Puppy Fever … ?

Puppies are undeniably cute. We love to fuss over them, smother them with attention and embrace their comical, inquisitive natures. Raising a puppy isn’t easy, even if they are irresistibly adorable. Puppies are hard work, they require a lot of time, energy and commitment. Sometimes we aren’t prepared for their testing ways and their less-than-desirable behaviours. We sometimes forget that the small, cute puppy will, at some point, grow into a larger, older adult dog whose ‘naughty’ puppy ways may be less forgivable. How do we ensure we set our puppy, and ourselves, up for the best possible life together, and maintain harmony in the home even when their behaviours become testing or frustrating? It’s not easy but consistency is the magic word…

Prevention is key

Dogs do what works, they repeat behaviours which they find reinforcing and that reinforcement often comes from us, but it’s not always intentional. If you wonder why your puppy repeatedly steals shoes and socks despite you telling him off or providing him with his own toys, look at your own behaviour. Your ‘telling off’ has probably been quite reinforcing for him, and now stealing items is a great way to get your attention, even if it is rather negative attention. Chasing him around the house shouting ‘NO … DROP IT … LEAVEEEE’ is actually really quite FUN for your puppy!!

It’s important to thoroughly puppy-proof your home before your new puppy (or adult dog) arrives. This saves unwanted behaviour being practiced and avoids any expensive mistakes, both financially or behaviourally! Put tempting items out of reach … high shelves or boxes for shoes, boxes for children’s toys, or cupboards for anything else tempting. You can use stair gates or closed doors to prevent your puppy having access to rooms when you’re not able to supervise, so he can’t sneak off and practice any unwanted behaviours.

By not practicing unwanted behaviours like stealing or chewing items which aren’t his, he won’t form habits or find reinforcement from them. If you can put management in place to prevent them from day one, you will have a puppy who is much easier to live with!

Reinforce Reinforce Reinforce

Sometimes we are hesitant to use a lot of food rewards with puppies because we worry they will become reliant on it or because it requires too much effort on our part. However, behaviours and choices you reinforce will be repeated by your puppy so it pays to reinforce. Keep treats, or preferably your puppy’s own food, in sealed pots around the house so you can easily reinforce any good behaviours from him. You don’t need to ask him or cue him for anything, just keep an eye out for anything you like from him. It could be lying on his bed, in his crate or on the floor, it could be a good choice not to pick up a shoe or a child’s toy, or choosing to chew his own toy. Anything that you think is good and you would like him to repeat!

We can easily miss the good choices our dogs make, and focus only on the naughty or ‘bad’ ones. These often become the things we unintentionally reinforce. Think how many times you’ve battled with your dog to drop the sock he’s stolen, but how often do you go and reward him when he’s picked up his own and chewed on that? Start making note of the good things he does and focus on these, not the bad things!

Teach Him

Reinforcing his own good choices is a hugely important way for your puppy to learn, but you should still spend time actively teaching him good behaviours. This could be working on ‘sit’, ‘down’, loose lead walking or any other fun or useful commands you can think of. Dogs love to learn and it’s a great bonding activity to engage them in learning and teaching. Enrolling in puppy classes can be really beneficial and give you good goals to aim for as well as working through the teaching process and any challenges you face. Choose a class which uses force-free, reward-based methods and primarily focuses on building a good relationship between you and your puppy. If they also offer some socialisation/play time with the other class members, be sure that this is done in a safe, controlled way and that dogs are carefully matched to avoid any negative experiences.

Interrupt and Redirect

Puppies love to explore. They aren’t born knowing what is right or wrong to us so we have to teach them. When they make choices we don’t like, it’s important to gently interrupt and then redirect them onto a more desirable alternative. It can be difficult to remain calm at times when your puppy is doing something really unacceptable to you … perhaps chewing your favourite shoes … but try to avoid getting angry or doing anything which may scare him. This will only serve to damage your relationship and won’t actually teach him anything productive. Instead, interrupt his behaviour in a happy, calm way and quickly get his attention onto something else. For example, if you find him chewing your carpet, call his name and reward him when he stops the behaviour, then encourage him to do something else, perhaps play with his own toy or settle in his crate or bed. This approach will prevent the unwanted behaviour being practiced and avoids any conflict when you interrupt him. Always offer your puppy an alternative, it shouldn’t be a constant spiral of ‘no don’t do that’, ‘leave that!’, ‘NO NO NO!!’ … show him what you do want instead.

If you’re finding yourself constantly interrupting and redirecting him, think about what you could change to manage this better and limit his opportunities to make mistakes. Perhaps restrict his access to certain rooms, ensure you’re always supervising him or make use of a pen or crate to safely confine him when you’re unable to keep him occupied. Remember puppies need a lot of sleep so if his behaviour is becoming relentless, think about whether he’s getting enough rest time each day and start to make rest a central part of his day.

Remember that puppies are individuals and there is rarely one-method-fits-all, so if you are finding your puppy’s behaviour is challenging or you just don’t know what the right thing to do is, contact an experienced, force-free trainer who can help guide you and your puppy along. Growing up isn’t always easy and puppies rarely grow out of behaviours, so don’t wait for that to happen because it probably never will!

At Adolescent Dogs, we love working with puppies and we have years of experience with many different breeds, ages and homes, so get in touch and we can help and advise you.

To Crate or Not to Crate?

Dispelling the Myths of Crate Training

Written by Naomi White

When you say the word ‘crate’ you never quite know how someone may react. Some people will say it’s an essential part of their dog’s life, while others will find it quite offensive. To some people it feels like a prison; a punishing way of confining a dog.

Everyone has their own opinion and crate training isn’t for everyone. However, there are many benefits to crates so it’s important to consider these when deciding whether or not to go down the crate training route.

Why Crate Train?

We often neglect to provide our dogs with their own space, they are a central part of our families and it perhaps seems odd to think they may actually want to escape that sometimes. Most of us have our own rooms or places where we can get some peace and quiet within our homes. Our dogs need this too. A crate provides a simple way of allowing your dog to have his own space, somewhere he can go if he wants some alone time. The crate should act as a ‘safe place’, where he feels completely secure and calm.

This can be particularly beneficial for nervous or anxious dogs; they need somewhere they can go to relax and get away from stressful events within the home. It’s equally beneficial for dogs who struggle to settle, perhaps because they always want to be involved in what’s happening at home, or because they keep getting disturbed when they’re trying to rest. The crate is again a safe place where they can learn to settle and relax without disruption.

It can be particularly beneficial to begin crate training with young puppies, not only does the crate promote calm behaviour, it’s also a great aid in toilet training and avoiding unwanted chewing or destructive behaviours at home. Dogs will rarely toilet in their own space, so using a crate while you’re not able to supervise your puppy will reduce the likelihood of accidents and also teach your puppy better bladder control. They will be quicker to learn that toileting outside is most desirable and rewarding, because their opportunities to toilet inside will be much more limited.

Crating your dog can really give you peace of mind that he’s in a safe place and can’t get up to any mischief! Many dogs will entertain themselves when we’re not around to supervise them and when this involves chewing or destroying items in the house, it can become very dangerous.

