TIP 1 Positive reinforcement is far better than punishment or correcting a mistake. Training for treats and for toy are essential when learning a new behaviour, best treats are wet food i.e. fresh chicken not just dry kibble, best to train hungry. You can try mixing up different rewards mixing up praise, treats, games and even using a mixture of treats.
TIP 2 Consistency with your visual and verbal commands is key, e.g. stand with your arms wide apart facing your dog and call them using either come. Try not to repeat your recall command or you’ll always ending up saying it two, three or more times.
TIP 3 Practice even when proficient you’ll need to practice. I try to use a one in ten rule for my youngest dog which means ONE recall in earnest for TEN fun practice ones. Practice your recalls in different places including in the garden or in the house, short and long recalls, even just the length of the lead!
TIP 4 Stop them from getting it wrong. The old behaviour has been learned, albeit unintentionally, so you’ll need to make sure you don’t put your dog in the position where he or she can fail. Keep them on a long line so that can’t ever inadvertently get positive reward from failing to recall …. Unintentional rewards could be time to chase the bunnies, smell interesting smells or all the attention that they get from you chasing and calling them.
Teaching your dog to lay on their side is useful for home health care like checking their tummy, legs and paws for lumps and bumps. I started with a clicker and a few treats and had to lure him into position with food the first few times before progressing to add distractions.
STEP 1 - lure the dog from a down into laying on their side by slow moving a treat up over their shoulder and marking when they are in the right position by saying 'lay' and clicking your clicker (following every time with a treat)
STEP 2 - ask for the 'lay' and say good or click as soon as they are in position
STEP 3 - build duration by delaying the click and treat by a second or two once they are in position
STEP 4 - add in distractions such as stroking them or handling their paws, and then increasing the distractions to include equipment such as clippers or a brush
Why does my dog have separation anxiety?
Dogs are social animals and most dogs will find it stressful to be separated from their dog-human pack for extended periods. We may have to teach them how to cope.
Dogs with a lack of appropriate socialisation to being alone as puppies may find that they have a higher level of anxiety and are slower to adjust to time alone as adults. It may also be that some dogs develop separation anxiety as a result of a change such as a new baby or a move of house.
It's also worth thinking about you and your own feelings towards separation from your dog. Some owners find it stressful to leave their dogs and inadvertently communicate this to their dogs. Our dogs are super sensitive to our body language and even slight changes to our breathing rates and even pupil dilation! So if your are anxious your dog may well know it! If leaving the dog is difficult for you, it may be tempting to let the dog follow them from room to room when they are in the house so that the dog never learns how to separate calmly.
This is all a little bit different from the many dogs who are left home alone for extended periods, and for whom, when their owners are home the owners often have little energy to exercise, socialise or mentally stimulate their dog. Such dogs often suffer from chronic anxiety of which separation anxiety may be just one manifestation.
Dogs who are anxious when left alone can become destructive or develop toileting issues and gradually get confined to a smaller and smaller part of the house providing them with a gradually more and more boring, lonely and stressful existence.
So what can we do about it?
Firstly, have a careful look at what is actually happening. Is your dog anxious about you leaving the room or the house? For 1 minute or 10 minutes? Is it anyone leaving or just the last person leaving? Having a clear benchmark helps you know if you are making progress.
You may need to change things up at home. You can manage the dog’s environment by ensuring the dog has a safe, quiet, appropriate place to sleep when left home alone such as a utility room with a bed or crate. I would make sure that the dog has access to fresh water, soft blankets, natural light and fresh air. Some dogs enjoy having a shaded crate to relax in during the day. I would also introduce the use of temporary stairgates so the dog doesn’t follow the owner everywhere at home but can still see the owner if they are in a different room. Make these separations reward for the dog by giving them something to enjoy as you leave and avoid giving lots of attention or treats on your return.
I would also recommend introducing a program of enrichment and ensure that the dog is getting plenty of appropriate exercise and stimulation. Many dogs are chronically under stimulated in their human families. Enrichment will not only help build the dogs confidence and reduce boredom but will also help the dog feel genuinely tired when they are left alone.
