Welcome back for Round 4 in our “Stump the Trainer” series! Three of our four cases today share a common theme – that is, they are all “cautious canines.” Growling, barking, hiding, cowering and potentially biting are all indications of fear. The key to changing negative reactions into more positive responses lies in changing the underlying emotion associated with the trigger. Successful counter-conditioning takes consistency and time.
I have a schnauzer-poodle mix that likes some men, but not others. She will bark and try to herd men, but others she likes. She has exhibited this behavior both in our house and at Petco … I dropped the lead (within distance of being able to step on the lead if necessary) to let her make the decision to approach or not - no luck … Other men in Petco could walk by say hi and pet her and she was fine with them ... ideas?
A: First, keep the dog at a great enough distance that she isn’t reactive and doesn’t show signs of stress. Second, even though you know not all men scare your dog, don’t take the chance – assume all men scare your dog and keep your distance. Third, identify the treat, toy or other reward your dog absolutely “loves” – something she is wild about and will do anything for. Fourth, armed with her favorite thing, look for opportunities to pair the “bad trigger” (men) at a great enough distance she doesn’t stress, with the “favorite thing” as soon as the trigger is presented.
The goal is to focus her attention and energy on the “good,” before she has a chance to default to a negative reaction to the “bad.” If she does default, you are too late or too close! Gradually, after repeating this process over time in multiple settings, she should become “desensitized.” Work with a professional trainer to be sure you don’t miss any of the signals your dog may be sending, as that can be detrimental and set you back.
How do I get my labradoodle to stop whimpering loudly when on a walk and we approach another dog. Then when we get closer she growls/barks madly?
A: Over-stimulation allowed to build to a high state sets off a chain reaction, especially with added frustration of leash restraint. To help your dog learn to stay more relaxed when she sees a dog, practice the same counter conditioning steps above. Until you can manage the situation and her behavior better, keep your distance from unfamiliar dogs.
Remember: “What fire’s together wires together.” Every time your dog acts this way around another dog, she is creating a “conditioned emotional response” so that the sight of the trigger (another dog) in the future will immediately take her to that level of arousal and intensify as you approach. In many cases this is why dog fights happen – because emotionally charged dogs are allowed to meet while straining on the end of a leash with rigid body posture. Unless they are familiar friends, it’s better to give leashed dogs plenty of space.
We have a mini schnauzer who is afraid of everyone, especially children. I am afraid to take her anywhere for fear of biting. She goes to doggy daycare and is fine there as far as we know; we just want to be able to take her everywhere we go. Tried all training methods possible.
A: You are wise to recognize the bite potential. It often happens when dogs are put in an uncomfortable situation and their stress signals go unheeded. As in the previous examples, a professional trainer can help you change your dog’s conditioned emotional response.
Meantime, be sure to give her the space she needs from strangers (especially children) so she can safely work through her issues. Caution: Retraining emotional responses takes months of consistent rehearsal. It’s not something you can practice “occasionally” and expect to make progress.
Q: I have a 7 month old golden/lab mix that will start barking, jumping, and even mouthing at me if I tell him no or take something away from him that he wants. It's almost like he is a two-year-old throwing a temper tantrum! The only way to get him to stop is to give him a different toy, but then I feel like I am rewarding that behavior. I don't know what to do!
A: If you are trying to establish appropriate boundaries and behavior expectations that your 7-month-old dog didn’t have as a young puppy, then yes - he is rebelling! Most important at this stage: define your house rules, determine how to clearly communicate those to your dog, and practice them consistently. Crating when you aren’t able to monitor his behavior, using baby gates to create “puppy proof” perimeters, and temporary time outs are helpful in preventing opportunities for inappropriate behavior.
If you’re not already practicing a regular exercise and training regimen, I would highly recommend obedience, tricks or agility to help with impulse-control and provide a fun, active outlet for his puppy energy.
For anyone with a scared or reactive dog, I highly recommend: The Cautious Canine: How to Help Dogs Conquer their Fears by Patricia McConnell, PhD, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB).This 30-pg booklet outlines a 5-step process:
1) Make it Safe
2) Identify Triggers (what scares your dog)
3) Find Fido’s Passions
4) Link the “Good” and the “Bad”
5) Increase the Intensity of the Trigger
Hope these suggestions help. We have 1 more round to go in our Stump the Trainer Q&A, so keep checking back!
Ask the Trainer: Renee Jetter, ABCTC, CPCT
* Professional dog trainer; co-owner of Canine Craze Performance Center in Urbandale – an 18,000 sq-ft. dog training, daycare, boarding and events facility. Animal Behavior College, 2006 graduate.
* Expertise: puppy development; positive reinforcement training; obedience; competition; agility; tricks; freestyle; scent detection; canine good citizen/therapy dog testing; Paws & Effect volunteer service dog trainer.