Thursday, July 3, 2014

Dogs need to think twice and make better decisions…

Have you ever made a decision without really thinking it through? Have you let anxiety or fear lead you to a dangerous predicament? Most people would say yes. It happens when we’re small children, it happens when we’re teens and it happens when we are adults. It also happens to dogs.

It’s the human’s responsibility to teach their dog crucial life skills like impulse control and how to deal with fear/anxiety/predatory behavior. They are dogs and they will make bad choices if we don’t set them up for success. This is obviously easier than it sounds. Recently I’ve had a number of clients whose dogs are lovely pets but have a history of aggressive behavior due to poor impulse control or because they are missing the ability to settle themselves down.

(Ari exhibiting poor inhibition by jumping up on me for attention)

This issue can manifest in aggression towards humans (dog gets excited and begins nipping owner’s hands) or aggression towards other animals (dog attacks another family dog when he/she becomes stressed or over excited). This doesn’t mean the aggressive dog doesn’t have a bond with his/her family. What it means is that this dog is missing crucial social skills that are making him/her dangerous. The causes for this can include genetic background, training, missed socialization or a medical issue. No dog is the same but what an owner can do is to teach all their dogs (big and small, old and young) how to deal with stress and not immediately react to something exciting.

Some tips:

  • Sophia Yin has a wonderful program called the “Learn to Earn Program” where she insists dogs say please by sitting. This is a crucial skill when teaching your dog manners and also calming themselves down when something is exciting is happening. Examples include sit before going through doors, sit before petting or play, sit before greeting another human, etc.
  •  Teach your dog to handle excitement in small doses. An example would be teaching your dog a calm response to the doorbell ringing. You can practice this by first teaching your dog to sit, down or go to bed. Once your dog is very good at this behavior then you can first ring your doorbell. Doorbells are often a source of excitement for dogs so you’ll be triggering your dog to become excited and then pairing that with a calm behavior. You can then move on to using other excitement triggers such as have a friend come over and practice sitting for attention.
  • Do not reward your dog for over excited behavior. This includes taking your dog out for a walk and then leashing your dog/exiting your home while your dog is barking, lunging or acting over excited. This could also include letting your dog out of the crate while barking or scratching excitedly. Ask your dog for a sit first.

(Ari exhibiting impulse control by sitting before getting pets)

If your dog is unable to calm down when only triggered by small excitement sources then you should consult a trainer or behaviourist. If your dog exhibits over excitement or anxious behavior it is also prudent to check with your veterinarian. Remember no two dogs are the same but in order to be successful in society it is your job to teach them patience, thoughtfulness and manners.

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