Tag Archives: anxious dog

Canine Good Citizens

We took Milo and Mabel to the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen test at Finish Forward Dogs, and they passed with FLYING COLORS!!!!
For Milo, it was no biggie. He’s kind of one of those easy dogs, that just does things well. He’s a bit of an overexcited greeter, but no fears. No aggression.
But…… Mabel, is a different story. Outright dog aggressive. People reactive. Food aggressive. Just a bad, bad dog (we love her anyway). We have worked on that little angel for a long time. This was one of those things that we saw a year ago and thought “There’s no way she could ever do that”. But, tonight, SHE DID!!!

She kicked ass. The evaluator said that she was perfect. All the people that were there, asked us why we had done the test, since they were obviously so well behaved.
Yeah, if they only knew!

Economics….. And Dogs?

First…. Just in case you don’t know…. Economics isn’t just the study of money, and it’s effect.

A great book called Freakonomics


convinced me to stop being nauseous at the though of economics.

Anyway… What the hell does this have to do with dogs?

Well, there’s a rule in Econ called the Rule Of Unintended Consequences. Yes, it’s pretty self explanatory. Although, the story people in Econ always go to is called The Cobra Effect. As the story goes……. In Delhi India, there was an epidemic in the overpopulation of Cobras. The government tried to solve the problem by paying citizens for any dead Cobra they turned in. Of course, this lead to people breeding them to turn them in for profit. And when the government found out, they canned the program. As soon as there was no reason to keep the snakes…… They were abandoned. Which of course caused the population of loose Cobras go UP.  So, the solution for getting rid of Cobras, increased them.

And so it goes with dogs. The things we do to train them, sometimes don’t do what we intended. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes, it’s horrible.

The reason this is on my mind, is because of my little Mabel. In our constant search for developmental things to do with our dogs, we’ve found a pretty cool “benchmark” challenge for her.

She’s getting ready to take her Canine Good Citizens test.

Now, for a lot of dogs this is kind of a joke. Like, her brother Milo is doing it too. And, for him, it’s just a formality. But, for Mabel….

For Mabel it’s REALLY HARD.

One of the first parts of the test, is to be greeted, and GROOMED by a stranger. Oh. My. God. It has taken a TON of work for me to convince her that everyone out of her pack deserves to live. But to let them touch her feet….. Are you kidding?

Well, seems like an easy fix. Have some “strangers” approach, and offer her a treat and leave. Classic “Counter Conditioning“. Her current conditioned emotional response is “go die”. But, after a few reps of this drill, her response to a stranger is “cool, what have you got for me?” Which is great.

(Now, don’t get me started on whether or not this is the best long term solution. As, currently, people only have about 20 seconds of not producing the treat before she realizes she’s been duped. And, for it to “work” in the first place, it has to happen more often than not. Which means, you have to have endless amounts of “decoys” to keep it going for life. I’m still undecided on the subject. I’m sure I’ll write more about it as I learn more about it.).

But, I digress….

Now, for the unintended consequence. Mabel now associates strangers, or at least strangers in that setting (still figuring that out) with getting treats. Cool, but now she is getting TOO EXCITED when she greets strangers. Great.

Who would’ve thought that Mabel’s problem would be being TOO friendly.

Yeah…. Cobra effect, in full effect.

Oh, well. New thing to work on. Working with your dogs is supposed to be a lifelong process!

So, look at your own relationship/training and make sure that you aren’t throwing your own unintended consequences around!


What The Hell Is A Flirt Pole!

Flirt Poles are awesome!

They are a fantastic way to exercise your dog! And not just in that “screw it, just get em tired” kind of way. But, in a way that can help establish rules, boundaries, and bonding.

It’s just like tug. Literally. It’s just an extension of your arm. You can make them cover more ground, and have exciting near misses in between your actual tugging bouts.

If they have reliable “outs” you can just play tug with the pole like you’re fishing for dogs! If their “outs” aren’t solid yet, you can just hand over hand down to the tug, and immobilize it to encourage the “out”. I’ve recently become a fan of the -P method of corrections!

In this way it’s just a higher energy draining version of tug.

But I’ve used it with a few dogs that didn’t have any desire to play tug. It’s been a great bridge to get to tug as a new activity.

One of them just wasn’t that excited about about the “prey” I was holding. I just couldn’t move it enough, or in a fashion to trigger her interest. But, with a flirt pole, I was able to draw her out. Literally, like fishing. I would throw it out like casting. She would sort of ignore it. I would make very small movements. After a minute or two she FINALLY got a little interested. When she bothered to give it a sniff, I made it jump and run away from her. It took about two of those for her to go absolutely apeshit chasing it. When I let her get it, I gently tugged “fishing pole” style. I am not going to start “outing” her for a few more sessions. I don’t want to discourage her drive in any way. If I can get it away from her, it means she’s not really gripping it. Which means her drive isn’t high enough. Once she can grip that thing and I can’t get it back from the pole I will transition into teaching the “out” and possibly switching to straight tug.

