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Reactive Dogs

The Power of Peanut Butter

Peanut Butter Behold! One of the most versatile dog training tools known to man. (Photo Credit: Victoria Chilinski)

What’s your favorite training tool? Dog trainers are always looking for the latest and greatest items to add to their bag of tricks. My answer can be found at any supermarket or convenience store: peanut butter!

For Agility Dogs

My passion for peanut butter began while attending agility classes with Tessie. She is a whiner, and would anxiously await her next turn on the equipment by making all sorts of strange noises. Springers are capable of making some pretty bizarre sounds and Tessie is no exception. (We call her the canine tea kettle.) A PB-stuffed Kong kept her quiet and relaxed while waiting in her crate.

Later in her agility career, I discovered that Clean Run sells refillable squeeze tubes. By filling one with peanut butter, I could keep Tessie’s focus ringside. This was something I struggled with because Tessie doesn’t enjoy tugging away from home. (Canned dog food works really well in squeeze tubes, too!)

For Reactive Dogs

My next great peanut butter discovery came while working with our puppy Finch. He is reactive towards people and other dogs. Finch strongly prefers playing with toys over eating treats, especially outdoors, which is where he sees his triggers. PB was the answer. It was valuable enough to him that he would take it while working outside. I also use crunchy peanut butter to disguise his pills — the broken pill pieces blend right in with the nut chunks!

I think that there is more to this than enjoying a tasty snack, though. My theory is that the act of licking is calming to […]

Reactive Dogs: Resources for More Information

There are some wonderful resources available for owners of reactive dogs who want to learn more about helping their canine companions. Many of these books have training plans that can be used to rehabilitate reactive dogs. However, I strongly urge you to seek professional help from a trainer or behaviorist who uses only humane, pain-free methods of training. Any graduate of Karen Pryor Academy will meet that criteria.

Books

Scaredy Dog! Understanding and Rehabilitating Your Reactive Dog by Ali Brown. I feel this is the most user-friendly of the three books I list here, and the one I recommend most frequently to my clients. It is short, sweet, and to-the-point, but contains a ton of valuable information and plenty of photographs, which are useful for visual learners like myself. Ali encourages the reader to approach their dog’s reactivity holistically, looking at the entire picture: not only the dog’s behavior, but also his diet, exercise, mental stimulation, and other facets of day-to-day living. Dogs don’t live in a vacuum! Every moment counts, and you need to examine your dog’s lifestyle to be sure you are making the maximum progress.

Click to Calm – Healing the Aggressive Dog by Emma Parsons. Full disclosure: Emma was my Karen Pryor Academy instructor and mentor, so I know her personally. This book is excellent, because it contains step-by-step training recipes for skills that reactive dogs need to learn. I appreciate that it also addresses the human’s behavior, because many times the owner inadvertently contributes to the dog’s reactivity through actions such as tightening the leash or changing their tone of voice. […]

By |2015-11-09T00:55:06+00:00November 9, 2015|Reactive Dogs|1 Comment

Calming Signals in Dogs: What are They?

Lip-licking is one of the most common calming signals. (Photo Credit: Dave Lindblom)

What is a calming signal?

Calming signals are behaviors that dogs naturally exhibit when they are feeling stressed and are trying to diffuse a situation. Norwegian dog trainer and author Turid Rugaas coined the phrase “calming signals” and she has identified approximately thirty behaviors as such. These behaviors include: licking the lips, showing the whites of the eye, sniffing the ground, turning away (either just the head, or the entire body), lifting a front paw, yawning, full-body shaking (as if the dog is trying to dry herself off after a bath), and panting. These are documented in her excellent book, On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals.

Clearly, these signals need to be taken in context. A dog that is panting on a hot summer day, or a dog sniffing a popular fire hydrant, is probably not stressed out. Look for these signs when there is a sudden change in the environment, like a person or dog approaching.

Calming signals are crucial during interactions between two or more dogs. A thorough understanding of these signs can help owners prevent altercations and keep dogs safe. Dog fights rarely, if ever, happen “out of the blue” – video analysis almost always reveals multiple calming signals given by one or both dogs prior to the incident.

Also watch for calming signals if your dog is struggling during a training exercise. Someone or something may be stressing him out to the point that he is unable to focus on you. Take note if you see multiple signs at the same time, like panting and sniffing the ground.

Why do I need to know about calming signals?

Dogs naturally use […]

By |2015-10-30T14:12:27+00:00October 30, 2015|Reactive Dogs|Comments Off on Calming Signals in Dogs: What are They?

What is a Reactive Dog?

 

Reactive Dog Behavior One common cause for reactivity is fear. By putting on a fearsome display, the dog effectively scares his trigger away. The increased distance makes the dog feel more comfortable, and is therefore reinforcing. (Photo Credit: Leon G. – Flickr)

(This post is the first in a mini-series I will be writing about canine reactivity. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss any future posts!)

What is a “reactive dog?”

Simply put, “reactive dog” is shorthand for a dog who over-reacts to particular things in the environment. Most of the time, those things are other dogs or people, but sometimes we work with dogs who react to cars, bicycles, skateboards, or other objects. The thing which a dog reacts to is called a trigger.

Some dogs will react to anything resembling their trigger, but other dogs are more specific. Dogs may be particularly bothered by a specific type of stimulus, or are only bothered under certain circumstances. For example, a dog might be okay with women but react to men, or relaxed around cars but not large trucks.

We frequently get calls about dogs who react only when they are on a leash. These are dogs that go to daycare or visit the dog park and play just fine, but when restrained by a leash, they lunge, bark, and growl at other dogs. Or, they don’t care about cars when they’re playing in the yard, but go berserk if one passes them while they’re out for a walk.

Many reactive dogs are labeled as “aggressive.” However, that term does not always accurately define these dogs’ behaviors. Reactive dogs are often acting out of fear, frustration, or confusion, and generally will not harm their trigger even when given […]

By |2016-12-19T23:44:35+00:00October 26, 2015|Reactive Dogs|Comments Off on What is a Reactive Dog?
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