Sibling Rivalry

One of the most difficult issues to deal with is two dogs (related or not) that can’t get along but have to live together. Sometimes the issues are sporadic and sometimes the dogs can’t even see one another. This causes the dogs as well as their families a huge amount of stress.

Situations of intra-household aggression can vary drastically and it’s important to not let dogs work it out on their own. One instance of aggression can turn into a cycle where the dogs either fight or one dog is bullied and as a result has a poor quality of life.

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Many owners often describe these issues as coming out of no where but that’s generally not the case. Many times aggression can be caused by one of the following:

  • A medical issue in one of the dogs (diagnosed or unknown)
  • Resource guarding food, toys, humans, sleeping areas, water bowls, etc.
  • Over excitement caused by the doorbell, dogs walking by the home, etc.
  • Extreme attention seeking behaviour often described by owners as “jealously”
  • Lack of appropriate exercise and activities
  • An adolescent dog and a senior dog testing out the changing dynamics in their relationship
  • Siblings (aggression among siblings is extremely common and makes up about 50% of the intra-household aggression cases I see). I highly recommend never getting siblings or even two dogs of the same age to help prevent this from occurring.

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Here are a few suggestions for immediate relief however I strongly recommend contacting an experienced trainer to work with you and your dogs. It’s very difficult to see the whole picture when it’s your own pets.

  1. Feed dogs separately – this goes for meals, treats and bones
  2. Ensure dogs have multiple places to drink, sleep and play so they can have their own space if they desire it
  3. Give older dogs a break from high energy dogs. I recommend naps for puppies and even just separating dogs into different spaces for down time throughout the day
  4. Don’t ever leave dogs alone together who have a history of aggression. Issues can blow up when you’re not around to stop them
  5. Keep toys put away unless the dogs can share them nicely. If a dispute occurs remove the toy immediately from all dogs
  6. Ensure your dogs have adequate exercise and have a chance to do relaxation activities like smelling when out and about
  7. Spend one on one time with each of your dogs every single day
  8. Consider taking a class with your dog to get them out and trying something new
  9. Establish strong obedience with each dog so that they can be asked to move away from one another and settle in a selected spot
  10. Don’t ever allow dogs to work it out on their own. Even a non-injury causing fight damages the relationship and will increase the likelihood of an ongoing issue

jasperheidi

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Loose Leash Walking – I’m in Charge Right?

There’s this common prevalent myth that if your dog walks nicely on leash then you are the leader and all behaviour problems will disappear. I don’t know WHY people believe this but they do. Loose leash walking is incredibly important to people so here’s some realities about it and how to get it!

  1. Whether your dog pulls on leash or not will not predict how well they behave in other situations. For example just because my dog walks well on leash doesn’t mean he’s friendly or just because my dog doesn’t walk well on leash doesn’t mean she’s not well trained in other areas.
  2. Loose leash walking is extremely difficult for certain dogs depending on their energy level, confidence and natural gait speed. For example I never taught my French Bulldog how to walk nicely on leash – she was naturally good at it because she was shy and liked to stay close me. On the other hand it was very hard to teach both my Australian Shepherd and Pointer to walk nicely on leash because they are friendly, outgoing and move quickly.

Now whether your dog is a natural or not most people like to have a dog that can walk well on leash. It’s an important skill in certain situations so I teach it to all my dogs.

Key considerations:

  1. Teach your dog where you want them to walk. I teach my dogs to walk in heel position on my left side. However you could easily teach your dog to walk on your right side. Pick a side and teach your dog that that spot is desirable. I do this by dropping treats or toys every time they are in the heeling “zone”. My dogs realize cool things happen there and they start to hang out in that zone. I find teaching them to heel off leash first is actually easier.

