to engage with the toy that you throw or tug, bring it back, and anticipate another toy. “Drop it” will come easily later. Stop the game before your dog gets tired. A lot of dogs are more likely to chew the toy or run off with it when they start to get bored. If their performance starts to decline in any way, the game has gone on for too long. This might mean that you only play 1-3 repetitions of fetch or 30 seconds of tug at first. You can gradually increase the length of your play sessions as their enthusiasm improves. Here are some quick tips that will help your dog play politely Sit (or another EASY command) initiates the game and prevents jumping. Jumping up for the toy makes me turn away and disengage from the dog. Barking does not make me give you a toy (try to offer the toy BEFORE they bark or ask them to do an incompatible behavior so they can “earn” the toy). I will not throw another toy for you until you bring the first toy back to me. This is taught through chase games. If you playfully put your mouth on me, I become “dead and boring” or I will walk away. If you do not put your mouth on me, I will play fetch or tug with you. But won’t tug make my dog aggressive? NO! You might get nipped if you neglect to handle your toys correctly and if you don’t teach your dog some basic boundaries around play, but this is not the same as being aggressive. In fact, being in a playful state of mind is the exact OPPOSITE of being aggressive (displaying threatening body language with the intent of driving you away). When we neglect to play with our dogs due to this outdated myth, we tend to facilitate the problems that we were trying to avoid in the first place. When faced with a mouthy or excitable dog, our first instinct is to suppress the behavior and discourage anything that might provoke it from occurring, but this approach usually backfires. I usually see this approach make problems worse, or it makes our dogs flat and depressed. It also creates a stifled and unnatural relationship with our dogs, which can cause us to withdraw and lose interest in them. Play provides an appropriate outlet for our dogs and it gives us the opportunity to teach them social boundaries that go beyond the play session itself. This is one of the main reasons why it is crucial that all dog owners know how to safely play with their dogs. Important tips to know before playing with your dog Play requires humans and dogs to learn the Golden Rule – Do as one wishes done in return. Play will not sustain itself if the game is extremely imbalanced where there is always one winner or loser. We must be sensitive to each other’s needs to maintain a playful spirit and to keep the game alive. I have seen many dogs lose interest in play altogether when we include too many rules and when we never allow the dog to “win” the game. Therefore, it should be our top priority is to develop a playful attitude first and incorporate obedience later. If we incorporate too many rules too soon, we will dampen their desire to play because it will no longer be fun for them. This will ruin your ability to use play as a reinforcer later in your dog’s training journey. Dogs learn social skills through play. Dogs with good play skills will oftentimes “self-handicap” which is where they pretend to be weaker than another dog, and they also tend to “role switch” so each dog gets a turn being chased or tumbled over. They also should learn from a young age how to practice bite inhibition and how to avoid causing fear in their partner. If they hurt their partner or frighten them, the play ends temporarily. If one of the dogs does not adapt their behavior to suit their partner, the play session might turn into a fight to establish personal boundaries. Playing without obedience does NOT mean that the game lacks boundaries. And not all games are created equal. Structured fetch and tug games are the two best activities that you can play with your dog. I would NOT recommend playing games where you chase your dog or encourage a lot of “keep away” where the dog prevents you from grabbing something that they have. Dogs tend to love those games, but they are extremely counterproductive if you want to use play as an obedience reward and to teach social boundaries. Wrestling can be a fun for some dogs, but I do not recommend it for beginners because these games can easily cause a sensitive dog to become fearful. Once you are a pro at reading dog body language and playing with your dog, you will be able to tell if this is an appropriate game for your individual dog. I hope this article has encouraged you to start playing more with your dog. If your play continues to do well, start incorporating one or two easy obedience commands and playing with them as their reward. Now you can truly get creative and have even more fun with your dog! I would love to hear from you on how play has impacted your relationship with your dog. You can contact me at email@example.com. If you need help with your dog you can fill out my quick assessment form by clicking here. References: Lindsay, S. (2005). Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, Vol. 3: Procedures and Protocols. Wiley-Blackwell.
- Should I take my dog to the dog park?
