Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Why Does My Dog Go Crazy On Leash?

Increasingly pet owners are complaining about dogs that seem to go crazy on leash when they see other dogs, people or wildlife but are fine off leash. So what's going on?

Dogs are inherently social creatures and like to investigate their world. When off leash they can determine how to approach (distance, speed, posture, if to approach at all, etc) but we add a leash to the situation and suddenly the dog has no choices at all. Add in the fact that very few humans that are aware of dog body language and social behaviour and there's disaster. Scared dogs learn that they are forced to interact with unknowns in their environment in an unpleasant way. Hyper/friendly dogs learn that they can't get access to exciting stimuli and become frustrated. 

And then leash reactivity happens. That's the behaviour where a dog is at the end of his/her leash barking/lunging/growling, etc or running around in circles with the same results. Most of the time the owners are really embarrassed and don't know what to do. 

This is definitely the time to call in a positive reinforcement trainer to help you come up with a plan. Fearful dogs will need different protocols than hyper/friendly dogs. A good dog trainer can spot the difference where most people can't. Sometimes a very scared dog looks hyper or aggressive. You won't get anywhere if you can't tell the difference. 

Many training academies will offer special classes for dogs with these issues but I highly recommend you start with private one on one training. A lot of the work can start right in the home. 

My own Miniature Schnauzer Heidi came to me as a fearful reactive dog. She would bark and have a fit at anything that moved (people, dogs, cats, birds, bikes, skateboards, leaves, etc). You wouldn't know it today. We worked slowly on desensitizing her to each environmental fear (and I mean slowly as it took well over a year) and at the same time participated in confidence building activities and fine tuned her obedience skills. Heidi now helps me work with other fearful reactive dogs as she can be a relaxing prescence. That's success! Help is out there and the longer you wait the worse it tends to get. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Dog Training & Punishment

For some reason many people would rather "correct" or punish behaviour rather than simply teach an alternative. This was the way dogs were trained over 20 years ago but a lot has changed! So when is punishment approrpriate and what kind of punishment should be used? 
It's important to note that dogs have the mental capacity of an 18 month old child (all dogs) and they do not do things out of spite. They live in the moment and generally follow their instincts. A dog pees on the carpet because in that particular moment it feels good. Later on he might "look" guilty but that would be the dog offering appeasement gestures because he may have learned that when you come home then he gets in trouble. The association between house soiling and your anger is not made. 

There are times when punishment is appropriate. I highly recommend using something called "negative punishment" in dog trainer lingo. The negative stands for taking something away rather than "positive punishment" which means to do something to the dog. 
Negative punishment works by taking away what your dog wants. Here's a few examples:

#1 - your dog jumps on you then you walk away from him (taking yourself away is a form of punishment because your dog wants you).

#2 - your dog nips your child's hand while excited so you remove him from the room and give him a "time out". In this case you are removing social interaction.

#3 - as you approach the dog park your pooch goes crazy in the car. You respond by either waiting in the car and ignoring him until he settles OR driving away. Your dog learns that barking/lunging does not get him access to the park.

When training dogs my motto has always been teach them what you actually want them to do. Therefore if my dog was jumping on me then I would teach him to sit for attention/petting and use negative punishment if I needed to. The combination of teaching them what you want and taking away what they want can ensure great results and a happy, well balanced dog.
If your dog is having trouble learning what you want then you should contact a positive reinforcement trainer in your area for assistance. Some dogs have a hard time learning certain skills or just don't understand. 

So the next time your dog is doing something wrong ask yourself these questions:
Why is my dog doing this? (And don't answer because he's stubborn)
What do I want my dog to do instead? 
What can I take away if he doesn't offer the right behaviour? 

Please contact Where's Your Sit if you have questions about training. Remember to use a force free approach and put your creative thinking cap on to problem solve!