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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Group classes for dogs can make your dog’s behavior WORSE!!!

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Let’s say, for example, you just received a new, cuddly, bundle of furry energy.  Whether it’s an 8-week-old puppy or you welcomed a cute, scruffy-looking, rescue dog into your home the next logical step besides getting all the required vet bills out of the way would be throwing them into a group class, right?  That will stop your dog from become Cujo, correct?  Group sessions around other pups will mold your young pup into a wonderful, social, well-mannered dog, right?  That is what Socialization means, isn’t it?  WRONG!

“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”

When will we ever get this stupid notion out of our minds?  This notion that Group classes are just standard operating procedure and that if we attend one our puppy will grow up to be happy, healthy, and well trained and social.  We’ll get rid of the notion probably as soon as the giant dog supply chains (who also double as “trainers” and who happen to have all the treats in the world to sell to you in order to “train” your dog or pup) end up going out of business. Which will never happen because many of us (as humans) just may be mindless zombies who, instead of supporting local training, grooming, and local treat companies, have to take a walk into what is the equivalent of Walmart-quality dog training at your local super pet store and then have to sign up for group classes! Please understand me, I shop at Walmart occasionally but whenever I do so I know that there is a pretty high chance I’m not getting the greatest quality or service of whatever I’m shopping for.  And I’d like everyone to know that this analogy is strikingly similar to what is happening in the dog training world with these giant companies.  Please hear me…If you want the cheapest of everything than you’ll get the weakest of results behaviorally speaking.

In this post we will examine the pros and cons of putting your dog or puppy in group class training.

The one pro of dog obedience group classes is that occasionally the dog can learn some “typical” and “regular” training out of the class and get a bit more social at the same time.  You can use the distractions to strengthen your “sit” or “stay” or “down” or “come” or heeling skills.

My question is Can’t you do the same exact thing at a busy park nearby?  Can’t we do the same thing as we walk our pup through Home Depot or Mud Bay?  There are pros to the group class but please be aware there are several cons to the classic group class that the majority of humans never even consider!

Socialization does Not just mean getting your dog or pup into a group class.  Socialization is much more in depth than that.  In fact it is one of the most important thing in our dogs behaviorally speaking.  Socialization is the continual process of exposing our dogs to new touches, smells, tastes, sights, and sounds.  Socialization is the active quest to cram in as many different experiences as possible so our dogs learn how to follow our lead and how to handle new or stressful situations without triggering a fight/flight response.   Socialization is more than a small time frame that occurs during the first few weeks of a pup’s life. Socialization is all important.  The more social a dog is the less behavioral issues a dog will suffer.

The more “typical training” a dog has will NOT necessarily prevent or diminish behavioral issues!  Have you ever wondered why you have to take puppy class 1, then if they can sell you, you’ll be taking puppy class 2, then basic 1 or basic 2, then basic 8 then possibly graduate to advanced 1 or 2….et cetera…? It is because it has little or nothing to do with your education as far as canine language is concerned. It has everything to do with just selling you more classes!  Group class trainers usually don’t care that much about getting you the very best for your dog or pup because group training is not and can Never be the best form of training.  And it certainly cannot solve most behavioral issues!  Here is why it cannot be the best for puppy or dog:

1.  Group classes are extremely unnatural. Your dog or pup will be overexcited . And because your dog or pup is overexcited you will need to work extra hard just to get it’s attention. This means you will have to either increase food rewards (which almost always leads to excessive bribery) or, depending on the trainer and the owners, you will have to increase more discipline and corrections in order to gain the dog’s attention. Are you starting to see the problem?  Never mistake excitement for happiness -especially in an animal.  All of the creatures on earth teach their young that calmness and energy control lead to surviving and maintaining unity in the family.

As an intelligent human you shouldn’t actually need anymore reasons than this first one but I’ll give you a couple more…

2.  In a group setting you will have people and dogs at different levels of learning and handling skills.  Many times the group class will advance only as far as the weakest link is advancing.  Group training cannot be custom tailored to fit your specific needs or your dogs specific issues.

3.  Group classes have a set curriculum that always involves more “typical training.”  You go there and will do “sit” exercises for the first hour.  The next week you attend the group and you do the “down” exercise for that hour.  Are you following me? And the week after – if you’re still attending and haven’t died from boredom – you work on loose-leash walking.  Your time could be better spent. Most folks who attend group classes are under the common assumption that if their dog or pup would just listen to them enough to sit or down or go and stay on their bed or come when called their dog would then stop disobeying, stop being hyper, stop being destructive, stop being dominant, stop being over-touchy, and stop being aggressive or fearful.  This is simply not true.  Regular or typical training never prevents or fixes most behavioral issues!  

This is a good depiction of “typical” or “regular” training. Most folks would find this impressive or wish their dog could do this but this is exactly the problem facing our society and our dogs…it’s fake! The dogs are clearly Not relaxed. They are maintaining focus on their handlers. They are doing perfect down stays. But they are not relaxed and that in and of itself is the single most important thing for preventing or fixing ANY behavioral issue! What happens when they are not being told directly what to do by their owner? That is the most important question.

