Changing a dog’s bad feeling about something to a neutral or even positive association.
Desensitization is the slow and gradual process of changing a dog’s association with an object, animal, or person when they would normally over react and behave inappropriately to being calm and relaxed when exposed to that same stimulus.
Our goal is to gradually expose the dog to the scary thing a little at a time while making sure we keep the situation positive as well as making sure she is below the threshold of where she would normally get uncomfortable.
When working on desensitization we must keep in mind that it has nothing to do with how we feel or what we think is safe or scary, but rather how our dogs feel when presented with a fear inducing trigger. For you a person on roller skates may be perfectly normal and nothing to worry about, but for our dogs it may seem unfamiliar and could educe a reaction.
When our dogs cross over their threshold of comfort they no longer think rationally!
Our dogs are very smart and they will always do what is safe and what works, undesirable behaviors (barking, growling, lunging, snarling, snapping) are caused by fear or discomfort; this happens when the dog learns that growling or barking will make the scary thing go away.
In such cases, the dog is expressing her fear, but many peoples reaction is to punish the dog. While this sometimes stops the behavior, it doesn’t change the way the dog feels, which means we now have a potentially dangerous situation; a dog that no longer shows she is upset. If we continue to push such a dog beyond her comfort level, in her mind the only option is to bite.
If you have ever heard anyone say, “I don’t understand what happened, it came out of no where. She seemed fine. Then she bit,” these stories are often about dogs that have been punished for making their discomfort known. Never punish your dog when they communicate with you, a growl from your dog means that something is making them uncomfortable, assess the situation to determine if there is anything you can do to change your approach.
Dogs don’t growl or bark to be naughty. It is how they express fear, discomfort, or a desire for distance between themselves and another object, animal, or person. The best way to stop the behavior is to change the underlying emotion. A dog that loves something doesn’t growl at it.
The 3 Ds: Distance, Duration, Distraction
When you work to change your dog’s bad feeling about something, there are three factors you can adjust to make sure you stay within her comfort zone. We call those factors the 3 Ds.
1. Distance: Put more distance between your dog and whatever is scaring her.
2. Duration: Keep interactions between your dog and whatever is scaring her short. A few seconds is a good place to start.
3. Distraction: Distract your dog with a cheerful voice and treats.
If your dog shows any sign of discomfort (pulling away, ducking, barking), adjust one or more of the Ds: Get further away, dish out more treats, or shorten the time your dog spends in the situation. Your dog doesn’t want to live in fear, take the time to listen to what they are telling you and adjust your approach when handling and training. Desensitization can be a long process, but if you work with an open mind and kindness in your heart, you and your pup can over come anything!
Asking your dog to perform a certain behavior prior to getting what they want is a great training strategy that uses everyday situations to reward good manners and practice obedience without setting aside hours of special practice time each day.
Applying the principle of Say Please is simple and can be done without any special equipment or expertise. From now on whatever your dog wants, he must work for. Doors are not opened willy-nilly; balls are not simply thrown. For those, and countless other privileges, ask your dog to say please by sitting, doing a down, spinning or performing whatever trick he knows.
With this strategy, you and your dog both win. You get a well-trained, polite dog and he gets what he wants (his belly rubbed, his leash taken off at the park). What’s more, you have laid the foundation for an enjoyable relationship for a lifetime.
How to use it.
Step 1. Make a list of all the things your dog wants and enjoys.
Step 2. Vow to yourself never to give those things away for free again. See them all as training opportunities and ask your dog for an obedience behavior or trick you want strengthened.
Step 3. Give him what he wants as a reward for that behavior.
Step 4. Repeat, every day, everywhere.
Below is a list of when you might want to ask your dog to say please, this is in no way an exhaustive list, but rather a good place to start. You will find great opportunities throughout your day where you and your dog can practice good manners, just by saying please!
Before throwing a ball, Frisbee, rope-toy, etc.
Before giving him a toy.
Before putting the food bowl down.
Before handing over a treat or chewie.
Before opening a door.
Before putting on a leash to go for a walk.
