Author Archives: renee

Separation Anxiety

Separation Anxiety is one of the most complicated behavioral issues dogs can develop. Separation Anxiety (SA) is an emotional disorder. Dogs are such social beings, and when we bring them into our homes and expect them to be alone for up to 8 hours, 5 days a week, it can sometimes be very taxing on them. To make things worse, we don’t realize our dog is suffering from anxiety because we’re too quick to get angry at them for making a huge mess in our house. People come home from work and discover their dog has eliminated in the crate, or all over the house. People are shocked to see their dog ripped into the pillows of their sofa and chairs and there is pillow-stuffing all over the house. Dogs with SA commonly chew the walls and woodwork around windows and doorways! Some dogs are so anxious to escape their crates, they will actually break their teeth trying to escape through the wires of it, or they will chew a hole in the airline-carrier crate to get out. Dogs with SA can bark or whine for hours throughout the day causing the neighbors to complain.

Many of my clients exclaim “My dog knew he did wrong because when I told him he was bad, he looked guilty. She cowered and ran behind the sofa!” NOOOooo! Dogs do not feel guilt! Cowering and running away is an attempt to escape your anger. Reprimanding only increases the anxiety. This can happen over and over again, but the dog only continues its destruction and elimination.

Let me give you a few reasons dogs develop SA so you’ll have a better understanding of how this disorder can happen:

  • You are a teacher and are home all summer. You figure this would be a great time to get a puppy because you’d have plenty of time to spend with her. Then… you go back to work in the fall.
  • Your teenage daughter always takes your dog for a walk and plays with him when she gets home from school. She’s graduated from high school and just left for college. Your dog is alone now for several additional hours until you come home.
  • Grandpop has lived with you and your family for many years. Your little dog loves him and spends hours sitting on his lap everyday. Sadly, Grandpop passes away.
  • You and your family move to a new home. You spend a week getting settled in and then go back to work. When you return home, you’re shocked to see the dog has chewed all around the wall and woodwork of the front door and insulation is exposed.
  • You adopt a beautiful dog from the shelter and spend a 3-day weekend with her. On Monday… you go back to work.
  • You purchase 2 littermate puppies and are so impressed with how close they are. You make sure to put them both in the same crate, and they are together 24/7. Sometime later one of the dogs needs to go to the vet, and the other dog winds up having a major panic attack! The same thing can happen when adopting 2 shelter or rescue dogs at the same time. They can bond and their over-the-top closeness is encouraged.
  • Shelter dogs commonly develop SA!

I will follow-up with another article offering some ideas to help dogs suffering from Separation Anxiety.

 

 

TRAINING DOGS WITH RANDOM REWARDS.

A common complaint people have when training their dogs using food rewards is, “my dog won’t do anything that I ask him to unless I have food in my hand!” Well, first you have to ask yourself if you’ve trained your dog to follow a cue while you’re showing him a piece of food. If you have that food right in front of the dog’s face, your dog will learn food is part of the entire cue for doing that particular behavior. That’s why he isn’t following your request when you omit that part of the cue. Think of that food as a paycheck. Nobody gets paid on Monday morning before they do their job, right?

Ask your dog to do something simple, like “Sit.” If he sits for you, bring that food out either from behind your back, or from out of the sink, or have someone else hand you that food that was hidden from view. Do a few easy repetitions of having your dog sit, and reward with a treat. Then ask him to do something a little harder, but make sure it is an already-trained behavior. Produce the food reward as I just suggested. This should do the trick with future training.

Figure out what behavior(s) your dog is excelling at, and begin putting that behavior on a “Random Reinforcement Schedule.” Have you ever sat in front of a slot machine? If you have, you know that sometimes the machine pays you, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes we might win 50 cents and sometimes we might win 50 dollars. A random reinforcement schedule is based on the “Slot Machine Principle” which states, “sometimes you get paid and sometimes you don’t!” Atlantic City makes a fortune because of this principle. Trust me, I know because I get hooked every time I’m down the shore 🙁

Keep in mind, however, that if your dog does a behavior perfectly in the kitchen, he needs to learn that same behavior in many different places inside your home. Dogs do not generalize well unless it’s a traumatic experience! Then go outside and begin to train that behavior right near the house, then further down the driveway. You’re now adding the distraction factor to your training.

