Blog posts from 2016
Posted on November 22, 2016
Mico is a very sweet 2 year old Anatolian Shepherd/Samoyed Mix, who's just moved from Florida to the big city. He lives in an apartment building in Cambridge with his owners Donna and Jay.
Mico has had trouble adapting to the noisy, busy city. In his new surroundings, he has been acting protective of his home, barking at guests, even lunging at a young child who was running down the street. In general, he seems more reactive towards men, and people with hats or hoodies, when outside on walks.
His over-protectiveness has made things difficult for Donna and Jay. Walks were stressful, his owners never knew if a person walking down the street would trigger his protective behavior. Plus, it was problematic having guests over with Mico barking aggressively.
In addition to teaching Mico to be better around guests and house visitors, Donna and Jay needed to be able to control Mico on his walks. They wanted him to be relaxed on walks and calm when meeting new people at home or on the street.
What not to do
Given the nature of his behavior, it is very tempting to yell (Mico!) when he is barking or lunging. However, ANY attention coming from Donna or Jay, for example: yelling, scolding, looking Mico in the eyes, might actually reward him! Raising your voice and scolding him might be misunderstood as your approval. He could think you too are upset at what he’s barking at!
Also, yelling “No!” or correcting him may make him less likely to feel comfortable telling his owners he is upset. Growling can help owners identify situations that stressful to their dog so they know when to start training. Ironically, in these cases, training involves allowing certain growling (especially quiet vocalizations) since it is a signal that he’s upset.
What to do with a Reactive Dog
For training to work, the reactive dog has to feel safe. His owners need to learn to move him away from situations where he’s feeling overwhelmed.
A training plan for a reactive dog includes, Interrupting Techniques, a De-sensitization and Counter-Conditioning plan, making sure you have the right Tools and Equipment, and Refocusing techniques using positive reinforcement that teach dogs to focus on their handler during high-stress situations.
In Mico's case, we recommended that instead of yelling, his owners take a yoga breath, breathing in and out, calmly for one or two seconds, then call Mico to them (name game). Refocusing him this way, and rewarding him if he responds will actually help him to calm down by encouraging him to focus when feeling stressed.
Building up this kind of automatic behavior, where he learns to quickly respond to his owners, will give Mico the message to focus and not feel like he has to worry.
Other Training Options for a Reactive Dog
Working with a reactive dog is more advanced. In addition to refocusing, it is essential to learn how to interrupt your dog when they are really out of control. (Interrupting)
Advanced training also incorporates desensitization and counter-conditioning to get your dog to start thinking positively about things that make your dog upset.
Mico quickly learned that people on walks and visitors are fun and rewarding and not a threat. In less than one month, he (and his owners) were feeling happy and relaxed on walks and when meeting new people at home!
For more information about Reactive Dog training or to learn more about Refocusing techniques, Interrupting, and other solutions, check out Zen Dog Training Online.
Posted on November 1, 2016
Meet Mason, a 10 month old Labrador/Pit mix. Eldon and Libor have adopted this very cute, sweet dog, with a lot of puppy tendencies!
Mason may be 10 months old, but is very willful and demanding of attention. He likes to chase his owner’s cats, jumps up on his owners and guests, and barks to demand food, or as a way to “ask” to be let outside or play.
Mason’s owners have cats, which because of his boisterousness stay sequestered upstairs. Mason and the cats need to learn to co-exist. With dog-cat introductions and teaching a new puppy the rules of the house, It’s important to set up situations where your dog can be successful.
Use an Indoor Leash
We recommended using the leash inside the house to help set up Mason to learn more quickly. A tether is a 4-6 foot leash you tie off to the wall or a piece of heavy furniture. A drag line is when you leave your dog’s leash on inside the house. Using a leash indoors is essential with cat-dog introductions. The indoor leash dragging behind your dog is easier to grab if they decide to chase the cats or you can tether your dog so cats can explore without getting chased.
The trick is to identify situations and put on the indoor leash, before your dog is really ‘acting out.’ For example, when visitors come over, while kids are playing, or if your dog starts chasing the cat, you can put on their drag line or tether them to get control.
How to use a Tether
The first step was to tie him there for a short period of time while they sat nearby on the couch. They encouraged him by keeping a nice bed there and giving him his favorite chew, a bully stick.
The idea is to reward Mason with calm attention when he is quietly chewing. Occasionally, they said “Good Boy” and pet him gently before going back to reading/sitting on the couch.