Before taking off a leash at the park or beach.
Before dishing out a belly rub or good ear scratch.
Before hopping into or out of the car.
Before allowing your dog onto the couch with you.
As we walk together on your final day
I wish I had the words to say
You’ve been my best friend since our first meeting
And now looking back each day seems so fleeting
Far to short was our time together
But was beautiful like mountain heather
You’re as much a part of me as my own beating heart
I really don’t know how I’ll fair apart
The curse of man to outlive his friends
Forced to endure so many bitter ends
I wish you could stay by my side forever
But alas it’s only memories I get to treasure
Two souls made one through life’s endeavour
As I reflect back on our time together
I am grateful for all you’ve given me
And thankful for your friendship I’ll ever be
You’ve been with me through it all
To hell and back you’ve answered my call
No better companion to share in my life
It was always a pleasure mixed with some strife
Side by side we walked together
Riding the wind like a feather
Tossed and thrashed by the raging storm
But I had you by my side to keep me warm
I was never afraid of what each day would bring
Because together we could concur anything
You gave me such strength in my darkest hours
But now I must lay you on a bed of flowers
For you’re starting a journey that I cannot follow
Our final farewell forever hollow
At last we come to your final day
I wish I had the words to say
How much your soul has given mine
I pray you can forgive me this one last time
As our paths diverge this wretched way
I wish I had the words to say
I love you
I want to talk about something that has been bugging me for a long time now; I feel it’s a very important issue that gets brushed off far too often and isn’t really seen as a big problem, when in fact it is a major part of the reason why so many in the animal world feel compassionate burnout. I wanted to share my thoughts about shaming people for “not caring enough” with respect to you and the dogs you share your life with.
Have you ever had someone in your life who has made a lasting impact on who you are, a teacher or mentor, a friend or colleague? These people found their way into your life and helped shaped the wonderful person you are today. They add but a piece to the puzzle that is who you are and in doing so you became a more complete and beautiful person for having had them in your life.
Personally I have had many mentors throughout my life that have given me guidance and advice, they helped shape the way I think and see the world, how a treat others and myself and while some of them are no longer here with me in this world I am a far better person for having had them in my life, if even for a short time.
While each person in our life gives a small piece of themselves when helping us fill in the puzzle this is who we are, no one person was responsible for the finished picture; one piece at a time over hundreds, if not thousands of interaction before we start to see a shape emerge. This is a powerful way to think of our own life’s journey and I believe we need to apply this way of thinking when dealing with dogs.
“Not caring enough” is toxic phrase and dose far more harm to our dogs than good.
If you have ever been accused of not caring enough because you:
If yes, chances are you have been shamed by a person who doesn’t really care about what’s best for the dog, I believe this way of thinking to be fundamentally wrong, stemming from an ego driven ideology that ultimately alienates good, decent people from truly helping. Only by understanding your limitations and capabilities can you help. Keeping a dog in a situation where they cannot live fulfilled lives, where they are not properly cared for mentally, emotionally and physically is, by definition abuse, so why would you listen to anyone who said otherwise?
You are a good person for rehoming your dog if you are unable to provide them with a fulfilled, meaningful life; you are a good person for sending that puppy back to the shelter because, despite your best efforts, you just can’t seem to get through to her. You are a stronger person for acknowledging your weaknesses by allowing that dog the opportunity to find his happily ever after.
I am who I am today because of the many people in my life who have been kind enough to share a small piece of themselves with me, is it not then ok for you to be one small piece, a single stepping stone in the pathway of success that leads this dog to her happily ever after?
Kind of an odd question I know, but I bet you haven’t really given it much thought, have you? I’ve noticed a growing trend in many canine circles that dictate if your pup is afraid to go on walks, only has a few people they like, does not like other dogs, negatively reacts to (fill in the blank), or heaven forbid you have a dog that does not like the off-leash park then you as their owner have failed them and should feel ashamed for raising such a poorly socialized dog!
