You can’t Sell confidence to a Skittish dog

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Are you a human?  I assume you answered yes to that first question.

Let’s move on.

Do you have a skittish dog?  Do you have a fearful dog?  Do you have a nervous or anxious dog?  Do you have an aggressive dog?  Most aggression I come across (and I work more than any other person I know so I see a lot of dogs on a daily basis) is based in fear.   The skittish dog or puppy lives with aggression and or phobias that it has grown into outrageously, ridiculous proportions and many times done so right under the loving and watchful eye of their owners!  What can be done?  Well, let’s look at what most people do…………………………………………..

Almost every person I’ve met attempts to “sell” their fearful dog confidence.  THIS DOES NOT WORK.  THIS WILL NEVER WORK.  And the funny and tragic thing is, is that we start by feeling bad for the skittish dog and then giving it even more attention and all while the dog is acting in a fearful manner!  Let’s take a deeper look at an all-too-common interaction.

THIS is YOU! Please don’t attempt to deny it. All people attempt to “sell” their dogs because they come at them from a human viewpoint. We seldom consider things from the dog’s point of view because we are not dogs…but it’s high time we started thinking like them and communicating in ways they understand!

You are walking down the sidewalk in your neighborhood and one of your neighbors approaches you with their new rescue dog.  The dog is clearly skittish, nervous, fearful (however you want to describe it) and displays these phobias right away with poor posture, hiding, barking, sometimes even growling, lunging to snap, or lunging to get away from your touch.  So what do you do?………….you go into human salesman mode and start speaking in a higher tone (like some weird, flighty child) and getting down (actually getting in the nervous dog’s space without giving it a second) directly looking at and giving lots of attention to the nervous animal (something all older calm and social dogs would never do) and sometimes you spread your arms out wide or offer the back of your stupid hand for the nervous dog to smell.  You offer your hand not because it is wise but because that’s exactly what everyone does and that’s what you think works.

I ask you, Is that an accurate description of what you have done or most other folks you come across will attempt with a nervous dog?  If you are honest you should be shouting a resounding, “YES!” at your computer or phone right now.  Let’s continue…

(and before continuing this is a note to the more sensitive readers out there – Please understand it is my job {literally} to smash apart and dismantle many of the all-too-commonly accepted doggy beliefs that exist out there in order to raise awareness and consideration to how dog’s think and communicate.  The dismantling process is bound to be unpleasant or uncomfortable for us as humans particularly because few things in this universe are as sensitive and large as the human ego)  continuing…

Have you taken even one second to consider what an older, calmer dog would do in this situation?…..of course Not!  Have you thought about what the mother or father dog would do if this was one of their puppies?……No way!  You went right into relating to the dog backwards and you are totally wrong!  Yes, I’m sorry to break it to you.  And I know this might be an especially hard truth for you to face seeing as how you’re a “dog lover” but (in many cases) you just contributed to more fear and the further foolish human tradition of relating to the dog backwards and as an enabler of the dog or pup’s fears!  You just added more fear to the situation!  Let’s break this down nice and slow so our human brains can get it……………………………………………..

  1.  You acknowledged fear and tried to comfort a fearful state of mind!  That is something any animal in leadership would never, ever, ever do!  In fact, the only time you should “acknowledge” fear is when the dog is using the fear to manipulate it into aggression.  IF you have the know-how to acknowledge and intercept the dog’s fears then it is actually a direct confrontation you will be bringing in order to honestly, and adamantly disagree (while using expert timing) with the dog’s fearful/aggressive behavior at that exact moment in time…and it is never done to comfort or “sell” confidence to the dog.

2.  By giving the skittish dog a lot of attention and your eye contact you are adding fear to the already fearful dog and you are inadvertently making the nervous animal the leader in the short exchange!  If we look at it simply leaders are leaders because someone is watching them!  This is why the father or mother dog would take the opportunity to ignore a nervous puppy, particularly when there is absolutely nothing to be afraid of.

3.  In most interactions and meetings with a fearful dog the human salesman barges into it with what they think is a proven sales pitch.  A pitch that is designed to sell confidence, calm nerves, and make quick friends….but it’s a pitch that never, ever lands the sale if it’s pitched to a truly skittish or fearful dog!  You addressed the nervous puppy or dog by speaking.  Speaking addresses the animal’s ears.  And if you know even the first thing about dogs (sadly most people don’t because most trainers and behaviorist are uneducated themselves about the natural world) or how they communicate you would consider how their senses are developed and how the empirical, sensory world of the dog is a totally different experience from our own.  I mean, basically, that hearing is one of the last and least important senses to a dog and to canine communication!  But you just kept on with the attempted “comfort” and “kindness” all while never considering your audience.

