Delightful Doggies, Training & Behavior

Dogs will be Dogs: Addressing barking

In this continuation of our blog series, Dogs will be Dogs, we’ll go over barking and what it may mean, and how to address it.

Dogs bark for many reasons. It could be to alert us to something (and they have been bred for many years to alert bark for us!), because they’re excited, frustrated or bored, because they’re seeking attention and it works, or because they’re afraid of something, and it can be an effective strategy to make space. In any of these cases, it’s important to understand the motivation for your dog’s barking, or you won’t be able to adequately address it.

The overly excited, bored or attention-seeking dog

Some dogs love to express themselves vocally. My old cattle dog would sometimes just bark because she was feeling well, instead of ill, so I considered it a great thing when she would head out of the house on her walks, announcing herself. It still meant she had spunk! But for some it may be going overboard and causing neighbors to report your dog.

Gretta Mae attests, barking is fun!

In any case, if you know your dog may be too excited, frustrated or bored at times, how can you change this? While we can’t address all the triggers for dogs in this one blog post, knowing those triggers and why they occur is half the battle. If you know your dog is going to bark at you when you get home because he’s very excited to see you, for instance, you can have some treats ready to toss away from you to redirect him to playing a FIND IT game, rather than bark at you. You could also have a toy ready if your dog loves toys, to give a more appropriate outlet. Leaving him at home with enrichment toys and activities can also be helpful to “wear him out” a little more prior to your arrival home.

If your dog learns that by barking at you, he gets your attention, ignoring him COMPLETELY is key. Even “negative” attention is attention, and if it works, there is no reason not to bark! By ignoring, you should not even look at or talk to your dog. I’ve even left the room when a dog starts barking to make that behavior elicit a response they do not want. Quiet means I stay and interact with you. Some dogs, if they have been very successful for a long while at barking for attention, may get “worse” before they get better. Since it had worked a lot they will work harder before giving up. This is called an extinction burst. Don’t give up or give in–keep ignoring and know it’s darkest before the dawn.

Teaching calm behavior as rewarding can also help. There are many protocols but this wonderful video from Emily Larlham shows some great tips in capturing and reinforcing calm behavior. We often ignore our dogs when they are calm and quiet so it’s important to be proactive in making these behaviors rewarding.

Alert barking

When a dog is alerting us to something, it’s an important job for them. Many times I have clients who like having a dog that will alert them to something–because you never know what could be happening, and it’s a great deterrent to have a barking dog in some cases–but it can reach a point of too much.

For most clients they want to be able to just successfully interrupt and redirect the dog. Conditioning the dog’s name and/or a positive interrupter will help you do this. If you say your dog’s name and he looks to you, click and treat. Do this many times, in many situations. You can also do this with something like a kissy noise or other word or sound you want to make, just like in this video from Emily Larlham (she makes so many great videos!). If you do this successfully over time you will be able to increase distractions, including the moments when the dog is alerting you to someone in the yard, going down the alley, coming to your door, etc., but remember you have to practice without these triggers first.

Over time you will be able to call your dog’s name or make another positive interrupter noise, and pair it with coming to you for a treat, or redirecting him to another activity or toy. Great job for letting us know someone is here–now you can have your ball and play!

Barking out of fear

When dogs bark to make space, they learn quickly it is very effective. Making yourself look bigger and making a threatening noise is very reinforcing for dogs who are terrified of what is in their environment. We’ve had dogs who react in many ways to many triggers: at the front windows/doors at passerby, in the yard at strange people, dogs, trucks, bicycles and more, or in parks or other public areas at any or more of these kinds of stimuli; the list goes on and on.

Determining what your dog is afraid of and barks at is the first step. Then it’s your job to limit their ability to get practice at this, so if you have a dog door, it may be necessary to cut that all-access way of going out to bark out of the picture while in training. It could also mean taking shorter walks to minimize exposure to triggers, or blocking access in some way to windows, doors, etc.