I’m going to give you a random reinforcement schedule below to help get you started. You can then develop your own random schedules as your dog gets further along with other types of rewards. These subsequent schedules should use less and less food treats and more of other types of rewards. Make a list of all the things your dog loves and use them in your Random Reinforcement Schedules.

Ideas for other types of rewards could be:

  • Praise
  • A short game of Tug
  • A short chase game (he chases you)
  • A short game of frisbee
  • A chance to chase a squirrel
  • Fetching a squeaky toy
  • Applause
  • Petting

Here are two samples of Random Reinforcement Schedules. The numbers listed are those times that a dog does a behavior in which he is rewarded with food. All other times are rewarded with alternatives.

1, 3, 6, 8, 9, 10, 13, 15, 16,18, 21, 22, 23, 26.

Here’s one more to follow:
2, 4, 7, 10, 12, 13, 15, 18, 19, 20, 22, 25, 26.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT SHELTER DOG TO ADOPT

Do your research first! You want to make the proper selection by researching the breed(s) that may work well for your family’s lifestyle. Two very helpful books to help you figure out which breed (or mixed breed) to adopt for your family’s lifestyle are: Animal Planet’s “Complete Guide to Dog Breeds” by Diane Morgan (available in paper and digital (ibooks), and “Meet Your Dog,” by Kim Brophey (available online in e-book and also as audio). Nothing is 100% guaranteed, but this sure is a good way to get started before you walk through the shelters.

The problem with going to the shelter prior to doing your research is… you will fall in love with a dog! It’s very easy for all of us to make an impulsive decision. This happens a lot, and then within the first couple of weeks, adopters may already be feeling remorseful about having made a bad choice. Doing your research and making good decisions can prevent you from having to return a dog back to the shelter. 

Observe the dog’s behavior and demeanor with everyone in your family. When you’re observing the dogs in their cages, look for the dog that seems happy and excited to see all of you.  However, some dogs can’t stop barking because they’re so anxious and miserable in that environment. It’s a good idea to ask to meet and interact with a dog outside where he’s feeling less confined.

I know it’s very sad to see a dog hunkered down at the back of the kennel, but I would avoid that dog unless you are experienced working and living with very fearful, and possibly aggressive dogs. Don’t think that your love will cure him and all will be fine!

Remember that there is always a ‘honeymoon period’ when adopting a dog. That honeymoon normally lasts anywhere between 2 weeks and 6 months (I adopted a dog years ago that took one solid year before I learned exactly who he was). Little by little your new dog will eventually show some behaviors that you hadn’t seen before. As he becomes more secure in his new home and environment, and as you develop a relationship with him (based on trust!), he will become the dog he was. This is why early on, you must train your new rescue with positive methods! You must set some rules (sit for everything he wants and all food, and no attention on demand), create some boundaries from the start (no sleeping in your bed for at least a year!), and no spoiling tactics because his past life was most likely very bad!

Watch for soft body language when considering a dog. Is the dog playful? Does he seem happy to be around you, your husband and your children? If he seems anxious during your entire visit, but you still like him, try coming back the next day or at least a second time. He may remember you and feel calmer. I visited my last dog at the shelter 3 times! I also walked him each time. If you want to do that, and a shelter staffer says that “you’d better decide because other people are interested in him,” don’t feel under pressure! Take your time!

Is he very quiet? Quiet doesn’t mean he’s a calm dog or that he will be calm always.  Many times those quiet dogs are actually “shut down” from being extremely stressed or having gone through some trauma. This is called “learned helplessness.” They’ve lost their home and are now in a very anxiety-producing environment. Again, come back and meet him a second time!

