Archive for Dog Behavior

Online Education for Dog Trainers: Leash Handling

Online Education for Dog Trainers: The Forgotten Art of Leash Handling and How to Keep Yourself and Others Safe in Aggression Cases

By Michael Shikashio CDBC

Pop quiz! Do you know your leash size? More on that in a bit…

The recent explosion of online education for dog trainers has been a wonderful way to access the most up-to-date, relevant information to enhance our knowledge of dog training and behavior. Though, one component in this sea of knowledge that has been pushed to the wayside is the art of leash handling.

Those of us that started out with “traditional” methods will remember the leash as more of a training tool. Nowadays, we have many other tools, including the skillful use of re-enforcers that make the leash more of a management device. Though, this shouldn’t devalue the usefulness a leash can bring to the table when defensively handling dogs who may bite. A solid grasp of the mechanics of leash handling in aggression cases by dog trainers will significantly reduce the risk of dog bites to the handler, other people, or other animals.

With proactive leash handling, it’s all about the milliseconds. To promote safety with ourselves and our clients, we want to buy ourselves “dog bite time.” Holding the leash properly when defensively handling a dog can mean the difference between a full damaging bite or a “swing and a miss” air snap. Much like avoiding a nasty car crash with first-rate defensive driving, the defensive handler buys themselves those valuable milliseconds by being proactive, rather than reactive.

Ok, so what is your leash size? It is the width of a leash that will fit comfortably in your hand while allowing you to quickly use a variety of leash handling skills when necessary. Too wide and it will create folds in the leash which can cost you “dog bite time.” Too narrow and it can cause pain or discomfort to your hand when a strong dog pulls or lunges, or worse, break when you need it most.

Next question in the pop quiz – on what side of your body do you hold the leash? Are you a “cross body feeder” or a “same side feeder?”

When it comes to defensive handling and working with dogs with a history of aggression, it is best to have the leash holding hand on the same side as the dog. Is the dog on your left? The leash should be in your left hand. This buys you valuable milliseconds as it will take less time to tighten the leash for control in an emergency situation (either getting the dog away from someone or another animal, or yourself) than if you have to move your arm all the way across your body — light years in “dog bite time.”

Last question in the pop quiz – will you be able to control a dog better with two hands or one hand on the leash? A common answer would be “two hands of course!” This is only true if both hands are at the anchor point of the leash (the point at which the leash is being controlled). If there is any slack in the leash between the trainer’s hands, then only the hand closest to the dog is truly doing any work. The other hand is simply a “security blanket” at that point.

You can learn more about a variety of defensive leash handling techniques and other online education for dog trainers at Raising Canine: (The Forgotten Art of Leash Handling – How to Keep Yourself and Others Safe in Aggression Cases), including leash locks, leash muzzles, leash harnesses, leash quick shortening, proper positioning, and even proactive handling for busy environments.

Michael Shikashio, CDBC, is the past president of the IAABC and provides private consultations working exclusively with dog aggression through his business Complete Canines LLC. He is a featured speaker at conferences around the world and is sought after for his expert opinion by numerous media outlets, including the New York Times, New York Post, WebMD, Women’s Health Magazine, and Real Simple Magazine.

Online Dog Trainer Courses: Fearful Dogs

Fearful dogs can be a challenge

Online dog trainer courses focusing on fearful dogs

Shy puppies. Terrified adult dogs. As a professional dog trainer, does it seem to you like there are more fearful dogs, or are people just reaching out more often for help? How can you help these wallflowers blossom into confident, social dogs? What precautions do you need to take as a professional dog trainer? How do you help pet parents set realistic expectations? We’ll cover these topics and more in the series of upcoming Raising Canine online dog trainer courses, Working with Fearful Dogs, presented by certified professional dog trainer and author Teoti Anderson. Join us Wednesday, July 10 at 10 a.m. Central (9:00 a.m. Pacific, 11:00 a.m. Eastern).

Working with fearful dogs is not just for any dog trainer. You need additional education in order to help these dogs, or you could be making the problem much worse. For example, Timothy is a shy puppy coming to your Puppy Kindergarten class. The first night, he is mobbed by the other, rowdier, puppies in the class. The next week it happens again, and the next. By the end of the class session, Timothy is growling at the other puppies. Is he just standing up for himself? Well, yes. But what started out as a wallflower is now a reactive dog. This could have been prevented with the proper puppy introductions and interactions.

Another scenario is that you get called in to help an adult dog who has a history of being fearful and reactive. How do you help this dog, when he’s had years of practicing aggressive behavior due to his fear? Science is the answer, and you’ll learn about it during this Raising Canine webinar.

More importantly, you’ll also learn how to help pet parents who are struggling with their fearful dogs. Owning a fearful dog can be incredibly frustrating and heartbreaking. You’ll learn tips on how to help your clients through this difficult process.

