Here are 10 things you need to know about implementing an effective behavior modification training plan for any dog that exhibits fearful, anxious, impulsive, or aggressive behaviors.
#1 Track Progress in Months (not days or weeks):
The first thing you need to know about behavioral training for dogs that are anxious, fearful, aggressive or hyper-active is that you need to track progress in months - not days or weeks. Don't get carried away by day to day, or week to week, successes or failures - both can interfere with the consistency with which we follow training protocol. Keep a behavior log so that you can objectively analyze changes in behavior long term.
#2 Avoid Suppressing Symptomatic Behavior:
Barking is one way that a dog can express frustration, fear or anxiety, but it's not the only way. Look at body language, facial expressions and other more subtle behavioral patterns to develop a better understanding of your dog's underlying stress level. A quiet dog is not necessarily experiencing less stress than a barking dog.
#3 Be Aware of How Stress Accumulatess:
One trigger vs. many triggers. Sometimes our dog's reactive behavior is easily linked to one specific environmental trigger and sometimes, it's not. Stress accumulates. The better you are at reading and responding to subtle signs of stress, the more effective you will be in training. You don't always have to know what causes the stress in order to help your dog work through it.
#4 Have A Good Management Plan:
A good management plan is just as important as a good training plan. The more often your dog practices certain undesirable behaviors, the more habitual those behaviors will become. Changing the environment or your dog's daily routine is sometimes 100% necessary in setting the stage for successful behavior modification.
#5 Make Sure it's Not Only the Squeaky Wheel That Gets the Oil :
There are two ways that a dog can respond to a stressful situation; they can either behave in an active manner or a passive manner. Their response might change depending on the context of the situation. Dogs that have a tendency to actively respond to stress triggers (barking, growling, charging) are more likely to receive training attention, while passive stress responses (those dogs that shut down or exhibit more subtle stress signals) usually go unnoticed or are dismissed as being "just fine." Both require the same level of attention and understanding.
#6 Working "Under-Threshold":
Excessive barking, sudden loss of appetite, ADHD type behavior, stress whining, clinginess (wanting to be picked up, demand barking, jumping or pawing for attention) are just some of the symptoms that your dog has hit their stress threshold. Giving your dog more space away from the stress trigger, or removing your dog from a stressful environment, is the best way to help meet your dog's needs and prevent regression in training.
#7 Predict, Prevent, Practice:
Assess your dog's behavioral responses and then use that information to predict and prevent undesirable behavior. Once the initial assessment is conducted you should no longer be testing your dog, you should be training your dog. This means that you should be setting them up to practice the behaviors that you do want to see, while minimizing the probability that they will fall back to less desirable tendencies.
#8 Capture Calm Behavior:
Don't let your dogs good behavior go unnoticed, reinforce it. Sometimes we only train with our dogs when we are seeing the problem behavior. Successful training is about being pro-active. Make training a part of your daily routine so that you are routinely reinforcing your dog for behaviors that you love, instead of solely reacting to problem behaviors.
#9 Be Prepared for Spontaneous Training Opportunities:
You don't always know when a teachable moment will present itself, don't be caught off guard. Have the necessary tools at hand to help set the stage for success: high value treats, harness, leash and training pouch are a few functional training tools to have at hand in a moment's notice.
#10 Choose Your Reinforcement Wisely:
The value of the reinforcement you use, relative to the level of distraction in your training environment, will determine the efficacy of your training program. Consistent, reliable responses require a high value reinforcer. You'll get the most traction from a training food that is moist, meaty, aromatic, and easy to break into small pieces without crumbling. A tennis ball or a good tug toy might be worth its weight in gold if your dog has high toy drive. Conversely, giving a dog a dry biscuit, a pat on the head or a "good boy" is generally not significant enough to yield solid, reliable training results.
Article written by Alyssa Rose (Lapinel), CPDT-KA. Alyssa is the founder and head trainer at Legends Dog Training based in San Diego, CA. Alyssa works creates and implements customized behavior modification plans for dogs that exhibit fearful, anxious, impulsive or aggressive behavior. Check out Alyssa's new online program for behavior modification: http://basetrainingmethod.com
This article is intended to help dogs that bark, growl, lunge, charge, snap or bite when interacting with people or dogs. Stress, generalized anxiety, chronic stress, frustration, pain or underlying medical conditions can all contribute to aggressive responses. Address any potential medical issues with your veterinarian and read through these tips and recommendations before creating and implementing a behavior modification plan for aggressive behavior.
