The Latest Miracle Training Device

June 13, 2019

dog see no evil cropGah! One more “simple device to stop problem dog behaviors” has hit the market. I was alerted recently when, thanks to Facebook’s advertising algorithm, it showed up in my news feed. What is this miracle product, you ask? According to the website, it “releases unharmful high-frequency sounds to stop barking in seconds!” The site goes on to boast that this miraculous device can “…distract rude dogs from barking, biting, or any other forms of annoying or even aggressive behaviors.” Sigh.

It’s not that an ultrasonic frequency sound wouldn’t stop a dog mid-bark. It would most likely stop a dog in its tracks momentarily, regardless of what the dog was doing at the time, as the sound is startling and unpleasant. But, as with all of these types of devices, it’s really just putting a Band-Aid on the problem. If a dog is barking at visitors because he’s uncomfortable with them, how is startling him going to solve the underlying issue? Does anyone really believe these things are like remote controls you point at a dog and violà! the behavior changes instantly, like changing the channel?

The website wrap-up claims, “It’s almost impossible to read the dog’s body language.” (Hence the need to “discipline your dog.”) Well, I have news. It’s not “almost impossible” to read a dog’s body language. In fact, it’s not all that difficult if you know what to look for. If an owner doesn’t know, that’s okay; they simply have to become educated. But if someone doesn’t know how to read a dog’s body language, they sure as hell have no business training a dog, particularly with punishment-based methods. We have become a culture of short attention spans and instant gratification. Still, that’s no excuse not to take the time and make the effort to train our dogs in a kind, gentle way. It might take a little longer than scaring them into stopping problem behaviors, but the effects will be long lasting and we won’t be damaging the bond between us and our beloved companions.
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Frustration Tolerance

May 23, 2019

dog dish istockphoto cropHave you ever been in the supermarket and seen a child pointing at something on the shelf, imploring his mom to buy it? The mom says no. The child asks again in a louder voice. But when he gets another “No!” he starts crying, or worse yet, screaming. What’s going on here? Frustration intolerance, that’s what. The child simply cannot accept that, as the Rolling Stones said so eloquently, “You can’t always get what you want.”

This fact of life applies to our dogs as well. Although I’ve not seen studies on the subject, I suspect that with both dogs and children, there is a genetic set point for frustration tolerance. In other words, every dog or child is more or less genetically predisposed to having a certain level of patience and acceptance when dealing with their desires being thwarted. That said, the environment and the way one is raised has a lot to do with whether that tolerance level stays the same, decreases, or increases. Whether a dog is a puppy or a full-grown adult, frustration tolerance is something that can be taught.

In fact, I’m currently working with a client who has a young, small breed puppy. This is a lovely, well behaved, adorable pup who I have never seen show an ounce of aggression. The owner, however, informed me that the pup has lately been showing teeth and hard staring. To be honest, I was shocked to hear it. But just because I’ve never seen something doesn’t mean it’s not true. I absolutely believed the owner that something was happening, but a gut feeling, along with knowing that this puppy is constantly wanting—and getting—attention, I suspected frustration intolerance was behind the behavior. Upon questioning, I learned that the display most often occurred when the pup wanted to be picked up, played with, or otherwise shown attention. I gave the owners exercises to  start building self-control and frustration tolerance, for example, having the pup sit and wait to be released to eat meals. I also instructed that at the exact moment the pup began to show the troublesome behavior, the owner use a lightly said marker phrase, “Too bad!” and put the pup in a time out for a minute. (Long time outs are not necessary—no dog is sitting there pondering the error of their ways.) Lo and behold, I received an email a few days later, saying the pup is no longer showing the behavior at all, and that all the owner has to do is utter the marker phrase and the behavior immediately stops. Well, that’s not exactly the way the phrase was to be used, but it’s working for them and it shows that the pup is learning that the Rolling Stones were right after all.

Hey, this is a frustrating world for people and dogs. None of us get what we want all the time—and maybe that’s a good thing. But we need to teach this concept as early as possible, and reinforce it regularly. Besides, not always getting what we want makes that special something all the more special if we do finally get it.
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Subscribe above to be notified of new postings. Nicole’s books, seminar DVDs, and blog can be found at www.nicolewilde.com. You can find Nicole on Facebook and Twitter. Nicole also runs Gentle Guidance Dog Training in Santa Clarita, CA.