It can also be an essential tool in dealing with more challenging behaviours in our dogs. Crate training can be a lifesaver for keeping everyone safe if you have a dog who displays aggressive behaviours, perhaps around food, toys or visitors. While you’re working through aggression issues, management is a key part of the process, and the crate fills this role really effectively. For dogs who react badly to unfamiliar people in the house, a crate provides a safe place for your dog to stay while they’re in the house. If your dog can’t tolerate people near his food bowl, he can be safely fed in the crate until his training has progressed further.

We don’t like to think about it but accidents happen and sometimes our dogs get injured. Depending on the injury, crate rest may be part of the recovery plan. The crate is crucial for keeping an injured dog calm and stationary during recovery. If they’re already well-practiced at settling in a crate, it makes life much easier and less stressful for them.

One of the biggest benefits of crate training is that it can promote rest time and calm behaviour. Most dogs simply don’t get enough sleep, they struggle to ‘switch-off’ properly and this can lead to many challenging behaviours. We often label our dogs as ‘full of energy’ or ‘tireless’, like they need more exercise than we can ever give them … but actually they would probably really benefit from more regular rest time during the day. Using a crate and building a positive association with this being a calm, resting place, will enable your dog to learn to settle and relax during the day. It’s a proper chill-out zone where they can take a breath!!

Training the Crate

So you’ve decided you want to try crate training. Where do you start?! There are many ways to do it and some dogs will need different approaches, but as a general rule, go at your dogs’ pace and always keep it fun, positive and calm.

Start with food … scattering food in the crate, feeding meals in the crate, tossing treats in for him to find. Do lots of quick sessions where your dog steps in the crate and the comes back out. This keeps it pressure free and avoids any scary ‘door closing’ happening too soon. You want him to feel great about going in and out of the crate. You can surprise him too by hiding tasty treats in the crate while he’s not looking, then just leave the door open and wait for him to go looking in there.

Let him explore the crate and when he chooses to step in, drop some treats in for him. Keep it all calm and easy, try to avoid too much bribing and over-excited reactions, you don’t want to make it a huge deal because ultimately you want this to be his calm place where he chooses to go … so start as you mean to go on.

Once he’s happily exploring the crate and he’s confident about going inside, start closing the door BRIEFLY. Don’t shut the door and lock him in for an hour – start small and gradual:

  1. Push the door shut, feed lots and then open it and let him out … repeat!
  2. Push the door shut, lock it, feed lots, open it and let him out … repeat!
  3. Add duration, closing the door for a little longer each time and reducing the frequency of rewards before letting him back out
  4. Add long lasting chews or enrichment activities, sometimes have the door open, sometimes close it. Stay close by initially so you can watch him and let him out before he becomes unsettled

The Benefits Crate Schedules

Dogs who struggle to settle in a crate or protest about being in one often do so because they’ve not developed a good association with them. They may have been forced into one or been left for a long duration without prior training. They may also have realised that creating a scene of barking or whining is a very effective way of being let out. These are common issues but having a regular crate schedule (and working on the above methods to create a better association) is a good way to overcome the issues.

  1. Use the crate for short, frequent sessions. Get your dog in and out of the crate as many times as you can throughout the day. This makes it a normal, repetitive event and not a one-off, unpleasant thing associated with you leaving
  2. Mix it up. Make it unpredictable. Sometimes he’s in the crate for 2 minutes, sometimes he just steps in and out, sometimes he’s in there for an hour or two (depending on age and training of course)
  3. Make it part of the daily routine. The crate shouldn’t be something which you put the dog in when he’s being annoying or when you need to go to the shops once a week. It should be totally normal for him. Make sure you use it lots. If you don’t want him to be in the crate while you’re at home then just pop him in for a minute or two a few times a day.

This approach often eradicates any issues with dogs linking the crate to being left alone, or protesting about being put in there when they just want to be involved in whatever else is going on. They will learn to rest and sleep when they’re in the crate which is hugely beneficial for dogs who otherwise struggle to settle themselves down.

Crate Rules

Crates need rules. Not so much for your dog, but more for the humans in the household. Particularly with puppies or a new dog in the home, we just want to smother them with attention and spend all our time with them. While this is completely normal, it’s not always healthy for our dogs. They need their own space too, and it’s important that they learn to enjoy spending time on their own, because at some point this will probably happen and they need to be prepared and able to cope with it.

In busier households, particularly when younger children are in the family, it can be harder for puppies to get proper rest. We have this temptation to always be playing or fussing the puppy and children can sometimes struggle to give a puppy space or allow it to sleep without being disturbed. The crate can be used as a clear signal for when the puppy needs some alone time. If this is respected properly then as the puppy grows up, he will learn to take himself to the crate when he wants some space. Without this a puppy may find it harder to settle himself or he may start to show clearer warnings when he wants to be left alone, and this can quite quickly become dangerous and scary as he grows up.

The Basic Rules

  1. The crate is for alone time
  2. No pestering, waking the dog, or disturbing him in the crate
  3. No intruding on space … no sticking hands through the bars, people getting into the crate or generally bothering him when he’s inside
  4. Choose a quiet location in the house to encourage sleep and rest, and to make a clearer definition for his own space
  5. Cover the crate to make it less exposed to other events in the house. There’s less for him to watch and get excited or anxious about

Remember that the crate is primarily a calm, safe space. It’s not there as a punishment so DON’T use it in anger. Naturally our dogs can annoy us sometimes, they steal things that aren’t theirs, they create noise we don’t like and generally behave in ways we don’t always appreciate. It can be tempting at times to use the crate to punish the dog for the naughty things he’s done. Resist this temptation because it certainly won’t help the situation and it may damage the crate training you’ve done.

A crate also provides a safe way to travel

A crate can provide an excellent ‘time-out’ zone. If your dog is pushing your buttons and frustrating you then actually taking a break from each other, before one of you snaps, is a great idea. The crate is perfect for this because it’s somewhere safe and secure where your dog can’t continue winding you up or find anything else naughty to do, he should also associate the crate with being calm and resting. When using it as ‘time-out’ make sure you still maintain the positive, relaxed association, no matter how frustrated or upset you’re feeling! Calmly encourage him into the crate and scatter some food around or leave him with a chew to keep him busy. By doing this you WON’T be rewarding him for being naughty, you’re simply maintaining his excellent crate skills and giving him time to calm down (while you do the same!).

Remember to also keep the process of going in and coming out of the crate a relaxed, non-event. Making it an emotional event will make the training more difficult so most importantly try to withhold from the over-excited greeting when returning to your dog. After being away from him for a while it’s only natural to react to his excitement with even more excitement but try to remain calm. The more exciting you make your return, the more he will anticipate this and find it harder to see the crate as a calm place, so keep calm initially and wait for a few minutes before you engage in an excited greeting.

Crate training isn’t always easy. Some dogs take to it instantly but many others find the concept more challenging in the early stages. It takes time and commitment but the benefits of a crate-happy dog are worth the effort! If you need help with crate training then seek advice from an experienced, force-free trainer. At Adolescent Dogs, we have lots of experience working through crate training challenges and offering guidance and support through this process, so get in touch if you need some extra help.

https://www.adolescentdogs.com/

‘He Just Wants to Play…!’

Written by Naomi White

People seem to be dangerously unaware of dog-dog interactions and what their dogs are actually trying to communicate. Having an understanding of your dogs’ body language, behaviour and social needs will enable you to avoid potentially dangerous or negative situations. Unfortunately, many people don’t take the time to consider these things and their dogs end up exposed to all manner of stressful or risky interactions.