Often inexperienced dog owners are quick to share their views that are often flawed – each and every dog is different and should be handled differently according to their unique personality. After all, you wouldn’t apply the same parenting technique to every single child, you would adapt your approach to suit their needs, and the same can be said for your furry children. Using the wrong approach to handle a fearful dog can result in worsening behaviour, even leading to the risk of harmful behaviours, such as biting.
There is a very good chance that you have or know someone who has a fearful dog. Now let me just set the record straight, if anyone tells you are a bad owner simply because your dog does not conform to a “normal standard” of canine behaviour (whatever that means!), they are wrong! Just because a dog doesn’t conform to “typical” social norms does not mean you are not a bad owner! That kind of advice is counterproductive and harmful to the relationship between you and your pup. I want to share with you an analogy that has really helped me to better understand the way I interact with dogs, and is often the first thing I explain to clients while working with fearful pups:
Imagine that I am your therapist and you have come to me because you have a fear of spiders and you’d like to not have a fear of spiders. So in plain English you say to me,
“Cody, I’m deathly afraid of spiders, just the thought of them makes me anxious and afraid, to the point I cannot think straight!”
Alright, that’s fantastic, you have clearly communicated to me what you are afraid of and how it makes you feel, spiders = fear and anxiety!
Now imagine if after you telling me this I firmly tied you to a chair in a small room in which there was absolutely no way for to you escape and proceeded to throw spiders at you! Oh, and each time you flinched or squirmed I gave you a little electric shock, but in my most soothing therapist voice I kept reassuring you that everything is okay and there is actually nothing to be afraid of.
How would you feel about me and our relationship?
Would you trust me more or less?
Be more or less likely to look to me for guidance?
Would you feel betrayed?
In the future, would you be more or less likely to seek my help?
Believe it or not, this is a pretty common strategy for “helping” dogs overcome their fears.
Is your dog afraid of other dogs? Well, you better desensitize them by forcing them to interact with hundreds of other dogs… why not drop them off at doggie daycare?
Does your dog dislike kids? Well, why not force them to be groped by a bunch of children until they relax and start to enjoy it?
The technical term for this approach is referred to as flooding and while flooding can be useful in some situations, it’s better to avoid it with our dogs as we lack the verbal tools necessary to gain their compliance and understanding. Flooding is likely to weaken the relationship with our pups, because they do not understand what our goals are for them.
So, despite my best efforts and intentions, your fear of spiders will have remained and you will most likely now have negative feelings towards me. If this is the case, why then are we so keen on taking this approach with how we help our dogs work through their fears? If flooding is not helpful for your dog, why is it often the first thing that you encounter when talking with people about canine fear?
The simple answer is, because it’s an easy, cheap copout of a technique and it fits well with some outdated paradigms that despite our best effort are slow to fade into obscurity. Not only that, but it fails to appreciate the true complexity of your dog’s mental and emotional capacity. Proper behaviour modification is a labour of love which takes time, expert knowledge and years of education to understand the theory behind the intricate parts at play in your dog’s mind. Flooding is something that anyone can do; it appears to work early in behaviour modification programs, but fails to address the underlying factors, which unfortunately often arise later in life with negative consequences.
The size of your dogs’ world, the one where they are most comfortable is in no way a reflection of your handling skills, how much you love them or your canine competency. It’s ok if you have a shy dog, it does not mean you are a bad person!
The next time you feel pressured into bringing your shy dog to the off leash park with your friends, or you’re told you need to socialize your fearful dog more to help them get over their fear of other dogs, stop and ask yourself,
How big is my dog’s world?
Your answer to this question may not be considered “normal” canine behaviour… and that’s okay! It’s okay if their world is small – you are the only one who can properly advocate for your dog and be their voice. For the love of all things, if they tell you they are afraid of something, stop throwing spiders at them!
It can be nearly impossible to relax when you are on vacation and thoughts of your beloved pet keep flashing across your mind. Constantly worrying about your pups back home is no way to spend your precious vacation time, so we have created a quick reference guide that will help provide you the peace of mind necessary to enjoy a stress and guilt free vacation!