Following a well-thought-out desensitization and counterconditioning protocol is key to addressing the underlying emotional state of fear these dogs have. Before worrying about any behavior, we need to make those items very positive. Then they will be able to calm down, and offer calmer alternate behaviors we can reinforce.

For clients with dogs who are fearful I recommend choosing one or two very high-value food items (i.e., bits of hot dogs, chicken, roast beef, cheese–whatever your dog loves most!) and use it in conjunction with these triggers. If strangers walking down the alley mean meatballs, over and over, they will be less scary and more wonderful! It’s important to not overdo it–if the dog is allowed to still rush the fence and react (we call this going “over threshold”), that’s not the best scenario. I will recommend putting the dog on a well-fitted harness and leash and stay as far away from that fence as possible to cut off the rushing at the fence, and therefore limit the barking/reactivity. It is also important to remember that the trigger should make the food happen; if the food shows up first, you risk not only having an ineffective method, but you could very well make the food a negative association for the dog as the food means a scary stranger shows up.

In all these cases, particularly with fear, we do recommend hiring a professional who can help you plan out training to be more successful. There is no substitute for such! And it can save you a lot longer of a training path if you are clearer from the very beginning. It takes far longer to undo a bad protocol so we encourage anyone facing these problems to reach out.

Need help right away? Contact us now to solve your problems!
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Advertisements
safety, Training & Behavior

VIDEO: Handling a reactive dog that has gone over threshold

We had a mishap with our former YouTube channel getting deleted–apologies as some of our previous blogs with videos no longer work/are accessible–but we’re working on getting those videos back up on a new channel, and making new videos!

Speaking of new videos, here is a new one featuring one of our recent clients, Gordie, who is leash reactive: he barks, growls and lunges when he notices another dog while on leash. We did extensive Day Training with him to get better loose leash walking skills and address the reactivity by doing more structured setups, followed by real-life walks. This video is from one of the real-life walks, where we are surprised by another dog.

Besides dealing with this “over threshold” moment, there are other tidbits of seeing how we worked with him on reinforcing walking beside me, giving me attention and noting signs of stress.

As always, if you’re facing dog training and behavior issues, we’re here to help, so contact us!

Happy Training,
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Delightful Doggies, Training & Behavior

Dogs will be Dogs: how to address problem behaviors

Welcome to our new blog series, Dogs will be Dogs, on addressing common problem behaviors!

In this first post we’ll discuss some basics of how to approach problems and considerations when dealing with any problem behavior you’re facing. Future posts will give insights on how to apply this to different common problem behaviors clients want to address, and change.

Many times in training, and in life in general, we focus on consequences for behavior. Consequences are of course important. If the animal we’re teaching finds consequences reinforcing for a behavior, that behavior will likely increase. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if the consequence is punishing or unpleasant, the behavior will likely decrease. Having this knowledge and understanding how it applies based on the animal and the behavior s/he is presenting is crucial. Far too often, however, we are looking at it from our own point of view and not through that of the animal’s.

Mac is learning that sitting will get him out of his kennel

Let’s take a simple example of this: if my dog is barking at me because he wants me to feed him dinner, and I feed him, then I’m reinforcing his barking. That seems pretty simple and most people can understand how feeding the dog dinner if he is barking at me is actually working against me and my goal of a quieter dog.

If my dog is barking because he not only wants dinner, but my undivided attention, and I decide to yell at him or tell him QUIET to communicate that I’m unhappy with him, then I am very likely still reinforcing the behavior even though I’m trying to discourage it. Any attention, even if it’s “negative” attention to try and dissuade him, is still reinforcing for him. This is not as obvious to some people–attempts to discourage him are actually giving the dog what he wants: attention!

However, if I know once I get home my dog is going to bark at me for dinner, or attention, and I ignore him COMPLETELY–maybe even going straight from the front door to the bathroom, shutting the door–then I have removed myself, and the attention he finds reinforcing. I then wait patiently for quiet. Once it’s quiet for a few seconds, I go out and give my dog a treat, or attention. The dog will learn that by being quiet, he will get what he wants, if I’m consistent with these consequences.