We aren’t expected to enthusiastically greet every person we meet, imagine the stress that would cause to us, especially if it happened all day, every day! Yet, we often expect this type of interaction from our dogs and seem almost surprised if someone else says their dog doesn’t want to say hello.

How many times have you been walking in the park and had another dog come barrelling over to your dog, perhaps this results in a game, maybe your dog gets chased across the park, or maybe your dog reacts in some way … growling, barking, lunging, snapping…? Have you ever considered the possibility that for months, or even years, your dog has been trying to communicate that he actually doesn’t appreciate this sort of greeting?

We need to be asking our dogs if they even want to interact with another dog (and make sure the other dog is equally okay with it!). If they decline, respect their choice, then move on and no harm will be done.

Forced interactions or negative experiences can have long-term impacts and this damage can be done quickly, especially during critical socialisation or fear periods in younger dogs. Don’t let your dog be victim to this, look at his body language and teach cues to help him out if he is involved in an inappropriate or unwanted greeting (see ‘let’s go’ post https://lifewithrumer.com/2019/02/13/lets-go-walk-away/). Make sure your dog is kept under control so he doesn’t approach unknown dogs without prior consent from their owner.

Many dogs are pretty tolerant with other dogs but on the odd occasion they may react less well to each other. It could simply be that the two dogs are a bad match (Think, we don’t all like every person we meet…) or perhaps he’s just feeling a little stressed or under the weather and therefore less social than normal. This can take us by surprise but it’s important to listen to your dog, don’t get upset with him but instead respect his signals and move him away.

Having an understanding of your dog’s body language and behaviour around other dogs is important in ensuring you’re able to step in and help your dog if he’s ever in a situation where he’s uncomfortable or his signals are being ignored. When a greeting or play session is balanced and enjoyable for both dogs, they should be relaxed and equally involved, they should also be able to take breaks and respect each other’s choices.

If you feel your dog is being greeted inappropriately, you need to be able to notice this and remove him from the situation. It could be another dog is persistently sniffing him, chasing him, barging him around or pestering him, your dog may tolerate this but he will probably reach a limit and give the dog a stronger warning. While this is ‘normal’ behaviour, it’s far better to step in and avoid the greeting escalating to this point. Even if your dog never seems to give a warning or ‘tell a dog off’, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get involved. If you feel uncomfortable about the behaviour of another dog towards yours, chances are he also feels it, so don’t stand there and let him deal with it, step in and help him out!

Sometimes we are so ‘busy’ chatting to fellow dog walkers or looking at our phones, we don’t even notice what our dog is going through on his daily walk. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve watched a dog being bullied while their owner continues chatting or walking, oblivious to the stress their dog is under. I’ve also watched dogs give multiple warnings or signals, trying to gain space and escape from a pestering dog, but again these are almost always ignored until the dog reaches breaking point and ‘aggressively attacks’ the other dog (okay, he probably made a lot of noise, the other dog screamed and ran off) … the ‘aggressive’ one then gets a telling off and often you hear the owner say ‘he’s never done that before!’.

He may indeed have ‘never done that before’, but he has probably been giving all the warnings, which you were too distracted to notice, and now he’s realised the most effective warning is a strong growl, bark and snap. What if that doesn’t work next time? Maybe he’ll increase that to a bite? And soon you really will have an aggressive dog. Even if he doesn’t ever bite, you will probably still have a dog who is fed up of being pestered by other dogs, has no support from his owner, and finds barking and lunging is the most effective way to gain space from other dogs.

If you ever see your dog struggling with an interaction, whether he’s the one who is ignoring signals, or his signals are being ignored, step in and help him out. It’s far better to show your dog that he can trust you than it is to let him ‘sort it out’ himself. If you’re unsure of an approaching dog or your dog doesn’t seem comfortable then politely decline requests from other dog owners for your dog to greet theirs, and use it as an opportunity to explain the importance of consent and choices.

When it comes to dog-dog interactions, being attached to a lead can create all manner of problems. When two dogs are on-lead they have very few choices and are often restricted into a head-on approach. These approaches tend to involve a lot of eye contact and force dogs into unnatural greetings, it can be very confrontational and create tension to approach in this way. Compare this to an off-lead greeting where dogs are more likely to choose a curved approach and avoid direct eye contact. It’s not uncommon for a dog who enjoys interactions off-lead, to find on-lead greetings extremely stressful and display reactive behaviours when restricted by the lead.

This can seem so confusing for us. How can a dog be so different just because he’s attached to a lead?

You have to remember that dogs communicate and interact in ways we rarely fully understand or appreciate. When your dog is restricted by the lead, he can’t choose to move away from an approaching dog, he can’t change his path or speed of approach, or divert his eye contact …  his choices are so limited. This can create a lot of stress or frustration which is often displayed with barking, growling and lunging. His stress may tip over into aggression and he may even snap or bite.

I always feel uncomfortable when watching dogs greet each other on-lead, in my opinion it’s asking for trouble. It’s difficult for a dog to choose to disengage from an interaction if the lead means he’s stuck in close proximity to the other dog. This lack of choice means tension between the dogs may increase and it can lead to a reaction. Many dogs will naturally choose to avoid conflict and use their body language to appease a situation, aggression or reactive displays are rarely a first or preferred choice. However, when these conflict-appeasing choices are taken away, your dog is left with few options.

Negative experiences, lack of choices and unsupportive humans, may mean a dog feels it’s necessary to react and use more aggressive signals to cope with interactions with other dogs. BUT you can help your dog! Don’t just assume he’s got it all together when he’s interacting with other dogs, watch him and make sure you’re close enough to see his behaviour. Follow a 3-second rule, allow your dog to greet the other dog briefly (for 3 seconds), then call them both out of the greeting before allowing them to greet again. By repeating this several times, they can both gather all the important information about each other while remaining calm and relaxed. If at any point, either dog chooses not to interact, respect their choice and move on.

Just as we humans don’t feel the need to befriend, or wildly greet, every person we encounter, we shouldn’t feel that our dogs need to do this either. Try focusing your walk on your dog … be his best playmate and the most fun, rewarding aspect of his walk. Make your walk about YOU, not about other dogs. By all means, choose a few sociable dogs for him to greet briefly, or if appropriate have a polite play session with, but don’t spend your walk bouncing from dog to dog, letting him do his own thing while you get on with yours. Walks should be about bonding, engaging with each other and having fun together!

Whether your dog struggles with socialising or not, it can really help to spend time with a qualified trainer who can observe your dog and show you how to read and understand his body language and behaviour. If your dog is beginning to display more concerning behaviours towards dogs then always seek help, it’s better to act quickly before the behaviour worsens or is reinforced further.

At Adolescent Dogs, we love working on dog-dog interactions and we’re always available to offer advice and support to you and your dog.

https://www.adolescentdogs.com/

Day Care, Don’t Care?

Written by Naomi White

Doggy day care is a big thing these days, it has become a central part of many of our dogs’ lives. We use it as a way to ‘socialise’ our dogs and give them an opportunity to hang out with ‘doggy’ friends while we’re at work or too busy to be with them.