Does he accept petting from you and your family? When you are petting him, does he maintain that friendly demeanor, or does he freeze? Some dogs do have handling issues. To help that dog, he will need some behavior modification training.

Sometimes adopted dogs are fearful around men and have a difficult time adjusting to them after adoption. Make sure all the males in your family are with you when you make this very important decision to bring a dog home. I’ve met families who adopted a dog when the husband was on a business trip at the time. Or, the husband was at work and came home later in the evening after the dog had been there for several hours. What a disaster that can be! Dogs can see this “new person” as an intruder!

Do You Already Have a Dog? If you do, you’ll need to bring that dog to the shelter to see if your dog and the prospective new dog get along. Remember that nothing is 100% guaranteed. Sometimes dogs will play with each other at the shelter, but once they’re home and together, squabbles can occur, often due to competition for owner-attention or other resources.  Your dogs will need you to provide excellent guidance and leadership skills to keep peace between the dogs at all times.

When determining if both dogs are going to get along at home, an obvious red flag would be that one or both immediately show inappropriate behavior during their initial meeting. Another red flag to look for is if one or both completely ignore the other.  Ignoring doesn’t mean things are fine and dandy.  It means there’s a problem!  Don’t assume that things will change once the adoption is finalized. Also, don’t let anyone at the shelter try to convince you that everything will eventually work out, even when you see these red flags! The truth is, there is never a guarantee that those dogs will accept one another later on!  What you see is potentially what you can get! You don’t want to experience the heartache of returning the dog.

If you already live with a female dog, consider adopting a male. More than one female in the house can a bit risky because serious fights can break out. They don’t call them “bitches” for nothing 😉  If you already have a male and you want another male, the risk is not quite as high as two females, but you may see some competitive behaviors and/or urine marking in the house once they’re living together. If you already have two males living successfully in the home, the best dog to adopt would be a female.

When you bring your new dog home, and you do have another or more dogs, keep the new dog behind a gate for at least 1 week. When feeding your dogs, let them see each other during meals through that gate!

Walk your new dog with your resident dogs (1 at a time if more than 1) preferably with a second handler. One dog walks behind the other and then switch that up. Each dog will become familiar with the other dog’s scent and will get more and more comfortable with him. Place a towel or sheet that has your resident dog’s scent on it and place it in your new dog’s crate (do the same with your own dog). When you feel it’s safe to allow the new dog to interact with your resident dog(s), keep a short leash tab attached to each of their collars in case you have to quickly re-direct one of them. If everything seems okay, supervise them when they’re together for a week or two. Don’t rush any of this!

Be sure to ask questions about the dog you’re thinking of adopting.  Here are a few suggested questions you might ask:

  1. What history do you have on this dog’s past?
  2. Was he or she an owner surrender? If so, what were the reasons the owner brought him to the shelter? More often than not, former owners avoid stating the reason or they lie.
  3. Was the dog a stray? If so, he may be an escape artist, so you’ll need a secure fence (not invisible).
  4. How long has the dog been at the shelter? Dogs that spend several months to a year in a shelter can deteriorate over time (especially Pitties). They haven’t been in a normal home environment for a long time, and have experienced a lot of stress. Your prospective dog may need extra time to adjust to your home and you’ll need a lot of patience and understanding during that adjustment period.
  5. Has he ever been adopted out and then returned? Hopefully, the shelter staff will know why he was re-surrendered. If the dog was returned because he bit someone or because he couldn’t get along with someone in the family, you’ll need to seriously consider those reasons before making your final adoption. Please remember, it is a heartbreaking experience to return a dog!
  6. Did anyone at the shelter do a temperament test on a dog you want to adopt? Unfortunately, I’m learning that several shelters are no longer doing temperament tests.
  7. The most significant part of temperament testing is to find out if the dog guards his food, bones, toys or people (known as resource guarding). Dogs can guard anything. Ask someone to test the dog before taking him home. Resource guarding requires some behavior modification, so you’ll need help with this and it isn’t something to punish!!!
  8. If you have a cat, some shelters state they cat-test the dog and he was fine. I caution you against adopting a hunting dog or herding dog if you already have a cat! 

