I recently had a question sent in from a subscriber who had been told by another trainer that she humanised her dogs too much and it was causing issues with jealousy and fighting. She asked, could this really be the case?
Apart from her specific situation, I thought the topic of humanising our dogs deserved a post of its own.
The, “furkids,” phenomenon. People aren’t content to just call a dog a dog and a cat a cat. It has to be more of a statement that the pet is a member of the family. And of course pets are and should be considered family members. But something about the furkids term makes me cringe – perhaps because I’m not a kid person, but dogs are not children.
Personally, my husband and I choose to have dogs instead of kids. Our dogs mean a lot to us and are definitely much loved members of the family. They’re even what you might consider spoiled – they’re treated very well. They sleep inside, we spend a lot on their food to make sure they have the best diet and health possible. They get nice toys and treats. We cuddle them on the couch. We spend lots of time with them. But we appreciate that they are dogs and that’s what makes them awesome. Even though we have dogs and not children, we don’t pretend that the dogs are children. To me they’re even better because I prefer dogs to kids.
But what’s the harm? Does it really matter if you call your dog a furkid? Not really. What matters is how you treat them. And I tend to see a correlation between people that call their dogs furry children, and people who administer inappropriate care-giving which leads to a lack of control and structure which disrupts balance in the relationship. This is where the the real problem lies. It’s not that the owner is parenting their dog like a child, but that their parenting techniques are inappropriate, and probably would be the same if they parented a human child in the same way, causing similar types of issues.
If you raise your kids with rules and structure, raise your dogs with those similarities and they’ll thrive.
Although dogs have different needs to human children, there are also key similarities to what they need from you as the pet-parent. Your dog needs species appropriate stimulation, and exercise, but similarly to kids they need education and rules . Respecting their instinctual needs keeps them balanced and happy. While you might think that spoiling a dog makes them happier, often the case is the opposite, with overly spoiled dogs developing anxiety issues because they are being treated like something they are not.
Affection is not a solution to behaviour problems and in fact can make matters worse. Significant problems occur when humans substitute love and affection for everything else the dog needs. This creates the imbalance. Usually stemming from laziness, humans force the dogs to live like them, spending all their time together on the couch watching Netflix after the dog has waited all day for them to return home from work, instead of providing any mental stimulation, training and exercise.
Some dogs are expected to deal with heavy human emotions, used as coping mechanisms for our problems – they didn’t sign up for that. And this happens because we love them, but we are using human ways of showing it. Sometimes love means putting the needs of others before ourselves, and dogs need love, and to be treated like dogs. Well treated dogs for sure, but still respected as canines with canine psychology.
What Does It Mean To Humanise A Dog?
I don’t intend to say that you can’t treat your dogs well, give them lots of love and affection and have them sleep inside. So what’s the difference between a well-treated dog and a dog that is being overly humanised?
Here’s some common ways that people humanise their dogs:
Assuming The Dog Experiences Human Emotions
This is the most common way that people humanise their dogs that also has the worst effects to the dog. Assuming a dog is guilty over their actions or that they hold a grudge and act out of spite are two common misconceptions that people believe about their dogs whereas the evidence shows that dogs don’t display these emotions the way that people do.
Using The Dog As An Emotional Punching Bag
Dogs can provide such amazing comfort to people – it’s one of the reasons we’ve bred them to live with us. But if a person is going through emotional problems and is up and down like a roller coaster or uses their dog to cope with serious issues, this can make the dog feel insecure and confused, as this time for a human can be unpredictable and lacking structure.
Treating The Dog As A Replacement Child
Whether someone can’t have children or chooses not to, having a dog instead is often very rewarding. But it’s a different species and treating a dog like a human child will make them anxious and confused. Dressing them up, carrying them in hand bags, putting perfume on them and basically not allowing them to behave like dogs is withholding from them some of life’s greatest pleasures as well as the behaviours that their instincts tell them they should be able to express. For example, dogs get confused when you speak to them too much, and most of them hate being handled the way you typically see when being dressed up.
The Difference Between A Well Treated Dog And An Over Spoiled Dog
Treating dogs well as dogs can sometimes be referred to as spoiling, especially by those who are more used to dogs being outside only and a bit more distant from the family. Inside vs outside is a personal choice, but dogs do want and need to feel included in the family.