1. The Importance of Management With Aggression in Dogs
Solid management strategies is a critical component of an effective behavior modification plan. The more a dog practices undesirable behavior, the more habitual those behaviors become. Create visual barricades to reduce the intensity and frequency with which your dog barks at people or dogs through windows or fences. Walk your dog at times and in areas that are quiet. Help your dog relax in a safe space in your house when you have visitors come over. These strategies will facilitate progress when paired with an effective training plan.
2. Keep a Behavior Log of Aggressive Responses
In order to work through aggressive behavior, we first need to get really good at predicting when it will occur, so that we can minimize the number of times our dogs rehearse aggressive responses. Keep a behavior log and use it to write down concerning behavior when it occurs. Write down:
3. Suppressing Symptomatic Behavior
Verbally or physically reprimanding a dog for growling, barking or snapping can easily teach a dog to suppress warning signs of aggression. When people say, "the dog bit without warning" this is usually because the dog was "trained" not to give warning. Respect warning signs and create space by moving your dog away from a person, dog or event that is triggering aggressive behavior. Do not use verbal or physical reprimands/corrections to suppress warning signs of aggression, like hard stares, growling, barking or air snapping.
4. What should I do if my dog delivers a bite?
If a dog delivers a bite you should neutralize the situation by moving the dog away on a secure leash and harness. Avoid restraining the dog by the collar, isolating a dog, yelling or hitting the dog in such a situation. All of these responses can intensify the underlying emotional response. Instead, focus on redirecting the dog to an activity that is inherently calming. For example, go for a walk or stand or sit with the dog in a calm environment.
5. Ambiguous Behaviors
Know that wagging tails, licking faces, sniffing or rolling over to expose a belly are ambiguous behaviors. Many people mistakenly assume that these are indications that the dog is friendly, and wants to be pet or that they want to be "friends" with another dog. Sometimes that's true, and sometimes this is actually an "appeasement gesture" that the dog is displaying to express stress or discomfort. Forcing unwanted interactions is a fast way to teach a dog to express discomfort in a less ambiguous manner, for instance, biting. If a dog has history of being nervous, or has a history of aggressive behavior, err on the side of caution, and give the dog space.
6. The Importance of Neutral Body Language
Petting, talking to, or staring at a dog that is uncertain can trigger an aggressive response. It may take several meetings for a dog to become comfortable. Some dogs never warm up to certain people, and will always need space. Neutral body language and patience are the most effective ways to generate trust with a nervous dog.
7. Avoid having Strangers Feed Your Nervous Dog
High value food can be a great way to condition a dog to have a "feel good" response to the presence of people that may otherwise generate stress. However, food should always be delivered by a trusted caregiver, not from the hand of a stranger. Coaxing a dog to interact with or approach a person they are uncomfortable with can create a conflict of interest that could result in an escalation of stress, and could lead to a bite.
8. Fences and Tight Leashes Can Fuel Aggressive Impulses
Trainers that train police or protection dogs use barriers and tight leashes to generate aggressive behavior. Leaving dogs outside in a fenced yard or walking your dog on a short, tight leash can have a similar effect. This behavior can generalize to other social situations, like greeting guests or people that they see on walks. If you live in urban or suburban environments do these four things to minimize the amount that your dog practices barking at people or dogs:
1. Keep your dog in a central area of your home when you are leave the house. Avoid leaving your dog in a yard unsupervised for extended periods of time.
2. Create visual barriers to windows or fences to minimize exposure to environmental triggers, like people or dogs.
3. Walk your dog on a six foot leash, as short leashes will exacerbate reactive behavior, like barking and lunging.
4. Enroll in a training program that uses positive reinforcement training to minimize stress and/or arousal that would otherwise fuel your dog's aggressive responses.
9. Avoid Aversive Methods, Training Tools and "Techniques"
Avoid trainers or training recommendations that promote the use of aversive training tools to "fix" or "rehabilitate" dogs with aggressive behavior. Slip collars, choke chains, throw chains, shaker cans, remote electronic collars, bark collars and alpha rolls are likely to suppress behavior in the short term, but can exacerbate the underlying issue long term. There is only so long that you can keep a lid on a boiling pot of water before it pops!