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  1. I add movement to the zone. We take a few steps and the reward falls. My dogs soon realize the zone moves with me.
  2. I never allow my dogs to pull me on leash. Every time they move forward when they pull they are reinforced for it. I’ll wait patiently or go the other way.
  3. I practice loose leash walking A LOT with hard to train dogs. This means at least 5-10 minutes every day and it can take A LONG TIME.
  4. I exercise my dogs off leash as much as possible so they can run, smell and burn off energy. Heeling all the time is no way to exercise my hyper boys. It does work well for my senior, small girls though.
  5. Having a dog that heels on leash will not fix aggression, reactivity, resource guarding, poor greeting behaviour or recall. It will however allow you to walk your dog comfortable on leash – that’s all! If you have other behaviour issues then you need to work on those issue directly.
  6. I do believe certain pieces of equipment can help with loose leash walking. I recommend harnesses particularly ones like the Freedom Harness or a head halter like the Gentle Leader.

russheeling

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Just Knee Him In The Chest

I was out for a nice walk with my family the other day. We have this great park with an ocean view that we all like to check out.

The spot was full of people and their dogs. The area is supposed to be an on leash area but as most rules go some people decided to have their dogs off leash anyway. Not a great practice but not bothersome to us.

At one point a really friendly, medium sized dog approached our group. The dog was off leash and quite young. My step daughter asked the owner if she could pet her dog and the lady said of course. She said her dog loves children. My step daughter went to pet the dog and the dog jumped on her. It’s not a huge deal as my step daughter is well versed in dogs and simply asked the dog to sit. This didn’t however stop the owner from requesting that my child knee her dog in the chest! She was quite sure this would stop the dog from jumping up.

This is one of those moments where the dog trainer in me just goes crazy. Some of the thoughts that run through my head:

  • She’s asking my child to be physically violent to a dog
  • She’s asking my child to train her dog for her
  • She’s willing to allow her dog to be injured
  • She’s not using a leash and yet she’s concerned about her dog jumping on us
  • She hasn’t moved an inch to call her dog or come get her dog since he’s jumping up

So after all those thoughts went through my head we went on our way. However that means there’s this big gap in knowledge that the average pet owner might not know – how do you train a dog to stop jumping on a person?

Well there’s not one perfect way. There’s a method I use that works pretty great though. We teach the dog to sit.

It’s simple. It’s effective. It’s what we all want. Now why didn’t she think of that? Most likely because training a dog to do what we want is harder than punishing a dog for doing something we don’t want them to do. I find that most people are willing to focus on the problem rather than the solution. So any time you have an issue with your dog ask yourself this: what would you like your dog to do instead? And then teach them what you want.

Here are my steps for teaching a dog to greet politely:

  1. Teach my dog how to sit on cue (hand signal plus verbal command)
  2. Teach my dog how to sit on cue with distractions around
  3. Teach my dog to sit on cue every time a person walks by
  4. Teach my dog to stay
  5. Teach my dog to stay with distractions
  6. Teach my dog to sit and stay while people walk by
  7. Teach my dog to sit and stay while I pet him/her
  8. Teach my dog to sit and stay while other people we know pet him/her
  9. Teach my dog to sit and stay while strangers pet him/her
  10. Teach my dog a great recall in case he/she is ever about to jump up

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It looks like a lot of work but honestly it isn’t that hard. If you need help then find a great positive reinforcement trainer to work with you on sit and stay. They are crucial life skills for dogs. You could even do a great stand stay if you don’t want to ask for a sit at all.

And without further ado here’s a great article by Stanley Coren on how to keep a dog from jumping on people. Click here for article. Just in case you want to learn more about this topic.

Please never ever ask someone to injure your dog in order to train them. Whether it be yourself or a stranger this isn’t a safe or an effective way to train your pet.

puppysit

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The First Thing I Teach A Dog

Whether it’s a puppy or an adult dog there’s one common thing that I teach them first. This is pretty much the most important foundation skill. And now that we’ve had all this build up:

I teach them their name and that looking at me when I ask them makes good things happen. I even teach this when I have a foster dog who already “knows” their name.