4.  There is an even more unnatural trend occurring in group classes where several companies use partitions/dividers/separations if a dog is too hyper or aggressive or fearful to continue within eye-shot of the other dogs or people in the class.  This is ridiculous and will never work to fix your dog or pup’s escalated energy.  It can, in fact, make it worse.

Another crazy technique that I’ve heard some training company’s are now using is to back tie or tether the dog or pup to a post or the wall so the dog simply can’t reach the trainer or handler or person and cannot jump on them.  This is insane and will definitely make your dog worse!  Any trainer or behaviorist who knows even the first thing about dogs knows that if they are pulling on a leash or tether they are escalating their energy.  Anyone who knows anything about protection dog work or Schutzhund training also knows that back tying a dog is a great way to make them more territorial and protective – not less jumpy and calm!  Please beware horrible trainers!

Pulling creates more pulling! Notice the taught leash. Notice how comfortable the dog is pulling in his harness. Shocking, I know, but harnesses were designed to enable dogs to pull.  Never tether your dog or pup unless you want to increase territorial behaviors and work to develop a great heel to prevent excessive pulling.

5.  Imagine you want to start learning to play the violin.  You have two options.  You can start with a beginner group class where the teacher is instructing a few students and making everyone go at a similar pace or you can hire the best private tutor you can find.  Now imagine the great difference in how you play the violin and how much further you would come in a shorter time period studying from the master musician.  It is the same with private training sessions vs the group class setting.

6.  Dog owners who think “training, training, training” are actually much harder to teach mother nature’s calm, firm, relaxing ways to.  And their dogs are harder to teach also.  The dogs who have had a lot of “training” will keep trying to do sits, downs, shakes, etc instead of just learning to self-soothe and calm down and be social.  They act like robots instead of a calm, social, animal that has good energy control, self control, and is not selfish or dominant.

Private sessions, on the other hand, are totally customized to meet your specific needs in and around your neighborhood with real-life scenarios.  Group classes can never match up.  Never mistake real socialization for a group class.  Socialization is much more in depth than any group class could ever be. Seek to duplicate real life situations in your training; that way you have real life results!  

I am not suggesting you don’t attend a group class with your dog or pup.  I am saying group classes are only one very, small part of your quest to socialize your dog and sometimes they are unnecessary and many times they even do more harm than good!  Don’t over do it with “training.”  Do not be fooled – group classes will never fix any serious behavioral or energy issues.

(PS – Sorry to keep breaking down so many major assumptions about dogs and puppies and how we as humans train them…but many training methods are simply not helping the owners and the dogs to achieve a natural calmness and a smooth functioning household. I feel it is my job as a professional to be as honest as possible in order to help as many people and dogs as possible.  Good luck in all your endeavors.)

Questions…?  Comment or Call.

-G

A primer on the etiquette of butt-smelling

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In today’s complex world many of us forget to stop and smell the roses. However, “rose smelling” to a human, while important, is not nearly as important as butt smelling to a dog.  I’ve written this short primer on the art of smelling a butt.  I hope you enjoy it and that your dog can learn to perform this most vital of respectable, social, canine etiquette.

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Dogs are all born blind and deaf.  The primary senses are touch, smell and taste.  The unsocial dog over-uses vision and hearing and doesn’t enter the world of smell and taste enough!  This results in the unsocial touch or unsocial spatial manipulation.

If your dog has dog aggression or is fearful, skittish, anxious, nervous, or whatever other label you can come up with one of the main areas to focus on would be their butt.  I am dead serious.  The back half of a dog is what I like to call “the more social half,” or “the end without weapons.”  The astute observer of dogs and canine behavior can quickly see how important smelling a butt and getting your own butt smelled is as a greeting ritual in a canine’s social world and body language.

For the aggressive or reactive dog be sure to have already started a great foundation of heeling and leash work before attempting to get your dog’s rear smelled.  This means the dog should be able to walk beside the owner or handler and NOT in front and the dog should be able to keep the leash relatively loose while doing so.  NO tense, tight, or taught leash!!!  If you and your dog cannot accomplish this heeling feat and your walks are terrible please go NOW and order my HEELING and LEASH MANNERS VIDEO!  (That video is everything you’ll need to get you going on a great walk with your dog or pup.)

If your dog already has a decent heel started and can, for the most part, walk beside you and the leash is loose when there are no other dogs around you are then ready to help him/her begin to advance to butt smelling (Even and Especially if they do not want their butt smelled!).

Forcing a nervous or aggressive dog to get their rear end smelled is critical to behaviorally rehabbing the animal into a future of relaxed, and social interaction!  The relaxed and social interaction has to start somewhere.  I start with the heel and quickly progress to getting the dog’s butt smelled…even if it’s forced (meaning I’ll turn the aggressive or fearful dog around exposing his backside to the calmer, social dog who is attempting to greet the unsocial dog by smelling it).  Forcing a nervous or aggressive dog to do something it doesn’t want to do is the name of the game!  This stretches the dog’s capacity for sociability!

 

If it was up to the fearful or aggressive dog they would never choose to interact socially because they are probably quite comfortable with their shrinking social circle that includes manipulating and receiving unhealthy and non-beneficial human comfort or touching from the owner.

