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The Listen Dog Blog

Welcome to the Listen Dog Blog!

 

I'll be keeping it up-to-date with regular catch-ups on what I've been up to, plenty of original articles on obedience training and behavioural best practice, plus top tips and ideas you can work on at home with your own four-legged friend!

 

If there's anything you'd like to see covered here, simply drop me an email at:

 

Lisa@ListenDogTraining.co.uk 

 

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By listendogtraining, May 15 2017 10:47AM

In recent years, the problem of ‘reactivity’ has come to the forefront in the dog training world – and it’s something I have a lot of experience with. When I got my oldest dog, ten years ago, he started his life with us as a happy and confident youngster. He was socially inquisitive but not overbearing, and interacted kindly with those of his own species and those of ours.


Sadly, within his first year, he went on to experience two highly intimidating encounters with dogs many multiples of his size, which had a dramatically detrimental effect on his social interactions going forward. One encounter involved him being chased and nipped into a rabbit hole by two uncontrolled German Shepherds - hats off to their herding skills, which were 100% en-pointe for their breed… but I wish they’d been on-lead – the other was an outright attack from a stocky dog who helped himself to a firm grip on my youngster’s skull before eventually being prised off by an owner who reassured me his dog’s behaviour was nothing more than amicable.


Unfortunately, my tiny terrier cross didn’t take it amicably and, as a result, his once happy-go-lucky demeanour was replaced with a desperately anxious persona when in the presence of other dogs, which he fronted out with highly aggressive outbursts directed at any and all canines within his line of sight.


Rest assured, my now 10-year-old mongrel is a mellow old soul these days, who will happily engage with every canine we encounter on our daily adventures; any whom he becomes wary of after a customary bum-sniff receive a curt vocal warning to back off and nothing more, those he approves of are invited for a quick rotating frolic before we all go along our separate ways. These are healthy canine interactions.




Now… dealing with a 3kg reactive dog is one thing, but a dog displaying these same reactive behaviours who weighs 25kg+ presents an even more difficult-to-manage problem to owners, who are pulled into roads, pulled right off their feet, and even suffer serious shoulder/arm/hand injuries as a result of trying to maintain control of their large reactive dog. So, what can be done?


If you are experiencing reactivity issues with your dog that are having a major impact on yours and your dog’s daily lives, then don’t hesitate to get in touch with a quality dog behaviourist or dog trainer in your area who can help you devise the best plan for dealing with the issue going forward.




Remember that generally speaking, reactivity is a fear-based response. Your dog is attempting to manipulate what it perceives to be a threatening environment using the only tools available to it. When we leash our dogs and take them out into the big wide world, think about how much control they relinquish to us. Who decides which path we take? The speed we travel at? When it’s time to go home? How tight that collar is? Whether we’re going to stop at that lamppost or power-walk straight past it because we need to get to work soon? We do. Dogs just come along for the ride. Now imagine you had that little control over your own journey from A to B, your hands are tied behind your back, and a madman wielding an axe has just appeared on the path up ahead you. You’re being dragged towards him, and he’s running towards you. You need to change his mind about coming towards you: reactivity.


Never scold or punish your dog during a reactive outburst – I have clients say to me “It’s so embarrassing when she does this, how should we snap her out of it?” The answer is: you’re looking in the wrong place for the solution. If your dog is already reacting over-threshold (all focus on the subject in question, entirely non-responsive to physical manipulation, vocal reprimand or food offered by owner) then it is too late for you to reach your dog right now. You have no choice but to increase the distance between your dog and its subject, until your dog becomes responsive once again. Now, look at how far away you are and take note…this is your control distance going forward. Never force your dog any closer than this to another dog, and if you spy another dog in the distance further away than this, begin the slow and steady process of counter-conditioning now.


You can read more about counter-conditioning in my article on classical conditioning against anxieties, here.


In the meantime, do not hesitate to get in touch with a quality dog behaviourist or dog trainer in your area who can help you devise the best plan for effectively dealing with the issue going forward. There are many things you can try under the supervision of a professional which can help to address your dog’s instinctive emotional response to the presence of other dogs (or men, or cars, or whatever it is that causes your dog to react), your dog’s choice of calming behaviours/coping strategies, and the priority of your dog’s focus when out and about.


It is not impossible to help improve life with a reactive dog… ditch the 5am walks and take action that your dog will thank you for!





By listendogtraining, Jan 3 2017 09:00AM

Generally speaking, fear in a dog will manifest itself as a result of one of three influencing factors. These are: learning and experience, a lack of adequate socialisation or habituation, or a genetic origin.


The first 16 weeks of a puppy’s life are regarded as critical in terms of socialisation and habituation; owners are recommended to expose their puppies – in a positive way – to as many sights, sounds and experiences as possible during this period of time when their puppy is least likely to react with fear. As Fogle states in ‘The Dog’s Mind,’ “Pups that are deprived of this normal exposure to common stimuli during their critical periods of development quite simply become fearful dogs when they mature... virtually all dogs will show a fear response to new and unusual stimuli that they have not experienced before they were sixteen weeks old.” So for example, if the puppy spends its early months kept exclusively indoors, in a quiet environment away from busy streets, cyclists, noisy traffic, heavy rainfall, etc. then it will more than likely really struggle to cope with exposure to the big wide world without fear or anxiety, as it matures.