Day care looks great on the outside; glossy websites and Instagram pages are full of dogs gleefully having fun, living the dream of playing with other dogs, running around big open fields or swimming in paddling pools … ahhh this truly is a dog’s life!

Is it really though?

In general dogs don’t play in large groups, nor do they play for hours on end because, in reality, they appreciate their own space and social play is more of a momentary enjoyment rather than a day long event.

Socially it’s exhausting. Just imagine being at a party, surrounded by other people, most of whom you have never met before. It’s noisy, chaotic and downright exhausting.

Some people may enjoy this scene, just as some dogs may enjoy day care, but the majority of people will, at some point, feel that it’s time to leave, or they may feel anxious just thinking about it. If you do think it sounds quite fun, imagine that being your life. Every. Single. Day. … Over it yet?

As much as we like to think, and have repeatedly been told, our dogs DO NOT need a huge group of ‘doggy friends’. Some dogs are quite dog social, but on the whole, most are actually more ‘dog tolerant’, they appreciate a polite greeting and maybe a brief burst of play but then they’re quite happy to move on or engage in another activity. Even highly social dogs would not naturally choose to socialise all the time.

Day care facilities do a good job of appearing fun and exciting to us, making us believe there is no better place for our dogs to spend their days. But our dogs don’t think like us and the constant chaos of stimulation is beyond what most dogs can cope with.

There is usually little care taken to encourage rest time, so the dogs spend all day being busy and stimulated, adding to their ever-increasing arousal and stress levels. Managing arousal levels is unlikely to be a priority at day care but allowing dogs to become over-aroused is potentially dangerous in a group situation. Time-outs may be used when things do start to boil over but it’s likely to be a case of too little too late.

There are numerous of issues with day care set-ups, but if done right, it can be the best option for some dogs. If you are seriously considering day care or you already use one, then take time to research them thoroughly and ensure you find a suitable place for your dog:

  • Choose small scale places
    • Well-assessed friendly dogs
    • Good supervision, enrichment and rest time
    • Well controlled dog-dog interactions
    • Constant play time should NOT be priority

  • Question, Question, Question
    • They should ask you as much as you ask them
    • Your dog’s personality, his likes and dislikes, energy levels, play style, behaviour and health history
    • If they assess you and your dog thoroughly, they will have done the same with others, making it a safer, more trustworthy place to leave your dog

  • Qualifications and Knowledge
    • Knowledge, experience and up-to-date qualifications
    • Understanding of dog behaviour
    • What would they do if anything did go wrong? We don’t like to think about it but realistically, dogs are dogs, things go wrong, accidents happen or disagreements blow up and whoever is responsible should be ready to deal with this

  • Is rest time encouraged and how is this done?
    • Is it a routine part of the day or is it used when needed?
    • Is arousal, tiredness and stress considered?
    • Look at their resting facilities… Kennels? Crates? A quiet room?
    • Are enrichment activities used?
    • Each dog is different, think about what you and your dog are most comfortable with.

  • Doggy companions
    • Who will your dog be sharing their day with?
    • Dogs should be matched carefully, and interactions must be monitored
    • Is there management in place if dogs aren’t getting along?
    • Not everyone likes everyone so whenever multiple dogs are sharing a space this should be considered and managed.

  • How knowledgeable are they about body language?
    • Dogs are subtle communicators and things change quickly when you have multiple dogs sharing a space
    • Carers should be well educated in all aspects of behaviour and body language so they can maintain calm and avoid issues
    • Like us, dogs have good and bad days. Even the most well-mannered dog could be pushed to his limit more easily on a bad day, especially in a stressful day care environment. It’s a huge risk and situations can escalate quickly so vigilant carers are vital

There are amazing day care providers available and it’s a great option for some dog owners, but choose carefully … question them, research thoroughly, and expect them to spend time with your dog, asking questions and ensuring your dog is a good match for them.

Some dogs just simply aren’t made for day care though (or day care isn’t made for them, if you like!). It’s quite obvious to see why nervous or unsocial dogs would not enjoy the environment. However, some people will see it as an opportunity for their dog to socialise and learn to enjoy the company of other dogs, but in reality, it’s more likely to work the other way and simply confirm to them why they don’t enjoy socialising! It could work if enough care and control was in place to protect anxious dogs and keep all their interactions positive, while also providing them with their own space away from other dogs when they choose. But in general, day care facilities don’t offer dogs choices like this, in fact they offer very few choices for the dogs which is why it can be such a damaging environment.

This lack of choice means anxious or fearful dogs are often trapped in a highly stressful situation, and rather than creating a positive association with dogs, they are more likely to have their fears reinforced further. This could cause an escalation in their behaviour and create a need to display their feelings more clearly. Meaning your slightly anxious dog may become increasingly fearful or reactive.

If a day care does offer to take your less-than-friendly dog, they will have offered the same to many others. Which means your dog is mixing with numerous other unpredictable or anxious dogs. Maybe not the sort of place you’d like your dog to be learning and interacting with other dogs!

What about the highly social, dog loving dog? He loves dogs. All he wants to do is play. The best part of his day is playing with his friends. Great. Day care is perfect then, right?

Maybe don’t be so sure of that…

Think about it, a dog who loves other dogs will spend all day with them, playing, chasing, and wrestling with them. They’re just having fun and tiring themselves out. There’s no reason for anyone to step in and say enough is enough. Why would they?

We are painted this idyllic image of day care teaching our dogs better social skills, giving him the friends he needs and making his life better in every way. Realistically, even highly social dogs can be negatively impacted by day care environments, a dog who already finds other dogs extremely stimulating and exciting will be pushed further into this mentality. It is likely to leave you with challenges when you walk your dog as he now sees every dog as a potential playmate. This will damage his recall, his relationship with you (you can’t be more exciting than the dog, can you?), and create frustration when he can’t greet dogs. This frustration can be incredibly challenging and troubling … your endlessly social dog now turns into a barking, lunging nightmare when he sees another dog who he can’t get to. Let him off-lead and he returns to his crazy, dog-loving self. It doesn’t make sense?

Frustration is frustrating. It can be hard for us to understand why our dog loves other dogs when he’s off-lead, but apparently ‘hates’ them when he’s on-lead. It’s probably hard for him to understand too. One day he can play with tirelessly with dogs, but the next he’s restrained and can’t reach the dogs? That’s frustrating. Teaching your dog to respond differently to frustration, and control his impulses better, will go a long way to improving the behaviour, but it’s also worth asking yourself whether all those days spent playing crazy games with other dogs is really beneficial for him?

Play between dogs is unlikely to be well-managed or controlled at a busy day care, meaning the dogs will be learning, and practising, rather inappropriate and potentially quite undesirable play behaviour. Boisterous play is quite acceptable in small amounts, if the dogs involved are equally engaged in the activity. However, as soon as play becomes unbalanced it can turn into bully-ish behaviour. Dogs who have spent long duration’s engaged in exuberant or inappropriate play may lose some understanding of play signals and struggle to disengage from play when the other dog isn’t interested. When a dog doesn’t read these signals effectively, they risk being ‘told off’ by other dogs or, potentially even worse, causing another dog considerable stress and frustration by their persistent or inappropriate play behaviour. Dogs who try to ‘bully’ other dogs into playing are at risk of displaying increasingly aggressive behaviours as the result of receiving negative responses from other dogs.