At this point many dog lovers would freak out and say something to the tune of “Never force a dog to do anything.”  To that I would say “Rubbish!”  Of course you can lovingly and calmly force a dog to do something.  Example in the human world:  I force my three-year-old to learn the rules of the road, to look both ways before crossing the street, and I may even physically grab him, if necessary, to stop him from running into traffic!  This is done out of love and to teach him how the world works so he can function without me one day.  The great reward for me as a parent will be a future filled with TRUST.  People don’t seem to understand they can have a similar relationship with their dogs if the methods are correct.

The skittish or dog aggressive dog will not go along with getting his/her rear smelled easily…so be prepared to turn your dog’s head away from the approaching social dog they are about to freak out on.  180 degrees is perfect when first starting.  Move as fast as you can to turn your dog’s head away and break the unsocial and aggressive eye contact your dog is giving to the approaching dog.

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Notice how comfortable this dog is in his harness!  Harnesses are terrible for helping a dog walk nicely and certainly don’t work to help control or calm a dog’s eye contact because there is no access to the head.  Don’t be fooled by the salesman trying to sell them.

 

(If this proves impossible for you or very difficult and the dog is still staring and presenting fight or flight at the approaching dog you may want to order our custom fit, strong, hand-made training collars…they work much better than any collar or harness on the market!  I highly recommend them for this sort of socializing and walking-work. To order go to my website below and click on the Custom Products page)

Control your dog’s eye contact – Do NOT let them reengage and stare at the approaching dog.  Control the eyes and you control the animal.  Then KEEP THE DOG THERE in that position.  They are forced to look away from the approaching dog and their butt is behind them where it should be and the owner has their head in the heel position looking away from the coming dog.  The butt is exposed and ready for smelling!

At this point your dog if skittish, or aggressive, hyper, or fearful, rude, or just young will flail about and do everything in his/her power to turn around and stare, lunge, bark or bite at the approaching dog.  They will do anything to get their weapons pointed and protect or hide their butt.  They will do almost anything to remain UNSOCIAL and UNSMELLED!

Stay calm.  Move fast but stay calm. Try not to even enter into what I call “the dance”: when a dog has too much leverage on the leash and is taking advantage of their owner and creating more space and lunging about and barking and snapping and leaping every which way et cetera.

Try your best to control the space in a very firm but very calm and commanding way.  Keep the dog looking away and in the heel position.  If you can do that relaxation and much more freedom is right around the corner for you and your dog.  Sociability is waiting to be found but in many cases will never be found because the fearful, skittish, or aggressive dog, like a drug addict, is addicted to fearful and unsocial habits and they quickly become masters of evading social greetings.  They hide their butt and never “shake hands” in the dog world.

This is why the caring human must take charge.  When we make a dog get it’s rear end smelled by another calmer dog we are in the very least introducing the nervous dog to half a handshake.  We are helping them with their own canine manners and greeting rituals.

Imagine how psychotic a person would be in our society if they refused to shake hands when meeting people!  Imagine if that person wanted to be successful but would run or fight or simply hide anytime a friendly person, coworker, boss, or family member stuck out their hand to say hello.  This is exactly what a huge percentage of dogs and pups do and shockingly the owners do nothing about it!  The dog is certifiably INSANE and cannot even grasp the simplest of social beginnings like a dog handshake/butt smelling and yet there is hardly ever the attempt made at forcing them to have an inkling of manners and just get it over with and get their butt smelled.  This inaction on the part of humanity is just one reason why in America each year 5 million people get bit by dogs!

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The wild part is that after a few repetitions where the nervous or aggressive dog is getting spun around and we are controlling their head and their hip and exposing their backside to smelling from other social dogs… they begin to relax!  They begin to calm down!  We begin to normalize what should have been (and would have been if their hadn’t been any humans involved from birth) normal social canine interaction.  The dog becomes less insane.  The human owner/handler becomes much more confident in their handling abilities and they learn to achieve calmness quicker and quicker with each repetition.  The formerly skittish dog soon only freaks out on other skittish or aggressive dogs and not on the social ones.  A few days or weeks after that if we keep the exposure up they usually don’t freak out on any dogs!

This is critically important information.  Please take a moment and SHARE this article.  If you share this you will most definitely be doing your part in helping an incredibly large amount of dog and puppy owners with nervous, skittish, or aggressive dogs that are in real need.

It’s time we do things the dog’s way and get great results.  It’s time to get those unsocial dogs smelled!  It’s time for owners to have the courage to stay on the same side of the street they were originally walking on (not hide or flee when they see another dog coming) and look at the approaching dog as a learning opportunity for their own crazy dog!  It’s time for action.  It’s time for speed.  It’s time for calmness…..then…..and only then can you finally have trust!

Imagine trusting your dog enough to walk by another dog.  Imagine trusting your dog off leash.  Imagine trusting your dog at the dog park.  You can get there.  I can help.  Start with “Heel” and then jump into the social adventure of getting your dog’s butt smelled!

-G

more info at  gstevensdogtrainer.com

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