On another dog I was working, they had trust issues. They had a TON of prey drive, but….. If you tried to engage them in tug, they would just let you have it. They didn’t want to “challenge” you for this thing that you obviously wanted. Sometimes, you can just tug less vigorously to help build their confidence. But in this case it was bad enough that I had to use a flirt pole so that the toy didn’t seem “attached” to me. They could chase, and chase. When they caught it, I would tug “fishing pole” style, and praise a lot. Then once they are into that, when tugging, I will slide down the line and tug holding the line. I’ll get closer and closer until, I can actually tug while holding it. Once you can use the pole to engage rounds of hands on tug play, you may be able to just switch to straight tug.

Anyway, flirt poles are bad ass! Use them to build trust, or drive for tug work, Or just use them to wear you little one down. Cause, even though I am a HUGE proponent of obedience work, if a dog is tired, it’s hard for them to be bad!

So, Buy one. Make one.

Or call us…. We’ll bring ours!

“Reverse” BAT?


(Yeah, I know…. Shouldn’t drive like that. But….. Look how cute!)

She may look cute. But make no mistake……

If you aren’t part of her pack, and don’t come correct with doggy language……. She’ll eat you.

She’s not aggressive, per se. She just believes in rules. And, that’s fine. The problem is, no one else knows them, and she is the swift and harsh dictator of all she surveys.

Well, she used to be.

Now….. I have a few seconds to prove to her that my ability to “handle business” is still up to snuff. If I am on the ball, she’ll acquiesce. If I wasn’t……. I would be demoted, and she would rule the world.

Actually, I make her sound like a complete bitch. She’s not. She’s really just unsure about people. I figured out an interesting concept. And that is If she doesn’t have absolute faith in my ability/willingness to protect her, she will take it upon herself to be the sheriff. She is fearful. She needs to feel safe.
Here’s how I did the wrong thing:
I was pissed/embarrassed/frustrated at her being reactive to people so I would try to make her stop. I would scold her, or correct her. I would reassure the people that “she’s not usually this bad”, or “she’s sweet at the house”, or some such bullshit to lessen their disapproval. Sometimes, she’d be doing ok, and people would be standing there looking at her, or leaning over her, or god forbid asking to pet her….. And there I would wait, praying inside “please don’t go off Mabel”. And of course at some point she would. She would jump. And, I would scold. And it got worse, and worse.
She wasn’t sure of her safety. I wouldn’t “protect” her in her eyes. She was forced to “protect” herself. It works. When she reacts, it makes them leave, or makes us leave. Either way she got to choose to create distance by tripping out.

How I worked on fixing it:

1: solid pack structure protocol. Leerburg.com has a good DVD for more serious cases. The NILIF (Nothing In Life Is Free) protocol is good for the average pup.
2: Solid obedience. Sets a good relationship. Also, improves communication between you both. Most commands  I am working on for her, are “Look” (quick check in), “Front” (sitting in front with uninterrupted eye contact), and a “heel” ON BOTH SIDES (use different words for each side, obviously). These are management tools. They will not be enough on their own. Once she goes into “drive”/”past threshold” she won’t, or won’t be able to, obey. But, having a task to focus on instead of the fearful thing, will help delay threshold. And if you look at the commands I recommend they physically help prevent focus on/proximity to the object. The “look” gets a break in the focus and will help you see how close to threshold they are. The “front” is useful when a trigger is approaching or passing, because she will have her back to it and eyes on me. The “heel” on both sides allows you to pass something, while keeping her on the other side of you, allowing you to effectively “block” her from them.