If a dog can’t look at you when you need them to then you’re not going to get anything else from them. It has the added bonus of creating a positive association with me and kind of kicks off the beginning of a recall.

You can do this using your dog’s food, treats or toys. Anything works as long as your dog wants it. Motivation changes from dog to dog so don’t assume they all want the same thing.

I start off working in a quiet space inside my house. Just my newbie and me. I call the dog’s name once. If the dog looks at me on their own great – I say “Yes” and reward with said treat, kibble or toy. If the dog doesn’t look then I lure up from their nose to my eyes. As soon as they are looking up near my eyes I say “Yes” and reward.

Now some people think – this is silly the dog is just looking at that treat near your eyes. Well that’s where we start. I do this around 5 times and then I stop luring. I wait for the dog to select my face. You’ll be amazed how quickly they pick this up!

I practice this several times a day for around 5 minutes each time. As the dog gets better at it I increase the distractions and change up the environment. We will practice it all around the house, yard and on walks. Sometimes when there’s dogs or people near too.

Before long you have a dog that is extremely responsive to their name.

As you can see in this photo Marco is focused 100% on me while my mentor and coach  was giving me instructions in our Companion Dog Obedience class when he was still under 1 year old. Name attention keeps your dog out of trouble and ready to do what you ask of them next be it – sit, down, stay or come. Marco’s reward in this photo is his ball. He will do anything for his ball and it’s a great motivator.

marco-focus

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New Puppy? How to Prepare

I’m getting a new puppy so I have puppy brain – and that means some pretty puppy centric posts coming your way!

I have 7 weeks to go before she arrives and here’s what I’m doing to get ready.

  • I have designed a training plan for her to cover house training, basic obedience, kennel games and interactive feeding (these are all things I teach people in an private training session either before or right after they get their own puppy)
  • I have found a great positive reinforcement agility class for her to attend that will tailor the exercises to be safe for puppies – this is important because I want to work with her around other dogs in a formal environment and I want to get her started on the foundations for agility
  • I’ve also made a list of equipment I need to work on body awareness exercises (great for all dogs not just performance dogs!). I’ll include those in future blog updates.
  • I have found a spot for her kennel and bed that won’t disrupt our other dogs and we can incorporate it into the routine now before she arrives to reduce stress on everyone else once she’s here
  • I have a section of the house that can be blocked off while I’m working so she’s safe while I work during the day (I work from home but I still don’t want her running all over unsupervised!)
  • I have found an appropriate harness for her to use for walking
  • I am working on modifying a few undesirable behaviours in my youngest dog now before she arrives so he’s off to the best start
  • And I have come up with a plan to allow her to learn how to be alone sometimes since I’m around all the time. I want a confident dog who can be left alone when I go out

It sounds like a lot of work but it’s not so much. It just takes some thought. It’s important that puppies get off to the right start. I do have one big task ahead of me – finding appropriate socialization places. I want to find places for her to meet friendly, healthy dogs (I’ll pester my new dog friends here on the island and schedule my Calgary friends when I’m in town there) as well as times to meet new people. It’s important for young pups to be exposed to different scenarios in the safest possible manner. So I’m making a list of ideas and will check those all out before she arrives.

And now to introduce my new arrival! Her name is Story and she’s currently 10 days old. She’s an Australian Shepherd from the same breeder as my dog Marco (Spinoff Enterprises).

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Don’t Shoot The Dog!

The hot topic of the day is Montreal’s new breed specific legislation (find more info: here). So I thought I’d weigh in on BSL in general and why it’s not effective.

Breed Specific Legislations (BSL) is typically enacted on a municipal or provincial level in Canada. These rules have also turned up at the federal level (Germany – here for more info) and throughout the United States. What is it exactly? Well it varies everywhere.