4.  For the love of God please don’t put your hand in the dog’s face.  This to me is the epitome of misunderstanding our own dog’s language and a great example of human idiocy.  It also screams of indecision (indecision that is physically displayed with this lame gesture) and Who is going to lead?  I don’t know?  Do I come half way?  Do I go into the dog’s space with my outstretched hand?  Do they come to me?  Do they come halfway?  If you’re asking these questions just forget all you’ve been taught and you may eventually be on the start to a more natural understanding of your dog’s language!  Indecision let’s fear gain a manipulative foothold!  And dog’s read body language better than any human on the planet since dogs have no written and very little “spoken” language.

This image is what NOT to do! Shocking to many, I know, but still a ridiculous gesture and one that can be snapped at! And…like we talked about…way too much attention if the dog is nervous!

If you’re looking for the right answers and what to do always ask yourself what would the mother or father dog do in this situation?  This question will really help guide you through a plethora of different doggy interactions.  Any other questions feel free to ask your own dog…he’ll answer if you are observant enough.  Anything further that may need clarifying… ask me!

-SUBSCRIBE/FOLLOW us!!!!  Join our pack – you’re gonna love it!  (and please understand this post was purposefully honest and direct to elicit some emotion, some response, and some Change!)

-G

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Dog fight!!! What to do when your dog is in a dog fight…

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What should we do when our dog is attacked? What should we do when our dog attacks another dog? How do we safely intervene? How can we fix the situation?

Dear readers, here are some guidelines to consider concerning when dogs fight.

1.Stay calm.

2. Please re-read and actually follow rule number 1!  

If everyone involved were to actually follow my first two rules the world would be a better place for people and our furry companions. I bring up calmness because it would imply that you are operating with a clear mind and not one exploding with fight/flight adrenaline. If you aren’t calm you aren’t in charge. End of story. If you aren’t calm how do you expect to handle conflict resolution? If you aren’t calm whatever actions you take will just usually INTENSIFY the situation.

Example: Imagine if you were stabbed or shot and then as you arrived at the hospital the doctors and nurses were shocked, and yelling, and flipping out; some crying, some severely angered, others simply stunned. Would they be of much help to you? Also keep in mind most fights (dog or human) last a very short time (many just seconds) Panic never helps in any situation.

Keep in mind you were the one who thought it was a good idea to bring a domesticated predator into your home.  A domesticated predator whose mighty ancestors still roam the mountains and plains and hunt, kill, and feast on prey animals up to 2000 pounds!A wolf from the Canyon Pack stalks an ailing bison at Otter Creek in Yellowstone National Park. (©Meg Sommers - click to enlarge)

 

3. Be prepared to take action.  Semper Paratus.

Being prepared is great.  Besides serving as the motto for the Boy Scouts and what Simba’s plotting Uncle Scar gave for advice to his minions of hungry hyenas, being prepared is never a bad thing. Attempt to be as aware as you can of your environment.  Our dogs are usually more aware of the environment than we are.

4. Proceed with caution!

All dogs are very quick (certainly quicker than people). All dogs can see movement better than you or I (due to the ratio of rods to cones in the dog’s eye). All dogs come equipped with a host of amazingly powerful jaws and large pointed teeth (you know, their “canine” choppers). Dogs are famous for their bite force and are used around the world by police, military, and private training companies for just this purpose. No need to elaborate on the mouth and teeth. All dogs have sharp claws. I’ve been bloodied up many times just from an aggressive dog attempting to grab me with their paws/claws!  Almost all dogs have fur that can protect them to a degree.

And the most important part of point number four…they have the inherent nature to survive. They don’t want to get hurt and will often end disagreements quickly if they can.  This means they will fight or flight if necessary.  Dogs are highly intelligent social creatures who will simply disagree with each other sometimes and use fight to do it.  But because dogs are so social it also means they have a fantastically peaceful nature inherently and that in most cases means a disagreement will only last a few seconds.

An exception to this would be dogs that have been conditioned to fight or are constantly pulling on the leash.Leash pulling will always escalate a dog’s energy levels. In protection work we want a taut leash. In calming a dog we do not want any pulling.  Learn to develop a great “heel” command where your dog walks loosely at your side.