Trainers everywhere are often asked how to resolve issues that come up at the dog park. The park might be the only time that they receive exercise and enrichment off leash due to the fact that many people don't have a fenced in yard. But why do so many trainers advise against them? First off, I am not going to get into all of the diseases that your dog can catch at the park and the fact that you don't know the vaccination history of the dogs coming to the park. Hopefully this pandemic has taught all of us that germs and viruses are everywhere and there is an inherent risk of catching something everywhere that we go. So let's focus on our dog's behavior and how it can be impacted at the park. The most common issues that come up at the park usually involve other dogs, new people, and children. When dogs are off-leash in a fenced in area, they have the freedom to greet people and children as they please. This is fine if your dog is comfortable around children and people, but it can be a disaster if your goal is to get your dog to stop jumping on people or if your dog is fearful. The dog park is NOT an ideal place to "socialize" your dog, test out their social skills, and help them overcome their fears of dogs and people. In fact, the unpredictable environment can magnify your dog's fears and make them worse. What are the chances that my dog will get hurt or psychologically damaged by another dog at the park? The truth is that we don't know how many fights occur in parks. One study found that interdog aggression occurred 19-39% of the time over the course of the study (Shyan, Forktune & King, 2003), but this was only observed at one park. Other studies observed dogs at off-peak times, where there are fewer dogs and so incidents were less likely to occur. If anything, the current research shows us that the density of the park correlates with aggressive incidents. When dogs have plenty of room to get away from each other, fights are less likely to occur. Research on wild vs captive animals, such as wolves and chimpanzees, has shown us that unnatural arrangements create more conflict than what is typically observed in nature. Wolves create family units where the parents are naturally dominant over their offspring, and their offspring one year will be dominant over the offspring born the following season and so on. When they reach maturity, they will likely leave their pack to create a new one. When you put multiple unrelated wolves together, fighting will occur to create an artificial dominance hierarchy that is much more stressful than what you would find in nature. A dog's life is dramatically different from their wolf ancestors, but understanding this part of their DNA can help us understand why some dogs become more territorial as they reach social maturity (Lindsay, 2005). When aggression was observed at the dog park, it was typically initiated by an older dog between 16 months and 7 years of age, and recipients were usually younger dogs. Most dogs reach social maturity at 1.5-2 years of age, so these findings are not surprising. An online survey of 272 dog park users found that 46% of users reported an injury, and 60% of the participants reported a behavioral change in their dog after a conflict with another dog. 48% of those dogs had behavioral changes (dog aggression and reactivity) that lasted 6 months or longer (Berg, 2020). This is a small sample size, but those numbers are alarming. Some dogs are predisposed to having dog aggression despite our best efforts to socialize them to other dogs when they were puppies. Other dogs are predisposed to being more accepting of outsiders when they mature and will bounce back easily if they have a negative interaction with another dog. Sound training plans will set our dogs up for success by putting them in environments where they will succeed and avoid environments that will set them up to fail. Here are some things that you can do instead of going to the dog park: Plan a dog play date with a dog that you know and trust. If you don't have a fenced yard and your dog is not off-leash trained, get a long line to allow your dog to safely play and roam. Rent a private space to play with your dog using Sniff Spot https://www.sniffspot.com/listings Play training games in the house such as hide & seek, or hide treats around the house for them to find. Train your dog! It will improve your relationship with your dog and allow you to do more fun things with them. References: Berg, J. (2020, August). A Safer Visit to the Dog Park. The APDT Chronicle of the Dog, 43-46. Lindsay, S. (2005). Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, Vol. 3: Procedures and Protocols. Wiley-Blackwell. Shyan, M. R., Fortune K. A., and King C.. "Bark Parks' - A Study on Interdog Aggression in a Limited-Control Environment." Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 6 (1), 2003: 25-32.
- What is Cynopraxic training?