The Terrible Weight of Responsibility

May 9, 2019

Sad, abandoned dog in the middle of the road /high contrast imagThe voice on the other end of the phone was difficult to understand, because the woman was struggling to speak through her tears. This was technically a training call, but it was really a desperate cry for help. The caller did not live in my training area. Still, I felt so sorry for her that we spoke for quite a while. Her 3-year-old dog, a Golden Retriever, had bitten three people. Two were young teenagers. Each child needed more than 10 stitches. In one case, the dog had bolted through the front door when it had been left open; in the other, the child had gone to pet the dog. The woman has two children herself, a 20-year-old and a 9-year-old. Although she was lucky as far as the parents of the injured kids not suing, this was a grim situation and she knew it.

I know some of you are thinking, Why was a bite allowed to happen more than once? I’m guessing it had to do with less than perfect management, a hope that the first bite was an isolated incident, and the family’s love for the dog despite what had happened. The 20-year-old sleeps with the dog every night, is extremely closely bonded with him, and has told her mom that she doesn’t know how she’ll go on if the dog is euthanized.

The dog had a rough start in life: parvo as a pup, along with seizures. The family paid quite a bit to nurse him through it all. Did the illnesses leave lasting neurological damage? No one knows. We do know the dog has inflicted multiple bite wounds and caused serious injury. I did suggest getting the dog a complete veterinary workup, on the off chance that there was a physiological reason for the behavior. While I would never tell someone sight unseen to euthanize their dog, I asked how the woman would feel if, knowing what she does, the dog mauled or even killed a child. How would she live with herself? We both knew there was no way the dog could be rehomed. The family could work with a trainer, but regardless, this is a dangerous dog who would always need to be managed carefully. The other option, full-time management, would entail muzzles, crates, and constant worry and oversight. Besides the stress it would create for the dog and the family, management is seldom 100% reliable, especially when there are kids involved. At this point, the young son has no friends because no one can come to the house. This is a dog who could live another 10 years. Should the child be forced to grow up that way?

I’ve trained a lot of dogs over the last 25 years. The Golden Retrievers I’ve worked with who were aggressive tended to be intensely so. Perhaps it’s because the normal Golden temperament seems to be the sky is blue, the birds are singing…  In my experience, when dogs of this breed go wrong, they go really wrong. In this particular case, options were very limited because of the extent of the dog’s aggression, along with the family having a young child in the home. I believe the woman will end up euthanizing the dog. By the end of our conversation she had stopped crying, and said she felt better for having talked it over. My heart goes out to her and her family. It’s a terrible situation. Unfortunately, sometimes we must bear the terrible weight of responsibility in order to do the right thing for everyone involved.
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Subscribe above to be notified of new postings. Nicole’s books, seminar DVDs, and blog can be found at www.nicolewilde.com. You can find Nicole on Facebook and Twitter. Nicole also runs Gentle Guidance Dog Training in Santa Clarita, CA.


Yes, I Worry

April 25, 2019

rattlesnake in holeRecently, Sierra and I were walking along a dirt trail at our local park. We’ve had an incredibly rainy winter and this particular path has become very narrow and overgrown with tall weeds and grasses. Before the warm weather hit, I used to let my dogs run free in the area, since it’s largely uninhabited. They’ve got a great recall and love to run, so why not? But now I worry about rattlesnakes. We have lots of them around here and I’m quite sure they’re already out and about, as evidenced by the one who was lounging on my porch just a few days ago. Besides, there are signs posted all over the park to warn walkers about the venomous snakes. So, for now, my dogs are on leash whenever we’re in the danger zone.