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Where I live we have BSL and it states that Pitbull type dogs must be muzzled until they pass their Canine Good Neighbour exam (see here for info). So it’s a pretty mild ruling for a few reasons. First people don’t have to get rid of their pets, they can continue to own the breed of their choice and the dog can “prove” him or herself through obedience testing. There are other places like the province of Ontario where you cannot own a Pitbull type dog or even travel with a Pitbull type dog through the province (see here for info). Dogs can face a lifetime of being muzzled (inhumane) and/or euthanasia for no reason other than their breed.

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These rules don’t prevent dog bites or attacks. Why? Because ANY BREED of dog can bite and attack. In fact dog bites have increased in Ontario since they implemented their ban 10 years ago (see here for more info). There’s a lot of myths out there about “pitbulls” and in fact it’s hard to even know what a “pitbull” is since they aren’t a registered breed at all (see here for more info). So anyone who owns a muscular dog with a broad head can be discriminated against. Even my German Shorthaired Pointer could potentially be mistaken as a “pitbull”.

I have worked with bully breeds for over 10 years now. This includes English Bulldogs, Olde English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, American Staffordshire Terriers, American Bull Staffordshire Terriers, Boxers, Mastiffs of all varieties, American Bulldogs, Valley Bulldogs, etc. They aren’t anymore aggressive than the Golden Retrievers or Chihuahuas that I’ve met. I’ve seen aggression across the spectrum of dog breeds.

There’s so much fear related to these breeds because a stereotype has developed against the “type” of people who own these dogs. Everyone pictures a violent drug dealer with a raging “pitbull” at the end of the leash. Well guys hate to break it to you but my clients who own bully breeds including “pitbull” type dogs are typically middle class families. They love their dogs and they spend time and money training their dogs to be good pets. These laws hurt everyday families who are typically good dog owners.

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I am just as likely to be bit by a Labrador as any breed listed in BSL. And in fact one of the worst attacks on my own dogs was a Labrador. We’ve also been attacked by a Jack Russel, West Highland Terrier and a Rottweiler. But never a “pitbull” – interesting. The Labrador attack on my Irish Terrier was actually the worst one too – he punctured my dog’s head in 3 places and he needed surgery. So much for a soft mouth! Any dog can do damage if they are in the wrong situation. Owners need to be accountable for their dogs across the breed spectrum.

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As a dog trainer what I would love to see is municipalities reward citizens for training their dogs. For example if a citizen completes a puppy class they should save money on their license every year. For every addition class or hour they spend with a Certified trainer they should save more. Want to know why? Because TRAINING PREVENTS DOG BITES. Let’s invest in responsible dog ownership and get over the breed discrimination laws that do not protect me, you or anyone!

Right now all Montreal has done is broken the hearts of regular families and placed a crushing demand on foster and adoptive homes in areas where BSL isn’t enacted. It’s discriminator and it’s not based on ANY science or study that states that it works. This is fear mongering and mythology.

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What is Canine Anxiety?

I recently attended a webinar on Building Resiliency in Dogs by Dr. Patricia McConnell. It was a great and free information session on how to increase confidence. This would be particularly great for rescue workers and families living with fearful or anxious dogs. And because I love to share great resources here’s where you can view a recording of the webinar.

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This had me thinking about the fact that most people don’t even know what anxiety or fear looks like in dogs because it’s not always obvious.

The most common identifying traits are hiding, shaking, tail tucked, low body, etc. Most people can identify a dog in that state is fearful or anxious. However I routinely see families with fearful dogs and the owners weren’t even aware that was the issue!

Common overlooked behaviours include:

  • Growling
  • Won’t approach visitors or certain family members
  • House soiling – especially urine marking
  • Charging at people (family or visitors)
  • Bullying type behaviour with other dogs (includes guarding toys, food and sleeping areas)
  • Separation anxiety – whining when you leave, destructive behaviour, etc.