Over time, they could leave the room without Mason getting nervous or anxious. You are teaching him to ‘self-sooth’ or relax and chill on command. By using the tether, he learns that the rewards Only follow Good behavior!
Managing behavior like this will help your dog learn that he cannot follow you whenever he wants; he must be relaxed and behave to be rewarded with attention.
When to use a Tether
One of the goals they had with Mason was to stop his jumping up on people when they came over to visit. Eldon and Libor started to use the tether BEFORE opening the door to let visitors come in the house.
They asked visitors to play Radioactive Dog with Mason, when people come in the house, they were instructed to ignore him until he sits down, only when he sits and acts calm, should they pet and acknowledge him.
The leash step (placing the front of your shoe on the leash just past where it connects with the floor) is also helpful in correcting jumping, making it easier to control your dog when saying hi to someone coming in the house, or when meeting people on walks.
To help with the cat-dog introductions we recommended scheduling a 20 minute nightly pet-session with the kitties. First, tiring Mason out with some vigorous exercise, then feeding him in the crate so they can pet the cats in peace. Also, tethering Mason more often to help the cats explore the downstairs without constantly being chased.
Mason has shown great progress since these methods have been put into practice, and is well on this way to being a Zen Dog!
To learn more about Management Tools, and other solutions for having a demanding puppy, check out Zen Dog Training Online.
Posted on September 6, 2016
Meet Koda, this 4 year old little fireball is a Jack Russell/Chihuahua
mix adopted 6 months ago.
Koda's family, 2 parents and 2 teenage daughters, had already seen
Koda bite several people before calling Zen Dog Training for help.
The bites were not severe however his biting was definitely a problem
that needed fixing! Even worse, a majority of the bites were
happening to friends and visitors inside their own home.
We immediately got to work on setting up the right home environment
for Koda’s success. Management tools are absolutely essential when
creating a training plan for a dog with aggression issues.
A few important training tools:
- 6’ Drag Line (indoor leash that drag’s behind your dog)
- Tethers (tying your dog to the couch, radiator, etc...)
We recommended using a drag line, a leash that drags behind Koda
when visitors or friends are in the house. Koda’s family learned how to interrupt his inclination to nip and bite by ALWAYS keeping a leash attached to his
collar INSIDE the house.
Quickly they realized how useful the drag line was, especially when
he tried to nip at us during the visit. Having him on the leash inside
the house, allowed Koda’s owners to immediately remove him when
he got nervous and gave them more time to interrupt aggressive
We also suggested that Koda be tethered to the couch or kitchen
table during higher stress times like when someone rang the doorbell,
or was entering the house.
Tethering should only be used when someone is home!
An ideal time would be when visitors arrive, or when kids and their friends play
inside. Using the tether allowed Koda’s people and friends to have the
freedom to safely move around the house, while simultaneously
managing and restricting his movement.
Finally, treats are important tool in these situations since Koda was
fearful, and nervous when new people enter the house.
Giving Koda treats when visitors arrived (a counter-conditioning
technique) encourages relaxed body language. Treats plus gentle
persistence, can help him understand that new people in the home
are welcome are not a threat.
Training Koda not to bark or bite visitors can only be achieved with
the right tools and environment. Training needs to happen in
situations where everyone is safe and relaxed. Now that the right
environment was in place we could start working on actually changing
his reactive tendencies.
To learn more about Management Tools, and other solutions for
having a reactive dog, check out Zen Dog Training Online.
Posted on April 12, 2016
Meet Jake. He is a sweet, fearful, precious Portuguese Water dog with a
During the first week that they had this little guy, Alex and Nelly experienced
Jake chewing his way out of his first crate! Granted, this crate was soft walled
(made of nylon and heavy duty mesh), however, they discovered that Jake would
do whatever it took to escape. He managed to chew his way through in no time at all!
HOME ALONE TRAINING - Training for Independence
Jake's parents, Alex and Nelly, were used to child rearing. They already had two
darling boys who adore their new puppy family member. They understood the
importance of management and purchased a sturdy wire crate to ensure there
would be no more escaping! For a training plan, we emphasized that crate training should happen daily in very small increments. We recommended a crating schedule of 10x per day for 2-20 minute intervals.
OUTLAST THE PROTEST - Be patient
While we were there during our visit, Jake was crated three times. His first go
around was a tad painful, as expected. He screeched and cried much like he did
every time his family crated him. We waited the noise out. We gave him “Watch It”
warnings twice. Then said, “Enough!” – the final warning - before covering the
entire crate with a blanket.