As we passed through the possibly snake-infested area, we ran into a man I often see in the mornings. His dog was off leash and romping happily through the tall weeds. After exchanging greetings I asked, “Don’t you worry about your dog running into a rattlesnake?” His reply? “Nope. It’s never happened.” Then, for good measure he added, “You seem like you worry about everything.” Really? Hmm. Besides that being an odd comment from someone I’ve spoken to maybe once or twice, a rattlesnake bite can easily kill a dog. I know of a few dogs in the area who have died from them. Put that together with the fact that rattlesnakes are known to inhabit that particular area. Why would anyone not worry?

There are plenty of things that could pose a danger to dogs that I refrain from saying anything about, because few people appreciate unsolicited advice when it comes to their kids or dogs. But if I see something that’s potentially deadly, like it or not, I am going to say something. I’ll say it nicely and non-judgmentally, but yes, I will say it, because it just might save your dog’s life. As my husband put it so succinctly, “Only the ignorant don’t worry.” Worrying means we’re considering the possibilities and weighing potential threats, which allows us to be prepared. So, to the man who commented that I seem as though I “worry about everything,” when it comes to things that can hurt or even kill my dog, yes, I do worry. And that’s a good thing.
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Don’t want to miss a blog post? Subscribe above to be notified of new postings. Sign up for my free Training Tips Tuesdays by going to www.nicolewilde.com (click on Join Nicole’s Inside Scoop List). My books, seminar DVDs, and blog are at www.nicolewilde.com and you can find me on Facebook and Twitter. TRAINERS can now get personalized, one on one coaching and consulting at www.dogtrainersfriend.com.


Truly Dangerous Dogs

April 11, 2019

cartoon bulldog aggressive pixabayYears ago, I had a client who was afraid of her own dog. Technically, the dog belonged to her husband, and whenever he was away at work, the dog stayed out in the yard because of her apprehensions. I was there to assess the dog. Now, having handled aggression cases for many years, I knew that sometimes anything from jumping up on people to grabbing things out of someone’s hands is termed “aggression.” Startling or even frightening as those things can be, they are in reality issues of dogs needing training. Then there are other dogs who truly do have aggressive tendencies, and those range on a spectrum from mild to severe. I went in with an open mind. What I found there shocked me. The dog was locked out of the house by a sliding glass door. When he spied the woman and me, the 100-plus pound mixed breed started throwing himself against the glass while frothing at the mouth. He had a wild-eyed, glazed look that said if he could get in, he would cause severe harm to both of us. The woman told me that this is the way he would behave whenever he spotted her. Even after having worked with hundreds of dogs who were seriously aggressive toward people, this was above and beyond. Of course, we discussed getting the dog a full veterinary exam including a complete blood workup, and a whole lot more, but my point is that this was a truly dangerous dog. (In case you’re wondering, we never did let him inside, and it came down to a serious talk about lifelong management if they were to keep the dog.)

Another unusual case comes to mind. A woman in her seventies had adopted a dog from a German shepherd rescue. The woman had medical issues that made her weak and unsteady on her feet. The dog was young, large, and very strong, and should never have been adopted into this home. Since the time the dog had been adopted, he had displayed disturbing behaviors that included growling and snapping at the woman as well as at her male caregiver. The dog had not threatened me in any way during our session until, standing in front of me, apropos of nothing, he placed his teeth around my wrist, and very calmly and deliberately began to bite down with gradually increasing pressure while staring hard at me. To be honest, it was chilling. I managed to snap him out of it with a perky rendition of his name followed by “sit” (I knew he knew the behavior and might automatically respond to it), which, fortunately for me, worked. Still, this was one of the few dogs in my long career that simply made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

Speaking of that piloerection response, it’s there for a reason. Though we’re living in modern times, that ancient, instinctive warning system still works just fine. Its function is to keep us out of danger. It might appear as though a dog isn’t doing anything out of the ordinary, and yet something feels very wrong. When that happens, I listen. Years ago I was helping a trainer friend who had been tasked with doing temperament testing on shelter dogs. As we walked through the kennels deciding which dogs to test, we passed a pen housing a rottweiler. Now, I happen to like rotties, and certainly have no prejudice against them. But this one? He wasn’t hard staring, or growling, or showing a single sign of anything that would make anyone worry. And it wasn’t that he had the usual rottie expressionless look, either. There was just something–a feeling, a vibe—that made me extremely wary of him, and I told my friend there was no way we should take him out at that time. We finished walking down the row of pens and on our way back we passed the rottie once again. With absolutely no provocation from us, as we approached, he flung himself against the bars in a way that cleary suggested a serious intent to cause harm. As with the dog who was out in the yard, this was beyond the usual barrier frustration that can happen when a dog is behind a fence or other obstruction.