However, taking good treatment too far can ruin a dog by causing them major behaviour issues. A dog treated well might be allowed inside, allowed to visit on the bed and furniture, fed a high quality diet, taken out and about often with the owner. This is all good stuff.
So where does it cross the line from a well loved dog to a dog that is being ruined?
Apart from the humanising habits listed earlier, the major cause of anxiety and behaviour issues results from too much freedom.
The dog can get on any piece of furniture or go to any part of the house any time she wants with no structure. She can eat whenever she wants and if she turns her nose up at it, she’s offered something better until she accepts. She might be sitting in a high chair at the table being fed a roast meal from a fork. Or maybe she is having a diet forced onto her because it’s what the owner prefers to eat rather than what a dog is designed to eat.
Many issues I see can be treated with the introduction of more structure and rules into everyday life. Just like with human children, rules, structure and routine helps keep life safe and stable and doesn’t mean any less love is involved.
How To Love Your Dog As A Dog
People are touchy these days and easily get offended over being told to do anything they feel might threaten the special bond they have with their pets. Fortunately, the best way to treat your dog does not involve loving them any less, but respects them more and helps them to be happier.
The human-dog bond began thousands of years ago and has always been special without trying to change the dog into something it’s not.
So here’s my tips on how to love your dog to the moon and back while treating them like the amazing creatures they are… dogs:
Run, Fetch, Swim, Walk
Dogs love to run. Get outside, get fresh air, see the pure joy on their faces as they run. Teach them to come when called and then run around with them too, exercise is good for both of you.
Different breeds may have different needs. What was your dog bred for? Can they experience this or something close to it?
A Healthy Dog’s Diet
Canines eat raw meat and bones. Are you feeding your dog as close to nature as possible?
Dogs Love Leaders
You don’t need to behave like a dog to be a reassuring and caring leader to your dog. But having a boss and knowing that they have a leader that will keep them safe makes dogs feel happy and secure. What does this look like? Make sure your dog listens to you at all times and knows the rules of the house.
Practice Obedience and Structure
The “Nothing In Life Is Free,” principle is where you give your dog a simple command before giving them a life reward, like access through a doorway, or eating their meal. It has nothing to do with who goes through the door first. It has to do with practicing obedience and looking to you as the leader of the house, which gives them that security.
Make Sure They Know Where To Be
Some spaces at home might be free run, like the backyard, other spaces may need more structure. This keeps dogs settled and out of mischief. For example, TV time may mean all the dogs are on their place beds, relaxed and sleeping while everyone else relaxes too. Want to cuddle on the couch? Just make sure you made the decision and invited them up, rather than giving the dog/s the choice ALL the time in where to go and what to do. Dogs feel more secure with a bit of structure.
Fairness And Competition In Multi Dog Households
Just like with children, competition over resources can cause conflicts in multi dog homes. Most often, the previous resource worth fighting over is YOU: access to you, attention from you, affection from you.
Many people try to make things more fair by making the dogs take turn at access to a privilege such as sleeping with the owner on the bed. The problem with this is dogs don’t have the same thought process with seeing that as fair. You might know that you are giving each dog the same allocated time on the bed. But each dog that is missing out at the time could be thinking in their mind that they are just waiting for their moment to fight to win the resource back every single time, causing a continual cycle of competition.
In a case like this, it would be much more fair the treat the dogs the same at the same time – for example, all dogs have to stay on their individual beds until released, and that’s just the way it is.
At the end of the day, all the kids, er, I mean dogs, have to do what they’re told, when they’re told and that makes loving them all the more rewarding for both of you.
Thank you to Daniel from Victorian Dog Training Academy for helping with input for this article.
When I was a kid we lived on 5 acres and to my delight it was somewhat a mini farm. We had horses, chickens, 3 small dogs, pet birds and reptiles. At various times we even did some wildlife caring and had a wallaby joey, a kangaroo joey and a possum named Glenn.
Our dogs were chihuahuas and terrier mixes. They would use their natural instincts hunting rats and mice in the shed where all the feed was kept for the horses. They were lightning fast and would catch and kill the rodents with speed, so they definitely had prey drive – but it was never an issue with any of our other animals – perhaps because they were all bigger than our tiny dogs.