Referrals! The best boarding kennels are tried, tested and true! Ask your friends for a referral – a positive review from a client is the biggest endorsement a business can receive!
Practice makes perfect! Schedule a trial overnight stay to make sure the kennel you’ve chosen is a good fit for you and your pet. Pay close attention to your pet’s body language when you pick them up; they should be happy, relaxed and clean.
It all comes down to putting in some good old fashioned leg work which I know can be difficult as we all lead busy lives, but if you follow these steps and put in the time chances are good that you will only have to do this once!
Your pup deserves a vacation as well and I know they will appreciate the effort you put into finding them their home away from home!
Thanks for reading! Feel free to check out our other great resources created to help you and your pup live a wonderful life!
Have a lovely day!
Impulse control; what gets rewarded gets repeated.
Impulse control is the act of restraint in a situation that would otherwise result in getting what you want right away. It’s a cognitive decision to delay or deny immediate gratification.
Have you ever seen a dog pull its owner to the ground while out for a walk? Or how about nearly losing your hand when giving a treat to your pup? some pups love to gather by the back door, jostling for position and nearly running their owners over as they are let out into the back yard for a run. We all have been in situations where our dogs have acted on impulse rather than acting calmly and while most of the time we don’t give it much thought; there are real problems when our dogs act purely on emotion and it is our duty to help our pups gain better control over their emotions and help them make the best possible choice in any given situation. In some cases their lives depend on making the right choices.
When you ask your dog to sit, prior to your nightly walk, you are tapping into a profound idea and way of training your dog. You are teaching them that in order to get what they want, a walk; they must first produce the behavior that will untimely bring forth said walk, a sit! What gets rewarded gets repeated, it’s a powerful statement and the amazing thing is that it applies to almost every action, activity and behavior your pup does!
Every negative behavior from jumping up, to barking at cars to pulling on the leash is in some way being rewarded. The good news is this means that we can change any behavior by rewarding only the ones we want and over time will replace the ones we don’t!
How powerful is this!
How can we use this in our training sessions and daily life to help our pups make better choices?
There are 5 simple steps, that when implemented correctly will immediately start to reshape your pups’ current behavior to behaviors that are typically safer for you pup, but also less stressful and embarrassing for you! The great thing is that you can use this process for almost any problem behavior you pup has!
Below are the 5 steps you can take that will help your pup control their emotions by providing them with the proper behaviors in every situation!
Step one: Find out what rewards your dog wants. What makes your pup tick? What would they do back flips for? For many pups some freeze dried liver or some other smelly meat is the ticket. Other still might go crazy for the ball, or a tug toy and some others for a walk. The important thing to keep in mind when choosing the reward for you dog is that it’s special and your pup perceives it as a high value resource.
Step two: Understand that what gets rewarded, gets repeated. If every time someone comes into your house and your pup jumps up to great them, they are being rewarded for jumping up. Whether it’s attention from your guests or some other factor, the fact that they continue to jump is a sign that it’s rewarding for them to do! The good news is that if we change the behavior that is rewarded, your dog will start to offer the behavior more often!
Step three: Be patient and stay calm. When working with a problem behavior it can be very frustrating, progress is slow and your moral is in the gutter! It’s our job to remain calm, keep a positive attitude and be willing to work at out pups pace as they try their best to learn a totally new idea and pattern of behavior.
Step four: Define what behavior you would rather your pup be doing. Knowing what we don’t want our pups to do is pretty easy, not having your 75 lbs. malamute accost company when they try to take of their coats is a no brainer! Knowing what we want our pups to do in these situations then becomes our objective! Having “four on the floor” is a common alterative in your face greetings!
Step five: Be Consistent. The most important thing that we can do is to be as consistent in our training as we can when working with our pups. If one day we reward four on the floor, but the next day we don’t we are sending mixed singles to our pups and it becomes harder for them to learn what it is that we actually want from them. What gets rewarded, gets repeated, we must be consist with our rewarding the new behavior if we want it to develop into a habit!