10. Learn About Canine Stress Signals
Learn about canine stress signals and the manner in which they present in your individual dog. Recognizing early signs of stress can afford us the opportunity to give our dog the space they need when they are overwhelmed by a person, dog, or activity. Dogs will escalate to more intense aggressive behavior when early warning signs are unnoticed, dismissed or suppressed.
This article applies to initial dog-dog introductions, as well as, those dogs that need “relationship therapy.”
Neutrality: Minimize friction by being proactive. Put away the toys, keep bones in the cabinet, block access to socially significant areas (ie. sofas and beds), and avoid giving attention that could potentially spur conflict. Preventing fights through management is just as important as the next recommendation: forging a bond.
Forging a Bond: Take them for long walks in places that neither one of them has ever been (the more often you do this, the better). Not only are they less likely to get into fights when they are on neutral ground, but it will also help them to become friends. Migrating, sniffing and exploring new territory is a great bonding activity. Do this in combination with the next tip: developing positive associations through positive reinforcement training.
Developing Positive Associations: Positive reinforcement training that rewards sitting, lying down, and “going to place” helps us and our dogs focus on building up desirable behavior, and can simultaneously condition these dogs to feel calm, comfortable and relaxed in each other’s presence.
What to do if and when you notice tension (ie. a hard stare, growling, snarling): Be Calm: Yelling, screaming, reprimanding or frenzied actions will make matters worse. Aggression stems from stress, if you are feeling nervous or uneasy you are likely going to feed into your dog’s aggressive behavior. Be Prepared: Have dogs drag a short leash at home (when supervised). Now if you notice tension you can calmly walk up to the dog, pick up the leash and call him (or lead him) away from the other dog. Abruptly grabbing a dog’s collar is often a sure fire way to start a fight.
Warning Signs are Good! Be thankful for growling, snarling and air snaps; this is a dog’s way of communicating that they are feeling stressed, and is the perfect time to calmly diffuse the situation. Many people want to “correct” their dog for exhibiting these signs, and believe that this is the best way to “teach a dog not to be aggressive.” In reality, they are only addressing the symptoms not the underlying cause of the problem. The other most unfortunate side-effect of “correcting” warning signs is that your dog will learn to suppress warning signs, and go straight into fight mode. Have you ever heard people say “There was no warning, my dog just attacked!”? Corrections can teach dogs to suppress the warning sigs of aggression, but will NOT teach your dog not to be aggressive.
What to Do If Your Dogs Fight: Break the fight up, and separate the dogs for 2 or 3 minutes (or until they are calm) – now take them for a walk or in any environment that is most conducive to relaxation. Reintroducing dogs in a calm, controlled, positive fashion will ensure that neither dog will harbor resentment and make the rivalry worse.
Written by Alyssa Rose (Lapinel), Certified Professional Dog Trainer
Alyssa Rose owns and operates Legends Dog Training, based in San Diego, California. Go to: http://www.legendsdogtraining.com for more information about training services, including private training, 2-4 week board and train programs, and guided online training for those live throughout the country or abroad.
Beginning from the very FIRST SECOND that your dog enters your house they are absorbing information like a sponge. If you’re smart – you’ll take advantage of this time and get your dog off on the right paw. Here’s how:
#1: Housetraining – When bringing a new dog into your home NEVER assume that house training will carry over. (Dogs don’t generalize well) Allowing your dog the opportunity to have accidents in the house in the first few days may set the stage for months of potty problems. Get your dog on the right track on Day 1 by vowing to prevent any accidents from occurring. These next three tips may seem like a lot of work but will save you time and frustration in the long run! Here’s what you need to do for the first 2-3 days (minimum):
#2 Separation Preparation – We recommend creating a "safe space" for your dog to stay in when unsupervised. I recommend gating off a kitchen, and spending time to properly proof the area to make it safe and secure:
#3 Establish a Healthy Routine – Dogs thrive when given structure and clear-cut expectations. Sit down with your whole family and write up a list of “house rules” – your dog will thank-you for it! Here are some basic rules to consider implementing with your new dog.