Try to develop a selection of special toys, food puzzles and food dispensing toys to help the dog to settle when they are home alone. Your dog should only have these when you decide and not have access to them the whole time. If they enjoy chewing this can keep them busy so freezing their usual kibble (pre-soaked) in a kong toy may bring them an hour or two of fun time alone. This classically conditions a positive connection between being alone and feeling good. You can start this when you are in the house but not in the same room as the dog for the first few days. If the dog is very anxious at this stage, you may have to only be out of sight for short periods.
When your dog is capable of being left in a different part of the house for an hour then I would start to desensitise the dog to you leaving the house. You can perform leaving activities such as picking the car keys up or putting on shoes but not leaving the house a few times each day to desensitise the dog to these pre-leaving activities. Teach the dog to go to their bed, special part of the house or to go to their crate for a treat or other positive reinforcement. Reward them again, give them their special toys and leave alone for less than the time it takes them to get anxious. This could be just 5 minutes/day to start with but increasing to twice a day and then 3 times/day. You could then increase this to 15 minutes and build up from there, but each time making sure that the dog has the same routine when the dog is left.
It's a good idea to change your own personal schedules around when you start this so that the dog is not left home alone for 3 -5 days before this training is started and during this process. We want to avoid triggering their high stress responses because these stress hormones take longer than you think to subside.
Also remember not to punish any lapses, instead to see a 'lapse' as an attempt to progress too quickly. Remember not to greet your pet when as soon as you return home in too much of an enthusiastic and high energy way. The immediate return of the owners needs to be less rewarding rather than more rewarding than the dogs special toys which he gets when he is home alone.
Finally, remember to get a bit of professional help at the start of this process. It can save a huge amount of time and worry too :)
Teaching your dog to lay their chin on your knee or a cushion isn't only cute but is a really useful behaviour for healthcare of ears and eyes as well as vet checks and trips to the groomers.
It's easy enough to teach them to put their chin on your leg or a cushion by first of all just luring them into position. The video shows how you can teach your dog to remain chin down while a piece of equipment goes near their ear (please note I never put anything IN his ear!). I used a clicker and some plain kibble as rewards. Remember, you have to go at the pace of your dog and always keep it fun!
Calmly and cooperatively wearing a muzzle is an important life skill for dogs. It can be super positive to train too! So get the treats ready and let the training begin. You can even start with a paper cup so your dog gets used to putting his or her nose inside. Easy peasy!
Training dogs to wear a muzzle is important so they become accustomed to it and will accept it readily when needed or advised for a specific purpose. It's much better if wearing a muzzle can be introduced in a fun way rather than waiting until a situation in which they may already be suffering from fear, anxiety and stress.
It's a good idea to break the training down into easy stages and work on each stage until your dog is completely comfortable. Suggested stages:
1. putting their nose into the muzzle voluntarily
2. laying the strap over their neck
3. doing the strap up
4. building up duration
You may never need to use a muzzle but the right time to introduce it is well before it may be needed! Have fun muzzle training :)
Unwanted behaviours in dogs can include house soiling, excessive scent marking, roaming, separation anxiety, chronic stress, impulsivity, reactivity, aggression or even learned helpless and lethargy. These issues are often coupled with training difficulties which can leave the poor owner with … well chronic stress too!
These difficult behaviours can have many origins. Sometimes they can be medical or psychological or behavioural so it can be important to understand what causing the issue so that we can best help change things. Sometimes a small change to underlying factors can make all the difference.
Unwanted behaviours in dogs - How hormones make a simple difference
Hormones and neurotransmitters, which are important for behaviour, are made from substances in the body but some must be gained from the dog’s diet. Imbalances in these neurotransmitters can cause potential difficulties in teaching a new behaviour. So, the dog’s diet can make a difference. It’s one of those underlying factors. Additives can make a difference as can protein content, and these days there is a lot of talk about raw feeding too. But diet is not the only factor….