I know how frustrating working with a problem behavior can be; you are not alone in this battle! Having the courage to admit that a behavior your pup has is causing stress in your life is a huge step in the right direction and I am confident that if you work hard on implementing the above steps, stay positive and keep at it consistently you will come to a happy place! I’ve been there many times before and can tell you it is possible!
At the end of the day your dog loves you and wants to please you, it is your job to teach them the behaviors that will keep them safe and your relationship strong and healthy!
I hope you enjoyed this and are able to take something away from it! If you have any questions or need some help please feel free to let me know and I would be more than happy to see what I can do!
All the best and have a lovely day!
Cody Shepherd, CBCC-KA
Owner / Opperator: The Place 4 Paws, Play Unleashed
Gold Zone Training or Gozo, as I like to call it is the manifestation of countless hours observing and working with both people and their pets in the training room. In its most naked form gozo strives, not for perfection of behavior, but rather a consistent, ever improving set of general behaviors and adaptations your pup acquires though fun and education in a positive and enriching environment!
That all sounds great! But what does it mean?
Recently I have been working a great deal with puppies and I have created a puppy socialization program which has been a huge hit, but it was not always something I look forward to each week! My first class I had 5 puppies attend an hour of off leash, supervised play time, how great does that sounds? Well if I had to be completely honest, it was horrible. Puppies would interact inappropriately, owners were either absent or over bearing with their participation, it was pure chaos and I was not excited about hosting any future classes. Giving up is not something I take lightly and after all my main goal is to help make the world a better place for our furry friends, there had to be a better way!
Everything I had read, other trainers I had spoken with and similar programs I had attended told me that I had done everything right, that it was just the nature of puppy socialization class to have a bit of “controlled chaos”. So I continued, I held about 4-5 more sessions, each week was worse than the one before it and each week I become more and more frustrated with the outcome.
In that first month I noticed that there were 2 types of puppies, those who submitted in play and those who dominated in play. As the weeks progressed I kept a journal of each puppy’s behavior and began to notice that the puppies who were more likely to submit in play began to exhibit a more fearful body posture and dare I say “energy” in class; whereas the puppies who would dominate in play, over the weeks began to exude confidence and “aggressive behaviors” and body language in play time.
I think we would all agree that no one wants, or even consciously thinks to train aggression and fear into their pups, but what if that is exactly what we are doing in early socialization of our puppies?
This distinction between fearfulness and aggression I know is highly over simplified and does not take into account the myriad of experience and genetics that ultimately is our puppy’s behavior. I also think it is inappropriate to label puppies as aggressive, as true aggression is rare (the intent to do harm). So I came up with a way to classify my puppies in a way that acknowledges their behavioral tendencies without the negative baggage that comes with terms like fearful and aggressive.
The creation of Bronze, Silver and Gold behaviors!
My Bronze puppies where the ones in play who were more likely to show dominate play styles; they would be rougher, chase other puppies, had hard mouths and were generally the ones I had to keep an eye on more often than not and would likely have to separate them more than once during class. My sliver puppies then were the opposite of the bronze puppies. Silver puppies would submit in play, they would often urinate when confronted; they would display a very passive body posture and would generally hang back near their person, only rarely engaging in play.
I believe that we are doing our puppies and our dogs a major disservice by not acknowledging the fact that they all have unique personalities likes and dislikes strengths and weaknesses. So I put together a program which takes into account that very fact, Gozo training is a system of learning that encourages appropriate behaviors, by building a strong relationship between the handler and the pup. While the “gold zone” is our ultimate goal, I like to think of it as something that we can work on every day, you are never finished training your pup and while they may exhibit some gold zone behaviors, you can always strive to do better! You are your dog’s entire world; you owe it to them to put in the time to forge that relationship.
It doesn’t matter whether you have a silver pup or a bronze pup, my classifications are simply there as more of a guide, or a zone of behaviors that is constantly changing and growing, just like your pup! Our main goal is to strive to do better each day, have fun with your pup and to work towards the Gold Zone behaviors!