A good day care will consider all these challenges and work in a way to ensure that anxious dogs are not overwhelmed or flooded by the experience, they can do wonders for building confidence, but it has to be done in the right way. Equally a good day care can instil better self-control in our dogs, teaching them a balance between enjoying the company of other dogs, while also learning when to take breaks, enjoy rest time, and listen to their humans!

While there are some dogs who do well in a day care environment, there are many more who don’t. There are other options available for those dogs, so don’t try to make your dog fit into a place that simply isn’t right for him. Consider individual walks, someone to pop in and let him out in his own home, or enrichment activities to keep him busy while you’re gone. You should never assume that day care is the only option.

And remember, day care is rarely the place to socialise your anxious dog, provide your over-friendly dog with new friends, maintain his social life, or teach him how to ‘play nicely’ and it should NOT be used as such. It is far more likely to worsen any challenging behaviours you’re already experiencing than it is to improve them. If you really want to gain something from day care, look for a skilled, knowledgeable person who works on a small scale and focuses their time on training and behaviour work … they will make your dogs life better not worse!

Don’t Walk the Dog!

Written by Naomi White

If someone told you not to walk your dog every day, how would you feel? Shocked? Horrified? Outraged? Relieved? Maybe you’d laugh or gasp in shock …

There is this idea that dogs need to be walked, and a dog can only live a happy life if it’s walked enough. The more you walk the dog, the happier it will be. That old saying ‘a tired dog is a happy dog’. Despite our long-lived beliefs, there is new research and new ideas which suggest that actually our dogs can benefit hugely from having rest days or complete breaks from walks. I’m sure some stressed out dog owners could also benefit from a few days without walking their dogs too!

A very interesting study by Linda Cooper found that implementing a relaxation programme by reducing dog’s daily exercise, and increasing enrichment and mental stimulation, led to reduced reactive behaviours, improved responsiveness to owners and quicker recoveries from reactive outbursts. While this was a small scale and by itself doesn’t necessarily prove anything, it supports the theories and experiences of many trainers and behaviourists.

It really does depend on the individual dog, there is no ‘one-rule-fits-all’ when it comes to our dogs. Many dogs are able to enjoy relatively stress-free walks, which have little or no impact on their stress levels or behaviour. They are good at coping with arousal and when they experience something exciting or stressful, they are able to recover quickly without an issue. However, for other dogs, this level of arousal is more difficult to cope with and can be detrimental to their behaviour.

“Each stressful event causes a rise in adrenaline and cortisol, as these hormones build up the dog will have less tolerance for daily events because their systems are repeatedly flooded with hormones. In turn, all their energy is focused on maintaining some balance in the presence of these chemicals and there is little left to deal with outside challenges.”


https://lifewithrumer.com/2019/01/20/reaching-breaking-point/

This post discusses arousal in more detail …
https://lifewithrumer.com/2019/02/02/maintaining-a-balance/

When your dog is repeatedly exposed to stimuli that cause these hormones to be released, it leads to an excess in their systems, making them more likely to be nervous, reactive, or living in a constant state of stress. This is where REST DAYS can transform your dog’s life!

On a REST DAY, your dog should have no interaction with the outside world. No walks. No playtime in the park. No visit to the local café or pet shop. A total stay-at-home rest day. For some dogs a ‘rest week’ is even more beneficial. A whole week of no walks. Imagine that!

This can be quite surprising because for many of us it’s a totally alien idea which we may associate with animal cruelty … a dog needs to be walked every day. Right?

Wrong. We often place so much importance on walking our dogs that we neglect any other interactions or stimulation in their day. Sure, we spend time cuddling them or playing with them, but the main interaction we have with them is going for a walk (and even then we mostly ignore them, but that’s another topic for another day…). When you replace the ‘walk time’ with other activities you suddenly have endless options and a totally new way of interacting with your dog.

Let’s face it, walking the dog can be stressful. Maybe he turns into a scary, barking, lunging mess when he sees another dog. Maybe he runs off and ignores you. Maybe he pulls so much on the lead you find the whole walk quite unpleasant. Maybe he has ‘mad moments’ where he starts jumping at you and biting your arms.

Walking the dog can be a chore and something we have to brace ourselves for some days. Knowing you can replace this activity with something really beneficial and less stressful can be eye-opening and incredibly relieving. There should be no shame or guilt in choosing not to walk your dog.

What can you do instead?

  • Enrichment activities – Kongs, chews, snuffle mats, searching for food in cardboard boxes or shredded paper. There are hundreds of games like this and a quick Google search for dog enrichment will bring up enough to last you months!
  • Training – teach your dog some new tricks, get a clicker and start clicking behaviours you like. Dogs love learning and training is a great way to improve your bond and get your dog listening and focusing on you
  • Play – have some fun with playing tug, working on training and impulse control at the same time. If your dog doesn’t play, take the time to teach him how. It’s another great bonding activity which you can take out on your walks in future
  • Find it – hide food or toys around the house for your dog to find. You can even hide yourself and have a game of hide-and-seek with your dog!
  • Sleep – your dog needs time to de-stress and relax. If he’s been coping with high levels of stress then he will need time to sleep. Most dogs don’t get enough sleep so make sure you prioritise this (see here for more about the importance of sleep and rest time)

This doesn’t mean walking brings no benefits and we should just keep our dogs inside and never walk them again. Walking and spending time outside brings huge benefits to our dogs and us. But we should think more about how our dogs feel during and after their walks. We shouldn’t walk our dogs just because that’s what we’ve always done. We must consider the impact this has on our dog’s behaviour and health. Prioritising rest days can have a huge effect on behaviour and lead to a more relaxed, calmer dog in general.

There isn’t a perfect optimum which fits all dogs. Each dog is different and each will benefit in different ways. Some dogs may benefit from a longer period of rest, for some regular rest days are important and for others, just the occasional rest day when needed will be enough.

Rest days can be particularly beneficial for dogs who display reactive behaviours. Following a reactive event, their arousal levels will be high, and may remain high for several hours or days. Taking the rest of the day, or the following day, off from all stressful events, and avoiding all stressors, will give your dog time to rest and allow his arousal levels to return to a baseline level. For dogs who have a history of reactivity and who may be experiencing multiple stressors each day, it can really help to have a longer period of rest days to give plenty of time for stress levels to reduce and an opportunity for true relaxation!

Contacting a knowledgeable trainer who has a good understanding of arousal and behaviour is a good place to start. They can help you plan how to work rest days into your dogs routine and find a beneficial balance.

https://www.adolescentdogs.com/

That’s Mine!

Written by Naomi White

We tend to assume that we have some sort of right to just take things away from our dogs without any issue. That bone you gave him 10minutes ago? Now you want it back, and since you gave it to him, why shouldn’t you take it back? When the dog is lying on your spot on the sofa, you think to yourself ‘It’s my home too, he can move’, and surely you should be able to move him off the sofa without an issue?

We wouldn’t expect to take away someone’s dinner without any reaction. Nor would we expect to tell someone to get off the sofa without an explanation. So why do we think it’s acceptable to do these things to our dogs without even a thought for giving anything in return?