We did have baby chickens around the dogs and had no issues, even though, to my dismay, one of our dogs had killed wild ducklings before. Yet when we had domesticated ducklings, again no problems. Why the difference? How did the dog refrain from using his prey drive and instincts when it came to the pets?
We never gave those dogs formal training – they really only knew the sit command and a rough recall. But when it came to pets that look like prey, my parents were always strict and clear to the dogs that they weren’t to be touched.
So can you trust your dog with chickens? The truth is, that’s a question that is impossible for me to give a straight answer to because every dog is different and has different levels of prey drive – the instinct to chase and kill. It also depends on the dog’s genetics, individual personality and history – has the dog killed a chicken or similar before? Or has the dog been raised around chooks all it’s life without incident?
With this in mind, let’s have a look at a couple of scenarios where people may ask about getting dogs and chickens to live in peace, starting with a dog that’s never met chickens before…
How to Introduce Your Dog To Chickens Safely
Let’s say you have had a dog for a few years and you would like to get chickens for the first time, but you have no idea how your dog will react.
Some dogs will adapt easily, as if they naturally understand that the chickens are off limits. Hopefully that is the case with you, but if you’re reading this, I’m guessing it’s not…
Many dogs will be very interested in chasing chickens. It’s important to keep in mind that this is natural instinct and your dog doesn’t know it’s wrong. Prey drive is triggered by movement so you’ll find that the faster the chickens move, the more your dog wants to chase and grab them.
The movement is setting off a strong instinctual desire and your dog has no idea that you aren’t in on this fun game. For all the dog knows, he’s helping you to catch dinner!
So take no risks. It’s just not worth it. When buying chickens, you should be prepared that getting your dog used to the fact that they aren’t to be eaten could take some time and effort on your part and there’s a chance you might never be able to fully trust your dog around the chooks.
Don’t force the two species to go close to each other. You don’t want to stress the chickens out by making them feel trapped while your dog eyes them hungrily.
Have your dog on a secure leash and start with a barrier between them. Reward your dog for calmness and for ignoring the chickens, especially if they move. Teach a leave it command beforehand and use it early – as soon as your dog eyeballs the chickens.
Then correct any intense staring, barking or lunging. I can’t tell you how to correct your dog – it needs to be something you know your dog won’t like enough to want to avoid it happening again. It shouldn’t be painful and may not even be physical, but should have a startling effect.
If you’re not seeing any changes, you may be too close too fast. The biggest roadblock I see to this type of training is impatience. Take it slow and accept this won’t happen overnight.
If you know you’re not too close and you’re still struggling with this, you may want to call in a trainer to help you.
When you’re not supervising your dog with a leash on around the chickens, the dog and chickens should be safely separated. For example, the chickens locked in their yard or the dog locked in a dog pen while the chickens have some more freedom.
If you leave your dog out with the chickens without enough practice, you’re setting your dog up to fail and will undo all your hard work. Your dog will get practice at chasing and even killing the chickens. This will make it so much harder to train your dog to leave the chickens alone.
If Your Dog Has Already Chased And Injured/Killed Chickens
The more practice a dog gets at any behaviour, the more ingrained that behaviour will get, ESPECIALLY if the behaviour is rewarding, and catching chickens is definitely rewarding.
If you haven’t caught your dog in the act, there is no point punishing your dog – they will have no idea why you’re doing it. There’s an old wive’s tail to tie the dead chicken to the dog’s neck and leave it there for days to punish the dog. I certainly don’t recommend doing this.
Speaking of wive’s tails, perhaps the worst of all is the belief that once your dog has killed a chicken and, “tasted blood,” it will be forever unsafe around animals and children. This false belief has sadly led to dogs being put to death for killing a chicken for fear the dog will turn on the kids. In truth, the natural instinct to chase and kill a chicken is present in most dogs and doesn’t translate to the dog being unsafe around children. It also has no effect on chicken chasing if you feed your dog chicken meat as part of their diet.
So what can you do? While killing a chicken won’t turn your dog into Cujo, it can make it harder to train the behaviour out, simply because when the dog chased and caught that chicken, it felt really good to him/her. The dog felt rewarded.
So the first thing you need to do is ensure that the dog is never put into a situation where it could possibly chase or catch a chicken again.
In the meantime, set aside time for training sessions where you work with your dog on lead, then with a long line. For some dogs and with the help of a trainer, you may progress to a remote collar.
