People are spoiling their dogs more than ever. Yet anxiety in dogs is becoming more and more common.
How could this be?
We often have the best intentions when giving our dog freedoms around the house such as freedom to go anywhere on the property whenever they like. But dogs like to be able to predict what is going to happen next. If a dog has no structure, no rules and no training, and too much freedom, this creates anxiety.
Many dog owners pity their anxious dogs and therefore don’t want to put any sort of pressure on them at all, so they don’t tell them what to do. But giving your dog a job can actually decrease anxiety and make your dog happier.
When they know what the rules are and how the household works, they feel more at ease because they can more easily predict what’s going to happen next.
Remember, anxiety comes from not knowing what the outcome is going to be. Think about, when was the last time you were anxious? Did it relate to something where you didn’t know what was going to happen and felt that all or part of it was out of your control?
Let’s consider place training. Putting the dog on their place and teaching them that they have to stay there until their told removes the options of anxiety building behaviours like pacing, barking at the windows at anyone who goes by, reacting, bolting and more. Once the dog accepts that they must stay there, they calm down. Then we can reward the calm.
I really can’t express just how valuable this skill is. I had a client a while back and he had a cattle dog that was so highly strung and was practicing some behaviours that could quickly turn into OCD and escalate.
I ran into this client at dinner recently and he was so happy, raving about how useful the place training had become in their life. If his dog starts to get to wound up, she goes to place, lays down and just calms.
If you want to learn more about managing your dog’s anxiety and decreasing it through place training and other handy training, you know what to do – join Frantic To Focused.
If your dog has something that, “sets them off,” this is often referred to as a trigger.
I’ve seen dogs go bonkers over cars, bikes, other dogs, children, adults, horses, cows, leaves, trees, surfboards, kites, kangaroos. The lot! And I hear squirrels are quite the distraction in other countries (sadly we don’t have them here. I was so excited to see my first squirrel in the states!)
Regardless of what triggers your dog, the training steps we use are essentially the same.
The first thing we need to do is set your dog up to be successful so we can start rewarding those wins! And we aren’t going to get anything to reward if the dog is too close to their trigger.
Going too close too fast is the number one mistake people make when they are working on this sort of issue.
I repeat, don’t go too close too soon!
What you want to figure out is the distance you need to be before your dog reacts. This is known as the dog’s distance threshold. It might be a few feet. Or it could be the length of a football field. Every dog’s threshold is different.
What you want to do is start working on the issue at the point where your dog knows the trigger is there but is not reacting in an undesirable way.
Then you’re going to reward your dog for calmness when they are aware of the trigger, for looking at it without tensing up or staring (a calm curious look is ok but eye-balling it is not), and when your dog focuses on you and looks to you for guidance.
You can get full training on this in the Frantic To Focused program which you can join now by clicking here.
Just check out what Lesa had to say about the program:
“This Course has been such a help to me with my reactive dog. I have never learned so much or had more success in such a short period of time! This training method really works! Thank you so much !”
Or see what Jill said:
“I LOVE this course! I have been working with Beckham for 2 1/2 years using food and never have gotten the response from him that I am getting now. It has given me more confidence and I know that is transferring down the leash to him.
He loves to work and we are both having fun.”
(we teach in the program how to train with or without food and how to use food correctly)
Join now and see just what you can do with your dog today. Whether your dog is anxious, distracted, reactive, fearful or just confused, I KNOW this program can help you.
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.
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
Emus are different to dogs. Dogs are different to each other, all individuals. Yet there are so many things between all creatures that are the same. So in some ways, we can learn a lesson for our dogs from a totally different species. And not just for dog training, but for ourselves in our own lives and personal development.
While I’ve trained with a few species other than dogs, training emus is fairly new to me. So just a few short weeks ago, I stepped into the emu enclosure at the zoo for the first time to meet Jimmy and Apple up close and make a plan for their training.
The first thing to learn is to be careful if you’re directly in front of them, because if they lash out with their sharp claws, it’s going to be towards the front, and you’re going to be in trouble. These two emus are familiar with people and would have to feel quite threatened to do that, but just like safety around horses, dogs or any other animal, accidents and mistakes can always happen.