Ok, so you’ve read this far and are probably interested in what the gold zone is! Very simply put gold zone behaviors are neutral; the dog’s emotional state and reaction is based neither in fear nor aggression, but rather a clam indifference to external stimuli. A gold zone dog, in the presence of another dog and handler will acknowledge their presence, but their presence will not affect its reaction to the situation. Seems pretty simple right? Well next time you take your pup for a walk and pass by another dog and person, take a mental note of the reaction of your pup as well as the other pup, chances are you will see either a bronze response, forward movement, lunging, barking, ect; or a sliver response, fearful body language, hiding behind owner, trying to get away. If you really want this point hammered home, grab a coffee and hang out for a bit at your local off leash park…If dog’s could talk indeed!
We are training our puppies to have inappropriate responses when they see other dogs in the real world. When bronze puppies are allowed to engage in rough, inappropriate play, we are telling them that it’s ok to do those things whenever they see another dog. When our silver puppies are allowed to get pummeled in play time, because it will “help them socialize” all we are teaching our silver puppies to do is to be afraid of dogs. This is a major problem and one that I intended to work on as I believe that the only way can make a difference in the lives of those who cannot speak for themselves is to take an active role in trying to understand how we can help them. I’ll be sure to keep you posted how our progress!
Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts, I truly appreciate it!
Puppy socialization and rise of reactivity in our dog populations
I have noticed an increase in the level of reactivity issues with our canine companions; it seems almost a routine article in the paper or on the news that someone has been bitten by a dog or worse. Why are our dogs less likely to remain calm around other dogs and people?
I believe it is the way we socialize our puppies during their highly formative early months. We reward inappropriate interactions between puppies and we remove ourselves as the source of fun from their lives; making it more likely that they will be reactive around other dogs later in life.
Progress and change can be intimidating
Reading books, attended conferences and seminars and hands on experience coupled with an open mind and a strong desire to help our puppies grow up to be wonderful companions means nothing if we are not willing to apply the changes that would help us raise well adjusted dogs.
Why do I believe that current puppy socialization classes not helping our puppies be the best they can be?
In traditional puppy socialization class the basic premises is as follows. Varying sizes, temperaments, ages and play styles of puppies are all let loose to interact as they see fit under the supervision of a skilled trainer or two. 5 minutes of play is interrupted by the owners wrangling their puppy away from their new friends and back to their set for a minute or two of calming work, sits, downs ect. Then the puppies are let loose once again to play as they see fit, this process continues for about 30-45 minutes.
We are setting our puppies up to fail
Puppies are very impressionable and are likely to develop behavior patterns in their younger days that will stay with them for their entire life.
Thoughts on where we need to go with early socialization of our puppies.
Agree with me or not, you have read this far! I am now going to discuss what I think we need to do to help our puppies and their people build a lifelong relationship. The first question we need to ask ourselves is who do we want our puppies to have the strongest bond with? I bet your answer is you!
We need to be the center of all things good in our puppy’s lives! We must feed them, exercise them, play with them, interact in meaningful ways with them, engage in fun activates with them; we must be their mentors and best friends. We must become the center of their universe, less they find one for themselves.
Puppy socialization redefined
If we want an calm and respectful adult dog, who can walk past other dogs and not lose their minds, or one that is kind to all he or she meets out in the real world should we not start their education as soon as possible? We are their mentors, their guides to successful living in a human world; we have to be better mentors for our puppies. Setting them up for success at a young age is the first step in the right direction!
Have you played with your pup today?
As the mercury continues its downward spire and the ice and snow begins to build up on your preferred walking routes how are you going to manage your pup’s energy? Do you put off the daily walk for safety concerns? What effect does this have on your pup and is there anything you can do to help them use up some of their energy without having to brave the elements or risk a injury?
I get asked this questions a lot when bad weather sets in and safety concerns mount. It’s often a better choice to stay indoors; however our pups do not think this way and for them every day is a good day to go outside and do doggie things!