In fact many undesirable canine behaviours can be attributed to anxiety or fear. It can be hard to recognize this especially when you’re frustrated with your dog however if you remember Ari’s story sometimes you need to boost the confidence of your dog before you can deal with the problem.

Also keep in mind that there doesn’t always have to be a reason why a dog would have anxiety. Sometimes something small can create a major issue. Dogs can be anxious due to genetic predisposition, missed socialization, over socialization, an event during a fear period, an event in general that causes your dog fear, etc. Don’t get hung up the why.

 

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My Dog Doesn’t Listen!

I want to tell Ari’s story today. Ari is my 4 year old German Shorthair Pointer who we affectionately call “Raptor Face” because he would go for your face as a puppy like a bird of prey (lovingly of course). Anyway, Ari no longer goes for the face in a fit of puppy chewing rage instead he’s a pretty sweet and lovable guy. And he’s pretty well trained these days (he took longer than any of my other dogs… oh sporting dogs).

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Ari taught me a valuable lesson as a dog trainer last summer. I swear I am constantly being humbled by crew and this was definitely one of those situations. Last summer I entered Ari in his fourth agility competition. He had three trials earlier in the year and had done pretty well. He had decent focus, was able to handle the distractions and was responsive. He even moved up to Advanced Gamblers after only two runs in Starters. I was so certain Ari was going to be an agility star.

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At his fourth trial he wasn’t the same dog as he had been previously. We had practiced at this venue before so he was used to being there. It was the same group of people who had come to the previous trials. Everything should have been great but it wasn’t.

Ari wouldn’t look at me. He barely wanted his treats. He had zero interest in the agility equipment. Who was this dog? Ari wanted to run around, he wanted to smell and he wanted nothing to do with me or my partner James. We were at a loss.

I warmed up him with lots of obedience – lots of treats – lots of tugging. Everything I could to get him focused and nadda.

It took me two months to figure out what was going on with him. It should have taken me five minutes. I am a dog trainer and if it had been anyone’s dog but mine I probably would have clued in immediately.

You see Ari wasn’t being bad. He was purposely ignoring me. He was acting like a stressed dog. He wasn’t eating, he was offering displacement behaviour and he couldn’t focus. Classic stress. Happily I didn’t punish Ari for acting up that day instead James took him for a long walk and then we took him home.

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Why was Ari stressed? Well one month before that fourth trial he had been attacked by a large off leash dog in my friend’s driveway while he was on leash. He was minding his own business and about to get into my car and he was jumped. He was injured too. So the next time we were around other dogs was at the trial (besides the dogs he’s already friends with). He was uncomfortable being in that busy environment and couldn’t perform.

Ari is bouncing back nicely. We played disc with a friend’s dog (new dog to him) just two weeks ago but it took us months and months of work to even get that far. He hasn’t been back to another agility trial since but we still practice. He’s quite good at it in practice too!

So the next time your dog is being bad – ask yourself “is my dog stressed?”. It might not be something as dramatic as a dog attack that makes your dog stressed. It can be something so minor you miss it. It’s always a good idea to step back from the situation and analyze what your dog’s body language and behaviour is telling you.

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Outnumbered!

Yesterday, I had a friend post a Facebook video about what is proper etiquette when walking dogs. She had three with her and struggled to pass a person with one dog who wouldn’t move out of the way. While I can relate to her frustration (I’m often walking four!) there’s some tips and tricks to walking multiple dogs that can make your life so much easier.

1. Train each dog individually – I can not over emphasize the importance of this! Your dogs need one on one attention so giving them that attention is a crucial part of having more than one dog.

The other issue is that the dogs can feed off each other. So if one dog is barking/lunging at people/dogs than chances are your other one will jump in too. Take the time to develop strong obedience skills one on one.

2. Ensure you are well set up with the proper equipment. I use a variety of tools for dog walking depending on the dog but the most important thing is that what I am using fits! If a dog can get out of their harness or collar and you have two others on leash it can be a disaster. Ensure everything you use fits and is effective. I recommend harnesses like the Freedom Harness for most dogs.

