Reinforcing naughty behaviour

There’s no question that people love their pets, however, there is a major issue in when some owners  show their dog affection. What many people do not realize is that when you touch a dog who is fearful, anxious, possessive, dominant, hyper, begging, barking, shaking, or whining, you are actually rewarding an unwanted state of mind or behaviour. Touch to humans is comforting, whereas touch to dogs is a reward. Typically, if we see a dog who is behaving in a way that pulls on our emotional heartstrings, then we are inclined to hug and kiss them to make them feel better as we would a human. However this does not work with animals. Instead you are communicating to the dog that this is how they should be acting. What you are saying is, “I like what you are doing. Keep it up.” At the same time, owners also throw in the verbal “it’s OK” in a high pitched voice while petting their fragile dog in an unstable state, which further indicates that the dog is in fact doing the right behaviour. Unfortunately for owners, as much as we would like it to be the case, you can not hug, kiss, and love the fear, anxiety, aggression or bad behaviour out of a dog.

When you give affection to a dog you reinforce the behaviour that came before it.

So when is the right time to show affection? Affection should only be shared when a dog is in a calm submissive state. A great time for this is after you and your dog have gone on a long walk, so he is already tired and in the right state of mind. This also follows the rule that affection comes after exercise and discipline. You can also use affection to reinforce positive behaviours as a training method. If you ask your dog to sit before putting on the leash and they wait calmly and quietly, giving them a pet on the head says “good job.” Again using touch as a reward is a fantastic way to let a dog know when they are doing what is expected of them.

Sharing affection with your dog at the right or wrong time can have a huge affect in how they behave throughout their life. It’s important to always be mindful that when you give affection to a dog you reinforce the behaviour that came before it.

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Are you the pack leader?

Recently I created a Pack Leader quiz as a fun way to assess where people fit in to their pack with just a few easy questions. The quiz was very simple and generalized but the questions I chose were specific to things that communicate to your dog whether or not you are the leader of your pack. Not surprisingly, many people were revealed as follower and not leader. I figured this was a great opportunity to write a blog to help people understand the little things they do that make them a follower and how they can redeem their role as leader.

Pack leader or follower

So what does it mean to be the pack leader exactly? Being pack leader means providing guidance and setting your dog up for success by taking away the stress of having to take the front position of the pack. In a pack there are only 2 positions: leader and follower. Dogs, like humans, are pack animals but unlike us, dogs will not follow an unbalanced leader. Dogs are drawn to calm assertive energy as their leader. Calm assertion means being even-tempered, confident and in control. If that energy is not present in the owner the dog will step in to control the situation even if it is unnatural for them. This is typically when we see behavioural issues develop like aggression, destructiveness, and anxiety among others, because a dog without leadership is unbalanced. The dog sees the human as a weak energy state making him lower on the totem pole towards the back of the pack so the dog will do what is necessary to fulfill her needs.

Here are the things to consider when it comes to being pack leader… 

1) A pack leader is calm assertive, never emotional, nervous or excited. The mother when giving birth to her litter is calm assertive and this is the first energy they experience. It is important for the human pack leader to have this same demeanour.

2) A pack leader provides direction and protection and fulfills his packs needs with exercise, discipline and then affection. A pack leader doesn’t just give love all the time. They provide structure and an outlet for energy first and foremost. It’s just like parents with children, they must do their homework (discipline) before they can go out side and play (reward).

3) A pack leader is always in control. He makes all decisions. He decides where to go, when to go, when to eat, and when to sleep. He starts and stops all activities. He doesn’t ask, “are you ok with my decision?” He just expects that his pack will follow. If your dog chooses when to play, walk, eat or wake up, then he is pack leader.

4) A pack leader is always consistent. If he does not continually uphold the rules, boundaries and limitations, then the other dogs will begin to test them. If you are only leader 80% of the time then your dog will only follow 80%. Being pack leader means providing guidelines 100% of the time.

pack leader quiz results

It’s never too late to start to implement these pack leader strategies to ensure the health and happiness of your pack. If you are experiencing any behavioural issues perhaps take a look at how you are with your dog and whether or not you’ve allowed him to be the pack leader. If you are unsure, take my quiz. Just remember, lead and your dog will follow.