3: Counter conditioning: The thing I have started doing is a kind of reverse BAT type of protocol! As in I have the trigger approach me. I work those commands as I have the trigger approach us. I TELL THEM TO STOP APPROACHING as I notice her reaching threshold. Then I HAVE THEM STAY and we keep working until I see her relax at that distance, then I reward by ME TELLING THEM TO LEAVE. This process has the exact same effect in counter conditioning, and response reprogramming as BAT, with one important distinction. She sees me controlling the trigger. This is important because it gives her more faith in my ability/willingness to control the environment. Once the triggers can come close, I get really in deep with it. I will put her in a downstay and I will walk short distance away. I will have the trigger approach her and I will intercept and “herd” them away (this is all done VERY calmly and slow/smooth so as not to trip her into drive). See a natural calming signal/tactic in pack behavior is called “splitting”. When two dogs play too intensely, another dog will nonchalantly walk between them giving a lull. I want her to see me regulate her environment. The more faith she has in me protecting her, the closer the trigger will be able to get before it trips her threshold. But as soon as I see it, I “split” and herd the trigger out. By this point you will see her check in and give eye contact as if to say “you getting that, or should I?”. That’s good! it means she thinks you handling it is at least a possibility, before it wasn’t. Once they can approach pretty close and stick around her without tripping her….. You ready for real proofing.
You take her out where you are likely to encounter a trigger that you don’t control. If they don’t directly address her it should go just like previous work, problem solved. If you see her particularly concerned with something…. Buffer her. Put her on the other side of you so you block/split them. Literally. It will reassure her you see her concern and you’re willing/able to handle it.
If they try to address her give her a competing command (down/front whatever) to give her something to think about, and reiterate your control of her to her AND the trigger. Then tell the trigger to ignore her. Tell them forcefully if needed (calmly though). When your dog has absolute faith in the fact that you WILL NOT LET SOMETHING TOUCH HER. She won’t feel the need to be reactive.
My little Mabel can hold a down while strangers step over her. But she has seen me literally push someone over that was crowding, and starting to touch her (Yes….. yes I did push an old lady into cat food display at PetCo. But that’s another story). I’ve learned to listen to her. I’ve learned to protect her. She doesn’t have to be the sheriff. It’s my job now.

Make sense?

PS. – Let me just say, I hope that all my rambling on this site gets taken for what it is. The excited “out loud” processing, of things I am learning about! I am not a know it all. Hell, all I know, is that I don’t know enough! But I learn by writing down my thoughts. It’s my process. If it’s in a notebook, I get no feedback from those that know more. And, it doesn’t help anybody who may know less. Not preaching. Not Teaching. Just learning out loud.

****EDIT NOTE: We have begun officially calling this drill the “Faith In Handler” drill.****

Behavior Adjustment Training

So, most of the people that are reading this blog, and fur sure almost all of the people interested in our services, have dogs that are aggressive/reactive. There is an interesting method called:

Behavior Adjustment Training.

I’ve seen a number of different methods for dealing with this. But this method is interesting because, it deals with this problem in a way that doesn’t seem detrimental to your relationship wit your dog. Obviously, go check out their site for more details. But the gist of it looks like this:

Now, it seems on the surface to be pretty straightforward. The more you do something, the more your dog is accustomed to it. But, if you read the Skinner post, you’ll see there can be a lot of science under the surface of dog training. The cool thing about this scheme is the use of “escape training” in a positive light.

See, this technique is “approved” by the “purely positive” crowd. But the theory that it uses is generally looked at as downright abusive by those same people. And the way it is typically employed….. It kinda is.

Escape training is defined as applying a punishment as a constant until the dog performs an action. When the action is performed the punishment is stopped. They learn to “escape” the punishment, by performing the action.

Most times someone uses “escape training” it’s kind of hard to watch. People put an electric collar on, say “Sparky, come!”, and start the shock. The dog flips out and runs around, and at some point happens to head in your general direction. Kind of like playing “Warmer/Colder” when you were a kid, you turn the shock off when they are getting “warmer”, and you turn it back on when they are “colder”. They learn that the way to turn off the collar is to get to you. It’s a quick way to get a reliable recall. But like I said, it’s hard to watch. And so, most people just write off escape training as a “cruel”, or “unfair” method.

But when you look at this BAT method, you realize that they are using escape training. The dog is learning how to off the discomfort of proximity to something by showing “calming signals”. The reward is the removal of the “pressure” of the trigger.

Kind of cool to look at training methods a little deeper, and try to understand how they tick.  And very cool to realize that it’s never the “theory” that’s screwed up…… Just how people apply them.

Keep your eye out for an article on a kind of “reverse” BAT method I’ve been playing with on a couple of our dogs. Needs a little more work, but I think it’ll be pretty interesting.

Missed Thanksgiving Because Of The Dog

Listen, I’m not bagging on you. I was you. Hell, I AM you.

We can’t leave town. Not unless we take an RV and put all five dogs in that bad boy!

Look, I know there are a lot of people out there who are totally bummed today because they had to tell their family they couldn’t come to Thanksgiving……. Because of the dog.

It’s a brutal situation. You can’t take Sparky to the boarding place cause he get’s pissy with people he doesn’t know. Especially if they act scared. And, you can’t ask anyone to come over and watch him because when you aren’t there, he just paces, and barks, and drives everyone nuts. Of course, he does like your sister….. But she’s going to Thanksgiving.

So, here you sit, with your piece of shit Hungryman turkey dinner.

And your dog.

Who you love…… And, who you’re really, really annoyed at.

Next time call us. We’ll come over and handle you’re little bundle of difficult.

And you, can see your family.

Happy Thanksgiving.