Dogs and people share a unique partnership unlike anything else in the animal kingdom, and that partnership can be enhanced through Cynopraxic training and behavior modification practices. “Cynopraxic training proceeds on the assumption that dogs and people possess a shared capacity to establish relations based on fair exchange. Such training promotes cognitive, emotional, and behavioral changes conducive social competence, cooperation, and play. Cynopraxic training objectives are governed by two essential social and life experience criteria: (1) enhance the human-dog relationship and (2) improve the dog’s quality of life.” -Steven Lindsay When we expect our dogs to perform just because we said so, we unintentionally reduce them to robots with fur that needs reprogramming. Cynopraxic trainers instead strive to understand your dog as an individual with their own unique histories, motivators, and relationships. We are also committed to using the least intrusive and aversive methods first, while refraining from any method that will cause physical harm to your dog. LIMA (least intrusive, minimally aversive) is a commonly used acronym that describes these principles. If you are interested in this type of training, Wise Dogs is here to help! Before you begin training, I would like you to consider the building blocks that create a healthy, emotionally balanced dog. First, make sure you understand dog body language. Studying dog body language can help you understand the subtle shifts in your dog’s emotional state. Trainers can look at a dog’s body language and know if that dog is friendly, fearful, aggressive, and everything in-between. Take a hard look at your dog’s physical health. Every dog with a behavioral problem should receive a thorough check-up with their veterinarian. Our physical health impacts our emotional state, and your dog cannot tell you if they have a thyroid problem or if their tooth hurts. Work with your vet to weed out any possible sources of pain and discomfort in your dog to support a healthy mind and a healthy body. It is also crucial that your dog maintains a healthy weight and that they receive daily exercise and mental stimulation. You can see a body weight chart here to help you determine if your dog needs to lose a few pounds. Are you trying to modify your dog’s behavior? How can the problem behavior be prevented? Until you have a trainer come to your home, it is critical that you prevent your dog from rehearsing the behavior you want to modify. Training will allow your dog to build better habits, but long-term habits cannot be built in a day! Here are a few things that can help you get started: If your dog is protective over toys and chews, do not give your dog those specific items. Training will help your dog feel more at ease when you are around their prized resources, and it will teach them that it is okay to relinquish them when you ask. If your dog jumps on visitors, keep your dog on a leash to prevent it. Training will teach your dog a better way to say hello. If your dog barks at dogs on walks, keep them as far away from other dogs as you can. Training will help your dog learn to be calm and attentive to you when they see other dogs, and you will be able to get closer to other dogs with a bit of practice. Your behavior impacts your dog’s behavior. If you are taking the time to understand your dog’s behavior and manage them correctly, you will then be able to understand how your behavior impacts your dog’s behavior. Dogs tend to respond best when they receive clear communication from a calm handler, and they tend to become stressed when their handler is stressed! If you feel yourself becoming frustrated, give yourself a break and reassess your training plan before you try again. Leadership should create security and predictability. Do you set your dog up for success by being a good leader? Some might argue that this is even MORE important than training! Being a leader to your dog does not mean that you are trying to be an “alpha;” It means that you can make decisions for your dog that will result in a positive outcome for THEM! As they grow to understand that following your lead is in their best interest, they will be more likely to want to seek you for guidance, safety, and support. How can we be a good leader to our dog? This is going to vary for each dog/human partnership, but creating structure and routine is a great way to get started. We should also set appropriate boundaries with other people, so they know what is okay/not okay to do with your dog. For example, if your dog is uncertain about new people, you should not be allowing strangers to pet your dog. Training should benefit both you and your dog. Training is a way for us to connect with our dog, modify behaviors, and create a better life for them. Dogs have traded freedom in the wilderness with the security of domesticity, but they still have some of the instincts and behaviors that their ancestors had. As people continue to separate themselves from the natural world, we continue to seclude our dogs from the life that their wild ancestors knew. Dogs are designed to travel, play, smell, and make meaningful connections with us, and training is a way for us to fulfill those needs safely. When you form a well-balanced partnership with your dog, they can…. Enjoy walks with you because they are not pulling and barking at other dogs and people Play with you Co-exist with friends and family Go to dog-friendly establishments Enjoy the great outdoors with you, which may include going to the beach, camping, and hiking. Be okay at home alone for reasonable periods of time and leave you alone while you work from home. Of course, it is perfectly okay if your dog cannot do all these things. There is no “one size fits all” approach to having a perfect partnership with our dog, but understanding these building blocks will help you bring out the best in your dog.
- Puppy socialization that goes BEYOND meeting dogs and people
Puppies benefit from early socialization with other dogs and people, but what should you do on days where you can't let them meet other people or safe dogs? Maybe you can't because you are feeling sick, the weather is bad, your dog friends have other plans, or you just need something new to keep your pup busy. I made a checklist for you with a ton of different socialization activities that have nothing to do with physically interacting with people and other dogs. Click on the PDF link below to download your copy! I would like you to ask yourself what you want your puppy's future to look like. Do you want to be able to go camping, hiking, or to the beach with your pup? Do you want to be able to take your dog to see your friends and family? Hopefully, you asked yourselves these types of questions before you chose your pup, but you should continue to remind yourself of these things as you socialize and train your puppy. If you want to do all of these fun things with your dog but do nothing to get them prepared, you are going to be in for a rude awakening! A puppy that has not been socialized is more likely to become fearful around new things, and they are going to have a harder time coping with stress. This is because the brains of animals raised in impoverished environments develop differently than animals that were not, which can have long-lasting effects on their behavior as adults. Genetics play a role in brain development and behavior as well, but we should still set them up for a lifetime of success by socializing them to the best of our ability. When should I socialize my puppy? They go through a rapid development period called the critical stage of socialization. For most dogs, this window of opportunity closes at about 16 weeks of age. They should experience MANY things before that age, but you should still continue to actively socialize them after that point. How often should I socialize my puppy during their critical stage of socialization? Aim to get them out of the house several times per week, and do socialization activities at home. You should also get your pup started on some basic training that is geared toward building engagement and a love for learning. When you are out and about with your pup, be prepared with some treats, toys, potty bags, and a long line. Let your pup explore their environment on a long line, but also try to play some training games that you have been practicing at home. Puppy socialization outings should be as positive as possible so they learn that the world is a safe place. This means that they should not be allowed to meet strange dogs, and they should not be smothered by groups of new people. This can quickly become overwhelming for your pup and teach them that the world is unpredictable and scary. Socialization does not mean that your pup must have direct interactions with new people and dogs. Instead, think of socialization as providing positive exposure to new things! What are some things that I can do to guarantee that my pup will have a positive learning experience? Start small, such as exposing them to a new sound at low volume. Once you know they are perfectly okay with that, you can gradually increase that volume. When it comes to new sights, you can expose them at a distance and gradually get closer. Incorporate food and play into your socialization activities so your pup can develop a positive association with these new experiences.