But I’m going to tell you what I learned about training and even about myself from meeting one of these emus in particular, Apple.
Unlike Jimmy, Apple had come from a large field where she was pretty much wild. Being moved to the zoo was a big change for her and no doubt, stressful. She’d already lived at the zoo for several months before I met her and settled in… but she was more nervous and easily stressed than Jimmy, who was quite friendly and liked human attention.
So I felt instantly confident that we could train Jimmy quite easily as she came up (Jimmy is a she) and enjoyed taking their favourite food from my hands – grapes.
Apple on the other hand, would investigate us, see one tiny movement that scared her, and start pacing the fence. She was stressed and wouldn’t take food from us. There were times that if one thing changed in her enclosure, she’d pace for days afterwards.
When I saw this, my first thought was, “I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere trying to train that emu.”
However, with patience, short sessions and hope, Apple’s progress actually happened quite quickly. For animals that were adults and had never had training before, both emus progressed well. But I am especially proud of Apple.
She started out taking one grape and dropping it, then pacing for the rest of the day and keeping her distance from us.
Now she approaches us for training, works for her grapes with concentrated effort and recovers very quickly if she does have a set back.
So what’s the lesson here?
What made an impact on me was that when I met Apple, I had immediately assumed the worst. I worried and thought that it was mission impossible.
But once I made a plan, started small and just did small sessions each time we met, results were actually FAST.
Now of course this has happened with dog training clients many times before. You might be thinking, this is a lesson you should learn earlier as a trainer, and I had.
But something about Apple’s case made me really think about it and reaffirm that even when it seems difficult, it can be done.
And I wasn’t just thinking about the client’s dogs that I meet that are nervous and seem like they’ll be a challenge to help.
I was thinking of challenges I face with my own dogs (yes, dog trainers have challenges with their dogs too. In fact we’re often attracted to difficult dogs)!
Was I in a habit of being too pessimistic? Possibly.
But more likely – I didn’t have enough faith in myself and in the results that are possible with the training skills I know how to perform.
Don’t listen to the inner negative voice that we all have (aka, the itty bitty shitty committee).
Have faith in the training process itself. All you need to do is apply it correctly – in small sessions with lots of patience. While knowing what your end goal is, focus on the moment you are in right now and find success within that moment.
Here’s Apple learning to be touched willingly for physical handling:
Here’s Jimmy with voluntary syringe work for oral medications – Apple can do this too – in fact, she nailed it first!
“Emus/ dingoes/ insert XYZ animal here, can’t be trained”
Have you ever been told that something can’t be done?
You can’t have the career you want, you can’t run your own business, your pet, “can’t be trained?”
Do you listen?
It’s not just our inner critic we need to be careful of, but the voices of others too. Often times, we need to listen to ourselves and not those around us, even when they may have our best interests at heart.
Here’s some things I’ve been told that would have been very sad, had I listened (or kept listening):
“The animal industry is really hard to get into, you should get a safe job”
“People won’t hire a dog trainer in this area”
“You can probably get one client per week but don’t expect it to be full time. Don’t quit your nice, safe job”
“Dingoes can’t be trained”
While some of those things took longer for me to build confidence in than others, I did them anyway.
When I met Apple it was my own inner voice that said, “that emu can’t be trained.”
Thankfully, I did that anyway, too.
Never, ever give up. And especially don’t give up before you even try!
This is Envy.
She is fast, agile and knows how to leap over things. But when she was a puppy, she was told repeatedly, “you can’t escape that pen.”
Now fully grown and fully capable if she tried, she still believes she can’t get out of the puppy pen. Handy for us. But don’t be like Envy in the pen. Don’t listen to anyone’s voice telling you that you can’t, even if you’ve been hearing that viewpoint since you were a small child.
Start working towards your goals today. You never know how fast you can get there.
What goal will that be for you?