Alternatively, it could be that due to a negative experience, the dog has inadvertently been conditioned to be fearful at the presentation of a certain stimulus. For example, if the dog is involved in a painful collision with a cyclist, he could develop a fear of cyclists as a result, because he learned, via this experience, that cyclists cause him pain.


Of course, it is also possible that a dog’s fearfulness is in fact genetic in origin; it is indeed true that puppies inherit characteristics from their parents – it is thanks to this passing on of genes, in fact, that we are able to selectively breed dogs that vary quantitatively in terms of aggression, maternal instinct, and other key traits.


If you are struggling with a fearful dog, it is critical that you seek out professional assessment so that the right course of action can be determined – but have heart! There are plenty of ways and means that fearful dogs can be rehabilitated, and go on to become happy companions!





By listendogtraining, Jan 2 2017 08:00AM

Old-school theory on pack structure is reliant upon two assumptions – the first is that dogs will adhere to the same social structure as wolves, and the second is that captive wolves will be entirely unaffected by their captivity, and will act socially exactly as they would in their natural environment and habitat… and we now know that both of these assumptions are entirely false!


Bruce Fogle describes the rigid wolf-pack hierarchy as being based upon a ‘dominance – subdominance – submission’ structure with a dominant wolf, subdominant tag-alongs, and the submissive pack members, who perform ritual passive behaviours, such as crawling, keeping their heads low, and licking the lips of the dominant wolf. It was a widely held belief that the alpha would defend his position with aggression if necessary, and quash any challenges to his position – an idea that many trainers of previous decades translated into modern dog-owning practice, suggesting that our dogs’ errant behaviours are caused by their misguided belief that they are the leader of the pack, and that we as owners must seek to educate them otherwise, and take that title for ourselves, in order that they might become submissive and therefore compliant.


However, in 1999 Mech highlighted the dramatic changes in wolf behaviour that were caused by their captivity, stating that within a natural and free wolf-pack, dominance is not manifested as a pecking order, dominance contests are extremely rare, and the typical free wolf-pack functions more like a symbiotic family unit, sharing out the leadership, labour, and responsibilities to ensure survival.


Whilst captive wolves make frequent challenges to their pack leader, free wolves do not. We forget the many differences that captivity presents – manipulated by man, the captive pack consists of unacquainted wolves unnaturally brought together from different sources; they have a stable and predictable food supply, and there is little outside threat to their existence – no real risk of injury or death. In other words, all the reasons to work together and form a harmonious pack no longer exist in this artificial environment – there is no opportunity or encouragement for them to act naturally.


In stark contrast, free wolf packs have been observed to actually have a lot in common with our human family groups – a breeding pair and their cubs will co-operate together as a unit to ensure their survival, and rather than challenge the elders’ position, the young (once matured) will often leave to find another lone wolf and form their own pack – something which isn’t possible in captivity. Coppinger suggests that pack formation is not a genetic inevitability, but merely an efficient response to their environmental situation, stating ‘wolves live in packs primarily because adult pairs can then efficiently share with their offspring the surplus food resulting from the pair’s predation on large prey.’


Varying pack studies aside, there are now numerous studies available on free ranging and feral dogs – because we must remember that ultimately, dogs are not wolves – most if not all of which reveal that many of these dogs in fact live independently, without ever forming social packs with dominance hierarchies. Thomas Daniels, who observed free ranging domestic dogs in New Jersey, noted that whilst the dogs were familiar with each other, they weren’t overly social or cohesive, they rarely fought, and there was no evidence of territorial behaviour – findings similar to those of Alan Beck who observed Philadelphia dogs, and Ian Dunbar who observed dogs in California.


Now it could be argued that these dogs are not living in the wild, with a scarcity of food or any real threat of injury or death from serious predator so, like the captive wolves, perhaps their behaviour is affected by their environment – but then wouldn’t that support an argument against dominance theory and pack hierarchy once again – certainly where its application to our domesticated pet dogs is concerned? After all, our pet dogs are living in a massively artificial environment with 100% security against predators, a surplus of regular and reliable food... there is no need to resort to the safety and security of pack structure when there is no real threat to their survival, if it is to be believed that packs are formed out of sensible necessity rather than as a result of genetic instinct.


We must also remember that domesticated dogs are neither wild dogs, nor are they wolves. So much human interference has taken place, with selective breeding to give us the selection of domesticated dog breeds that we have today, which has had a massive impact on dog appearance, behaviour and temperament across the breeds, that these dogs are so far from the wolves which have been studied, that there is plenty of room for myriad differences between them.