- Maximize your Dog's Food Motivation
Food is one of the most versatile and powerful ways we can train our dogs. But what if your dog isn't very food motivated? I have some easy tips that will help improve your dog's desire to work for food that does NOT involve fasting your dog. Have a serious look at your dog's weight. It is absolutely critical that your dog is at a healthy weight for their overall health and well-being. The Body Conditioning System will help you determine if you need to reduce your dog's overall food intake. I recommend keeping a measuring cup with your dog's food so you can measure the exact amount that you are feeding per meal. It is also a good idea to check with your vet to see if there are any underlying medical issues that could be contributing to their lack of appetite or weight problems. Dental and thyroid issues are just two examples of things that can contribute to your dog's weight and desire to eat. Do you feed your dog twice per day? Scheduled feeding is infinitely better than leaving a dish of food out for your dog all day. If your dog is used to being free-fed, offer them food for about 10 minutes twice per day to help them get on a feeding schedule. A healthy dog will not starve themselves, so it is okay if they skip a meal as they get used to their new routine. Do you add things to their food to make it more flavorful? If you add things to your pet's food to make it more appealing, I would recommend that you stop that immediately if your dog has motivational issues around food. I usually find that people give their dog additives for two reasons: they think their dog needs to eat more, or they are trying to show love to their dog through food. If you think your dog needs to eat more than they already are, they probably are overweight or they have an underlying medical problem. If you are trying to show your dog love through food, I recommend trying the Bowl Free Challenge instead! What kind of food rewards are you currently using? I always try to train with the "lowest value" food first in a low distraction environment, and I will only increase the value of food if I absolutely have to. If you start your dog on high-value treats, such as hot dogs and cheese, why would your dog want to start working for anything less appealing? The size of your food rewards also matter. Large-sized dogs generally need treats that are the size of dice, while smaller dogs can have pea-sized treats. However, small dogs still might need a larger-sized treat for specific training activities. I don't recommend using food pieces that are so large that your dog will take time chewing each piece before swallowing. Most dogs enjoy soft treats, which also happen to be ideal for training.
- Try the Bowl Free Challenge!
Did you know that many captive animals will choose to work for their food even when free food has been made available? This makes perfect sense if you consider the fact that most captive animals are under-stimulated while their wild cousins are hunting and exploring all day. Ecologists have thoroughly studied this phenomenon, called "Contrafreeloading," which is why many zoos now provide meal enrichment activities for their animals. **This post contains affiliate links, and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.** Think about how your dog spends their day They probably potty outside, go on a short walk, and hopefully get in some playtime each day. Their lives are pretty boring compared to their wild counterparts. The easiest and kindest thing we can do for our dogs is to ditch the bowl and replace it with a toy that will satisfy their desire to sniff, search, and interact with their environment. Ditch the food bowl Before you invest in a new toy, consider your dog's energy level and physical capabilities. Snuffle and Licki Mats are great for almost any dog to start with, but many dogs crave something a bit more challenging. I really love rubber Kongs because you can stuff them with soft food and freeze them for a longer-lasting activity. I have partnered with Chewy.com, which has a ton of different toys for you to choose from. Just click on either of the photos or highlighted products to be directed to Chewy.com. Consider using your dog's food in a training session. Every piece of food that your dog eats out of their food bowl is a lost opportunity to reinforce your dog for good behavior or to teach them something new. Replacing their meal with a training session will help you make training a habit. Learn more about Contrafreeloading here: https://zoosnippets.com/post/the-contrafreeloading-concept-what-does-it-mean