I have come up with a list of 5 indoor activities that you and your pup can try out in an effort to battel built up energy from the winter blues! This is by far an exhaustive list, but I hope you are able to apply something new to your situation!
Don’t be afraid to try something new with your pup, after all the only thing they want is to be with you and to play with you! Add more play into your daily routine and you might be able to skip out on that evening walk when it’s thirty below!
Each meal your pup eats out of a bowl is a squandered opportunity. Sounds a bit harsh? Well hear me out, I promise by the end of this article you’ll agree.
Our pups are natural hunters and foragers; a big part of their DNA is programed to use all of their senses in the pursuit of their next meal. Most of our pets have never had to provide for themselves in any meaningful way, we are their providers it is our goal to take care of them by provides a nurturing, safe, secure and loving environment and yet we are failing them.
Why do you choose to share your life with Canis lupus familiaris? Take a minute or two and really think about this. I choose to share my life with my pups because they fill my life with purpose, companionship and excitement. I rank my pups as better friends than most of my two legged acquaintance as I am sure you do as well! Mechanically placing a food bowl in front of your pup twice a day is a kin to absentmindedly “liking” every picture that pops up on your favorite social media feed in an attempt to exhibit closeness with someone you see less and less. Of course it takes more work to call that friend up and meet up for a coffee, but which interaction do you think is building a stronger bond?
Our pups are far smarter than society likes to give them credit for, anyone who has spent any amount of time with dogs know exactly what I mean. I watched in amazement last year at the APDT conference as I saw a video of a street dog in Asia, pick up fallen change from the street, walk over to a hotdog vender, pay for a hotdog and walk away to eat it! That dog didn’t have an owner, he was a stray no one taught him how to do this. When times get tough he got smart! This pup would continue to do this throughout the day and when he was no longer hungry, he would give hotdogs to his buddies! We are doing our pups a major disserves by not requiring them to engaging their brains during meal time!
I can remember, when I was growing up we would leave food out for our pups all day. This led to some minor obesity problems and our Vet recommended scheduled, portioned feeding. 2 cups twice a day! From a behavioral perspective this was a great move, we were engaging them each meal by asking for a proper sit or down before meals were dispensed. I have a feeling that most of us do this and that is awesome! But why not take it one step further? Ditch the bowl and single cue, make them work for it, after all satisfaction is often much higher after you have had to work hard for something and the same is true for our pups. Let’s add meaning to each meal!
I’m a true believer that no one is perfect, it is in our humility and desire to improve that keeps us motivated to do better. You might not agree with anything I’ve said, yet you are actively seeking out new ideas and ways to help improve your pup’s life and that is what is important!
Snuffle mats are huge right now, they are easy to make or buy and in my limited experience with them offer a huge benefit to our pups. A snuffle mat slows down feeding, forces them to “forage” for their food. They actively have to think and engage their brain.
Kongs Are another great tool for feeding time. There are many great ideas on line for how to best use a Kong for feeding a meal, basically you fill the Kong with their food and apply a peanut butter “plug” on the opening and you’re done!
NILF (nothing in life is free) is a concept where each meal is used as an opportunity for your pup to work for her meal. Say your pup gets one cup of kibble per meal, you would treat each meal as a quick training session. Ask for a behavior your pup knows and when they complete the task give them a small portion of their dinner. Do this until the entire meal is finished.
Wild foragers is a game I play with my girls and is easy to do and learn and is great when you are short on time! Take their meal to the back yard and in a wide sweeping motion scatter their entire meal onto a clean area of the lawn. Let them forage for their meal; this is a great way for them to engage their nose and to be a dog!
As with any new technique, always keep safety where it belongs, front and center! Supervise your pup when introducing them to a new feeding method and if you are aware of a preexisting issue with, say pica or coprophagia always ensure that the area is clean and safe for them!
I hope I have been able to plant a few thought seeds toady; it’s our small action that can add up to making a huge difference in the quality of our pets lives!