#4 Learn About Your Dog – Read their body language, and take note of how your dog responds to different people, places, noises, environments etc. Be aware of your dog's emotional state, and avoid pushing your dog into situations that appear to generate chronic stress or anxiety. Be your dog's advocate. Being sensitive to your dog's limitations is the first step in developing a trusting relationship. Dismissing clear indicators of stress or anxiety is a sure fire way to create unwanted behavioral issues.
#5 Expose Your Dog to New "Stuff" Gradually – Go to big open parks where dogs have to be on leash (not a dog park!) where your dog can watch the world go by. Allowing your dog to see dogs and people in the distance is a great way to help your dog learn to be calm and minimize stress or arousal on leash. This allows for more gradual exposure to stimuli that could otherwise over-stimulate or over-whelm your dog.
Written by Alyssa Rose, CPDT-KA
Alyssa Rose owns and operates Legends Dog Training, based in San Diego, California. Go to: http://www.legendsdogtraining.com for more information about training services, including private training, 2-4 week board and train programs, and guided online training for those live throughout the country or abroad.
A person with dominance issues in dog training is easily identified. It's the type of person that believes that a dog needs to learn how to submit to the "pack leader." They might refer to themselves as being "alpha," or ask you obnoxious questions like, "who's alpha in your house?"
If a dog exhibits behavioral issues a person with dominance issues will likely advise that you roll the dog on his side, stare hard into his eyes, grab him by the scruff, poke him with your hand or heel, or use a swift correction on a slip collar, prong collar or remote electronic training collar.
Here are some tips for how to make it through these conversations without losing your cool, and simultaneously generating a healthy, open dialogue.
Step One: Listen to them.
I know this sounds unreasonable, our initial impulse is to attempt to correct what we perceive to be a dangerous mindset. Instead, take the time to better understand where they're coming from by generating some easy conversation about your mutual love of dogs.
Step Two: Look for common ground or close approximations.
Once you've listened to them you might find that there are some areas that you can agree on. Maybe the person enjoys hiking or camping with their dog, is impressed by working dogs that have been trained to a high level in scent detection or agility training or they owned a cattle dog once that loved to play fetch for hours on end. If you can relate to any of these things, chime in and start the conversation on common ground.
Step Three: Find their motivation.
Learn more about what makes them so passionate about dogs. Be genuine and ask questions. What motivated them to get a dog? Why did they choose that specific breed? What activities do they enjoy most in living with a dog? These activities are usually reinforcing to both the dog and to the person, so it can become a good talking point and will facilitate step four.
Step Four: Model exemplary training.
People need to see it work, to believe it. If you are a dog trainer, direct them to videos that you've created that demonstrates the power of positive reinforcement, or call in the artillery. Direct the person to a trainer that might "speak" to their specific training motivators. If they like working dogs - direct them to top notch positive reinforcement (R+) trainers that have reached high levels of training with their Malinois, German Shepherd, Border Collie, Kelpie or sight hound. If they are invested in helping and supporting the rescue community - connect them to a skilled R+ trainer that focuses on behavior modification. If its sport work they like, know the trainers that excel in their respective arenas.
Step Five: It's a process.
You won't change anyone's mindset in a single conversation, it could take years before a person is fully able to comprehend the limitless power of engaging a dog's mind and how it compares to the pitfalls of suppressing unwanted behavior. Don't dole out unwanted advice, or take a superior tone. We're all living and learning and there was probably a time that you shared a similar mindset on the importance of being "pack leader." Be respectful.
Pro Tip: If the conversation goes south and you begin to feel frustrated - bow out of the conversation gracefully. There's no such thing as "winning an argument."
"A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.
You can’t win an argument. You can’t because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it. Why? Well, suppose you triumph over the other man and shoot his argument full of holes and prove that he is non compos mentis. Then what? You will feel fine. But what about him? You have made him feel inferior. You have hurt his pride. He will resent your triumph." - Dale Carnegie
By Alyssa Rose (Lapinel), CPDT-KA
Certified Professional Dog Trainer based in San Diego, California. Alyssa is passionate about behavior modification. She has two dogs: a terrier mix named Beatrix and a hound mix named Fritz. Learn more by visiting Legends' website or connecting through social media:
Tell me if you've ever met a dog like this: A large, strong breed dog, that is social with people, that also happens to have sudden and intense episodes of manic play where they jump and bite at your clothing or arms. It's play, but it feels borderline aggressive. Dogs that exhibit this type of behavior are usually characterized by their strength and tenacity. Owners typically say that when they're calm, they're actually quite snugly. But when the dog exhibits one of these outbursts the owner is usually left feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, angry and in some cases... scared. In the aftermath of one of these episodes, people are left with long red welts, bruises and the occasional swollen lip.