I can’t say whether you will have success in training your dog to never want to chase or kill a chicken again. It may be a case of always supervising when the two species are around each other, taking safety precautions like keeping your dog on leash or a barrier between them.
Whether a dog has ever chased a chicken before or not, there’s never really any guarantee that it won’t happen if you leave your dog and chickens unattended together. You just can’t guarantee what any creature will do when left to their own devices.
Let me know in the comments – does your dog get along with an animal of prey like a chicken?
Have you ever had a nervous wee?
No judgement here, it happens. It’s probably easier to talk about our dog’s doing it though.
I recently had a question to the inbox from Ally about her young pup of 14 weeks having this issue. I thought I’d share the tips here since this is a common problem for pups as well as grown up dogs.
So if every time your puppy gets a pat, she lets it go like Elsa in Frozen, try this approach:
Results won’t be instant as part of this involves developing bladder control.
1. Be super calm with her to the point of being boring. A lot of these dogs are getting way over excited over tiny things and need to be encouraged to tone it down rather than any excitement. This is especially important on greetings. When you get home or go to her, ignore her until she is totally calm and then let her come to you. This will also help her confidence.
2. Never scold her for this. It’s involuntary and comes from nervousness. Any raised voice or punishment will make her even more nervous and try to appease you more which leads to more wee and a vicious cycle
3. With your toilet training, try to toilet her (with all this calmness too) before you get more cuddly with her.
4. When she has calmed and you do cuddle or play with her, still don’t get over excited and don’t lean over her or do anything that could intimidate her because this is coming from nerves so even if you’re happily saying hello, if it’s sounding exciting and you’re leaning over her it will be just too much for her and she’ll pee again
This will all also get better with age and practice so you don’t have to do this forever but then again the calm greetings are helpful in general for all dogs too.
For most people, their dogs seem like they’re always ready to eat – anything, anytime. If it’s food, the dog wants it.
But for others, they are constantly trying to convince their dog to eat like a parent with a toddler refusing to eat their broccoli.
For some people it has been a constant source of stress from day one with the new puppy. She didn’t eat on day one and the owners got worried and tried to make the food more appealing again and again until the point the dog won’t eat unless she’s in a highchair at the table being hand fed fresh roast chicken and gravy that must be precisely 48 degrees celsius and served on a ceramic plate.
So why are some dogs so fussy? And why should we care?
Why should you care if your dog is fussy?
It’s only natural that some dogs are more food motivated than others, so why should you care if you have a fussy dog? From a behaviour perspective, there’s two main reasons that I wouldn’t want a dog to be overly fussy. These are:
1. As the owner I get to choose what I’m feeding my dog. I will choose the healthiest option I can and then I want the dog to eat it. End of story. I don’t want my job to become a constant challenge of searching for food my dog will eat today.
2. Training with food is useful and I want to be able to use it. For this to work, the dog needs to be motivated for the food ie hungry for it.
Dogs That Are Taught To Be Fussy
(aka dogs that are teaching their owners to feed them tastier food)
Fussy eating is most often a learned behaviour. This is a common problem I see and this is how it usually happens:
The day the owner brings home their new puppy or recently adopted dog, the dog isn’t keen to eat what is presented to them. They turn their nose up at what is offered. The owner leaves the food out for them just in case they get hungry later.
Later, the dog still hasn’t eaten and the owner begins to worry. The dog must eat! Some owners are so concerned that the dog must be sick or that the dog is starving itself. As their concern takes over, they try to offer the dog something more appealing. Wet the food, put gravy on it, try chicken. Each time the dog refuses food, they try something tastier until the dog finally eats!
The dog has just learned a lasting lesson: if you refuse food, better food will come. I’ll hold out until I get something better. The dog has trained the owner!
Why did the puppy or dog not eat the first time then? Usually when a dog is settling into a new home they’ve gone through quite the change, they’re a bit stressed, or just too overwhelmed or distracted to worry about eating so much. Within a few days, they’ll settle into their normal eating patterns.
Are Some Dogs Born With Less Motivation For Food?
Some dogs just aren’t as food driven as other dogs – for example, a sighthound may be less food crazy than a labrador. This doesn’t mean that they need special diets or effort to get them to eat though. And it definitely doesn’t mean that you can’t increase their motivation for food or train them using treats.