If you are walking off leash ensure your dogs listens well enough to be off leash. Don’t assume it’s ok to let your dog run up to other people’s. Use a long line if you’re unsure about your dog’s ability to recall and do some training on that skill.

3. Use paths/trails where there’s lots of room to get out of the way when you see someone else coming by. I like to move my crew out of the way (because I don’t trust the other person to do so) and ask them to pay attention to me while the dog/person passes. This sometimes means moving pretty far off if the passing dog looks out of control.

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4. Only take the amount of dogs that you can handle in an emergency. My dogs all have strong stays and focus around distraction. However if I have a friend’s dog or a client’s dog with me than I generally won’t take everyone all together. I may only take one or two at a time. You never know what the world is going to throw at you so ensure you have good control even when things go wrong. An example would be an off leash, stray dog attacks one of the dogs you are walking – if you have too many how will you break it up?

5. Carry emergency equipment. I live in Bear and Cougar country so I need to prepare for that but even if you’re walking in the city you need to be prepared for a dog fight. I carry an airhorn with me on walks and I recommend others do the same.

Walk safely! Train your dog for success! 

MarcoHike

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Counter Surfing is a Fun Sport!

My 6 year Australian Shepherd has recently discovered the sport of Counter Surfing aka stealing my food from my counter, table, desk, etc. This is a brand new behaviour for him and pretty annoying I might add.

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I’ve honestly never really had to worry about counter surfing as all my dogs would typically not take something off a table even a low coffee table. Well those days are gone. Just yesterday I spotted my lovely boy standing on my desk chair and trying to remove some peanut butter toast from my desk. I asked him to “leave it” which he did but I knew if I hadn’t of spotted him my breakfast would have been gone.

So what is counter surfing? It’s when a dog takes food from somewhere they shouldn’t – most families it’s counters – and self rewards for the behaviour. For some dogs even a one time success creates a lifetime problem. My biggest concern about it isn’t even the lose of my meal it’s that sometimes I eat things that are dangerous to dogs like avocados or cooked chicken with bones in it.

So how do I keep my dog safe? Here’s the plan:

  1. Reduce the likelihood of a steal with good management. This means I won’t leave food out unattended at all. Even though I have a kid. This means when I bring her meal to the table I will stand there until she physically sits down and come back as soon as she’s done. So no excuses from parents here! We are all in the same boat.
  2. Work on some impulse control exercises with supervision and set the dog up for success. We’re going to revisit our leave it skills. I’ll start slow and work my way up to a tasty peanut butter kong on a plate on my coffee table. I’m going to ensure my dog never gets the chance to steal in these circumstances (you may need to tether your dog as back up but chances are if you need a leash you’ve moved through the skill too quickly).
  3. Evaluate his daily games and activities. My Australian Shepherd is a highly active guy with a sharp mind. I may need to increase his interactive toys – like kongs – as well as take him on some new hikes to explore some interesting smells.

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Now for you beginners out there here’s out to teach a Leave It:

  1. Start with 2 treats, 1 in each hand
  2. Show the dog 1 hand with the treat in it
  3. Say “Leave It” once at the beginning and close hand
  4. Wait for dog to look away
  5. Say “Yes” and reward with the treat in the other hand as soon as they look away (for any reason). Do not reward with the leave it treat.

Once your dog is easily leaving a closed hand (switch hands a few times).

  1. Same exercise but leave your hand open instead of closed. If your dog goes to snag the treat just gently close your hand and wait. Once they back up open the hand again.
  2. When the dog leaves it with the open say “Yes” and reward with the other treat.

Once your dog is great with the hands move to the floor. Place a hand or foot over the treat if your dog goes to grab it. You can also place the treat on a coffee table or something similar.

Ensure your dog doesn’t get to steal though.

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