Guarding is a very normal, natural behaviour for dogs, yet when they display it towards us, it can cause huge problems and put us in potentially dangerous situations. Respecting your dog’s space and belongings goes a long way to aiding peaceful co-existence. But conflict isn’t always avoidable in daily life. Perhaps when the dog has picked up something he shouldn’t have or he won’t get off the furniture, or perhaps he has a chew and you can’t even walk in the room without fearing a bite.

And then when your dog does react, what do you do? Perhaps you shout ‘NO!’ at him? Grab his collar and move him away? Point your finger at him and tell him how BAD he is?

We tend to get confrontational when our dogs react in a way we don’t like. We think that he will understand our angry NO or that warning finger point. Unfortunately, dogs don’t think like we do. Rather than understanding what you mean, he’s more likely to feel threatened, anxious and fearful of you in these situations. He will start thinking that when he has a bone and you come near him, you try to take it away and get angry. It’s stressful for him; you’re not understanding his communication and he needs to give you even clearer signals to BACK OFF!

That momentary freeze he used to do as a puppy, or that paw he used to place over his bone, has now become a growl, a snap, a bite… Resource guarding can escalate and it can escalate quickly if you ignore the signs and continue to push your dogs buttons.

What should we be doing?

I always keep in mind that resource guarding primarily comes from FEAR. Fear that you will take away a valuable item. Fear that when you approach that item, bad things happen. This is why it’s so important not to get angry or aggressive with your dog in these situations. Remember that your dog is not trying to be ‘dominant’ or ‘pack leader’ or ‘deliberately naughty’, he is simply displaying a behaviour he feels is appropriate in that situation, and most likely he is also feeling scared. By getting upset with him, you are further confirming his fears that bad things happen when you come near his treasured item!

With FEAR in mind, you need to change how your dog feels when you approach him when he has a valuable item. If he guards spaces, such as a bed or sofa, then you need to work on how he feels when you approach these. You can do this regardless of whether your dog displays any resource guarding behaviours because it’s beneficial for all dogs to feel good about humans approaching their food, toys or space.

It can be easy to miss the subtle signals a dog may use when guarding something, especially in the early stages. We can all see when a dog growls, bares his teeth or bites when we approach his space, but we don’t always see what happens before that. Too often we have totally missed the previous warning signs and now the dog seems to react out of nowhere. That’s probably because he has spent months or years trying to tell you back off, and well, you ignored him so now he goes straight for the bite because, guess what? IT WORKS!

The subtle signs to look for will depend on each individual but observe your dog when you approach his food or a toy … he may turn his head away, show the whites of his eyes, hold onto the item or use his teeth/paws to move it away from you, he may eat faster or try to swallow the item. He may FREEZE (especially easy to miss if the freeze is brief but such a key signal), does he stop eating when you approach? Does he stand rigidly over his toy? Does he stop what he was doing and stare (with a fixed gaze away from you)? 

We can misinterpret these signals or miss them completely. But chances are, if your dog now growls, snarls, snaps or bites, he was displaying the above signals for some time before he felt the need to be even clearer about his feelings.

Prevention is better than cure

With dogs who don’t display resource guarding behaviours, and particularly all young puppies, you should regularly practice exercises which help prevent guarding behaviours developing. You should always begin these exercises with low value items, before progressing to high value items which your dog is more likely to feel protective over. Value of items will vary between individuals but typically you could predict that, for example, a dog will find a raw bone higher value than a stagbar, or a Kong stuffed with kibble lower value than a calves hoof filled with peanut butter!

Simple exercises include:

  1. Place an empty bowl down, walk over and drop some food in it, when your dog finishes, approach and drop more in, repeat this so he starts to look to you in expectation for more food
    • Progress to approaching while he’s eating and adding more food
  2. While your dog is eating a chew/stuffed Kong, approach and toss a few treats to him and then move away (start a metre or two away). Repeat several times, now he should be looking at you in expectation when you approach, so you can keep decreasing the distance from which you toss the treats
    • Progress this to approaching him and placing treats right next to him
    • If he’s relaxed about this, you can gradually work on touching his chew and picking it up, reward him and then give the chew back
  3. Hold the chew while your dog chews it. A long chew, such as a pizzle stick or veggie chew will work well because you can easily hold one end and allow your dog to chew from the other. He will learn to share his chew with you, and you act as a useful chew holder!
  4. Use the same methods with toys … when he has a toy, approach, reward him and move away. Progress to approaching, reward, pick up the toy, reward and give the toy back
    • You can also work with toys by practicing toy exchanges – get him playing with one toy, then pick up another and play with this one, swap back to the first toy and so on!
  5. With spaces, follow the same idea as above … starting at a distance, approach your dog while he’s on his bed (or sofa etc.), toss a treat and then move away. Work towards approaching him, touching him and then rewarding and moving away.
    • You can also teach an ‘Off’ cue so you can ask your dog to move off the sofa rather than having to physically intervene. Get him up on the sofa and then say ‘Off!’ and toss the treat onto the floor, repeat this lots until you’re able to say ‘off’ and he gets off himself, then reward him.

With a dog who displays resource guarding behaviours, you can use the same methods as above but all training should start from a safe distance at which your dog doesn’t show any signs of guarding. When working with a dog who displays these behaviours it’s vital that the training is set-up in a way that does not elicit any guarding behaviours. You should use distance and lower value items to begin the training and gradually work up towards higher value items at closer distance. If at any point guarding behaviours are displayed then you MUST take the training back a step and either increase the distance or use a lower value item. I would strongly recommend seeking help from an experienced trainer due to the complexity of resource guarding behaviours. Set-backs are common during this process and it can be beneficial to have help at hand and a good plan of action to work through with your dog.

Alongside training, management is key. Don’t underestimate the importance of managing your dog’s environment so he doesn’t have any opportunity or need to display guarding behaviours, especially while you’re in the training process. Management doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be simple things like only feeding the dog in his crate (including any chews or valuable food items). Not leaving toys or other items around if he has a tendency to guard them. Preventing access from spaces he guards and setting up a ‘safe space’ for him where he can go and not be disturbed (e.g. crate). If he knows he has a space of his own, he will be able to go there without fear of disruption – make sure there is a ‘no disturb’ rule when your dog is here i.e. no one touches the dog, goes near the dog or pesters the dog.

If, despite managing the environment carefully, your dog still finds items to guard, then it’s advisable to have a houseline on your dog. If your dog finds an item to guard, you can use the houseline to move him away with minimal conflict. The line enables you to move him without chasing or grabbing him, this reduces the likelihood of you needing to get close enough to trigger a reaction and gives you more control from a safe distance. This is of course a management strategy that requires training alongside because simply pulling your dog away from an item he’s guarding is not an ideal solution and should only be used when necessary for safety.

Resource guarding is complex. It can be challenging to live with. It takes time to change. It requires strict management.

Always seek help with resource guarding, especially if your dog has bitten. It’s a challenging behaviour and one which is typical for set-backs and regression, making it frustrating to deal with alone. At Adolescent Dogs we’re experienced with working with guarding behaviours and we have the skills to put solid foundations in place to get the training started and enable you to continue the process at home. We can support you through the training process and work through any set-backs to ensure your dog continues to make progress. Get in touch for some advice or sign up to our online course where you will find more resource guarding help.

https://www.adolescentdogs.com/

Can I Say Hello?