CaniCross &….. Whitewater Safety?

Um…. Ok.

What the hell do those two things have to do with each other?

Turns out, the what to do when all hell breaks loose is pretty much the same for both.

When I went rafting a long time ago, one of the safety tips they gave was, “if you fall out of the boat; try to go down river face up, and feet first!”

Yesterday I was running a team of two bullies, who (between the two of them) weighed about 150 lbs, and can pull around 3,000-4,000 lbs! I had them at Poland Springs Preservation Park. Which is an awesome place for reactive dogs. The trails are super cool! And to top it off….. there’s almost no one ever there! It’s so dead, that I’m not even gonna hotlink it to a map like I usually would, cause I don’t want to run into you with the goobers I take there!

But, I digress…..

On the trail, these two monsters were helping me pick up speed going DOWN a hill, and I hit a patch of mud hidden just under a layer of wet leaves. After sliding like 10 feet and flapping my arms like a bird didn’t work……. I remembered my whitewater safety course. So yeah, Nestea Plunge I went.

And just like in whitewater safety it took like 50 yards before I came to a stop! Yeah….. They pulled my down the hill with me making a high speed mud angel.

Now, to their credit they probably would’ve stopped sooner, but it took me like 40 yards to stop laughing uncontrollably at the absurdity of the whole thing.

So, remember….. In whitewater safety AND in Canicross, feet first & face up!

Leerburg Podcasts

I know I made some waves with my “Skinner” post. But honestly, if you look at the comments, I think it sparked some discussion that is valuable.

In the spirit of education, I thought I’d post a link to an early source of info I studied.

Leerburg.com is a great resource. It has a ton on streaming videos on a variety of subjects. There’s a ton of articles. There’s a very active, and informative blog.

And they have these:

There’s about a dozen podcasts, probably 30+ minutes each. They are really, very good.

They’re by Ed Frawley. He’s a “Balanced” trainer. Which is dog training slang for uses any of the 4 quadrants (from the “Skinner” article), without being a slave to any of them. A lot of  the “reward only” people really, really hate the guy, because he will use a prong collar, or an E-collar. And, people really like to cherry pick some of his more controversial things out of context, and demonize him for it. Thing is, if you actually listen to him, he is actually VERY into the reward based training methods. He is a giant proponent of marker training. Which is essentially the clicker and treat type training that the “Purely Positive” folks love so much.
But, what really made me like him, was in one of his podcasts, he talked about how much he’s learned. He’s this 50 something year old guy, that has been in the dog game forever. Began his education in the old time “harsher” methods of dog training. But he’s got an open mind. And publicly admits he has found a better way. He even goes so far in one, as to say something along the lines of “this tape is an attempt to make up for all the dogs that I trained when I didn’t know better. They deserved better”. I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea. That takes a level of courage and dedication that in beyond rare now days. I will always be an Ed Frawley fan for that one reason alone!

Check them out.

For All The Shy Dogs (& Their People)

The dogs that get the most press are the aggressive ones. I must admit when we started this thing, I assumed most of our client base would be dogs that couldn’t be left with other services. What I hadn’t planned for, was the dogs who were just so scared, their people wouldn’t leave them with others. To be honest, we’ve had one of those too….. But my mind, like everyone else, just went to the gnarly dogs that we can help. But one of the fist dogs we got was a shy guy, not a tough guy. Very shy. As in, took like ten minutes to get him to even investigate me. Fortunately, his owner was one of my students….. So, we already have a very high level of trust. So she, with a tremendously deep breath, handed me the leash. This is her experience with her shy pups Canine Outward Bound Half Day.

“The trust work began way before the agility course.  The first leap was to put Graf in the hands of two people he had never met before.  You see, Graf is the opposite of a dog with aggression problems – he is shy.  It’s not that he bites strangers, it’s that he just shuts down. When we meet new people on the street, Graf hides behind my legs.  So letting Jay and Mandy work with him for a whole afternoon, with me on the other side of town, was trust work not just for my little boy but for me, too.  But Jay has done wonders for my confidence as my self-defense trainer, and I have seen him work with his own dogs.  So, I was willing to take a chance that Jay and Mandy could help little Graf come out of his safe place, too.
My trust was well placed.  They sent text messages with photos of Graf’s progress.  The first one showed my boy kissing Mandy – this from a dog who won’t even take treats from strangers.  Before the day was over, Graf had done lead work side by side with a dog he had never met before, agility work on difficult obstacles, and found out that he liked treadmill running.  Not only was he not hiding, he was having the time of his life.
I think what Graf really found out that day (and so did I) is that taking chances with new people can reveal his own inner strengths.  He was not only learning to trust strange people and strange dogs, he was learning to trust himself.   What a different puppy I picked up that evening!”

-Virginia Eddy