There are plenty of dogs who are, to varying degrees, aggressive toward people. I have certainly helped my share of people-aggressive dogs, including some who had multiply puncture-wounded multiple people. In other words, dogs who displayed severe aggression. In the vast majority of the cases, given good owner compliance, we were able to modify the behaviors. But dogs are living beings and, just like human psychopaths, there are some who are irredeemable. The truly  dangerous ones are few and far between, and yet, they exist. That is one reason it irks me to no end when a trainer boasts that he can “fix any dog” or “resolve any behavior issue.” It doesn’t do any good to tell an owner that if they were only a stronger pack leader or had been tougher on the dog, this wouldn’t be happening. Although owners can certainly contribute to or even cause behavior problems, in some cases it simply has nothing to do with them. Of course everything should be done to help a dog with aggression issues, including calling in a qualified professional trainer who can assess the behavior and explain the options. But again, it does a disservice to owners to blame them, and it also helps no one to make sweeping generalizations about aggressive behavior because unfortunately, there really are truly dangerous dogs out there.
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Subscribe above to be notified of new postings! Sign up for free Training Tips Tuesdays by going to www.nicolewilde.com and clicking on Join Nicole’s Inside Scoop List. Books, seminar DVDs, and blog can be found at www.nicolewilde.com and Nicole on Facebook and Twitter. If you are local to Santa Clarita, check out Gentle Guidance Dog Training.


Should You Expect Total Compliance from Your Dog at All Times?

March 28, 2019

k12(1).jpgIn a recent conversation with another dog owner, I heard this phrase: “She’s being a little s#*%!” When I asked what the woman meant, she replied that Ginger, her very mini, long-haired mix, wasn’t at all compliant when she tried to groom her around the head area. Ginger, she related with indignity, thrashed and threatened to bite! Although the woman had been a vet tech and certainly knows how to restrain dogs, the task was almost impossible. Then she mentioned the buzzing noise, and I realized she’d been using clipping shears, which make a noise that can be frightening to some dogs. In the end, she had decided to leave Ginger’s head area alone. Still, she was clearly distraught over the episode.

Part of the reason the woman was so upset is that she follows the philosophy that if a dog doesn’t allow us to do something, or disobeys a request, that he is being dominant. She believes we should be able to do anything we want to our dogs and they should, without question, let us. This is a point that’s worth considering. Does this all or nothing philosophy really serve us or our dogs?

Dogs are living beings who have fears, likes, and dislikes, just like we do. Should another person be able to do anything they like to you, in whatever way that they like, whether it scares the hell out of you or not? I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t be able to handle our dogs. Of course we should. I came in from a walk just this morning with two wet, muddy dogs. Had I not been able to handle their paws and towel them off, I would have had an even messier house than usual. Certain things are non-negotiable but, even in those cases, if a dog reacts fearfully, the kinder, more productive thing to do is to use desensitization techniques to get him accustomed to the “scary thing” gradually. Besides, what if your dog isn’t complying because he’s feeling unwell, or because what you’re doing hurts? If you didn’t stop to consider that and simply pushed through, you’d never know.

I remember watching a popular television show years ago. This particular episode featured a maltipoo with very shaggy bangs that were obscuring her vision. The man had the dog up on a table and was brandishing a pair of long, pointed scissors with one hand while attempting to hold the dog still by squeezing his other hand around her throat. The dog was thrashing her head from side to side as the man darted in with the scissors here and there, attempting to make little snips. The owner looked on, clearly horrified. I too was horrified, watching with my hands half covering my eyes, afraid that the poor dog was about to be blinded. After a few snips, the man handed the scissors to the owner and then restrained the dog with both hands around the throat as the woman made a half-hearted attempt to trim the bangs. So, what did this all accomplish? The dog was scared out of her mind. And what do you think will happen the next time the owner tries this on her own?