The dogs underlying biology can make a difference too. A dog with an excess of dopamine can be impulsive and reactive, however, a decline in dopamine can reduce the reinforcing effect of a tasty treat. Serotonin is responsible for regulating mood and a decline in serotonin has been linked to impulsive behaviour and increased aggression which may make extend time taken to acquire a new behaviour. A trainer may experience difficulty in teaching a new behaviour if the dog is suffering from low levels of dopamine and/or serotonin.
Now, although these imbalances could be medical, they may also occur if the dog is lacking in exercise, if it has been given an inappropriate diet, if it has been given insufficient freedom to routinely express normal behaviour, has insufficient sleep or is kept isolated from long periods of time. So it is really important that your dog’s basic needs are met well before we start training new behaviours.
Chronic stress can cause problems with hormone levels too. Adrenaline and cortisol are released at times of stress. They help the body ready itself for fight or flight, it withdraws blood from the surface of skin and many internal organism resulting in an increase in blood flow to the muscles. The response is designed to be a temporary change. A dog that is stressed or afraid during training is likely to be experiencing high levels of both hormones which will impair memory retrieval and recent evidence further indicates that stress may hamper the updating of memories in the light of new information. A dog in such a state is also likely to be more reactive. Use of punishment during training, even at a low level, likely to increase adrenaline and ongoing use, especially if the dog does not understand how to change the use of punishers is likely to increase cortisol. It can help to ensure your dog can avoid his or her stress triggers for a few days before any training takes place, but if you are worried, talk to a qualified behaviourist if you are concerned about chronic stress.
Unwanted behaviours in dogs - what about genetic differences?
Why is it that one puppy may be more emotionally reactive than one of his siblings even if they have been brought up together with the same experiences. There are two branches of the autonomic nervous system – one which fires the dog up and one which calms the dog down. It is these, the parasympathetic and sympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system, which work together but as opposing forces to keep the dog in balance. The parasympathetic branch works to calm the dog and bring it back into balance whereas the sympathetic branch fires the dog up ready for action by increasing the heart rate, inhibiting digestion and increasing breathing. The two systems strive to achieve, balance, homeostasis.
So, coming back to our question, some dogs can be genetically pre-disposed to be more parasympathetically influenced (calmer) or sympathetically influenced (prone to emotional reactivity and biological stress). Two puppies brought up together are likely to have genetic differences which would account for differences in reactivity because of such differences in their autonomic nervous system.
Unwanted behaviours in dogs - Neurological Diseases
Neurological diseases are diseases of the brain, spine or nerves and includes tumours, cervical disease and canine dementia. Symptoms such as seizures, tremors, difficulty with balance and paralysis are common. However, neurological diseases may also manifest a wide range of symptoms such as circling, fly-biting hallucination, or just a changed mental state or changes in behaviour such as suddenly stopping responding to simple commands like “sit” or “heel” . The precise behaviour change presented will depend upon the neurological site impacted by the disease or lesion.
It probably seems obvious that damage to the spine, for instance, may cause a dog to lose control over its bladder and bowels. What may not be so obvious is that lesions in the cerebellum by cause a head tilt to develop or incoordination of the limbs, lesions in the mid brain may cause balance and body awareness problems, whereas lesions in the cerebral cortex can have more overtly behavioural impacts such as lack of recognition of the owner, difficulty training, compulsive pacing, circling, difficulty with perception, hysterical running, star gazing, aggression and changes in feeding and breeding behaviours.
When behaviour patterns change in this way an underlying neurological reason should first be ruled out. This is because any behaviour may have a wide range of possible causes both medical and psychological. Some behaviours may have both a medical and psychological component, for example, head tilting may indicate an ear infection, a brain tumour, or that the owners laugh and pet the dog when the dog exhibits the behaviour. So if you are worried, then a thorough veterinary check should be performed before any behaviour modification or training is attempted.
Unwanted behaviours in dogs - how can training interact with the dogs biology?