~ Cody Shepherd
One of the more common questions I get when talking with clients has to do with fear and phobias with their pups. What happens in your house when you bring out the nail clippers? Or say storm clouds start building on the horizon and it starts to thunder out; how does your pup respond? Fear, believe it or not, is actually an important part of your dog’s life, in a natural setting fear keeps them safe from dangerous situation. Fear keeps them away from swift moving rivers which could sweep them away (unless you have a lab!), fear puts the body in a heighten state of awareness and can speed up their response to dangerous situation, again something that could save their lives. In the right dose and context, fear is good.
All living organisms have a predisposition to fear behavior. Fear helps keep us alive, fear to life threatening situations makes sense; however say your pups nails were clipped to short once, albeit a very painful event, there is a good chance that a fear of nail clippers could developed.
The best solution I have come across in dealing with fear and phobias with my clients is a process call systematic desensitization, a counter conditions method in where, very simply put you slowly, over time build a positive association to the fear inducing stimuli. We create a hierarchy of fear and rank from least to most fear inducing, once we have our hierarchy set we can get to work.
I am working with a client right now who’s pup is terrified about having her nails clipped the situation was getting worse to the point where they felt a bite was inevitable if they kept trying, they were frustrated and sad for their pup, something I think we can all relate to. Together we created a hierarchy of fear for their pup and nail trimming:
|Behavior||Fear rating from 1-100|
|Having the clippers in view, but far away
Starting at 25 feet and slowly to 5 feet away
|1 at 25 feet away
20 at 5 feet away
|Having the clipper closer, but not touching||25|
|Being touched with the clipper on the back||40|
|The clippers touching the feet||75|
|The clippers touching the nails||85|
|Pressure applied to the nails but no clip||95|
|Fully clipping the nail||100|
Having a visual representation of what is causing the fear really helps in a systematic desensitization therapy program, as we can see just exactly how our pups perceive the fear inducing situation. By knowing that your pup is already 25% of the way to a negative reaction with just having the clipper near by, we can take steps to help them be successful!
Any time we are working with our pups, never forget that we are working within their time frames, they are in control of how fast or how slow we proceed, especially when dealing with fear related issues, never, and I mean never, go beyond there threshold. When an animal is pushed beyond their comfort level, you are going to get either a reaction (highly stressful and potentially dangerous) or they will shut down, no learning will take place either way.
To start this program we placed the clippers 25 feet away, but in clear view, as soon as she noticed the clippers we would start giving her the most delicious treats ever, something that she does not normally get. After about 10 treats were given the session was over, we immediately removed the clippers and the treats stopped coming. We did this 3- 5 times a day for a few days, eventually it got to the point where any time the clippers came out on the table, she would start to get excited! She started seeing the clippers as the thing that comes right before awesome treats! Next we brought the clippers closer and started over with the same process as we did before, rewarding her as soon as she saw the clippers and stopping the treat train as soon as the clipper went away.
Our goal any time we are working with a fearful pup is to change their association. By creating a positive association between what causes the fear and something they absolutely love, we are counter conditioning their behavior so that when the previously perceived negative stimuli is present, rather than acting in a fearful way, they are going to act in a positive way. We are giving them the tools to be successful.
Picture something that absolutely terrifies you. Now imagine if every time you saw your fear inducing stimuli, say spiders, someone handed you a hundred dollar bill each and every second a spider was present and would stop the pay day as soon as it was removed, how long do you think it would take for you to start enjoying the sight of spiders! This is what we are doing for our pups, creating a positive associating.
Remember, when working with fearful pups we are always working on their timeline, never push them beyond their limits. Keep increasing their exposure to their triggers while staying below threshold, keep pairing it with a positive reward and sooner or later you will have a pup who gets excited when you pull out the clippers!
My one true passion in life is helping fearful pups overcome their challenges. It’s not uncommon for me to spend hundreds of hours with some of the more fearful wolfdog fosters I’ve worked with overcoming some of their fears, sitting 50 feet away from them in a large room (not all in one stretch mind you, but many 10 minute sessions over months) before they take their first tentative step in my direction. Be patient, stay positive and be supportive of their journey. Fear is a behavior and behaviors can be changed!