Consequences are important. Sometimes, though, they can be too little too late, and make for more frustrating or stressful training. With barking, it may be just as stressful for the human as the dog because the loud noise can be jarring and unpleasant. Also, if the dog has been rewarded a lot for barking, it can take longer for the dog to quiet, meaning the person has to be patient and deal with the noise.

What if I told you there is a better way?

Antecedent arrangement–what happens before a behavior occurs–can make for less stressful, and more efficient and effective training. It is proactive rather than reactive!

So, if you know your dog is going to bark as soon as you get home, how can you arrange things to make it work better for you?

If your dog is very good at a behavior that is incompatible with barking, you can ask for that behavior as soon as you walk through the door. One option may be to go get his favorite toy. If you’ve taught your fabulous, food-loving Labrador retriever to “go get his ball,” then ask for that as soon as you walk in. He can’t bark with a toy in his mouth! Once he brings it to you, you can play with him.

ABCs of behavior graphic courtesy of Lili Chin, doggiedrawings.net

If you take careful consideration of how to set you and your dog up for success to prevent or redirect the problem behavior through antecedent arrangement, you will benefit the most: your dog won’t get practice with the behavior you don’t want, making it stronger, and you will instead be able to reinforce behaviors you want instead of resorting to punishment, and experiencing frustration and a deterioration in your relationship with your dog.

You will learn more about the ABCs of teaching dogs as we continue this blog series with addressing common problems like jumping, digging, bolting doors and more. Most of what we perceive as problem behaviors are naturally occurring behaviors for dogs, which is why we have named this series Dogs will be Dogs. With patience and careful planning, you can remedy problem behaviors, give your dog appropriate outlets, and instill good manners in him.

Need help right away? Contact us now to solve your problems!
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Delightful Doggies, Training & Behavior

Four tips for surviving the Fourth

The Fourth of July can be an amazing celebration for many—but for some, including our pets, it’s one of the hardest. The sounds of fireworks and the smell of sulfur can cause many dogs to go into a fight-or-flight response, so it’s important to be mindful of this and plan ahead to minimize stress. Here are four tips for a safe Fourth:

  1. Get out of town: If you have another alternative to being around the festivities, take it! Go to a secluded cabin, go for that camping trip, head out for an evening drive—whatever works in terms of getting away from the stressor in the first place.
  2. Safety—and comfort—first! Remember to always consider safety and comfort first if you must stay in town and at home. Don’t allow your dog out in the yard or have them outside when festivities begin. Take that long walk and potty break before so you can stay in the home, safe and sound. Your dog should be microchipped and wearing tags for identification just in case anything were to happen. Making a safe space within the home that is comforting for the dog to stay in while the celebrations are happening can help keep them safe and calmer. Some dogs find crates comforting, while others may like a closet or small room. Play a white noise machine and/or soft, soothing music. If your dog likes aromatherapy or could benefit from dog appeasing pheromones, use them. Have puzzle toys or enrichment toys ready for feeding dinner so they have something else to do and enjoy. Doing some fun play or training games can also be a good alternative. Draw curtains and blinds, and do comfort your dog! Giving them support will NOT reinforce their fear so don’t let that hold you back.

    Puzzle toys can be a good way to engage your dog's brain during fireworks time
    Puzzle toys can be a good way to engage your dog’s brain during fireworks time
  3. Talk to your vet: Some dogs have so much anxiety and pure panic that it may be best for them to have some medical support, especially if they are prone to having other anxiety or are sound-sensitive to many different stimuli. There are some natural alternatives but you should never shy away from pharmaceutical intervention if it can help your dog be happier and less stressed. Talk to your vet about what options would be best for your dog. Stay away from acepromazine! It can sedate the body but not the mind, increasing overall anxiety in time.
  4. Counterconditioning is key! You can use desensitization and counterconditioning techniques before the Fourth to see better success when the celebrations take place. You will need to prepare and have on hand LOTS of bits of VERY high-value food. (Human foods like cheese, boiled meat or unflavored/non-spiced deli meat, hot dogs, etc. are best so don’t skimp—use something super wonderful!) Using a recording of fireworks, play it at a VERY low volume that won’t upset the dog, and pause as needed to give breaks. When your dog hears a firework, feed this food. Repeat and gradually raise and vary the level of the volume. You want to keep it low enough so that your dog doesn’t get panicked—your dog should be relatively comfortable but still able to notice the sound. Do this many times before the Fourth and have lots more food ready on the Fourth to pair with the real deal. If fireworks mean bits of salmon consistently, your dog can begin to see fireworks as a good thing due to this association you build over many repetitions.