 

Now please take a quick look at yourself and see if you have are equipped as well naturally to jump on into the fray and break up a dog fight. Do you have an incredible bite force? Do you have claws and fur? Do you have more rods than cones in your eyes and although you cannot see color as well because of the muted color scheme you can detect the slightest movements and zero in on them? Do you have an inherent nature to avoid confrontation and get along with the pack? Do you see where I’m going with this? Or maybe I should ask… Do you value your fingers? Do you value your hands? Do you value your legs?

5. To yell or not to yell?

If you yell it should only be for a moment and even then it typically won’t really do anything (barring the exception that your dog is somewhat well behaved and is not in too immediate danger/ is already latched onto) and it could just exacerbate the problem with more sound energy!

6. Evaluating the fight…

If your dog is on leash and they are not latched (from biting the other dog) you can pull back. And quickly turn the your dog away.  If they are latched onto each other with a firm bite Do Not pull back as this will only tear the flesh more and cause real damage.

7. Leave in control of yourself and your dog and don’t inadvertently cause a behavioral problem!

If your dog is around a large group of dogs leave the area right away. After exchanging personal info at the scene of course – I would assume this goes without saying!  Unless the wounds are so small that they really won’t need any vet assistance.  I mention leaving because you don’t want more dogs jumping in because of the over-excited energy (see rules one and two!). If it is only your dog and another dog I would NOT suggest you leave the area right away as this can almost instantly cause a behavioral issue in your dog! Your dog could form a new habit and think that it was such a traumatic experience (even if it wasn’t traumatic and most times it is not!)  If it indeed was traumatic -meaning a real fight that lasted more than a couple seconds with real puncture wounds (you know they look like a vampire bit down on your dog and many lacerations) – you should literally pretend for your dog’s sake that it was no big deal.  This is when you need to be strong for your dog and in control of your thoughts and emotions.

Let me explain. Dogs live in the moment and can form habits extremely fast. I believe many animals can form habits faster than humans (we typically form then in 21 – 30 days). If you are presenting weak, ineffective, over-excitable, or any imbalanced energy you will literally be hurting your own dog psychologically. Dogs feed on the energy around them.  And, honestly, if you’re crying, screaming, dancing around ineffectively, you certainly won’t help anyone -least of all your own dog.

All lead dogs in mother nature will be the calm, cool, and collected type.  Dogs will not follow a hysterical, sobbing, out-of-control human even if they’ve had years of the typical “sit, stay, down” et cetera training. Again please see rules 1 and 2. I handle several hundred dogs a year where the owners tell me they used to be fine with other dogs UNTIL they were attacked or they got into a fight with another dog.

8. Develop resilience and a tough skin.

Do your self and your dog a favor and Pretend Everything is Fine and handle the situation like a real dog leader would. Because chances are (and I’ve seen this many times) there is minor or no damages in many cases and the humans are all worked up because their two dogs had a disagreement. This does not mean you cannot honestly disagree with the other human about their dog but this leads into my next point…

9. Be polite to the other human as best you can.

You get more flies with honey than vinegar. This is hard for most people in today’s unnatural, technology-crazed, fast food, instant gratification society. Manners are at an all time low. Be upfront and honest but try not to be rude.

Please imagine two somewhat, normal people and now picture their dogs fight for a few moments and now ask yourself this question…Do you think anyone of the people actually wanted a fight to take place? If their dog was the initiator don’t you think the owner would be concerned about the behavior?

10. Don’t be a victim!

If you are the victim don’t act like it. Acting like a victim has never helped anyone ever in the whole history of the world.  If you are incredibly worked up you have that right but, again, it won’t do you any favors when interacting with the other owner. And what’s more, you may be inadvertently hurting your dog with all the Human Drama. Please check rules 1 and 2 just one more time. Eliminate all Human drama. It is unnecessary and a foolish waste of energy. If you are wasting energy what are you teaching your dog?  Now is the time to Calmly Lead.  Now is the time to show how you handle adversity!

If you have the dog that started the fight – settle your dog down by controlling the eye contact (this means breaking it) and spinning them away if you can safely do so. Some experts suggest grabbing them by the back legs and spinning them in a circle away from the other dog. I say good luck with that. Make sure to go and see the other dog (if the owner is still there and if you can safely do so). Make sure you see if there is damage and what sort. Offer to pay the vet bills as this is customary and the right thing to do. Unless, of course, the owner doesn’t want to see you or talk to you (some clients tell me this has happened to them and the other party just yelled at them and walked off. This usually means there is little to no injury to their dog and they just want to get out of the situation. Let them.) Don’t cause more human drama. However, if you can stay on the scene a bit this can help most dogs settle down and not go right from Fight into Flight.  Remember, we don’t want any new unsocial habits forming.  Just being around (at a safe distance where they cannot get at each other) even with the dog they just had the disagreement with while the owners correct and calm them can shockingly be beneficial and hammer home that sociability is the only way.