Written by Naomi White

Let’s talk about consent… it’s a big topic in humans but have you ever thought about how it applies to your dog?

Just imagine a random stranger approaching your child on the street, fussing over them, offering them sweets or touching their hair, you would be horrified and most likely report the incident. Now put your dog in that position, maybe that’s a normal part of your walk or maybe you just don’t see the problem with it… he’s a dog right, he loves it!?

There are countless dogs labelled as ‘aggressive’, ‘reactive’, or ‘unfriendly’ because they don’t appreciate people approaching them and they’ve taken it upon themselves to tell people to BACK OFF in no uncertain terms. Maybe you own one of these dogs and you just wish he would let people fuss over him, or that he would stop barking and lunging whenever someone came near him. This is where CONSENT becomes so important. Typically with a puppy we’re encouraged to introduce him to as many people as possible, pass him around children and adults and generally expose him to all sorts to ‘socialise’ him. However, have you ever considered your puppy’s feelings in all this? Perhaps you did, and you thought “he loves it!”, or if he didn’t look so keen you just thought “he’ll soon get over it”!

Like humans, dogs have individual personalities, some are more extroverted while some will be introverts, and you have to take time to consider how your dog feels in social greetings. We’re often told to socialise the dog more if he’s shy of people … by introducing him to more people he’ll realise there’s nothing to be scared of and he’ll soon love everyone. It’s probably best to just force him into it and that will sort him out. Unfortunately, it rarely works this way and it’s more likely to push the dog further into fear and self-defence… so what about CONSENT?

What does it mean for dogs and how can it possibly work?

It’s all about giving your dog choices and then respecting his decision. The more you help him out with this, the more he will trust you, and in turn, he will be in a better position to grow in confidence, especially when given choices in greetings.

A dog who wants to interact with someone, will choose to do so, they should approach in a relaxed way and choose to remain in this interaction.

A dog who doesn’t want to interact might back away or freeze, he may also escalate to growling, barking, or snapping if his initial signals are ignored. He doesn’t want to be encouraged, talked to or lured closer, because he is desperately asking for SPACE, not interaction.

If all he offers you is a sniff with his nose then he’s not asking to be hugged and overwhelmed with attention, he’s trying to get a bit of information from you and will probably choose back off again.

If you’re not sure what the dog is saying, give him more time to make a choice. Don’t tempt him over. Wait for him to offer something … he might choose to approach and you can pet him, but pet him for a couple of seconds and then stop … now does he move away or does he move closer – that’s when you know whether he wants to continue this interaction or whether he has had enough. If he moves away, RESPECT that, he has given you a clear, polite signal that he’s had enough for now.

It can feel awkward to say ‘no’ when someone asks to pet your dog, but you can explain that you need to ask your dog. If he chooses to interact you can use it an opportunity to reinforce good behaviour (i.e. no jumping, calm greeting), but if he chooses not to then you must acknowledge that and decline the greeting on his behalf. Perhaps explain that he’s not feeling so good today but maybe next time.

Most people will respect this but it’s helpful to have a back-up cue to use if someone thinks they know better and wants to force the interaction anyway… good options are a ‘let’s go’ command to move your dog away (see the let’s go post here) – it may seem rude to the approaching person but for your dog it’s incredibly beneficial and saves a bad experience. You can also teach your dog a ‘middle’ cue and have him stand between your legs (generally people will be unlikely to persist with a greeting when your dog is positioned here!) and you can then explain the importance of consent! Using a visual aid can also help, for example, putting a lead or jacket on your dog which states that he’s nervous or can’t be touched. However, some people seem to be blind to these signals so it helps to have ‘let’s go’ or ‘middle’ as your back-up option too!!

The more we explain the importance of CONSENT and CHOICE in our dog’s interactions, the more we can educate people to respect dogs in this way.

If your dog struggles with meeting people it can be hard to know how to help him so seeking help from an experienced trainer is a great idea. Or if you would like some more advice and guidance with teaching cues such as ‘let’s go’ and ‘middle’ then have a look at Adolescent Dogs where both the online and residential courses can give you the tools you need!

https://www.adolescentdogs.com/

Let’s Go … Walk Away

Written by Naomi White

I never trust dogs who I don’t know, I see every dog I meet as a potentially dangerous situation, maybe that’s an unhealthy approach but I’ve met enough to know you can’t trust people to keep their dogs under-control. The majority of people I meet seem to have no concept of appropriate or inappropriate dog-to-dog greetings, I regularly see dogs being jumped all over, over-sniffed or barrelled into by other dogs, sometimes nothing comes from the inappropriate greeting but all too often it can cause tension or unnecessary stress to the dogs involved.

People need more education regarding social etiquette between dogs, there’s not enough awareness about the risks of dog-dog greetings or how to train and manage dogs in these interactions.

My main rules with greeting unknown dogs are:

  • The dog must approach with their handler, never being allowed to run over to an unknown dog from a distance
  • If the dog isn’t capable of this control then it should be on a lead or longline
  • Work on calm approaches – my go-to method is scatter feeding or placing treats on the floor as approaching to keep the dog relaxed and less fixated on the other dog
  • If calm behaviour isn’t possible on approach then the dog isn’t ready to be greeting unknown dogs yet and more work needs to be done from a distance
  • Never approach a dog on a lead (it’s on lead for a reason – respect that!)
  • Take notice if someone steps off the path or moves away, they are probably trying to give their dog more space and therefore do not need your dog ruining this

I also live by the 3 second rule … if I allow a dog to greet an unknown dog, I will allow up to 3 seconds of sniffing and then encourage them to move on, in my opinion this is enough time for a good greeting – it’s usually short enough to avoid the greeting becoming tense or inappropriate and keeps it polite and pleasant – a good experience all round!

I use ‘let’s go’ to move a dog on from a greeting (with dogs or people), this signals to the dog that we’re moving away from the greeting. Using a cue like this enables you to move your dog on once the 3 seconds are up (or sooner if the greeting looks tense), and it reduces any conflict when moving away, the dog makes the choice to respond and move away rather than being forced or dragged away which can just add tension to the greeting.

Teaching Let’s Go

  1. With your dog on lead, turn away from him and say ‘yes’ (or click) when your dog turns to follow you. Reward by tossing the treat ahead of you
  2. Repeat this until your dog is readily following your turn
  3. Start adding the ‘let’s go’ cue – say ‘let’s go’, turn away, mark with ‘yes’ and toss the treat
  4. Add more movement – say ‘let’s go’, turn away and take a few quick steps, then say ‘yes’ and toss the treat
  5. Keep increasing the distance you move each time
  6. Once your dog is engaged with this concept then you can add some distractions. To begin with I would practice in a couple of different quiet locations (e.g. different rooms in the house, in the garden or in a quiet walking location)
  7. Then I would add food (or a toy) as a distraction, place the food down, allow your dog to see it and as he moves towards it say ‘let’s go’ and turn away, as soon as he moves with you say ‘yes’ and toss the reward
  8. Once he is successfully responding to this set-up then I would begin bringing the cue into walks, first away from dogs in the distance and then when this response is reliable you can decrease the distance between dogs until you feel he’s ready to respond during an actual greeting

This is just one of my go-to methods for teaching dogs and their owner’s better dog-dog greetings, there are many more methods you can use and not every dog responds to the same method but I find this is a good one for many dogs. If your dog struggles with frustration when meeting dogs then this method can work really well, but you will need to work at a distance for longer until your dog is able to approach another dog in a calmer manner.