Working with fearful dogs is a challenge, but it’s also rewarding. Seeing a shy dog gain confidence is a thrill. Make sure you’re on the right track. Join us at Raising Canine for Working with Fearful Dogs, presented by Teoti Anderson, certified professional dog trainer and author. The webinar will be live Wednesday, July 10 at 10: a.m. Central. Join us live so you can ask questions and interact with our presenter. Or if you can’t make it live, you will be able to purchase the webinar from  Raising Canine’s many online dog trainer courses to enjoy later.

Professional Dog Trainers: Precursors for Aggression

Growling, snarling, snapping, and lunging — all behaviors a dog can display to mean “back away!” It’s as if to say “the water is boiling over here…don’t get burnt!” What if professional dog trainers could recognize when the water is just getting warm? We could greatly reduce the risk of getting burned by getting the pot off the stove way ahead of time.

Dogs can use many other communicative signals that often come before the boiling stage. Most professional dog trainers can recognize the subtler signs such as freezing, hard staring, tongue flicks, or whale eye. Then there are signals that may even come at earlier stages – when the water is just getting warm. Some examples are respiration changes or a dog shifting its weight in a certain direction which can be the “just putting the pot on the stove” moments.

When skilled observation of dog body language is combined with situational awareness, avoiding an aggressive dog bite can be significantly shifted in our favor. There are a number of contexts in which a trainer may be bitten, and they go beyond the usual walking through the front door to meet an unleashed “stranger danger” case. Being aware of the many common situations where dogs may feel the need to bite is crucial for our safety.If you’re ever bored on a Sunday afternoon and have a strong stomach, search up the term “dog bite” on YouTube. You will find many obvious antecedents for biting by a variety of Darwin Award Winners, however, there are some very subtle precursors that one might observe in some of the bites.

I often say “we like dogs who breathe.” When perusing the videos, a very common theme is that dogs will close their mouth, as if to hold their breath for a very brief moment right before a bite. No growling, snarling, lunging, or snapping — just a brief pause in their breathing right before the dog inflicts a bite. This may or may not be accompanied by a number of other signals, such as a hard stare, whale eye, freeze, or even a prey bow. It’s the dogs who pause for that millisecond before the bite without any other signals that we have to be extra cautious with when handling.

While binge watching dog bite videos, one might see some very obvious reasons for the dogs to resort to aggression, and some common themes surface. Reaching towards or petting a dog giving clear signals to back off, taking a dog’s food or toy away, or getting face to face with an unfamiliar dog are some of the prevailing contexts.

What about professional dog trainers? What are the common contexts in which they are bitten?

Here is one scenario that might be familiar to you, and one that many trainers I know have been bitten:
A trainer has been working with a dog for an entire session with no issues. The dog is happily offering behaviors and seems affiliative throughout the entire hour or two, giving the trainer no cause for concern. The trainer thanks the client at the end of the session and starts to head for the door and that’s when the dog bites them right in the calf or rear end.

Here’s where that situational awareness (and a bit of experience) comes into play. It only takes a brief moment for a trainer to let down their guard and miss the subtle signals a dog is giving in that context.

Giving the dog “one for the road,” also known as a treat tossed in a direction away from the door can prevent these “don’t let the door hit you in the butt” moments.

Are you interested in learning about other subtle signals a dog may give and the contexts in which they may bite? You can learn more in this on-line dog trainer course: Precursors for Aggression: Getting the Pot Off the Stove BEFORE You Get Burnt!

Michael Shikashio, CDBC, is the past president of the IAABC and provides private consultations working exclusively with dog aggression through his business Complete Canines LLC. He is a featured speaker at conferences around the world and is sought after for his expert opinion by numerous media outlets, including the New York Times, New York Post, WebMD, Women’s Health Magazine, and Real Simple Magazine.

For Professional Dog Trainers: Instinct & Drive

Professional Dog Trainers food for thought: As I take my foster dog Lumen out the door for an afternoon walk, we suddenly come upon a rabbit nibbling clover on the lawn. I look down at this little 25 pound dog and it is as if something has taken her over. Her muscles are coordinating in a ballet as old as canids. Her legs are bent, her body tensed, her head lowered and ears forward, as she soundlessly stalks the unsuspecting prey.