Dog training often uses some combination of punishing the bad (shouting, water sprays, choke chains) and rewarding the good (treats, praise and toys). Fear and punishment impact on the brain through the amygdala, ‘the fear centre’, and ‘freeze or fight’ pathways. In contrast, positive rewards involve the cortex as well as other brain structures and opiate and dopaminergic systems and not the amygdala.
Once the amygdala has been exposed with a situation that has a fearful outcome, that imprint will remain for ever, albeit, it can be modified. Therefore, if punishment is to be used it must be closely linked to the inappropriate event and must mildly startle and not terrify the animal. As soon as the undesirable behaviour has stopped the desired behaviour should be cued and rewarded as quickly as possible.
There are two major risks though with punishment in training. First is the handler, especially if fairly new to training, will use too high a level of the punishment and/or fail to follow through in a timely manner with the cue and reward for the correct behaviour. Such use of aversives is likely to encode a fear response in the dog which may cause some undesired result i.e. the dog learns to be frightened of the handler or to refrain from chewing the furniture in the presence of the handler. An encoded fear response is likely to make limited impact on the behaviour under modification.
But I said there are two risks. The second and more worrying risk is the potential for abuse of power in the relationship. When a dog-human pair first start working together, it’s a very one-sided relationship with the owner calling all the shots. Coupled with this, dogs have a capacity to bond with their human in the same way as human infants bond with a parent. Now we have a huge imbalance of power and the more powerful of the pair is allowed to use fear and punishment to train, and if we aren’t very very careful they can use fear and punishment to vent their own frustration and stress. This can lead to the dog learning some undesirable lessons and developing further undesirable behaviours.
What’s the alternative?
The most successful behaviour modifications are positive and focus on a substitute behaviour that the animal enjoys. Behaviours that are reinforced are learned best if every time they occur they are rewarded, reinforcement can be praise, a tasty treat, or a game with the owner. Once the dog has learned a new behaviour it can be maintained if they are rewarded intermittently. But, when you start you’ll need to use a lot of treats, praise and play, and a jackpot reward can help learn a new behaviour more quickly. Contact me if you’d like to arrange a free 121 initial consultation or to find the training class that’s suitable for you.
I'm delighted to have received my level5 Dog Behaviour Practitioner Diploma from the Canine Behaviour College. It was a fantastic course to study- good to know the theory behind the practical! I've learned a huge amount about the causes of behaviour problems and a whole range of approaches to dealing with them. I'm proud to be on the leading edge of current scientific research into this area and to be part of the movement towards respect for animals, building trust and using positive reinforcement training.
Why do some people travel hundreds of miles for their new puppy?
Did you know that the earliest impact on the development of the puppy will be the physical health, emotional state and nutritional status of the dam during pregnancy? Even after that the ongoing nutritional status of the dam during feeding and nutrition during weaning also impact on puppy development. On top of this, nutrition fed the dam during gestation coupled with the nutrition fed her new born pups up to 14 weeks could improve learning. So a happy, healthy mum means healthy pups!
The pups experiences while still with the breeder make a difference too. It’s been shown that gentle handling during this period can lead to greater emotional stability as the puppy grows. The littermates make a difference too, during the 3 – 7 week period they have a major influence on the development of playfulness, chase-proneness, fearfulness and even aggression. The puppy learns the basics of being part of a pack, the comfort of the presence of their littermates as well as the disadvantages at this stage.
Pups in this stage of development benefit from exposure to opportunities to explore and learn in areas away from their kennel. Puppies lacking these opportunities tended to become fearful of unfamiliar objects and were generally more withdrawn. It’s a delicate balance, as early experiences can adversely affect learning and must be used with caution i.e. avoid causing over-stimulation, fear or stress.
So choosing a good, reputable breeder is important. Go and visit the breeder and the puppies at least once before deciding to buy from them. Check some of the issues above, as well as looking at any required council registrations and genetic tests, before you are in too deep with puppy love.