Coppinger’s research showed that even feral dogs – without restrictions on all the vital elements of survival, such as food, water, and shelter, were happy to live independently or harmoniously in small groups with a loose social structure, far from the cohesive family unit of the wolf-pack. Dogs are not wolves. Humans are not dogs. Humans and dogs co-habiting is so far from being a wolf-pack, it starts to become odd to insist that we behave like alpha wolves before our pugs, in order to ensure a successful home-life.


Old-school theory which argues that almost every negative behaviour is down to our dogs attempting to challenge our dominance, or climb up the pack hierarchy is unfortunate in that it allows us to blame something else for what could in fact just be put down to poor training. If you subscribe to this theory that we must create a hierarchical pack in order to stop our dogs pulling on the lead, then people resort to some unnecessary and absurd behaviours (such as eating a biscuit before feeding the dog, performing alpha rolls, etc.) when actually teaching a dog to heel well can be taught with positive training. Your dog is not pulling on the lead because he believes himself to be superior to you… he’s pulling on the lead because he’s excited to be out of the house, you’re walking too slowly, and you haven’t taught him not to!


So whilst I whole-heartedly believe that as owners, we should provide our dogs with guidance and a good education in order to make it clear what we expect from them, I have every faith that we can achieve this with positive training, not by seeking to construct and enforce a hierarchy, so that we can go on to consistently remind our dog that he is at the bottom with a series of fruitless and sometimes cruel engagements.




By listendogtraining, Dec 31 2016 09:00AM

These two types of rehabilitation form the basis of how we treat dogs who have a negative emotional reaction to any given stimulus – be it other dogs, men, women, children, traffic or anything else which causes them distress.


Whilst both immersion therapy and desensitisation involve exposing the dog to the stimulus that causes them fear or anxiety, they wholly differ in their approach. Desensitisation involves overcoming the fear gradually, at a slow and comfortable pace, ensuring the dog does not become overwhelmed at any stage of the process, whereas immersion therapy – otherwise known as flooding – involves presenting the cause of the dog’s anxiety directly to the dog, and all at once, allowing the dog no opportunity to escape or avoid the situation.



So, if we were dealing with a fear of other dogs, for example, desensitisation would involve a gradual exposure to another dog, at first from a great distance and for a short period of time; perhaps the dog would only glance at the other dog walking past at the very end of the street for a second or two. As time went on, the exposures would become slowly and steadily closer in proximity and perhaps longer in duration, all at a pace the subject dog appeared comfortable with, until s/he could happily allow another dog to pass by him unaffected on a walk.

Immersion therapy, in stark contrast, would involve introducing the dog to another dog in close proximity, which may then immediately be walked towards and around him. Flooding (immersion therapy) is a far quicker approach than the slow and steady desensitisation, however it can cause overwhelming anxiety and stress in dogs – some have become so traumatized that they lose control of their bladder and bowels, whilst others resist flooding so intensely, that they become aggressive, and the problem is only made worse.


Whilst there are some professionals who have and continue to practise immersion therapy, at Listen Dog Training we advocate a slow and progressive desensitisation-based approach, as although it can take longer, the risk of causing more damage to an already anxious dog is minimal, and it is a wholly safer method for your everyday dog-owner to utilise.




By listendogtraining, Dec 30 2016 09:00PM

These two types of rehabilitation form the basis of how we treat dogs who have a negative emotional reaction to any given stimulus – be it other dogs, men, women, children, traffic or anything else which causes them distress.


Whilst both immersion therapy and desensitisation involve exposing the dog to the stimulus that causes them fear or anxiety, they wholly differ in their approach. Desensitisation involves overcoming the fear gradually, at a slow and comfortable pace, ensuring the dog does not become overwhelmed at any stage of the process, whereas immersion therapy – otherwise known as flooding – involves presenting the cause of the dog’s anxiety directly to the dog, and all at once, allowing the dog no opportunity to escape or avoid the situation.



So, if we were dealing with a fear of other dogs, for example, desensitisation would involve a gradual exposure to another dog, at first from a great distance and for a short period of time; perhaps the dog would only glance at the other dog walking past at the very end of the street for a second or two. As time went on, the exposures would become slowly and steadily closer in proximity and perhaps longer in duration, all at a pace the subject dog appeared comfortable with, until s/he could happily allow another dog to pass by him unaffected on a walk.

Immersion therapy, in stark contrast, would involve introducing the dog to another dog in close proximity, which may then immediately be walked towards and around him. Flooding (immersion therapy) is a far quicker approach than the slow and steady desensitisation, however it can cause overwhelming anxiety and stress in dogs – some have become so traumatized that they lose control of their bladder and bowels, whilst others resist flooding so intensely, that they become aggressive, and the problem is only made worse.


Whilst there are some professionals who have and continue to practise immersion therapy, at Listen Dog Training we advocate a slow and progressive desensitisation-based approach, as although it can take longer, the risk of causing more damage to an already anxious dog is minimal, and it is a wholly safer method for your everyday dog-owner to utilise.




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