Most people, including many professional dog trainers, when seeing this behavior think of how wild and wolf-like it is. They tend to think of untrained behaviors, especially those reminiscent of wild ancestors’ as innate, triggered by an instinctual drive inherited directly from the wolf. But when I see these behaviors I notice how different they are from the wolf. Yes Lumen, a little grey frazzled dog from the streets of Texas is displaying pieces of the ancestral hunting behavior, and there’s no need for training a rescue dog to display these behaviors! But beyond that her behavior is quite different. We call these pieces of behaviors motor patterns, they are snapshots of a behavior. The wolf hunting behavior is made of “orient,” when the wolf focuses its eyes, ears, and nose on its potential prey with its head up above its shoulder, ears forward and attention rapt. Next are “eye” and “stalk,” two motor patterns that happen at the same time. “Eye” refers to the position of the head, which is now at or below the level of the shoulders. The ears are either forward or out to the side and eyes and nose are still trained on the potential prey. “Stalk” refers to the position of the body which is tense, but the legs are bent and the wolf is either frozen still or creeping forward slowing. Next is “chase,” which is exactly what it sounds like, then “grab-bite,” which is the initial bite to the prey. For wolves hunting large prey, this is a bite to whatever is handy – often the flanks. And finally “kill-bite,” which in the wolf is a bleeding bite often to the jugular. In wolves hunting large prey, this behavior is also performed with other members of their family, all coordinating together to hunt the same prey.

While dog behaviors are all made up of motor patterns that exist in the wolf repertoire, they are shown in different sequences, different contexts and at different thresholds, resulting in entirely different behaviors. Furthermore, while the motor patterns themselves appear perfectly the first time they are displayed, the behaviors that they make up like Lumen’s stalking of the rabbit, have to be developed. And while genes are important in producing behaviors, there are no genes for behavior, instead there are complex interactions between genes and environment. During my upcoming “Instinct & Drive” webinar, I will be breaking down what we know about behaviors that are often thought of as intrinsic and explaining the current knowledge of how genes and environment play into their development.

Kathryn Lord received her Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts, where she studied the evolution and development of dog and wolf behavior, with Dr. Raymond Coppinger.

Dog Trainer Salary: Changing Bad Dog Habits

Dog trainer salary: changing bad dog habits. Leash chewing, paw licking, and poop eating are just a few examples of behaviors that may develop due to a very specific set of circumstance and then linger long after the underlying reason for the behavior is gone. What advice do you provide your dog training clients?

  • Resolve the underlying reason for the behavior. Puppies chewing on leashes can be teething. Paw licking can be related to allergies, and poop eating a nest-cleaning instinct gone awry. Whatever the underlying cause of the behavior, if you don’t remove it then it will return.
  • Train an alternate, incompatible behavior. A few examples include teaching a dog to hold their toy or tug in the mouth while walking for the leash chewer, and chewing a bully stick or bone for the paw licker.
  • In moments where training fails, be ready to disrupt, distract, and redirect. Whether through management or training, it is very important that the dog not be in a position to practice the undesirable behavior. So be ready with management when you’re not actively training an alternative behavior. Providing great chews and interactive toys is one option, increasing exercise and mental stimulation will generally also help.
  • Repeat for 2 to 4 weeks. Compare this to the amount of time you might expect a human to take to alter a specific undesirable habit like nail-biting.

The most difficult component of this is selling owners on a very high level of diligence for the 2-4 week period. Explain that by front-loading the owner’s efforts, they will resolve the problem behavior much more quickly. Allowing the dog to practice a particular undesirable behavior only lets the dog get cleverer about the behavior and makes it more difficult to extinguish later. Professional dog trainers frequently have to sell their clients on certain aspects of training. This is a very important skill to develop if you want to increase your dog trainer salary, because the long-term success and maintenance of the training is in the hands of the person who is spending time with the dog – and that is your client.

Stereotypes’ Impact on Dog Training

Fluffy dogs beg to be touched, petted, and hugged. Bully breeds inspire caution, and even fear, in some people. Cropped ears create an illusion of attention, which can be intimidating to some people. And small dogs are a portable size, easily scooped up and cuddled. The simple fact is that the appearance of a dog can impact the way in which people perceive and interact with the dog. Why is this an important concept for certified professional dog trainers to understand? Clients need to be aware that bringing their dogs into public forums exposes them, and their dogs, to certain attitudes, and their professional dog trainer – that’s you! – can help them understand what those attitudes may be and how they can best prepare.

Here are a few tips:

1.      Especially fluffy, attractive, cute, or exotic looking dogs can attract attention from children and other dog lovers. These dog-loving folks may or may not ask before touching. Additionally, they may not interact in ways that the dog enjoys.

TIP: Emphasize the importance of practicing and mastering polite greetings. If the client’s dog is not particularly stranger friendly, then create a strategy for handling approaches. For example, teach a “middle” cue where the dog stands in between the clients legs, or teach a hand target so the client can quickly manipulate the dog to be on the non-approaching side of the handler’s body.

2.      Bully breeds are loved by many, but they are equally feared. Strangers may be leery or show signs of discomfort when greeting bully breed dogs.

TIP: Emphasize the importance of early socialization and polite “company” manners. Sell your bully breed clients on becoming bully breed ambassadors. Training to the highest level of their ability and making their pet a model citizen can be a rewarding endeavor. Also, encourage bully breed clients to attend appropriate venues for the level of their dog’s training, so that their dog shines in all of his public appearances.