This is different from typical jumping that occurs during greetings. While an excited greeter can still be frustrating, at least the behavior is predictable: it happens when family, friends or acquaintances walks through the front door and usually stops after about 5 or 10 minutes. The behavior that we're discussing in this post usually catches the owner off guard. The root of the problem is more complicated than it might first appear, the jumping typically occurs when dog becomes over-stimulated (fearful, anxious, aroused) by the environment or by changes in the environment. The dog can go from 0 to 60 in less than a second, and it takes substantially longer for the dog to "come back down" to calm.
I've found a few commonalities in dogs that exhibit this type of behavior:
HERE ARE 6 TRAINING TIPS FOR IMPULSIVE PLAYERS:
Training Tip #1: These dogs need problems to solve. Food puzzles are great, but it's even better if the problem solving becomes a bonding activity between you and your dog. Train them to a high level of fluency on calming behaviors (for example, settling on a training mat or dog bed, sitting or lying down on a variety of surfaces or heeling by your side). Start in a low stress, low distraction environment. Once your dog looks like an obedience super star in your house or backyard, gradually build up to more challenging environments. Remember that learning is an on-going process, there is always room for growth.
Question: What if my dog would rather jump and bite than engage in training for food?
Training Tip #2: Use your dog's breakfast and dinner for training. Animals spend the majority of their day working to acquire food. Even we spend the majority of our time working to put food on the table. It's how we use the majority of our mental and physical energy. Our domesticated dogs are given free meals. Sometimes we ask them to sit (or for some other trick) before meal time but that takes up the smallest fraction of their total energy. The excess mental and physical energy fuels the most common behavioral issues. If you want to do a better job of utilizing your dog's brain power you should get rid of your dog's food bowl, and start making them work for their food in training sessions. Your dog will thank you, and your relationship will flourish in ways you never thought possible.
Note: You should still opt for higher value (meaty) reinforcement whenever you're challenging your dog to learn a new behavior, or generalize a learned behavior to new distractions or environments.
Training Tip #3: This jumping/mouthing behavior is the result of a mis-directed effort to "play." Some of these dogs find playing with their toys to be less interesting/stimulating than jumping and mouthing at their owner's arm. Other dogs have no clue what to do with a dog toy, they've never learned how to play. We need to teach them. I personally have found that teaching dogs to play tug (click here for a video regarding rules of play for tug) with well outlined rules can be a very constructive way of teaching dogs to issue more impulse control, think through high arousal and learn to become more in tune to their owner's facial expressions and body language. However, many owners feel uncomfortable playing tug because it feels too similar to the very behavior that they're trying to un-train. If this is the case, you can also teach your dog to play structured games of fetch. Some dogs are natural retrievers, some are not. A good trainer can shape and build drive for this type of game if they effectively break down the sequence.
Training Tip #4: Instead of taking this type of dog to daycares or dog parks (where they are likely practicing unregulated, high arousal play) take your dog for hikes. The sights and scents of nature is great therapy. It can help recondition your dog to slow down. It's physical exercise that generally promotes a calm state of mind, and it's good for you too.
Training Tip #5: Consider conditioning your dog to a head halter or a muzzle. While the dog's intention may not be to cause injury, these outbursts can be dangerous and should be managed intelligently. A head halter or muzzle can add additional peace of mind when you're trying to proof or generalize their training in the presence of friends, family, young children, dogs or in high stimulation environments. When head halters and muzzles are properly conditioned they should not create additional stress, frustration or anxiety. A dog that paws incessantly at their halter or muzzle is not properly conditioned to wearing it.
Training Tip #6: Contact a trainer to help create and implement a solid training plan. If you live in San Diego you can go to sandiegodogtrainers.org, if you live elsewhere in the United States you can go to ccpdt.com to find a certified trainer in your area, and if you live abroad you can find a qualified trainer at imdt.uk.com
Written by Alyssa Lapinel of Legends Dog Training. Legends Dog Training is based in San Diego, California and offers group classes by Mt. Woodson (border between Poway and Ramona), private lessons and skype consultations. Go to www.legendsdogtraining.com to learn more about training services.