Register to my free video workshop: Stop Your Dog Barking And Lunging At Other Dogs And Enjoy Your Walks Again
Dog Separation Anxiety or Separation Distress, is when a dog becomes very distressed when one person or dog leaves their sight. Cases where a dog is distressed when left alone are often referred to as separation anxiety.
Causes of Separation Anxiety
Habits: It’s important that new puppies and dogs learn how to be calm while left alone. If someone has always been around the whole time the new dog or puppy is settling in and then suddenly they are left alone for the first time, they may panic. While taking time off work for a new puppy can be useful, use this time to also teach the puppy gradually longer periods of confinement and alone time.
Over excited greetings and departures: If you fuss over your dog as you leave the house and create a big excited event on your return, this creates anxiety and can lead to separation related behaviours.
Bad experience when left alone: If your dog is only left in the back yard when you are out and is very lonely, this may create anxiety about the yard. If the dog has a bad experience in the yard while alone this can cause an anxious response to being left alone in the yard. For example, while you aren’t home a loud machine makes a noise at your next door neighbour’s house where renovations are happening.
Signs your dog has separation anxiety
Excessive vocalisation such as howling, whining and barking when left alone
Destructive habits when left alone, often directed at perceived barriers such as the back door
Excessive salivation when left alone
Panting and shaking when left alone
Escaping or escape effort when left alone
Self injury or mutilation when left alone
Loss of appetite
Not all dogs that show some of these signs necessarily have separation anxiety, in fact this issue is commonly over-diagnosed. For a correct diagnosis, a dog will usually show a cluster of the signs above together although may not show every single one of the signs listed.
Prevention is always easier than cure when it comes to Separation Anxiety (SA), as with so many things. This article is a follow up to our last article on the causes and signs of SA and will cover tips on prevention and treatment.
Teach young puppies from an early age to be happy to be left alone by leaving them alone in small sessions and build up the time gradually. Give your puppy alone time while you are home and not only while you go out. This is very important.
Avoid over excited departures and arrivals. These can cause anxiety as the departure signals that you are leaving and it is over emotional. It’s common to see owners make a huge deal about arriving home, hyping up their dogs who then get very over excited. This causes your arrival home to be the highlight of your dog’s day and while they are waiting around for this to happen, anxiety can build. Although it isn’t the easiest thing to do, ignoring your dog for 5 to 10 minutes before you leave the house and after you get back home is a very effective method at avoiding anxiety associated with departures and arrivals.
As above, reduce over enthusiastic greeting behaviours by ignoring the dog until it is calm. This is often difficult for owners and requires consistency and patience .
Reduce the intensity of the owner – dog relationship by reducing the amount patting / stroking / cuddling, etc. This can be easier said than done.
Obedience training to improve communication and to give owners skills that can be used in behaviour modification
Environmental enrichment – leaving things for the dog to do at home such as chew toys and interactive or food dispensing toys
Give the dog a toy or bone on departure. Especially toys which involve chewing and physical interaction.
Leave TV or radio on
Leave the dog with an item that contains your scent
Leave the dog in a place that it feels safe and relaxed such as a room or crate
Teach the dog to ignore the pre-departure cues such as shutting up the house, putting on work shoes, grabbing keys etc.
Anti – anxiety medication prescribed by a Vet. These drugs are reported to make behaviour modification occur 2 – 3 times faster when used at the same time as a behavioural training program
Natural therapies such as – Homeopathy, Bach Flower Essences
Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP). This is a plug in diffuser that mimics the pheromones that the female dog gives out shortly after giving birth
Quick fixes including leaving the dog with a friend or dog sitter so that someone is always around, or taking the dog to work with you. But of course, not everyone has this option.
Some dogs are okay when left with another dog but this doesn’t work for every dog and you shouldn’t get a second dog only to fix a problem with the first dog. Also, some dogs will learn the unwanted behaviour in the first dog that you are trying to treat and then you will have 2 dogs with the problem.
Looking for information online can be so confusing as there is so much conflicting advice. In Training Matters, we explain not just the how of dog training, but the why, so that you know what to do and why to do it this way.