Jake stopped his high-pitched complaints almost immediately. He changed his
tune to a low growl. Nelly expressed some concern because this sound was
new. We assured her that this was a good thing and waited out Jake’s protests.
The key to these crate training exercises is to ALWAYS OUTLAST YOUR DOG’S PROTESTS. The worst thing you can do is to let them out during or while they are upset! So we stayed in the room, to give Jake assurance, however we didn’t speak to
him and most importantly we didn’t give in. He growled for a while. Whimpered.
The silence lasted for about two minutes. This was the perfect opportunity to
open the crate door! Jake had learned to self-soothe and to calm himself down.
We opened the crate door and didn’t make a big deal about it. No celebrations.
We didn’t give him any attention. It was a “business as usual” attitude.
INCREASE CRATE TIME - Learning to Self-Soothe
We practiced three crate sessions during our visit. We explained that, at first,
people should stay in the room where Jake is crated. By the third exit from his crate, Jake was peaceful and calm. He would enter his crate (we always tossed treats in for him) and we would remain in the room talking and keeping him company. When he settled down, he would be released.
[Note: Not every dog will learn so quickly. If you think your dog has severe
separation anxiety. Please contact a Zen Dog Trainer!]
FROM THE DOG'S PERSPECTIVE
Before long, they taught Jake to acclimate to being in the crate for longer and longer periods. Jake's perspective:
“I go into the crate...
I wait silently...
Eventually I get released...
But only when I am quiet and relaxed.”
It was a great start! After our session they had their work cut out for them. They
had to get 10 crate experiences accomplished every day!
GRADUALLY DECREASE COMPANY
Over time, Jake was gradually exposed to less and less company in his crate room.
His family was eventually able to leave the house. E.g. A 30 minute
outing, a 45 minute outing, a 1 hr. outing, etc.
For more information on Crate Training for Independence or other
dog training topics, visit us at www.ZenDogTrainingOnline.com to view our extensive
collection of video tutorials.
In addition, you can check out our eBook: How to Crate Train a dog in 2 Days
Posted on April 5, 2016
HOW TO TEACH YOUR DOG TO CHECK-IN WITH YOU
To teach your dog to check-in, start in a small, quiet room with a hungry dog and some treats your dog really likes. The idea is to be silent and wait for your dog to do the work, so just sit in a chair and ignore your dog.
After 1-2 minutes -- get up from the chair and notice if your dog looks at you, as if to say “where are you going?” If they look at you say “Yes!” and reward with a treat.
By treating when they pay attention to you, you are rewarding your dog for looking at you and encouraging a “Check-in.”
Do several repetitions in a 10 minute training session. Ignore your dog and wait for them to check-in with you. After they catch on to the game, you probably won’t need to get up out of the chair.
Remember, when they check-in with you by giving you eye contact, say “Yes!” and give them a treat.
You want your dog to understand that checking-in with you will be recognized and rewarded. So practice this game in a larger room or other rooms of the house.
Play several times a day, for 5-10 minutes doing 20-30 check-in’s each time rewarding with treats.
Once they have figured out the game, you can practice in your day-to-day activities. When your dog isn’t expecting it, walk into the room and see if they will check-in with you automatically. If they do, say “Yes!” and reward them.
Taking it on the road
When you and your dog are ready, take the training on a walk. Put a leash on and walk your dog towards the door as if you were going outside. Before opening the door, stop and wait for your dog to offer a check-in. As soon as your dog offers the check-in, praise them and give them the reward of opening the door!
Note: If after 10 seconds your dog has not offered a check-in, make a noise to interrupt their focus and try again.
Playing games like this is called a “Life Reward,” you give your dog something they want after they do something for you. Instead of always relying on treats, you can reward by opening the door and letting your dog outside, or even have them check-in with you before letting them off-leash at an enclosed park. To make sure it works, make sure your dog really likes the reward you plan to give them.
When you teach your dog to check-in with you, it’s like teaching them to say “May I?” They learn that you are the leader who let’s them get things they like if they first check-in with you.
Of course, you will not always be able to grant your dog’s request. In these situations, still honor the check-in with lots of praise and a substitute reward like a treat.
Remember training is a two way street! To be successful both human and canine must participate. You are expecting a lot out of your dog, so stay focused and pay close attention to your dog and the environment. If you are distracted and you miss the check-in the behavior might extinguish itself. In other words, your dog may stop looking to you for guidance and direction.