While you may never expect your dog to be as food crazy as the neighbour’s Lab, you can improve the food drive of just about any dog if you so desire.
How to Increase A Dog’s Food Drive
When it comes down to it, all animals need to eat.
If you don’t eat, you don’t poop, and if you don’t poop, you die.
Increasing food drive may start with making the dog hungrier, aka feeding them less. The biggest struggle here is people feeling bad or worrying that feeding their dog less is going to instantly starve their dog to death.
I have yet to meet a dog that couldn’t be taught to have a stronger motivation for food if the owner complies. The ONLY time I have not been able to increase a dog’s food drive is when the owner just can’t bring themselves to stop giving the dog free treats and leaving food out for them just in case they get peckish.
But Won’t He Be Hungry??
Yes. That’s the point.
This is how you cure fussiness and stop having to bend over backwards trying to get your dog to eat.
Plus, being able to use food as a reward makes training easier. If all we have to do is make sure the dog isn’t being overfed or spoiled to achieve this, why wouldn’t we?
Most pet dogs are overfed and overweight too. It’s healthier for a dog to be lean and to work for their food. Your dog will actually live longer and be happier if they’re using their brains to work for food through training or enrichment activities.
How It Looks In Reality
If you need to make your dog hungrier (and therefore less fussy), how is that going to look? It depends how much food they’re currently eating, what kind of diet it is and whether your dog also needs to lose weight or not.
For some dogs the only thing that needs to be changed is to stop leaving food down for free feeding and only feed at set times. For other dogs, a reduction in quantity of meals is required, or switching from 2 meals per day to one.
If you’re training with food, you can train with the dog’s morning meal instead of giving it to the dog in a bowl and then give nothing else until the next meal. The quantity may be the same, but is fed through the dog working for it and learning at the same time.
As always, take into account the entire daily intake of food. Many people make the mistake of feeding meals in bowls and then adding in chews, treats and bones and thinking it doesn’t count towards the entire daily intake. Everything your dog ingests counts! This includes dental chews and pigs ears, in fact these common extras like pig ears are usually high in fat content and filling!
What To Do At Feeding Times
If you put down your dog’s meal and they turn their nose up at it or sniff it and walk away, immediately pick the food back up and put it away. Offer it again ten minutes later and do the same thing but this time, it’s put away until the next meal with no extras in between!
I once had someone tell me her dog was extremely fussy and I suggested this strategy. She said she’d tried it for days and it didn’t work, the dog didn’t eat for days! Well it turns out the dog did eat – it was being fed shortbread biscuits by another family member the entire time, but no one really thought that would count. They still got worried that the dog didn’t eat it’s dog food and gave in once again to offering more enticing foods.
As the dog’s owner, you can decide what the dog is fed and how much. If you need to make a switch from your dog being so fussy that you change to a more appealing food, to giving the dog whatever you decide, you need to be more persistent than the dog. You need to be firm with your decision! A dog can go three days without eating and then they will give in if you’re consistent.
If you need reassurance that your dog won’t die, think about this: dogs are descendant from wolves. All dog species can live in the wild and survive by scavenging and hunting (working for their food). They are adapted to only getting a meal here and there – no set times and sometimes days between food. Your dog is still living a lavish life in comparison and no healthy dog will let themselves starve.
Remember, making the change is healthier for your dog in the long run. A few days of being hungrier will be worth it long term and over time, your dog will learn to appreciate their food.
Disclaimer: Hopefully it doesn’t need to be said, but if your dog suddenly goes off their food and it is unusual, take them to the vet.
The Importance Of Mental Stimulation For Pets
These days, everyone is busy. This means that many dogs spend a lot of time at home in the house or yard with not a lot to do. Yet at the same time, our dogs have often been bred to work and use their amazing brains to do jobs for us. Like people, exercising the brain can help a dog to feel tired, even more than physical exercise. It’s important to leave your dog with things to do when you’re gone but also very important for a dog’s health and wellbeing to spend time exercising their brain when you’re home. This doesn’t have to take up a great deal of time – in fact dogs learn best with several short training sessions rather than one long one.
Brain Boosting Games For Your Dog
Wouldn’t it be great if your dog could find your keys or your mobile phone? This trick provides great mental stimulation and is useful for you around the house as well. When a dogs search for an item, they use their amazing power of scent. Having a dog use their sense of smell is a great way to exercise their brains and keep them tired and happy.