The acquisition of food shapes behavior. Birds, lions, foxes, wolves, bees, ants, bears, deer.. learn and practice behaviors that result in the acquisition of viable food. Their ability to forage, track, chase and hunt are all behaviors that are constantly being fine tuned by daily successes and failures. Not only does the acquisition of food shape behavior, but it also regulates emotional responses, strengthens bonds for those species that live within social constructs and enhances problem solving skills. In essence it is what makes them mentally and physically fit for survival.
Taking all this into account, it's easy to see why feeding dogs in a dog bowl leaves a lot of empty space for bad habits to develop. The mental and physical energy that would normally be utilized by the dog's brain and body, fuels the most common behavioral issues: reactivity, fear, anxiety, aggression and hyper-activity. Using food for training and enrichment should be an everyday occurrence. Training with food is an enriching activity that gives your dog something to think about, problems to solve and fortifies the human-canine bond. It nourishes them mentally, physically and emotionally.
Written by Alyssa Lapinel, CPDT-KA
First things first: if your dog has a pulse then your dog is indeed food motivated. There are three possible reasons for a dog that is not excited about food.
1. The dog is overfed. Small breeds are probably most prone to being overfed. They have tiny tummies. The dehydrated food that most people feed is packed with calories and expands in a dog's stomach. Regardless of dog's size; use a lined measuring cup to ascertain the correct quantity of food. Pick up any food not eaten within 10 minutes. If your dog regularly walks away from their food, then the amount that you are offering is probably more than their daily caloric need. Reduce the quantity accordingly.
2. Your dog is stressed. Chronic stress can suppress a dog's appetite. This leads most people to leave food out throughout the day, which can exacerbate the problem. Keep your dog on a feeding schedule. If your dog walks away from their food bowl, be sure to pick it up. Talk to a professional trainer that will help teach you how to build your dog's confidence, and minimize his or her day to day stress.
3. Your dog is sick. A sudden loss of appetite or change in eating habits could be an indication that your dog should be brought to the vet. This will be easier to spot in a dog that is already on a healthy feeding schedule.
There are studies that show that small quantities of food are more effective at stimulating an animal's appetite than a larger quantity of the same food. Biologically, brains are programmed to be suspicious of foods that are offered in abundance. With this in mind, here's a tip that will get your dog excited about meal time: measure out the ideal quantity of food for the day based on your dog's weight, age and activity, and offer it in smaller portions throughout the day.
Written by Alyssa Lapinel, CPDT-KA
Alyssa is founder and head trainer of Legends Dog Training, based in San Diego, CA. She offers private sessions and group classes in San Diego, as well as, skype consultations. Go to www.legendsdogtraining.com for more information about training services.
I love stories. It's one of the reasons that I decided to call my dog training business "Legends Dog Training." It comes from Paulo Coelho's book, The Alchemist, and supports the idea that training opens doors for dogs, helping them to fulfill their legend by making them a bigger part of our day to day life. Every dog has a legend to be fulfilled and a story to be told.
My dogs (past and present) have come from very different backgrounds. Each has a very different personality. Each have brought immeasurable happiness into my life for different reasons, and each one has presented their own specific challenges. Embracing their personalities, and working through challenges has built lasting, unbreakable bonds.
Written by Alyssa Lapinel, a certified professional dog trainer that owns and operates Legends Dog Training based in San Diego, California. Alyssa specializes in behavior modification programs for dogs that exhibit anxious, fearful, impulsive or aggressive behavior. Alyssa also conducts puppy classes to make sure that puppies get off to the strongest start possible. Go to http://www.legendsdogtraining.com to learn more about private lessons, group classes, skype sessions and board and trains.
Demanding Attention: How Does it Start?
Most bad habits start off seemingly benign. Your dog whimpers and you ask him if he wants to go for a walk. Your dog barks and you ask him "what's wrong?" Your dog lifts his paw on you to ask for a pet .. so you pet him. Some people even encourage it: they want their puppy to paw at the door when he wants to go outside. It's hard to imagine that these behaviors could become problematic down the road.