Walk this way

dog on leashHave you ever noticed that the sign for “dogs must be on leash” is an illustration showing a dog in front of the owner with tension on the leash? A woman I met at the Cesar Millan training workshop pointed this out to me and then handed me a stack of stickers with the illustration of a dog with a loose leash walking BEHIND the owner. Brilliant I thought! The idea is to change people’s perspective on how we walk dogs by placing a sticker over each sign you see. This novel idea will take a huge movement and mean a lot of reeducation for owners.

Every day I see people on walks with their dog pulling on a tight leash ahead. When walking like this the dog sees himself as pack leader and this is when problems arise. Not only that, a dog greeting another dog on a tight leash is when you see the most dog fights happen. It is unnatural for dogs to meet face to face, and when a leash has tension and the dog pulls, their body language suggests a challenge to the other dog which then leads to aggression.

How you and your dog walk together says a lot about your relationship.

Each morning while training at the Dog Psychology Center, we started with a pack walk. Cesar Millan’s first rule for a balanced dog is exercise, then discipline and then affection – and he stresses that it must be done in that order. While walking each day I learned that the walk is just as much for you as it is for your dog. It allows you to clear your mind, exert pent up energy and balance yourself and your dog. I have always loved walking with Carmen and she does so well on leash, but I have found a whole new appreciation for it. At the end of our walks it feels as if I spent an hour in a yoga class or getting a massage, I am that relaxed. If only we could all experience this. Unfortunately not all dog lovers enjoy walks the way I do, even more unfortunate, some people don’t walk their dogs everyday or even at all.

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I believe that how you and your dog walk together says a lot about your relationship. If your dog charges ahead, then you are not in control enough to be the leader. If your dog drags behind or refuses to walk, again your energy is off in order to lead the pack. If you think about it our dogs are here to show us how simple life can truly be in this regard. We are too hung up on rushing things, doing everything quickly, multitasking, and not enjoying the little gifts this world has to offer. Next time your on a walk take a deep breath, relax your shoulders, and go slow. Make sure your dog is beside or behind you with no tension on the leash. You and your dog will enjoy the walk way more.

Your dog is your mirror

Dogs are incredibly intuitive beings and what many of us don’t realize is that our mood, temperament, demeanour, energy, whatever you want to call it, can have profound effects on them. If we are stressed after a long hard day at work, our dogs pick up on that. We don’t have to say a word for them to sense this. And when our emotions run high, that’s when we start to see behavioural problems. 

This is because our dog’s are our mirrors. If you have a hard time determining how you feel at a given point, take a look at your dog. He is a good indicator and will never lie. More importantly neither does our energy. Your dog may not know the context of why you are upset, but he will definitely feel the weight of the energy you are projecting even when you do not realize it yourself. This is because dogs are instinctual not rational or emotional. We as humans are intellectual and extremely emotional and we project this to our dogs. For this reason you must always be aware of how you are feeling at any given moment. To realize when your emotions are controlling you, and in that moment you are not in control of your dog. 

If you are open to it, your dog will truthfully show you who you really are. Ask yourself, are you a nervous or anxious person? Do you typically get frustrated? Do you ever feel lost or defeated? These are not the energies of a pack leader. A dog will not follow an unbalanced leader. Would you for that matter? Become aware and acknowledge the person you want to be. This is much easier than we think it is. One of my role model’s, Cesar Millan told me, “Life is easy, we make it complicated.” Notice your own energy and if it’s not the calm-asertive energy of a pack leader become aware and focus on changing that before you address any issues in your dog. 

So next time you are on a walk take a look at how you hold your dog’s leash. Is your hand clenched, with the leash wrapped around it 10 times. More often than not there is constant tension on the leash, whether we are aware of it or not. This is typically due to feelings of fear, nervousness, or anxiety. Many times without knowing we create reactions in our dog based on these emotions. Pay attention to how your dog is feeling and ask yourself, how do I feel in this moment. 

For more advice on how to project the energy of a pack leader please feel free to contact me at mydogphilosophy (at) gmail.com

Tips for travelling with your dog

Words cannot describe just how nervous I was flying with my dog for the first time yesterday. I did everything possible to ensure she would have a safe flight and it certainly paid off. I’m sure little Carmen just snoozed the whole 4.5 hours aboard the flight, while I anxiously shifted in my seat, counting the minutes until I got to see her again. Everyone at the airport was incredibly helpful and had nothing but compliments about Carmen as she waited quietly and patiently as we checked in. “Is she always this good when you travel?” they asked and were completely surprised to hear that this was her first time in 4 years since flying – when she first arrived in Canada.