You don’t need to teach your dog to use their nose, they already know that. You just need to teach them the object you want them to find and show them that it’s worthwhile to find it.
Here are the steps:
▪ Show them the object you want them to find – you might want to give it a unique name for later when you expand to more items. Let’s say you’re teaching your dog to find the keys. Show them the keys and when they look at them, sniff them or touch them, say, “yes,” and give a treat (or any reward that motivates your dog)
▪ Place the keys on the ground and mark with, “yes,” and reward for the dog sniffing them on the floor
▪ Keep moving the keys around different places of the room and continue to reward for your desired outcome – this could be just sniffing them or picking them up. Reward for small steps towards your end goal
▪ At this point, put a command to the task like, “find keys!”
▪ When your dog is consistently giving you the reaction you want, start to hide the keys where they can’t be seen. This will encourage your dog to use it’s nose.
▪ Gradually increase the difficulty of the location as long as your dog is winning. If they are struggling, take a step back to where they were last successful and practice some more
If your dog knows how to fetch, you can start giving each individual object it’s own name. This is an impressive trick when you work your way up to several objects and is a great brain challenging game for your dog. You can combine this game with the Find It game to have your dog fetch different objects by name using their nose. But you should have each one going well separately first before tying it together.
Here’s the steps to name your objects for the dog to fetch:
▪ Choose the first object you want to name. Let’s say it’s a stuffed bear.
▪ Place the bear on the ground and say, “bear,” followed by your dog’s usual fetch command.
▪ Reward your dog for fetching the bear. Practice this several times and then try dropping the fetch command so you are just saying, “bear”
▪ Once your dog is fetching the bear on command, place the bear on the ground again as usual but this time, place a second object on the ground as well. Let’s say it’s a toy sheep.
▪ Test the bear command and only reward your dog if he sticks with the bear. If he gets it wrong, he won’t get his usual reward. If he gets it right, throw a party! Your dog can now fetch the “bear” item by name. Add more items around it to proof the “bear” command.
▪ Repeat this process with the sheep on it’s own and any other objects you want to name.
▪ The real test is when you have trained multiple items and you put them all down together. See if your dog can remember which one is which and only fetch that toy on command.
▪ Remember like all training, if your dog is stuck, take a step back to where he last succeeded.
Hide and Seek
Another task to encourage your dog to use her nose is hide and seek, where your dog has to find you! Make sure you have their favourite reward for them ready for when they do.
This trick uses the dog’s sense of smell, exercises their brain and gives them exercise as well. It can be easier with two people but you can do it alone if your dog can hold a reliable stay.
▪ Have your dog stay or have a friend hold your dog with them in another room
▪ Go and hide. Make the first few easy
▪ If you have a friend helping, they can say, “seek,” and let the dog go.
▪ The first few times, you may need to also call your dog once or twice to show them that they need to find you and give them a bit of help
▪ When they find you, give them a big reward!
▪ Make it slightly harder each time but always keep it fun. Ways to make it harder is to hide inside cupboards, behind doors or go outside and try it in a safe outdoor area.
Tidy Up Your Toys
Wouldn’t it be great if your dog tidied up all their toys when they were done playing? Combine this trick with the object discrimination trick for a super advanced version and blow your friend’s away with how smart your dog is. Your dog needs to know how to fetch for this trick. Be prepared for your dog to be nice and tired after a session of training this helpful trick.
▪ Start with just one of your dog’s toys on the ground and a basket to put the toys in
▪ Stand with the basket in front of you and give your dog the fetch command for that object
▪ Hold your open hand above the basket
▪ As your dog brings the object to your hand or goes to drop the object at your feet, hold a treat above the basket. As your dog goes to take the treat, the toy will fall into the basket. Mark (“yes”) and reward your dog when this happens and give lots of praise.
▪ Repeat multiple times until your dog is reliably dropping the item into the basket
▪ As your dog is successful, stand behind the basket and point to the basket as the dog approaches. Reward after the dog has dropped the toy inside.
▪ Now you can introduce a new cue to this task. To do this, say the new cue right before the old cue and then phase out the old cue. So say, “tidy up, fetch” and then reward as usual. After a few repetitions, try saying, “tidy up,” by itself and see if your dog understands.