Forcing a dog accomplishes nothing. Sure, in an emergency situation we should do whatever it takes to keep our dogs safe. But should you, without question, be able to do anything to your dog? For me, the answer is that you should be able to do the things that are necessary for your dog’s well-being, and the things that are important in your everyday life together. But, if your dog becomes frightened or reactive when you do those things, rather than becoming indignant or angry, the kinder and more productive route is to take the time and make the effort to help your dog learn that there’s nothing to be afraid of; in the long run, it will make things easier for both of you.
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Don’t want to miss a blog post? Subscribe above to be notified of new postings. You can sign up for my free Training Tips Tuesdays by going to www.nicolewilde.com and clicking on Join Nicole’s Inside Scoop List! You can find my books, seminar DVDs, and blog at www.nicolewilde.com and me on Facebook and Twitter. TRAINERS can now get personalized, one on one coaching and consulting from me at www.dogtrainersfriend.com.

 

 


Walk This Way

March 21, 2019

Girl walking her Beagle DogI remember a conversation I had a while back with a friend whose dog Charley, a 3-year-old Lab, is a big lug of a sweetheart. On walks, she proudly told me, Charley walks right next to her. Whether they’re on the street, at the park, or in the woods, it doesn’t matter; Charley is always right by her side. That paints a lovely picture of companionship, and from a training standpoint, it’s impressive. Clearly, she’d put in the work to teach Charley what she wanted and had worked with him so that regardless of who passed by or what happened around them, he stayed at her side. But is that level of strict obedience necessary on a constant basis when walking our dogs?

Let me contrast that with something that happened not long ago during one of our morning walks at the park. I had Bodhi with me. As we passed a man I knew, Bodhi was out at the end of the leash ahead of me. The man said good morning and then chuckled, “Who’s walking who?” Now, this is a nice man who was just trying to be funny, and no, Bodhi wasn’t actually dragging me at all. But, again, it begs the question: does your dog really need to walk next to you all the time?

It’s a strange thing, if you think about it. We train dogs to sit and to lie down on cue. Those are things do naturally anyway, so it’s not a big stretch. But nowhere in dogdom do dogs purposely walk shoulder to shoulder like some four-footed militia. Remember West Side Story? I can’t help but imagine a gang of leather jacketed dogs striding ahead shoulder to shoulder singing, “When you’re a pet…” But I digress. Learning to walk by a person’s side must seem strange to dogs. Besides, the tradition began with hunting dogs and police dogs, because it was necessary for the dog to be on the left so the gun could be held in the right hand. Seems to me if you’re walking down the street nowadays with a gun in your hand, you’ve got bigger problems than which side your dog is on.

Although I don’t require my dogs to constantly walk next to me, they do it when asked, because that’s what I trained them to do. If they’re happily sniffing and exploring at the ends of their leashes and I say, “With me,” they know to immediately place themselves by my sides, Sierra on the left and Bodhi on the right, because that’s easier for me. Alternately, sometimes I ask them both to walk on the same side because we’re about to pass another dog or some other distraction. Flexibility is key. I love that my dogs can wander a bit and immerse themselves in the fascinating scents that surround them, sniffing plants and grasses and places where other dogs have been. I think how I would feel if you took me down a street of shops that had the coolest clothing, and then told me I had to walk down the sidewalk and not explore a single store. What fun would that be? The bottom line is, it’s up to you where you want your dogs to walk. But one thing is always true: the better trained your dogs are, the more freedom they can have. And that will make your walks, as well as the rest of your life with your dogs, a lot more pleasant for both of you.
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Don’t want to miss a blog post? Subscribe above to be notified of new postings. And, now you can sign up for my free Training Tips Tuesdays by going to www.nicolewilde.com and clicking on Join Nicole’s Inside Scoop List! You can find my books (including Keeping the Peace: A Guide to Solving Dog-Dog Aggression in the Home, Help for Your Fearful Dog, and Don’t Leave Me!), seminar DVDs, and blog at www.nicolewilde.com. And, you can find me on Facebook and Twitter.

 

 


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