Need help? Contact us!

Have a safe and happy Fourth of July,
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Delightful Doggies, Training & Behavior

Training methods matter

Methods are a hotly debated, and oftentimes controversial, topic among dog trainers. It gets even hotter when you toss in the variety of information on the Internet and media, and hobbyist trainers and dog aficionados who live and breathe for their canine companions.

I’ll admit, I’m a very passionate dog trainer. I got into this field because I love dogs, and I do love people, too, and want to see them happy together, as opposed to giving up and taking the dog to a shelter. I would be remiss if I did not cop to the deep love I have for dogs—it’s one of the strongest I have! No doubt most people get into this profession out of the same love for dogs. We have a wide variety of trainers here in Colorado, and if you go visit individual websites, you’ll see a lot of different terms, marketing jargon and labels used to define the methodologies of trainers:

  • Positive reinforcement
  • Balanced
  • Wolf pack theory
  • Natural methods
  • Traditional training
  • Force-free
  • Science-based
  • Clicker or marker training
  • Relationship-based or centered training

To most average consumers, all these labels sound pretty much okay or can mean a lot of things, depending on how you interpret them. Most people can say they want to learn how to communicate effectively with their dogs, and live in a “balanced” state or in “harmony.” But beyond these labels, how can a consumer really determine what the trainer is actually going to do to teach their dogs or solve problems they’re facing?

Dog training, and behavioral science as a whole, have made a lot of advancements in the last few decades. Karen Pryor’s Don’t Shoot the Dog is, in my opinion, one of the books that really made the case for operant conditioning techniques, and the superiority of using positive reinforcement to teach all animals new skills. On the flipside, in 2004, Cesar Millan’s Dog Whisperer TV show debuted, and the “calm-assertive energy” techniques as a pack leader to dogs began to take off. These two “schools,” if you will, and everything in between, are very much in opposition and can be not only confusing for dogs but people!

No doubt we live in a world where people are confused about how to deal with problem behaviors from dogs. I get a lot of strange looks when I tell people to just feed their reactive dogs for noticing triggers (the stimulus that causes the unwanted behavior). “But aren’t I reinforcing the (insert “bad” behavior here—i.e., barking, lunging, etc.)?” people will ask. It’s true that we always want to stay what we call “under threshold,” presenting that stimulus at a level where it will not illicit that behavior we don’t want, but sometimes we live in environments or undergo situations where that isn’t possible.

The key is understanding you can’t reinforce the emotions, and if a dog is truly upset and needs intervention to help them through something difficult, then we should do it, instead of getting frustrated and demanding something they cannot do—perform a behavior. It’s a great goal to want your dog to sit and look at you in the presence of other dogs, but if other dogs are scary for him, then it’s a VERY tough place to start for him! There is not a lot of understanding when it comes to our dogs and their emotional state, and this is probably one of the main reasons why I believe methods matter most. Time and time again, I see clients who have no idea how to make a positive association through successful desensitization and counterconditioning methods (DS/CC), even after seeing one or more other trainers or so-called behaviorists for their dog’s reactivity or aggression issues, and it’s mind-boggling!

Illustration by Lili Chin – click for a larger view

At Delightful Doggies, we choose to strive for situations where we can create a positive association for dogs with those items they find challenging, scary or overly exciting, and then we can get and reinforce the behavior we want. This means setting up the dog for success (so presenting that trigger in a very gradual, non-threatening way), making that association, and then getting a behavior because the dog has not gone over threshold, and sees the trigger as a good thing: It makes chicken happen!