Once you make a decision to adopt a dog, seriously consider taking your new dog to a group training class early on if he’s comfortable around other dogs. My recommendation would be to attend classes at Wonderdogs in West Berlin, NJ (www.wonderdogs.com). If you find that your new dog has any serious issues (biting, resource guarding, separation anxiety, leash reactivity, etc.), consider hiring a positive reinforcement Certified Behavior Consultant who is very experienced in doing behavior modification. Positive training is critically important. Your trainer can help you resolve serious issues early on.

My last blog was titled, “Advice to Adopters of Shelter or Rescue Dogs.” It’s a little bit further down my Facebook page and also on my blog page. I strongly recommend you read this also!

Good luck 🙂

Copyright: Renee Premaza, 2018

ADVICE TO ADOPTERS OF SHELTER OR RESCUE DOGS

Very often, when we adopt dogs from shelters or rescue organizations, we wind up feeling sorry for them. We spend much of our time trying to make up for all the bad times they may have experienced before they found us.  Please read the following advice and information as it is very important for us to set our new dogs up for success in their new homes.

  • Avoid pitying your newly rescued dog or he will become and remain pitiable forever!
  • Gradually introduce her to friends and family members within the first 2 days and continue socializing.
  • Dogs have no morals. They will not know proper behavior unless they’re taught how to behave appropriately in your home.
  • Begin training your dog in obedience and manners shortly after adopting.
  • Often there’s a honeymoon period lasting from 2 weeks to 6 months before the dog feels comfortable enough to be himself. Expect to see some changes in his behavior as time goes by and he becomes more confident that your home is his home.
  • Your dog may feel stressed for awhile. He may be pretty quiet reserved.
  • Assume that s/he may have housetraining accidents.
  • Crating a dog is not cruel. Dogs usually enjoy the feeling of being in a den. But rescues may not be able to accept crating.
  • Beginning on her 2nd day home, teach your dog to be alone for short periods of time, and then lengthen those periods a little each day. If you do not do this, you could create a dog who panics if he’s alone!
  • Avoid all physical and verbal punishment! Harsh punishment interrupts all learning & creates distrust.
  • If you discover your rescue has a serious issue, get professional help as soon as possible!
  • Never let your dog think that your hands are weapons OR chew toys!
  • Always acknowledge good behavior, either with treats, toys, praise or petting. That’s how he will learn what you expect from him.
  • Do not compare your new dog with any dogs you had previously! Dogs are not clones of one another.
  • Feed your dog twice a day and provide fresh water all day long.
  • Walk your dog twice a day, even if you have a fenced backyard. Walks provide both physical and mental stimulation. Allow her to sniff her new world.
  • Do not leave your dog out in the yard unsupervised, especially in the beginning.
  • Never leave your dog chained or tethered unless you are right with him!
  • Do not allow your dog to bark or chase people along your fence line. Bring him inside.
  • Have reasonable expectations. Dogs do not have human reasoning ability!
  • Do not spoil him by allowing him up on furniture or to sleep in your bed! This privilege can be given only after she learns how to behave politely through positive obedience training.
  • Teach your children to respect your dog. Do not let them pull tails or ears or sit on your dog.
  • Give your children a dog-free safety zone to play with their toys or run around.
  • Provide your dog with a kid-free safety zone to rest and/or enjoy a favorite chew toy.
  • Supervise your children and involve them, if possible, with your dog’s training.
  • If you have a baby, never allow ANY dog to be on the floor with your baby! Remember, dogs do not have morals. If baby grabs, pulls or throws a toy, your new rescue may not accept that!
  • Be patient with your newly adopted dog. Most times there is little or no known previous history about rescues. Set her up for success by training her and providing the necessary mental and physical exercise that ALL dogs need every day.