‘Let’s go’ can be used in any situation where you want to get your dog away, he will learn that the cue results in something super rewarding so you can use it to move your dog away from an approaching person, another dog or something he’s unsure of. It’s a great space-creating behaviour which your dog will learn to use if he’s uncomfortable and needs more space!

Teaching appropriate social greetings isn’t always as straight-forward as we hope and naturally some dogs find social situations more challenging. If this is the case with your dog then it’s advisable to seek help from an experienced professional to ensure you and your dog are set up to be successful.

It can take many repetitions, practice and controlled situations to teach a dog more appropriate social etiquette, so it’s worth considering seeking help with this. The residential training course at Adolescent Dogs is ideal for dog’s who struggle with dog-dog interactions because it allows opportunity to meet other dogs in a controlled manner, creating successful and positive interactions. There is also an online course option which covers the ‘let’s go’ cue in more detail, as well as many other methods which work towards better greetings and interactions!

https://www.adolescentdogs.com/

Maintaining a Balance

Written by Naomi White

How can we create the right balance of arousal?

At an optimum level of arousal your dog should be responsive to cues and able to make good choices without any conflicting emotions.

Maintaining an optimum level of arousal continuously is impossible so it’s also important to teach dogs to think through arousal and return to lower levels after a stressful or exciting event. Some dogs are naturally more capable of this than others and if you have a dog who struggles with arousal it’s best to seek help from a trainer who can assist you in working through this.

In a broader sense it’s beneficial to focus on rewarding calm behaviour from your dog, this isn’t necessarily linked to a specific high arousal scenario but more of a consideration for daily life.

Most of us enjoy being around calm dogs; dogs who know how to relax and ‘switch-off’ when we want them to! This default calm state does not come easily to many dogs and they need more help to learn how to make this choice.

Calmness is a low arousal state so it’s further from high arousal, fear or stress. The more we encourage a dog to be in this state, the less they will be in an over-aroused state and in turn, the more they will choose to repeat calm behaviours. In a lower state of arousal, a dog will find it easier to make good choices and respond to cues given by us. If you wonder why your dog appears to go deaf on you, or why he stubbornly ignores you, then arousal may well be playing a role. He’s not trying to be naughty or challenge you, he’s simply not in a thinking state of mind … his focus is elsewhere and he’s doing what comes most naturally in that moment.

Dogs who are living in a constant state of high arousal are more likely to display problem behaviours, they are also more likely to be over-tired and are generally past the point of calm thinking! Outwardly they may appear to have loads of energy and need to be ‘on-the-go’ all day, when in reality they desperately need some proper sleep and relaxation. Dogs need far more sleep and rest time than many people realise, they need to learn this from a young age or have boundaries put in place in order to teach them to rest if they haven’t previously learnt to do so.

Every dog will need different amounts of sleep but on average most dogs will benefit from around 14-16 hours of sleep each day/night and while some will take any opportunity they can get, others need help with this. Many dogs spend their days ‘on alert’, their life is full of stressful or exciting events without much opportunity to relax in between. Stress is part of daily life for all of us, but it can become problematic if it’s not addressed or if it stops our dogs sleeping or resting properly.

Imagine every time you tried to sleep you got woken up by someone pestering you or a loud noise startling you, after a few days you would probably feel pretty exhausted and irritable. Or what if a neighbour shouted at you every time you went outside, it would soon make you feel anxious about going outside and give you the feeling of constant stress. This is what it’s like for so many dogs who struggle to find somewhere quiet to sleep, have never learnt to just switch-off from all the distractions or feel fearful of people, dogs or other aspects in the environment.

Over-tiredness and high-arousal will look different in different dogs and lots of factors can impact problem behaviours but common examples include:

  • Mouthing or nipping
  • Barking or reactivity
  • Easily frustrated
  • Hyperactive moments (think post-dinner zoomies!)
  • Destructiveness

There are many ways we can help our dogs to rest properly and learn to enjoy these rest times without us having to step in all the time, just making it part of their routine is the first step…

These ideas can all intertwine and work together to create a dog who lives in a more relaxed and calm state of mind, it promotes calmness and encourages rest time which reduces the time spent practicing problem behaviours or feeling over-tired and stressed out.

Reaching Breaking Point

The Role of Arousal in Dog Behaviour and Training

Written by Naomi White

Do you ever find some days your dog just seems a bit more wired? Maybe he seems stressed, unsettled, easily excited, or maybe he suddenly starts barking at something he wouldn’t normally care about? When doing any form of training or behaviour work with a dog it’s important to consider arousal…

Arousal essentially refers to a dog’s level of responsiveness. It could be his responsiveness to events instigated by you (e.g. cueing the dog to sit), or events he encounters within the environment (e.g. other dogs). When exposed to an exciting or stressful stimulus, the brain floods with excitatory chemicals, including adrenaline and cortisol, which impact consciousness, attention and information processing.

Arousal is not exclusively linked to negative events, like fear or startling events, it also occurs in positive events too, for example, social play or a game of fetch. It must be considered in all aspects of a dog’s life, not just the negative ones.

Too much arousal can reduce the ability of the thinking part of the brain and increase the survival response (flight or fight). Increased arousal is a normal response to perceived threats, but it can become excessive and detrimental to normal life.

After a stressful event, the initial release of adrenaline should clear soon after the trigger has gone but the glucocorticoids that were released in the response can take between 48hours to 6 days to clear, depending how intense the reaction was.

Each stressful event causes a rise in adrenaline and cortisol, as these hormones build up the dog will have less tolerance for daily events because their systems are repeatedly flooded with hormones. In turn, all their energy is focused on maintaining some balance in the presence of these chemicals and there is little left to deal with outside challenges.

Think about when you play a game of tug or fetch with your dog, at some point during the game does he start to become ‘crazy’? Grabbing your hands, jumping at you, barking for you to throw the ball? Or maybe you’re playing fetch in the park and another dog comes over, your dog suddenly rushes over, barrels into the dog or starts growling at it? These types of behaviour can come as a surprise to us or they might be the reason we give up playing with our dogs, because they turn unpleasant during games… this is where arousal comes into play!

Things like playing fetch, playing with other dogs or meeting new people can all lead to higher levels of arousal in our dogs. When dealing with arousal and working to reduce or manage it, it’s important to include all areas of your dog’s life. Every time arousal is increased, regardless of the cause, the dog is pushed closer to their threshold level, making them less able to think and respond, and more likely to react or disengage. Instead of assuming your dog is being ignorant, stubborn or even aggressive, consider whether he’s actually in a highly aroused state and therefore unable to process your commands or requests… his brain is simply somewhere else and he has bigger concerns to focus on.

The good news is we can use high arousal activities, like fetch or tug, to teach our dogs to control their arousal levels better and switch more effectively from a state of high arousal to low arousal!

We can strive to keep our dog at optimum arousal where he’s able to be responsive to cues and make good choices without any conflicting emotions. This level will vary depending on the situation, you may want to increase arousal during agility training so the dog is quick and responsive, but at home you will want lower arousal, so the dog is relaxed and calm…

…And that brings us to the next post …