I decided to share my traveling secrets to a successful flight with all of you so you too can have a stress free flight with your pooch. Here are my 5 tips for safe travel.

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1) Exhaust Your Dog

The absolute most important thing you MUST do is tire out your dog before you travel. Take time the day before to give them a really good romp. Using daycare is a great way to make sure they are active for a full day before they are cooped up in a crate for a long time. Make sure that the day you leave you also give your dog enough time to burn off some steam before shipping out. A dog with pent up energy will be stressed, destructive, and loud during travel if not given the opportunity to release some of that energy prior to boarding. You want your dog to rest while travelling to make for a more comfortable and relaxed journey for everyone.

2) Hello: My name is….

I came up with the idea of attaching stickers with important information about Carmen where attendants could see. Stickers with things like your dogs name, age, temperament and list of any allergies or health complications will be helpful to know should someone need to assist your dog. If never hurts to remind them to be careful with your precious cargo 😉

 

3) What to pack in the crate

Keep a few things in the crate with your dog: A bed or blanket that they are used to and not something new so that it smells like home and comforts them while they are away from you. An empty bowl in the crate so that if there is a hold up someone is able to give your dog water and or food. Dogs can get dehydrated especially if they are panting excessively so it is recommended by airlines to leave a bowl so someone can attend to the pet and prevent any medical emergencies. Also keep a short leash (folded or tied up so your dog doesn’t get tangled) in the crate. If it’s a long trip and the dog need be let out at some point having something available to leash the dog will prevent him from running away. I also recommend packing one in your carry on so you can quickly grab it to let  your dog out once he is back in your care.

4) Make the crate fun!

preflightPrior to going on your trip, get your dog used to being in his crate for long periods of time. Start with just a few minutes at a time and work up to overnight. Never force a dog into a crate or use it for punishment. The crate should be seen as a safe place; a nice comfortable spot for the dog to go and rest undisturbed. Once the dog is used to this without issue, try going for a drive with the dog in it’s crate to get it used to the vibrations and noises. Simulating what it may feel like to the dog to be aboard a plane, bus or train, but in a controlled and positive environment, sets them up for a more pleasant journey as it’s not too much of a shock. Having the owner present will keep the dog calm in these situations so that when a stranger goes to move the crate around the dog will be more relaxed.

5) Positive Reinforcement

Once you arrive at your destination, take your dog out for some fun! This reinforces the whole trip as a positive one. Rewarding your dog with play is the best way to keep their trust. They may have been under a bit of stress during their travel but once reunited with you and having a positive experience right after will keep them focused on the present and keep them happy.

 

I am so proud I am of my little Carmen and how well she did on this trip to California. I also want to thank everyone at Air Canada for taking such amazing care of her and making sure we got there safe and also for responding to my tweet before we left to reassure me. Janet, you helped this scared dog mom to relax and put my mind at ease that everything would be ok and I appreciate all you did for us. All in all, it was a great day and a fantastic start to our trip. Stayed tuned for more, the real fun starts tomorrow!

checkin

Be the person your dog NEEDS you to be

Cesar Millan's Short Guide To A Happy DogAlways hungry to learn more about dog behaviour, I read everything I can get my hands on from training to nutrition, from grooming to breed histories, from psychology to animal anatomy. When you are passionate about something, your thirst for knowledge never runs out. Even with everything that I have read, I have never learnt so much in only 205 pages.

If I could recommend one book to dog owners everywhere it would be Cesar Millan’s Short Guide to a Happy Dog. It simply and beautifully sums up what everyone needs to know in order to live harmoniously with their furry companion and so much more. Even if you do not have a dog, this book can help you. Cesar outlines more than just what it means to have a happy animal in your life, but how you too can live a life that is fulfilled.