Physical Exercise and Mental Stimulation for Dogs

As a dog trainer, I’m always reminding my clients about the importance of exercising their dogs. But physical exercise alone isn’t always quite enough, especially with breeds such as the Border Collie or Australian Shepherd, or  Jack Russell Terrier. Retrievers and Terrier breeds come with with their own batteries that are on the charger all day long! Most of our dogs were bred to work. We have herding dogs, hunting dogs, protection dogs, flock guardian dogs, sled dogs, etc. It’s alarming when people tell me they don’t have to take their dogs out for walks because they have a backyard to run and play. Relying on the backyard to provide exercise stops all socialization since there is zero interaction with the world at large. That means the dog never gets to see or play with other dogs, s/he never gets to greet the neighbors or see children of all ages, s/he never gets used to hearing traffic or seeing moms walking their babies in strollers. Isolating dogs causes boredom, fearfulness and sometimes aggression.

Here are some ideas to get your dogs to be more active, and also to help them use their brains:

  • Sports Activities (Agility, Flyball, Canine Musical Freestyle, Tracking, Dock Diving, Lure Coursing, Sheep or Duck Herding, Hiking).
  • Group Training Classes (AKC Canine Good Citizen, Pet Therapy, Tricks, Rally-Obedience, Nosework).
  • Best Toy for Super High-Energy and Herding Dogs (Flirt Pole) See video below.

If you live around South Jersey, check out some of these sports activities and group classes at Wonderdogs in West Berlin, NJ: http://www.wonderdogs.com/store/scripts/index.asp

See for yourself how much fun you and your dogs can have. Fetch games are okay, but dogs actually become stressed when they play fetch for too long! Yes, Really! Look at some of these terrific ideas how to physically and mentally exercise your dog:

  1. Here is a video showing dogs having the time of their lives doing Flyball: https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=mcafee&p=youtube+videos+of+flyball#id=2&vid=8ac55be219183275308a0053e91c0042&action=click
  2. Watch how these dogs are being taught to do Nosework: https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=mcafee&p=nosework+videos#id=24&vid=5941d5737cd668dbcab204d3211b6a49&action=view
  3. This is a beginner doing Rally Obedience: https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=mcafee&p=videos+of+rally+obedience#id=1&vid=78dbaec77bbf1646d7730d8e6324f1b3&action=click
  4. Watch how beautiful Canine Freestyle is: https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=mcafee&p=canine+musical+freestyle#id=4&vid=dddeaead4b481ea863e73c11087d84e2&action=view
  5. If you have a Sight Hound, try doing Lure Coursing: https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=mcafee&p=video+of+lure+coursing#id=2&vid=30b748f2c5f4bb9e37d67ec721b9082b&action=click
  6. Here is a video showing how to use the Flirt Pole: https://vimeo.com/26279876
  7. Have you heard about the Kong Wobbler? Watch this video of Louis, The Dog Toy Critic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-9Q0_BPUHM
  8. Have you heard about the Snuffle Mat? Watch this video of Louis, The Dog Toy Critic: https://beaglefanclub.com/dog-toy-critic/
  9. One of my favorite games to recommend is called The Muffin Tin Game. Watch this video: https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=mcafee&p=videos+of+muffin+tin+games+with+puppies#id=6&vid=8c5037c6d7a2ca3aac687fd2e964e078&action=view
  10. Make your dog’s meal a hunting expedition. Take his bowl of food out on your lawn (grass should be cut short. Ask your dog to sit and stay. Take out a few kibbles from the bowl and toss them on the lawn. Tell him to “Go Find It!” Make it easy for him to find them at first. Call him back to you and place her back in a sit/stay. This time take a slightly larger amount of kibble out of the bowl and toss them over a  larger area, but it should still be easy for him to find his food. Once he knows the name of this game, It shouldn’t take too long before your dog learns how to hunt for his food. I promise she’ll love it!

This is just a small sampling of how to provide very fun and stimulating activities for your dog. I hope you like them!