▪ Gradually move further away and reward less often by asking for more toys to be tidied up before you give a treat.
Is it important to keep providing mental stimulation for dogs at any age?
It’s absolutely important to provide mental stimulation for a dog of any age, even an older dog. An older dog may tire faster but they will still enjoy it and appreciate you for it.
In fact, mental and environmental enrichment is important for all animals!
Consider: Do you have another pet that may be bored?
Young puppies need mental stimulation too and the younger you start, the faster your dog will learn things you want to teach them later on. Ins saying that, you can definitely teach an old dog new tricks! Like elderly dogs, pups may tire quicker so keep sessions short and fun.
Training these kind of challenging tricks not only helps your dog to get tired and satisfied, it also continues to make them smarter as they develop their skills and learn how to learn. And best of all, giving your dog mental stimulation through training increases the bond between you. So it’s a win-win for everyone involved.
Resource guarding in dogs – When your dog shows aggression over food or other possessions…
Resource guarding in dogs is a very common behaviour. Why does it happen?
Resource guarding is a natural trait for survival in the wild – if you don’t protect your food, someone else will take it! It hasn’t been fully bred out of our domestic dogs, so it can certainly be innate. The genetic potential to resource guard varies from dog to dog. It can however, also be a learned behaviour if the dog has learned through experience that it can lose it’s precious resources if it doesn’t protect them. This can often result from well meaning dog owners taking food from their dogs regularly in an effort to prevent guarding in the first place.
The resource being guarding may not just be food. Resource guarding can occur with food, toys, beds, spaces and commonly, owners.
What are the signs?
The first subtle sign of resource guarding behaviour is stiffening of the body. The dog will freeze and may lick it’s lips while looking towards the threat but staying closely over the resource. Next, the lips will raise to show the teeth and a the dog will start to give a low growl. Some dogs may raise the hair on their back (pilo-erection). If eating, the dog will often speed up or try to carry the object away if it’s a bone, toy or other prized possession that can be carried. If the threat to their resource doesn’t stop, the next stage is a lunge and bite.
Is it a breed thing?
No. While heredity is a factor, behaviour is specific to individuals rather than being breed specific. While food guarding may occur in specific lines of breeds, it does not mean one breed is more likely to exhibit this over another and we always need to take the learning and environmental history of the dog into account.
Is there anything environmental that may increase the likelihood of resource guarding?
Dogs that regularly have to compete for resources such as food can become serious resource guarders. This can happen if there isn’t enough food to go around when they’re pups. They can also learn to guard if other dogs or pups are constantly stealing their food or other resources and they learn to defend it with aggression. Once an aggressive display works for them once, it’s a powerful lesson. This kind of scenario can happen where the pups are bred, or later in life at a group dog area or shelter.
Where should you start if your dog resource guards?
Always remember that a dog is resource guarding because it feels a fear of losing the item. With this in mind, never try to stop or prevent resource guarding by forcibly taking food from your dog or removing it often. You don’t want your dog to view you as the person that always wants to take what they have.
From early on in life, teach your dog that you are the bringer of good things and that you’re not there to take from them every time, but most often, you are going to provide them with something great. Here’s three exercises you can try that will prevent resource guarding, and help to stop it.
Remember to put safety first – if your dog is already trying to growl or bite, hire a professional trainer:
1. Teach your dog that when you approach their bowl, it’s to give them something even better. For example, your dog has dry dog food in the bowl, you come over and toss in some steak and leave. You want your dog to learn that your approach is a good thing and results in more or even better food
2. Play the swap game. There will be times you need to take things from your dog. Instead of all take, teach your dog to swap for something else of equal or higher value. When starting the swap game, present the higher value item and allow your dog to take it first, before then removing the item they just had. Pair a command with this so your dog knows what to expect.
3. Hand feed often. This again instills the lesson that hands = good things. Especially as you raise a new pup, feed often from your hands to associate your hands as something that is pleasant to have near their mouth. Training with treats is a great way to do this with the bonus of training other commands while you hand feed.
Seek professional help
If your dog is resource guarding, it’s a serious issue that can be very dangerous. Like any behaviour problem, the earlier you get help, the easier and faster it will be to get results so I suggest getting help as soon as you recognise the guarding behaviour.
Register to my free video workshop: Stop Your Dog Barking And Lunging At Other Dogs And Enjoy Your Walks Again