On the flipside, there are others out there who will go too far too fast, or do not employ proper DS/CC protocols, and when the dog does have the reaction the person doesn’t want, the dog is punished. That usually ends up doing the opposite—it makes the trigger even scarier, and can make reactions worse—or suppress them. While the dog may not bark once you’ve used your punishment (making the handler think they’ve “fixed” it), they’re still a bundle of nerves underneath it all, and this training may break down. It may also cause your dog to enter a state of learned helplessness, even if they act the way they want you to moving forward. This isn’t fair to the dog, or help him feel confident and comfortable in the world in which we’ve asked him to live.

I recently shared a post from Sarah Stremming at Cognitive Canine (GREAT blog to follow!): “Why Positive Reinforcement ALWAYS Works.” So many times I have heard others say training didn’t work (regardless of the methods used). This blog makes the very valid point that it’s not the method, but the application of the method, that fails. If we set up appropriate plans and stick to them, they should work—even if it’s a punitive method! It’s very important to remind ourselves that our ability to see things through, to appropriately plan for and execute the training, is at the core of it all. Handler error and misunderstanding, poor timing, inadequate motivation/reward, etc., are all likely to blame than the method itself.

There have been trainers who used to be dedicated to more force-free, positive-reinforcement based methods who have gone over to incorporating more punishment. I have always been blown away by this because I came from the other end; I used to use a blend and was taught a more “balanced” way of training, until I found clicker methods and it totally changed my world. When I hear these trainers talk about how “positive reinforcement failed,” I often wonder why it did for them—and where their skill level is with the techniques. To me, methods matter a LOT. I want my dogs and their people to be happy, healthy and confident, rather than suppressing emotions for the sake of a behavior they may be able to perform, but not comfortably and due to the fear of being punished.

At Delightful Doggies, we are committed to staying away from punitive methods and honing our skills in using successful DS/CC and positive reinforcement to ease the dog’s emotional state, help them be calm and confident, and getting and reinforcing behaviors we do want. If we do this effectively, we have no need for punishment, and we believe the same for any dog, trainer or handler out there. It’s also proven to be safer to use these techniques over punishment. Don’t we owe it to our dogs, and ourselves, to be safe and happy together? We want to contribute to building a world full of people who can harness the power of the positive, to give dogs the ability to choose and make the best choices, and understand dog emotions and the power of a well-thought-out DS/CC plan. We hope you will join us!

Happy training,
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Delightful Doggies, Training & Behavior

New video: Ginger and Game of Thrones

We just uploaded a new YouTube video of our client, Ginger, a corgi who has a challenging time controlling her impulses when certain items are on TV: exciting sports events, action/adventure films, and everyone’s favorite, Game of Thrones!

In this video you will see me working with Ginger while we go through an episode of Game of Thrones. I’m using a VERY high-value treat (hot dogs) to pair with the show and its exciting elements to desensitize and countercondition her response to be more calm. We can then also reward calm behaviors like coming to me, disengaging from the television, looking at me, and sitting.

We love working with dogs on being calm and confident, and hope you will contact us if we can help you!

Happy Training,
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Delightful Doggies, Training & Behavior

The Look At That game

Our newest YouTube video features Jackson C., a client of ours who was reactive to other dogs, people (especially the mailman!) and large trucks while on leash. Jackson would lunge and bark, and even nip, which was a liability for his mom, and making daily walks quite unpleasant!

The Look At That game, found in one of our favorite training books, Leslie McDevitt’s Control Unleashed, is one of our go-to techniques for reactivity. This game is effective because it creates a very positive association with the item (“trigger”) to which the dog reacts, as well as teaches them how to disengage, and refocus on their handler. The video shows the process we used in training with Jackson using this technique.

We have had lots of success working with dogs like Jackson, and would love to help you if you’re facing such issues; contact us for more information and to get started!

Happy Training!
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies