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So, Someone Told You That You Need To Establish "Dominance” With Your Dog.

We hear it all the time. A dog owner says, “I’ve heard, you need to ‘dominate’ your dog or else he won’t stop being aggressive”, etc. Almost every dog owner will hear this particular piece of unsolicited advice at least once (and probably multiple times) over the course of their dog-owning life. 

You may be a seasoned dog owner capable of navigating these kinds of conversations with ease, but most people find it disheartening and stressful to hear about “dominance theory” over and over again. It puts an awful lot of misleading weight on a new dog owner’s shoulders. For a moment, you might actually second-guess yourself and wonder if you're missing some confident might and strength that will impress your dog into behaving well.

I won’t be discussing details of dominance theory-based training methods in this post. If you’re interested in learning more about different training methods you can find full write-ups by the Association Of Pet Dog Trainers HERE or American Veterinary Society of America HERE.

In order to determine how to handle someone’s well-meaning suggestion that you “be the alpha,” let’s consider this: is it possible that there’s any truth in to this idea that dominating your dog is important?

It’s important to note the word “dominance” will have different meanings depending on who is saying it and when. This can make it nearly impossible to use the word with any clarity.

When the average dog owner (or friend or neighbor) says “my dog is trying to be the dominant dog” or “my dog likes to be dominant,” what they are really saying is that they have seen their dog act in physically invasive ways. Essentially, their dog has poor social skills and is bullying other dogs (and sometimes people). This dog is not technically “dominant”. He may be obnoxious, pushy, or aggressive, but these behaviors are often lumped into the “dominant” category.  

When a veterinary behaviorist or ethologist says one dog is the “dominant dog” they are referring to an individual animal that has shown to have primary access to the resources of reproductive rights and food among the other animals within its group. This has nothing to do with how your domesticated dog plays tug-of-war, walks through doors first, or jumps on people.

When a traditional “old-school” (dominance theory based) dog trainer says you need to “dominate” your dog and that otherwise “your dog will try to dominate you,” they could be referring to just about any behavior your dog is doing that you don’t like. They will say that the behavior is happening because your dog is trying to challenge you for control. Traditional trainers combat this with suggestions of walking through doorways first, holding dogs down until “submission” and/or implementing physical corrective actions like leash pops, hip-checks, pushing or pinching on pressure points, etc. The list of physical corrections that are used on dogs is long. In this mindset, when a dog jumps on a person, you could say that dog is trying to "assert dominance". However, you could just as easily argue that the jumping dog wants to get closer to that person because a domesticated dog enjoys the comfort of close contact with humans. You could equally argue that the dog’s jumping is nothing more than a involuntary symptom of excitement. (Note: Of course, dominant or not, we recommend teaching your dog good greeting manners through preemptive and proactive training games.)   

You might ask, “What does a clicker trainer mean when they use the word ‘dominant’?”

It’s not likely a clicker trainer will waste time bringing this word up. Clicker training functions on the basis that we (dog owners) already have control of everything our dogs and need and want. Needing to dominate them is essentially a non issue. Instead, clicker training works quickly to make our dogs cooperative companions right from the beginning. Dogs will try a variety of different behaviors to get things that they want. Instead of waiting for them to make a mistake and focus on punishment, clicker trainers use proactive games to help dogs understand how to better communicate about those things. That way they can make better choices when the time is right. With this mindset, you can set a new tone for your training: that of a guide or educator for your dog instead of a warden doling out punishment. There is a whole community of dog trainers who have moved from dominance theory-based training to clicker training. These trainers are referred to as "crossover" trainers.

Since generally “domination” refers to a dog using forceful control through (often physical)  intimidation, the only time a modern trainer or veterinary behaviorist might use the term “dominant aggression” is in the context of resource guarding. Imagine a dog with a history of snapping or biting to keep other dogs (or people) away from bones, food, couches, etc. Be wary of any trainer who uses these terms in any other context.

Let’s assume you’re already firm in your determination to use positive dog training methods. Let’s also assume you disagree with the sentiment that you need to “dominate your dog” (whatever it might mean for the person saying it). Okay, great. So then, what do you say in response to someone offering this unhelpful advice? Feel free to share what worked for you in the comments, but here is our one recommendation...

Consider saying nothing.

These other people are not your dog’s trainer or companion. Your dog is your dog (alone). She relies on you to make decisions pertaining to her health and happiness. This topic can be as raw for dog owners as the topics of politics or parenting styles. Talk of dominance can poison the headspace of an otherwise very mindful dog owner. Consider taking a deep breath, smile, and move on. Redirect that person to a different conversation (and forgive that person if it’s a friend). Keep two things in mind. When many of your friends and family grew up with dogs, dominance was “in”. They leash popped, leash-jerked and pushed down dogs as common practice. Remember how much you have accomplished in your own training by learning how to communicate with your dog through more respectful methods.


Real World Practice Walks Q & A

Tuff Pup Training's Real World Practice Walks are an opportunity for you and your dog to practice the fundamental skills that you've been working on in your personal training programs. We know at first it seems daunting to bring a reactive pup or young adolescent dog into a group of other dogs still in need of training. However, with a few rules in place, a group walk/training session for reactive dogs can be highly beneficial. Rest assured that any dog invited to join these support walks has gone through a mandatory initial consultation sessions and has been designated as safe for the group.

Here are answers to a few frequently asked questions about our support walks:

[Q]  The walks sound like they’re going to be stressful. Won’t this just make my dog hate being around other dogs more?   

[A]  Our support training walks are structured to avoid as many reactive outbursts as possible and to maintain a safe learning environment for each dog and owner. Here are a few key safety measures we take:

  • Every participant is asked to read our support walk rules of conduct before joining a walk.

  • All participants must have their dog's harness or gentle leader reviewed by a trainer prior to joining the walks.

  • All walk participants are asked to begin the walks at least 50 - 100 feet from the closest dog.

  • Walking spots are chosen for good visibility (ease of seeing other dogs at a distance) and for their abundance of "exit strategies".

  • A trainer is always on hand for additional support.

[Q]  What should I expect to happen at each walk session?

[A]  The trainer on hand will greet you and make recommendations as to where to stand in regards to the other dogs. Group walks last 40 minutes total. The first 20 minutes will involve guided training from the instructor who will make rounds adjusting the training goals to the individual dog. The second 20 minutes will be devoted to walking (at a distance or parallel depending on the group). This time will allow for independent training with the option to troubleshoot with the trainer afterwards.

[Q]  What if my dog can't handle it or I just want to leave?

[A]  Training walk participants are welcome to pull an emergency U-Turn at any time and call it a day. Follow your gut, and if it's not a good day for your dog there is no need to push it further. However, the trainer on hand will be able to troubleshoot with you, help calm your dog down, and guide you and your dog back to the walk. That's what we're here for. You can also consider taking a quick break. Find a quiet spot out of sight from the group and return to the walk when you and your dog are ready. As you rejoin the group, keep a larger distance buffer between your dog and others.

[Q]  How many walks do I have to go on?

[A]  You should feel free to join as many or as few walks as you'd like. Keep an eye on the walk calendar. These support walks are an ongoing offering to those people participating in Tuff Pup Training behavior consultations. These walks are not mandatory but they are an included offering built into the training plan for your dog's reactive behavior.

[Q]  Do I need to tell anyone I'm showing up?

[A]  We are happy to accommodate “walk on” dogs but we highly recommend you RSVP by going to the community main page and click on the tab that says "RSVP". This allows us to prepare for unusually large groups and notify you if a walk is canceled for any reason.

[Q]  How many dogs participate in each walk?

[A] Our support walks accommodate 2 - 6 dogs. If you know anyone who you think would be interested in participating in the walks but has not had a consultation with Tuff Pup Training, please feel free to have them contact us to discuss their dog's situation.


Mastering The Emergency U-turn.

The emergency U-turn is the first line of defense when encountering a loose dog or any other site that might tip your dog over threshold. Mastering the emergency U-turn involves mastering how you communicate with your dog in high stress environments. Dog trainer Grisha Stewart discusses the U-turn in her book on Behavior Adjustment Training and likens it to "a flotation device tossed to get a drowning child out of the deep end of the pool".

On face value this is nothing more then turning and moving in the opposite direction. Tuff Pup Training sees your U-turn as a crucial fundamental skills. Like all fundamental skills you would on with your dog, the more you practice the action the more reliable it will be when you need to happen.  

Extra benefit - Beyond getting you and your dog to a safe, non-reactive distance you are also giving your dog the impression that you know where the "exit strategies are". Remember that your dog does not want to "deal" with that other dog (or other trigger) anyway. As you direct your dog to turn and walk away you are supplying that functional reward of moving toward safety that sits at the heart of the B.A.T. training set-ups.

Teaching the EMERGENCY U-Turn:

Start your practice in a distraction fee space. You'll need to practice the behavior in many different environments before it will feel fluid and practical. Consider practicing twice a day for 5 minutes at times when you have to walk your dog anyway for potty breaks or exercise

  1. Start walking forward with your dog at a brisk pace. You'll be turning in a few steps but before you do begin baby talking to your dog. This works to get attention from our pup in a non invasive way as well as lighten the tone of the experience for both of you.  
  2. Slow down your forward motion or even come to a complete stop. The change in pace here will cause your dog to turn and look at you. It might not happen immediately but your dog will realize somethings up and turn to see what.
  3. The moment your dog turns Click! or say "yes!". Deliver your dog a treat but do so by holding the treat out to the side of your body that you want your dog to turn too. If you want your dog to turn and catch up to the left side of your body then be sure to hold the treat out to that left side. Only (actually) release the treat to your dog's mouth when your dog has made the effort to catch up to that side. The only thing required for your dog to do is take that one or two extra steps to reach their nose to your side. When you first try this you may only be turning your dog about 90 degrees. As you repeat the above process you can start holding back on releasing the treat until your dog has turned as full 180-degrees.
  4. Build on the U-Turn by adding more distance before clicking. Your dog has to turn and then take a full additional step with you before you click. Then repeat but wait two steps.  You are delaying the gratification but still giving plenty of opportunities for your dog to be successful. 

This whole process will make the act of turning a visual cue for your dog to follow. If you turn, your dog should turn. Since you'll likely be using this to avoid a trigger in a rushed or abrupt way you should consider adding a vocal cue. Begin to say "let's go" or "this way" just as your dog turns to make an association between the words and the action. Grisha Stewart (mention above) recommends the vocal cue be "Call Your Dog!". That way you can simultaneously U-Turn while demanding that an off leash dog be called back to it's owner.  

Adding distractions and proofing the U-turn: 

Begin searching for mild distractions to practice around. Pick distractions that might get your dog's attention but won't trigger an emotional over-reaction. Walk toward that distraction and 100 feet away implement your U-Turn as practiced. Then repeat but implement the U-Turn at 90 feet, then 80 feet, 70 feet, etc. Continue until you are at 10 or 5 feet distances. 

The best way to practice is to ask the help of friends or family to create set-ups where they can be your distraction.  Take the opportunity to try out your U-Turns during the Tuff Pup Training reactive group walks at times when another dog has gotten too close. Then return to group at a distance your dog feel safe with. 

If you are struggling with your U-Turns don't hesitate to contact Tuff Pup Training to troubleshoot or to schedule a personal training session. 


How to Handle Being Approched By A Loose Dog

Handling Loose Dogs.

There you are, walking home with your dog who is very much on-leash and under control when an off-leash dog comes running up to you. Especially for reactive dog owners this is can cause your blood to run cold. It's important to have a plan of action thought through in advance. It with take juggling some spur of the moment decisions and remembering to breath.  Here are a few considerations to help you plan for the approach of an off-leash free-running dog:

When you can, Get out of there.

If you don't have to, don't make this off-leash dog any of your business. You have your own dog and your own safety to think about. The moment you sense that the dog across the street or park is actually off-leash start looking for a good exit strategy. If you can't just walk away look for trees, cars, benches or anything else that might help to block your dog from view until the off-leash dog has moved along. 

If you see an off leash dog on a city street and it's far enough ahead, You can employ your emergency U-turn. You can review our post on emergency U-turns to get pointers on mastering this safety measure.

Are you cornered?

If you are forced into a confrontation with the off-leash dog...

  • Stop and body block. Shorten your leash and step in front of your dog. Lean your body posture forward. Step forcefully to counter the movements of the off-leash dog. Don't give this off-leash dog an easy path to your dog. The forceful posture will often get the dogs attention and cause them to pause and look up. Then..
  • Use a calm but assertive tone to shout... "Get Your Dog" or "Call Your Dog". Don't feel bad saying "my dog bites" if it helps bring a sense of urgency to the other owner. Even if their is no other owner, your shouting may elicit the help from a passersby to wrangle or distract the dog to give you and exit opportunity.
  • If you are still confronted with the dog you can try leaning your posture forward, stand tall and confidently say "Sit!". Giving a sit to off-leash dogs can often have surprising effects. Alternatively you can say "stop", "stay" or "down". If the dog pauses at all or actually listens to the command you can toss a handful of treats over the dogs head as an attempt to create another exit opportunity.

Safety Note: Throwing treats as a distraction may have actually been your first thought. Although using food as a distraction for the off-leash dog it tends to only be effective in cases where the off-leash dog is actually dog-friendly to begin with. If the off-leash is fixated on your dog and agitated it will then that dog will take treats and will likely ignore them on the ground.

What If a fight breaks out?

Stay calm. If someone is there to help you: Grasp the dogs by the hind legs, lifting as you would a wheelbarrow, rather than reaching for collars or the teeth-end of the dog! Remove fighting dogs from one-another and trade contact information. You may need to create a distraction or interruption before being able to grab the dogs (e.g. air horn, dump water bowls or spray with a water bottle).

If you are in a neighborhood where this happens often you might consider carrying citronella spray and/or a pepper spray like "Direct Stop" by Premier. These kinds of sprays can be a important last resort. Make sure to read the products full warnings and guidelines.

If possible, take pictures of the other dog. Take pictures of any bites and follow up with the other dog owner. Become familiar with local leash laws. Avoid having your dog around other dogs for at least 78 hours to avoid the adrenalin from the fight causing your dog to be triggered in another social interaction. After that, contact your close friends or family who have dogs that your dog likes. Ask them to go on a walk with you or set-up a structured play-date.

Warning: Breaking up a dog fight can be very dangerous to you. These suggestions should be followed at your own risk. Please stay safe.

Dog fights can be as bad or worse then car accidents. Even in the best case scenario, everyone's nerves are left fried. Dog owners left disheartened and scared. Learning how to read canine body language and teaching your dog public safety skills like eye contact can keep you and your pup safe for future walks.

For more info on at-home training programs for leash walking and dog park play contact tuffpuptraining.com.


Dog, meet Baby! Training: What to do before and after baby arrives.

Why prepare your dog for your baby?

From your dog’s point of view, a baby is the strangest creature that ever was. It screams and thrashes, coos and gurgles. It smells funny. It also consumes the energy of previously devoted pet owners. Weeks go by and suddenly your once-well-behaved dog is chewing the furniture. There you are, already overwhelmed by diapers, feeding, and sleep deprivation. Do you put the dog in the yard all day? Ask family to take him over, even if it breaks your heart?

The key is preparation. You need to decide well ahead of time how your dog’s routines will change—one of the biggest concerns will be who is going to give him his exercise. 

Babies and dogs can (and do) live in harmony, but not by chance.

Before baby.

8 weeks before due date:

  • Practice having your dog sit for people coming in the door while you hold a doll.
  • Begin walking your dog with the stroller.
  • Brush up on your dog’s obedience skills. 

6 weeks before due date:

  • Call dog sitters and arrange for care while you are at the hospital.
  • Add sitters’ names to your Hospital Contact list.
  • Put up X-pens and baby gates in appropriate areas.
  • Begin confinement practice: Put your dog in the confinement area for 10–15 minutes with a stuffed Kong or chew bone.

5 weeks before due date:

  • Create dog care instructions for your sitter and include your vet’s name and number.
  • Call dog walkers and schedule interviews.
  • Give your dog a stuffed Kong on his mat while you read a book in the nursing chair.

4 weeks before due date:

  • Choose a dog walker and add him or her to your Hospital Contact list.
  • Finalize dog walking schedule.
  • Put a doll in the baby swing and have your dog practice doing a stay on his mat.

3 weeks before due date:

  • Hide your house keys in a safe location for your dog sitter or be sure they have an extra set.
  • Create dog care instructions for your dog walker and include where your dog should be left if you are not at home when your dog is returned.
  • Arrange for your dog walker to schedule a trial run.

2 weeks before due date:

  • At this point, you may want your dog to begin his schedule with the dog walker.
  • Schedules are great for babies and dogs. Try to anticipate and practice your new daily routine and to get your dog accustomed to a little less of your attention.

1 week before due date:

  • Take a deep breath and relax

Questions to answer before baby:

 

Nursery: Will your dog be allowed in the nursery?

   No? Buy a baby gate and block your dog’s access to the room now.

   Yes? Choose a safe spot for your dog to hang out and place a doggie mat or bed there.

Living room: Will your dog be allowed on the furniture once baby arrives?

   If no, and he currently is, make the change now.

   If yes, where will your dog be while you are on the couch with the baby?

Also consider where baby’s toys will be stored vs. where the dog’s toys will be stored.

Bedroom: Will your dog be sleeping in your bedroom?

   No? If he currently does, make the change now.

   Yes? Will he be on a dog bed? In a crate? Make any changes now.

Kitchen: Will your dog be allowed in the kitchen during mealtimes?

   No? Where will he be? Is a baby gate needed?

   Yes? Where will he be and what will he be doing?

After baby.

  • The number one golden rule: Never leave your baby alone with your dog. Ever. To your dog, a baby will seem unpredictable. Their feet kick, arms flap, fingers grasp, bodies roll. Such actions may frighten or harm your dog—and no matter how wonderful your dog is around your baby, it is not safe to leave them alone together.
  • Let your dog investigate the baby, making sure baby is well swaddled and protected.
  • That dogs feel human-style jealousy is a myth, but your dog will certainly notice if he is getting much less love and attention, and he might form negative associations with baby if every time he comes close, someone yells, “No, down, get away!” Be sure to give your baby and your dog attention at the same time: Feed your dog before feeding the baby in the same room or just outside. Give your dog eye contact and verbal praise while carrying the baby. Whenever you buy a new baby toy, buy a dog toy as well. Ask dog-loving visitors to fuss over your dog when fussing over the baby (if your dog enjoys being fussed over). 

Toddlers and early teens.

To dogs, toddlers are very different from babies. They crawl, throw food, and then suddenly, they walk. During each of the different development stages your child will go through, you need to reinforce the positive associations you have established between dog and child. 

The golden rule counts more than ever: Never leave your small child and your dog alone. Toddlers are too young to understand how to ‘pet nice’, no matter how patiently you explain and show them. Here, you are protecting both your child and your dog. The wagging tail of a friendly dog can knock over a toddler, and the sharp nails on little fingers can hurt dog noses and ears.

As soon as your child is old enough to learn by your example, teach him or her how to treat your dog. Dogs are frightened by shouts in the face, sudden movements, and grabs at tail, ears, or nose, and should always be treated with respect and kindness. These skills take time to perfect. Remember that children don’t realize that animals feel pain or that living pets differ from the cuddly and furry stuffed animals they get to squeeze and throw around. Teach your child never to squeeze or grab your dog and never to approach any dog that is eating or sleeping.

 

Recommended Resources: 

If you are viewing this as a PDF you can click on the following links for more information. 

    To find out more about how Tuff Pup Training can help you and your family contact us here. 


    Your Dog's Physical and Mental Enrichment Plan.

    Mom, I’m bored.

    Dogs are a lot like children. If you don’t give them something fun to do, they will make their own fun—and often not in ways you approve of.

    Give your dog plenty of physical and mental exercise, and you get a happier, healthier, better-behaved dog. Well-exercised dogs bark less, chew less, sleep more, and rest easier if left home alone. They are also much less likely to rummage through the trash or attack the couch cushions.

    What about leash walks?

    Leash walks are great brainteasers because of all the sensory information dogs get from them, but they don’t count as aerobic exercise. Your dog needs to run, swim, or do something else that gets his heart pumping for at least 30 minutes every day. For those dogs who become anxious on leash walks, note that there are other great ways to mentally and physically enrich your dog.

    Workouts for the body.

    • Chasing a ball or Frisbee
    • Swimming
    • Playing tug
    • Active play with other dogs
    • Off-leash romps or hikes.

    Workouts for the brain.

    Work to eat. Biologically speaking, your dog is not supposed to have a bowl of kibble plunked down in front of him. He is a hunter by nature, built to work for and find his food. Mimic this by serving your dog’s food in a Kong or treat ball. Your dog will spend the first part of the day figuring out how to get at his food and the rest of it recovering from the mental effort. Perfect!

    Toys galore. Toys are a great way to engage your dog’s brain. Dogs have distinctly individual toy preferences, depending on the day, time, and situation. Do some detective work and find out what truly interests your dog.

    The best toys have a purpose. They deliver food, present a challenge, squeak, or make themselves interesting in some other way. Some classics to consider: Rope toys, plush toys (with or without squeakers), Hide-A-Bee (Squirrel, Bird), tricky treat balls, soft rubber toys (vinyl), and hard rubber toys like Kongs and nyla bones. 

    Once you have a good selection, develop a toy strategy. Designate a popular toy for use only during alone time, like when you need to leave your dog in his crate, confinement area, or a spare room. Then, rotate the other toys daily to keep the novelty factor high.

    Recommended Toys:

       

      PHYSICAL AND MENTAL EXERCISE: A PLAN 

      To make sure your dog gets the exercise and stimulation he needs, the best thing to do is to create a plan. Think about your dog’s daily routine and choose what type of exercise (for the body and brain) your dog will receive, who will be in charge of making it happen and for how long. 

      Here are some people whose help you may be able to enlist:

      • Partner, family members, friends & neighbors
      • Dog walker 
      • Dog daycare

      For recommendations on local Philly dog walkers check here. 

      Types of activities:

      • Leash Walks
      • Teach Tricks
      • Fetch
      • Visits to Dog Daycare
      • Toy Dissection
      • Stuffed Kong
      • Tug-of-war
      • Chewing bones
      • Bully sticks, etc.
      • Treat Ball (for meals)
      •  Swimming   
      • Other:_________________

      The plan

      Here is a good example of a mental enrichment plan for a dog (with low impact for an owner and high enrichment impact for the dog).  

      1. Wake up, take your dog to potty and then feed your pup half a meal from food dispensing toys (Kongs, Busy Buddy, etc). Use this time to get dressed or cook breakfast for yourself. 
      2. Then take ten minutes and play a training game to teach your dog a new trick or to sharpen and old skill. If you need ideas on fun training games to play contact Tuff Pup Training.
      3. Pause for 30 seconds and then play fetch or tug-of-war with your dog for another 10 minutes. Fetch and tug are both mental and physical enrichment games. Plus it will get any stress out of your dog's system that may have been pent up from the training.   
      4. Pause 30 seconds as you put away the toys and then take your dog for a 10 minute walk around the block. This gives time to potty and a chance to come down from the adrenaline of playing fetch and tug.  
      5. Finally, give your dog a Kong (stuffed frozen with a little peanut butter or yogurt) or other chew toy inside of their crate or on their dog bed. This will focus any energy left over into a calm state. The chew toy will help them self-sooth and forget that you might be leaving them to go to work.   

      The example plan described above will only take 31 minutes while effectively getting your dog tired, happy and smarter all before you leave for work.  

        Lastly, keep track of your dogs plan in writing. Make notes about what works best. Make reminders on your phone that can alert you of planned activities with your pup (though your dog will probably remind you). Set a timer for 10 minutes if you follow the plan above. Try making a chart with your family that looks like the following:

        For help exhausting your dog in new fun ways check out Tuff Pup Training program options here.