11. Prevention.  Prevention.  Prevention.

The best option is to obviously not let your dog get into a fight in the first place.  You can usually prevent dog fighting drama if you develop an excellent relationship with your dog, socialize the heck out of them but make sure you maintain the lead (remember that “heel” I mentioned earlier?).  And in many cases where the dog already has dog aggression you need to continue to get them out and about (cautiously) but the risk is worth the reward if you know what you are doing because deep down dogs are always ready to learn to be social.  That being said, if it happened to you or ever does please learn from the wisdom of the dogs and shake off stress and cares, live in the moment, keep moving forward, forgive and forget, remain in control of your energy and learn to control your dog’s energy!

Learn to read their body language. Do not allow your dog to stare at other dogs!  Do not allow your dog to throw it’s head over other dogs shoulders when meeting or playing.  Be a tension calmer.  Many misunderstandings can be prevented if the dog’s language is fluid and the human owner also understands canine communication. Sadly many, many dogs are aggressive, do pull, lunge, snap on the leash and off and have a horrible dog language and do not know how to get back to a calm, peaceful place! Seek professional help and someone with an excellent reputation for rehabbing aggressive, fearful, or dangerous dogs (remember, while almost all training companies and behaviorists advertise that they handle aggression- the sad truth is that many Mishandle it.

True dog aggression cannot be fixed with treats and “watch me” commands.  It will not be fixed from attending a “Growly Class” (think for a moment how foolish the human concept of a “Growly dog class” is.  Dogs are social creatures who learn from other people and dogs so why would I place my dog into a large group of other dogs with the exact same issue?)  Instead, get your dog extra exercise, structure and discipline, a great “heel”, proper house manners, don’t let him over-touch you or others, and eventually you have to “jump in the pool” and get your dog more social and around other calm “example” dogs.  Whatever the behavioral question is… the only answer is more sociability!

Need help? Give me a call!  I behaviorally rehab fearful and aggressive dogs with great success on a daily basis!

Keep it peaceful,
-Garrett

What to do if your dog is afraid of loud noises

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The fourth of July is right around the corner and I have been talking with many of my clients everyday concerning how to handle their dogs that suffer from ligyrophobia (fear of loud noises).  Most vets will suggest drugs (of course!… this is a growing problem in our medical community, in my opinion, whether it be human or canine the “quick fix” of drugging is seldom effective and typically an unhealthy habit.  But because it is a money maker why would the medical world ever stop it?)

(image: Rachel Cooper)

 

I will make this short so you can enjoy your holiday with family, friends, fireworks and stuffing your face with a spicy Italian sausage…

1.  EXERCISE the hell out of the dog.

2.  Start to desensitize the animal to more and more sounds and socialization.

3.  Be sure to NEVER CODDLE or touch or comfort the fearful dog (please see my post about Dealing with a fearful dog- it can change your life and save your dog from a life of misery!  You would be shocked to see how many dogs suffer with preventable fear and ridiculous phobias because of an enabling owner)

4. Intercept any start to the fearful behavior – meaning: as soon as the dog starts to whine, pace, freeze, bark, circle, run away…etc, etc you need to intercept or interrupt this behavior ASAP.  You only have two seconds to do this!  And be sure to interrupt the behavior with a clear countenance and energy that disagrees with what the dog is doing.  Be firm.  Stop excess movement if the dog tries to run or circle.  Stop whining by instantly standing up quickly, “get big” and head toward the dog as a warning (remember you have to match the dog’s energy in order to even break through to their attention level and then, if you do get the attention, Calm the dog! Be firm until you get eye contact.  Do not let the dog use you as a comfort blankey and constantly touch you.  Do Not say and this is a human classic….”It’s Ok.”  Fear is never “Ok.”

5. Remain calm and relaxed and actually enjoy the fireworks or whatever other loud noises are going on.  The dog should look to you for feedback on how to act not steal all the attention with doggie drama and insanity…remember always ask yourself what would the calm, social, unfearful older dog do?  Chances are the calm dog would simply ignore the fearful one.

6.  You can play some calming classical music if you want but don’t rely on unnatural solutions like this.  You can also try a “thundershirt” they can work for some dogs.  You can also try to actually bring them outside during the fireworks and let them see and understand what they are.  DO NOT CODDLE.

Stay relaxed and have a Happy Independence Day and a less fearful dog.

-G

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