The Problem Snowballs
The problem starts to build when you are on the phone, or watching a movie, eating dinner or sleeping in. The behavior is the same, but the context has changed. Your dog whimpers, barks, paws at your leg or at the door - but you're busy - so you ignore him. He doesn't get what he's accustomed to getting, so he persists. The whining becomes louder, the barking becomes more demanding, the pawing becomes more insistent. Rinse and repeat over several months and the intensity of the problem behavior can reach Himalayan proportions. As a dog trainer I see many dogs throw fits of frustration; barking for 5, 10, 15 minutes straight or leaving long red welts down the owners leg from incessant pawing. This does not make for a happy dog or a happy owner.
All you really want is to relax and watch a movie, eat your dinner in peace, get some extra sleep or finish your phone call without the sound of your dog's bark echoing through the house. What do you do? Most people attempt one of three scenarios: Scenario 1: Appeasement. The owner finds something, anything, to appease their dog's demands Scenario 2: Verbal Reprimands. The owner yells "no!" or "quiet!" or pushes their dog away. Scenario 3: Physical Punishment. The owner attempts to punish the behavior by using "time outs," shaker cans, citronella sprays, water spray bottles, and correction collars - and both the dog and owner suffer from the unintended side-effects.
Scenario #1: Appeasement - reinforces your dog's demanding behavior.
Scenario #2: Verbal reprimands - amplifies your dog's frustration and reinforces your dog's demanding behavior (negative attention is still attention).
Scenario #3: Punishment - your dog develops a callous to the punishment, your relationship suffers and the problem worsens or manifests into other more serious behavioral issues.
How Do you Address This Type of Demanding Behavior?
Tip # 1: Create a Schedule
Don't wait for your dog to "tell you" that he has to go potty, or that he wants to play a game. Anticipate your dog's day to day needs and initiate these interactions. Wake him up from a nap to go for a walk, provide pre-planned potty breaks throughout the day, surprise him with a fun game of tug when he's relaxing on his dog bed. Not only does this reinforce calm behavior, but it shows him that he never has to become pushy, because all of his mental and physical needs are routinely satiated. Be pre-emptive. If your three month old puppy cries at 3am every morning because she has to go potty, then set an alarm for a 2am potty trip. If you have a high energy dog that gets boisterous every night at 7pm, then schedule a train and play session for 5pm. If you know that your dog routinely barks for attention every time you're on the phone, then provide a bully stick, stuffed kong or other high value chew before the phone call or the barking ever begins. Leading your dog through a healthy routine is the secret to raising a dog that knows when to play and when to settle. You and your dog will become more in-tune with one and other and everyone wins.
Tip # 2: Train Your Dog With Positive Reinforcement
The great thing about positive reinforcement training is that it teaches dogs to be calm and patient in order to get things that they love most: food, walks, attention, playtime. It strengthens trust and communication, and is the foundation of a healthy relationship. With good training technique you can use positive reinforcement methods to train a high level of impulse control. Click here for training videos that demonstrate impulse control exercises. Training dogs to offer a calm sit and a calm down will provide a polite alternative to the "temper tantrums" that a dog might traditionally default to when he or she becomes frustrated.
How Do I Respond When My Dog Does Become Demanding?
Be patient, and remember that your dog probably has a strong reinforcement history for those demanding behaviors and they will not disappear over night. The best thing to do is to provide an LRS "least reinforcing scenario." When your dog offers the undesired behavior, wait for 3 seconds of calm, and then provide your dog an easy opportunity for reinforcement. Ask your dog for a behavior that you know will come relatively easy to him, and then reinforce. You are reinforcing the absence of the undesired behavior. Piggyback on those few seconds of calm by providing a food toy, or high value chew to keep your dog occupied. This will not necessarily teach your dog not to demand attention, but it will manage the behavior so that he doesn't have the opportunity to practice being pushy. The tips provided above will help to over-ride demanding behavior. For serious cases, enlist the help of a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, and create and implement a behavior modification plan.
It is easier to prevent undesired behavior, with that in mind, puppies should be enrolled in positive reinforcement training classes or private lessons at an early age and owner's should consciously create a healthy routine that satiates their puppy's individual mental and physical needs.
This article was written by Alyssa Lapinel, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Behavior Consultant. She is the founder and head trainer of Legends Dog Training, based in San Diego, California. She offers private lessons, group classes and skype training programs. Go to www.legendsdogtraining.com for more information about training services.
Alyssa Rose, CPDT-KA
Certified by the Council for Professional Dog Trainers