3.      Small dogs can be leery of feet coming too close and may not enjoy being picked up by strangers, yet they are appealing to a crowd of dog lovers that may be more hesitant to approach larger dogs.

TIP: Help small dog owners to understand what interactions their dog enjoys having with strangers. Looming over the top of their head is unlikely to be a hit, but kneeling next to the dog may win a few tail wags. Once your small dog client is armed with a number of interactions his dog typically enjoys, he can instruct friendly strangers in specific, descriptive terms how to best interact with his dog. Also, being able to interpret canine body language well enough to recognize enjoyment and stress will make all interactions smoother, since the client can interrupt when his dog shows signs of discomfort.

Combating Media Misperceptions

Dogs make for great news, especially dogs that perform unusual acts that benefit their humans. Unfortunately, the media are not subject matter experts on dog behavior and can be guilty of misinterpreting or oversimplifying the dog stories they’re reporting.

In the following news article, a family dog exhibits reactive and possibly aggressive behavior toward the family’s babysitter. The article details abusive behavior perpetrated against the child and witnessed by the dog. The family discovered the abuse when their dog’s unusual behavior toward the babysitter prompted them to set a voice recorder.

As professional dog trainers, we know that most reactive and aggressive behavior exhibited by dogs is not in response to witnessing the bad acts of an individual or an indication of that individual’s bad character. It’s important to educate your clients as to the causes and treatment of aggression and reactivity. People-friendly dogs may respond adversely to a “different” person, including people of an ethnicity, mobility, or state of health that they have not routinely encountered. Some dogs have more generalized reactivity to people unknown to them.

Be aware that you will routinely encounter misconceptions, whether influenced by the media or otherwise, and that part of your job as a certified dog trainer is to help your clients make training decisions based upon accurate information, not misconceptions.

Enrichment & Exercise: Why Your Clients Need To Make The Time

Here are a few benefits to cover with your clients when encouraging them to increase exercise and mental stimulation. Enrichment is a vital component to a dog’s mental and physical health. As a certified professional dog trainer you can help your clients to understand why it’s so important to incorporate enrichment into their dogs’ daily lives.

  1. Reduce boredom. Boredom can lead to a number of problem behaviors ranging from excessive grooming/licking to nuisance barking to destructive chewing.
  2. Increased fitness and weight loss. Leaner, fitter dogs live longer and better quality lives. Mobility is increased as dogs age if they don’t carry excess weight. Heart health is improved.
  3. Sufficiently exercised dogs are calmer. Under-enriched dogs can display nervous energy that expresses itself in pacing, excessive vocalization including whining, and hyper-vigilance.
  4. Provides an outlet for natural instincts. Many games and sports incorporate natural hunting, herding, and foraging instincts.

One of the goals of your dog training business should be to help your clients get the most benefit from the best, if not least, effort. That means helping them find ways to fit enrichment into their and their dogs’ lives and finding activities that are both beneficial to the dog and enjoyable for the owner. You’re a matchmaker – matching your client dog needs with appropriate activities. See one owner’s creative solution that utilizes a toy, some moving water, and a dog’s love of fetch.

Talking Dogs, How Technology Can Make It Happen

Every professional dog trainer’s dream? Dogs talking to humans. In the article “Meet The Researcher Who Wants To Get Dogs Talking To Humans In Five Years,” new technology is discussed that will facilitate clearer communication between dogs and their people. Specifically, service and search dogs are both mentioned in the article as targeted audiences for the technology. Researchers are training dogs to utilize a specialized harness to indicate specific hazards, in the case of service dogs, or a specialized dummy attached to the collar to trigger a GPS location signal, in the case of search dogs.

But as a certified professional dog trainer, it’s important to remember that dogs speak to humans all the time. Dogs are social creatures, and every interaction is an attempt to convey something – I’m happy; I’m hungry; don’t take my bone; I have to pee. It requires training and practice to understand some of the more complex or subtle forms of communication, but they certainly are talking. For an in depth discussion of interpreting dog body language, register for Raising Canine’s “Canine Body Language.” Interpreting body language is an essential skill if you’re interested in becoming a professional dog trainer.

Can technology help us to improve our relationships with our dogs? Absolutely. In the instance described above, the service and search dogs are being trained to communicate in specific, human-friendly ways that a lay person can easily understand. The technology is an interface between the dog and the human that the human handler can easily interpret. So while technology can help, there is still a need for training and an understanding of body language for communication between humans who specialize in dog training and dogs to exist and improve.

Resource Guarding Face Off

For a great commentary on body language related to resource guarding, read Patricia McConnell’s blog entry “Who is Going to Win?” We can’t mention often enough that becoming a professional dog trainer means acquiring and maintaining a strong understanding of canine body language. Keep practicing, and hone those skills!