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Blog posts from November 2016

Posted on November 22, 2016

Reactive dog behavior?  Take a Yoga breath…

Reactive dog behavior?  Take a Yoga breath…

Meet Mico!

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

Leash and Chill!

Leash and Chill!

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.