Cesar stresses throughout the book that in order to be a successful dog owner one must be a true pack leader and the recipe for that is as simple as 3 basic things: 1) exercise 2) discipline 3) affection – given in that exact order. If you have ever watched Cesar’s shows you are familiar with these 3 golden rules. This is something my staff and I practice and work on every day with the dogs in our pack at The Dog Haus. We work with the dogs to meet their physical and mental needs and reward them with affection. This helps them to know their place within the pack, to behave in accordance to that, and most important enables them to relax and simply be a dog! When dogs do not have to worry about where their owner is or have pent up energy from not getting enough exercise, they are more balanced and know how to get along with others and have fun! What we all need to remember is that dog’s require strong leadership, they need an outlet for excess energy, they crave direction, and they strive to please to earn affection.

Not being a strong leader puts unnecessary stress on our dogs creating an anxious, unhappy pet. What many people don’t realize is a dog’s confidence is a reflection of its owners.  A nervous dog is anxious because it picks up nervous energy from it’s owner. If we wear our stress, then so do our dogs. Being calm and confident may not be easy for everyone, but if you work at it, your dog will help you to be the confident person you want to be. How, might you ask? By applying the same 3 golden rules to ourselves, 1) exercise 2) discipline 3) affection. Exercise helps to relive stress, discipline gives us purpose and drive, and giving and accepting love provides us with fulfillment in life. When all three are combined our mood and our lives are dramatically improved and a more confident individual is born.

Not many people know, but I have suffered from ongoing depression and anxiety since the age of 16. It became so overwhelming that in my early 20’s there were times I could not leave the house. Then came along Carmen and everything got better. She gave me structure and purpose in my life. She also provided me with daily exercise through our walks, discipline through training her and affection with her companionship. Every morning, I got out of bed to do something for someone else. To fulfill an essential need for her and that gave me hope each day. We went new places together and met new people. I was pushed outside of my comfort zone which built up my confidence. Through it all our bond grew stronger. Fast forward to now where I have pursued my dream and am the successful owner of my very own dog daycare. That shy, insecure little girl is just a distant memory. I have also witnessed my staff evolve into more confident people because of the affect of working with animals. Being around 30 dogs in a pack you definitely have to be comfortable with who you are and how you project yourself to the world. Energy is everything in the dog world and I have so many dogs to thank for my personal growth over the years.

The moral of this story is that your dog needs to you be a role model. To be strong, confident each and everyday. So tell yourself when you wake up, before you head out for your morning walk, that you are going to be the person your dog needs you to be; a strong, confident pack leader who fulfills her every need. And remember, have fun too! Now go read this book, you and your dog will be better because of it!

Well mannered pooches don’t jump up

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A perfect greeting. Photo by Liz Foley

Keeping your dog’s four feet on the ground is important for greetings, whether meeting humans or other dogs. It is a common misconception that an excited dog jumps up. People often think that their dog is just happy to see them or trying to hug them. The truth is, the dog is asserting himself over his owner. Jumping up is a sign of dominance. I’ve often seen my dog discipline young pups who come barrelling at her with paws all over the place. A dog that runs up and places paws on her face or back without first allowing for a proper handshake (smelling each other as a way to say hello) is flat out rude. Dogs must first be invited into the personal space of others. You wouldn’t just run up and tackle someone you were meeting for the first time, would you?

Dogs whether big or small need to learn that greetings do not mean jumping up. Large dogs can knock children or the elderly right off their feet doing serious damage. Small dogs need not be excused either, their little nails can easily break skin. I have heard of many of these “excited, happy dogs” greeting people inappropriately and quickly being called aggressive because of the hurt they have caused

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Carmen and her friend Bernie waiting to greet nicely.

What can you do to teach your dog to greet properly? If you know your dog is going to jump up, make sure they are on leash before greeting people or pets. Interrupt the behaviour before it happens by keeping your dog calm and placing him in a sit. Practice greetings with dogs and people you know who are willing to work with you. If your dog goes to jump, pull back quickly to prevent making contact, place him back into a sit, and try again when he is calmer. Ask people to not acknowledge your dog until the dog is calm. Petting the dog after he or she has just jumped up is rewarding the behaviour. With patience and consistency, your dog will learn that he only gets to meet once he is settled with all four paws on the floor and will be rewarded for it. The more dogs and people your dog meets the more opportunities you have to correct the behaviour.

If your dog jumps up on you, you can still use the leash trick but instead stand on the leash preventing the dog from jumping up in the first place. Dogs are quick learners and just need guidance. We must teach them how to properly greet everyone before we can expect them to do it right. Set expectations for your dog and keep them.